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Category Archives: Military

Learning Leadership from Congress

by Seth Godin

The most frustrating thing for me in the SOPA/PIPA debate now winding down is how unnecessary the whole thing should have been. It occurred to me that we learned a lot about what sort of behaviors make for great leaders and careers. The short version: do the opposite.

When did we lose Congress? Not just in terms of losing our respect for just about everyone there (one of the least respected careers in the USA) but in the sense that they no longer even pretend to represent our interests or act as we would act if given the chance?

I’m not so much angry as saddened that it has come to this.

When planning your career, avoid these pitfalls, behaviors evidenced by many elected officials:

  • In all things, look for money first. Listen to people with money, respond to people with money, justify your actions around money. Worth noting that 47% of those in Congress (House and Senate) are millionaires–an even greater percentage than those that are lawyers.
  • Embrace the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Aspire to run systems you don’t understand.
  • Compromise over the important issues, but dig in and fight forever over trivia.
  • Along those lines: focus obsessively on the short run. Even though you are virtually assured of re-election, define the long term as “before the next election.”
  • Take months off from your day job (with pay) to actively campaign for a better job.
  • Blame the system, the other side and your predecessors for the fact that you are not taking brave, independent action.
  • Avoid developing independent thought and analysis. Focus on parroting the work of lobbyists and the party line.
  • When given the choice between being on television or doing hard work, pick television.
  • When a difficult problem shows up, duck.
  • Try mightily to outlast passionate resistance by quietly ignoring it and waiting for it to go away.

I’m thrilled that reality has intruded and SOPA is derailed (for now). You probably know more about how the internet works than your senator does. Has he or she called you or asked your insight?

I’m disheartened that even when a linchpin shows up in Washington, she is quickly beaten into submission. Where are the lions, the Mr. Smith‘s and the statesmen who would rather do the people’s business than business as usual? Sure, Congress has a marketing problem–largely because they have a problem with the decisions they make and the way that they make them.

At least they’ve left us a useful career guide about what not to do in the real world.

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Why More Women Should Choose MMA Training

There is a vast array of exercise programs for women available online and in gyms, but mixed martial arts (MMA) seem to fall outside many of these exercise categories. MMA incorporates techniques from sports such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing, wrestling and boxing, Judo, Karate, Muay Thai and Taekwondo. You don’t have to have ambitions of becoming an MMA fighter to get involved in this sport – there are plenty of amateur platforms and gyms for beginners and intermediates, children and adults. Read on for more information about MMA for women and reasons why this is a great way to exercise.

Enjoy the change of pace

Perhaps you are stuck in the same old gym program or you do the same old exercises that you’ve always done and are looking for something that will get your heart pumping a little bit faster. MMA is fast paced and invigorating and will get you off your feet to work out your whole body. Not only will you improve your flexibility and agility but you will get stronger as well.

Join in the fun

Incorporating MMA style exercises in your training regime can be much more fun than other more regular exercises. Because of the fast pace and the huge variety of moves and techniques you will keep finding new and interesting ways to exercise which makes your training session less boring and keeps your energy and motivation levels high. You can keep using the techniques you enjoy and that suit your personal fitness goals, so you stay fully in control of how you wish to sculpt your body and which parts of your body you’d like to focus on.

Self-defence and confidence

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of MMA fighting for women is the self-defence techniques you can learn and the confidence that comes with it. By knowing that you can defend yourself should you find yourself in a difficult and violent situation can make a great difference in women’s lives and how they behave in society. The confidence this gives doesn’t just help in threatening situations but could also give a boost in confidence in other areas of women’s lives as well, at home or at work, as they learn new skills.

Equipment

You don’t need a lot of special equipment to train MMA – all you need to start off with is comfortable MMA clothing and buy the rest of the gear like gloves and protective equipment as and when you need it further down the line – your instructor will be able to advice you on this.
There are many benefits to be gained for women by using these techniques and it is suitable for everyone. If you have read this and you think that you’d like to give MMA a try as part of your fitness program you should contact your nearest MMA gym.

Sue Andrews incorporates MMA techniques in her fitness program and has improved her confidence by learning self-defence through MMA. Sue can recommend the high quality MMA clothing and gear from Made4Fighters for ultimate comfort during the training session.

 

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What Are the Most Difficult Languages to Learn?

The debate has raged for years what the most difficult language in the world is to learn. In trying to ascertain which language actually is most difficult, we need to establish firstly what your 1st learnt language is. For example, if you native language is English, you are going to struggle to learn Korean more than a Japanese person, as the languages share a number of characteristics. Often you will find in interpretation services that professionals often speak more than one language and the languages spoken will share common base qualities. In this discussion of difficult languages, you’ll also come across languages that are niche, or in many cases almost extinct, the most interesting case being the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island who do not welcome visitors of any kind often killing off those unfortunate to come across them! Many of readers of this article may have English as their native language and extensive research and opinions abound about which languages are the most difficult for them to learn, so that will form the basis for our discussion.

Asian languages are classified as being the most difficult languages to learn for a number of very daunting reasons. Mandarin and Cantonese for example require you to take into account a wide array of tonal options for different meanings, five in fact for each sounding word. Japanese is a difficult option to learn as a complete language as the written and spoken word has no relation to each other at all. Japanese also have 3 different written alphabets; Kana, Hiragana and Katakana, which all have very different purposes in the language. Katakana alone has over 20000 unique characters which are based on old Chinese symbols, which can only be learned through memorisation strategies.

Once we move out of the arena of Asian Languages, Arabic is high on many professionals lists as one of the most difficult languages to learn. Reasons behind this are that it has no links to any Germanic language system and dialects can often cause problems for language learners. The alphabet system has 20 symbols, but each one has four different forms, making them very difficult to understand as well as the spoken system focusing on the VSO organisation; meaning that the verbs come before the subjects and objects in a sentence. For this very reason there is a lucrative amount of professional translation work done with the amount of international business done in Arabic countries and its difficulty to learn.

Lastly languages of Finno-Ugric origins are some of the most difficult to learn and even make heads or tails of. Hungarian for example has 35 cases and is almost impossible to practice outside of Hungary. There are more exceptions than rules to the language and sentence structures for these languages have no Anglo or Germanic roots to speak of. Finnish has 15 noun cases and six verb types which can all be conjugated in multiple forms. The good news is that the written word is easily converted to the spoken word, and it sounds exactly like it should.

Sally Roberts is a freelance writer with a keen interest in diversity and difference. Through her articles she hopes to draw attention to the similarities and differences between people for happier coexistance.

 

A Sure Fix for the Economy – Revolution

Why Iceland Should Be in the News, But Is Not

by: Deena Stryker, The South Africa Civil Society Information Service | News Analysis

An Italian radio program’s story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here’s why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors.  But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt.  In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent.  The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution.  But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures.  The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros.  This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country.  As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF.  The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North.  But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt.  The IMF immediately froze its loan.  But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis.  Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn’t stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money.  (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution.  And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

 

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An Easy Life – Jennie Rasmussen

I almost like to think that I remember being born.  I like to think lots of things.  Mostly I get bothered by people who think they know everything, its irritatin’ to those of us who actually do.  My earliest real memories are of those cold mornings on the farm in Iowa.  The stove would go almost entirely out during the night, til paw got up and stoked the little pot belly in our sleepin’ room.  The flannel nighty pulled up around my neck as far as it would go barely made up for the fact that we was indoors and I could still see my breath.  By the time that sun come up we was thawed out enough to get dressed and start chores.  Only thing got me through the winter was the thoughts of summer and all them damned bugs.  Ain’t nuthin’ worse than sweating like a horse an havin’ a face full of skeeters and gnats.  An that was at night.  Harvest was the worst.  Pickin’ that damn corn till I swore that when I got out of there, there would, “never be an ear of corn in the same room with me again.” At least after the crops was in we got to go to school some.  Reverend Uhlig’s wife set up some desks and chairs in the basement of the church, and when the weather wasn’t too bad my little brother Bobby and I would borrow one of the good horses and go spend hours listening to stories, readin’s from the bible, and doin’ ‘rithmatic on the chalkboard.  Seemed like those years went by like decades.  Nothin’ much changed. There were the irrigation canals in the summer, but the water always melted right off ya and you was dry by the time you started to walk home.  Then you would be sweaty again. No, winter was better that way.  We could always find something to do to get warm, like milkin’ the cows, but there weren’t a damn thing to do in August and September to get cooled down.

We had us some good times tho.  Dad was the best fiddle player in all of Des Moines county; State of Iowa said so at the fair darn near every year (there was that one year that some Yahoo come up from Nashville and took it, but he weren’t no local boy).  There was foot stompin’ and dancing and an occasional sip of that corn whisky the Rasmussens used to brew up every payday.  Us kids never got involved in that much, specially after what we saw it did to the Eckhardt twins.  Mark got skunk drunk once he hitched up his plow and drove smack over the levee into the canal, damn near drowned the horse.  Took all the neighbors, three horses, and half a day to get it out, and the rest of the day to get it straightened out and set up again.

That weren’t the only excitement in Ames, tho.  On Friday nights me an the girls would sneak off with the Rasmussen’s and Eckhardt’s boys and go down to the stock yards to watch the pigs hump.  On a good night we could count ten or twelve of the lucky ones havin’ themselves a time. We left the whisky home, but there was usually a bottle of cider around, and we got just tipsy enough to laugh and joke and somehow pass the time.

I don’t remember those times ending, but damn if I didn’t find myself married to Art Rasmussen, all moved in an fixen’ to have us a family.  That was 1916.  God don’t always play fair.  In 1917, three years after Henry Ford started building cars in Highland Park, the US declared war on Germany.  To most Americans this was a very patriotic time, and the men of Iowa were no exception.  The only  hitch  was that Art and his family came over from Hamburg, and my parents still had kin in Frankfurt.  Actually lots of our friends and neighbors were of German descent. Sometimes these people were singled out for harsh treatment. Some were made to take a loyalty oath or to salute or even kiss the flag.  Schools did not allow their students to study no German. Things with German names got new names. “German measles” became “liberty measles” and “sauerkraut” became “liberty cabbage.”

It was war time, and the nation needed soldiers. Some Iowa men volunteered for patriotic reasons. Because the Army still needed more men, the government required all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register at the county courthouse.  There would be 115,000 to go over and fight with the British and French, and Art was one of them.  He was shipped out with the 116th infantry division, but he had left behind a present.  I was pregnant.

Iowa was called on to provide corn, and hogs, and cattle for the war effort.  It was all I could do to tend our little “victory garden” and fend for ourselves.  Our first, a son Donald, was born the day after Christmas 1917.  In the fall of 1918, the Spanish Flu took Donald, along with 675,000 other Americans (ten times as many as died in the world war).  It wasn’t long after we buried Donald that Art came home from the war.  He had been one of the lucky ones and still had all his pieces.  That was good ‘cause we figured he’d need them all if we was to try again to start a family.

Judy was born nine months, three days, and two hours later.  We was hoping for another boy, but at this point we take what the good lord gives us; a healthy baby is good.  Gladys was born just about a year later, December 12th 1920.  The girls are bright and active, pretty as a picture, and we are so proud of them.  They play basket ball in high school, and both end up marryin soon after.  Gladys found herself a nice soldier, although when he came back from WWII things weren’t the same and they split up.  Judy married a real smart man, got to be the vice president of a big paper company.  Things was fine for several years, but the thing was, he was also a drunk.  They lived in Chicago, and Texas, had a nice little girl named Jody.  Dick took off after he found out that Judy had MS. There wasn’t much to treat it with back then, and being a drunk, I guess he just figured it was too much bother to watch his wife take 30 years to die.  Jody kep’ in touch with her mom best she could, but they lived in Chicago and she had started a new family of her own.

Gladys found herself a job and moved out to California.  She ended up findin’ herself a good man too, he drank some, but not like Dick.  His name was Francis, but he never did like that and went by the nickname “Buss.”  After they got established good, they sent for us and Art and I took the train out from Iowa.  That was the first time I saw little Stevie, Gladys’s son.

We had some real good years out there.  Art would spend hours and hours tellin’ stories and teachin’ little Stevie about carpentry.  We moved into an apartment complex in the city where Gladys lived, and was the managers in exchange for rent.  Art did all the fixin’, and Stevie helped.  It was a good time, and as pleasant as I can remember.  I wasn’t always happy, and when I was with the girls (Judy had moved out there to be with us) we mostly fought.  It was always little things, but I guess we was just too much alike.  Cats and dogs when we was together, then miss each other when we wasn’t.  We still managed to have some great camping trips and family times until Art had his stroke.  Glady’s husband was real good to us and bought us a house near to theirs.  We lasted there for a few years until it became too much for Art to maintain, and a real miracle had happened.

Next to where Gladys and Buss lived was an English Commodore.  Sir William Barton had just lost his wife, and was very close to Gladys and Buss. He had a nice old house with an extra bedroom and was kinda lonely. We talked a few times and ended up moving in with him right next to my daughter.  We had cut a gate through the back fence, and it was just like we all lived on the farm together for a while.  There were a few years there that were trouble free.  That will be what I remember later in my life as a period of Shangri-la.  We had BBQ’s in the summer time, gin and tonics on the porch, playing croquet on the fancy dichondra lawn Buss put in… the best of times.

It was a couple of years, but all good things came to a quick end. ‘Bout the same time Commodore Barton dropped dead of an aneurysm, Art went into the VA hospital and lasted a few months before he died, and Judy finally had to be put in a rest home for her MS.  I took an apartment downtown San Carlos and a job at a local clothing shop.  Things went on for a few years like that, then the next round.

Gladys’ husband got Alzheimer’s, she got cancer, and Judy got worse with her MS. Stevie graduated from college and came back home to help. Buss died then, and Gladys died a couple of years after that. I was left with one granddaughter in Chicago, a dying daughter in a rest home, and my grandson to take care of me.  He did the best he could, but had his own life and family.  They helped me with my apartment; I think he gave me $500 a month (from the inheritance from his mother) and we all just got by – somehow.  We wasn’t hurting, but we wasn’t rich.  Just minding our own business, getting by.  Stevie and that girl he married would come by and pick me up for dinner once a week. We’d spend holidays together, sometimes at their house (he got a big one when his parents died) and sometimes at my apartment, but always together.

Them people at the social security call me in and give me a “case” worker.  I aint no dam cow, need a “case” worker, but she asks all sort of questions:  how much is my rent, what do I spend on electricity, where is the other money coming from?  I tell her that Stevie helps me some, and we get by.  She tells me that it’s not legal for me to take any money from anybody else while the governments helping me, so to save money she’s gonna have me move out of my apartment into a government subsidized assisted living place that costs them twice as much.  Government nothin’ but a bunch ignert arseholes.

Hell, I don’t know a soul at this big ugly place, and its three cities away from the only kin I got left.  Stevie comes by and takes me out to dinner once a week. ‘Side from that I’m surrounded by dead people. Don’t know why I need to put up with this crap.  All them bossy old ladies playin’ cards and yackin’ away at themselves not saying a damn thing, bunch of dam old men sittin’ around in wheel chairs farting and drooling.  They can’t keep nuthin’ clean.  My back is so bent I’m leaning over like an ant-eater.  I guess it makes it easier to see all the shit all over on the ground.  They call it osteoporoses, but all I know is that my back is crookeder than a dogs hind leg, and this place smells like a big ol lye tank full of horse shit.

I guess I got a bit worked up, and had what they call a minor infarction, whatever the hell that is.  Now I got to go to Stanford and they want to cut me up and put a pig valve in my heart.  For God’s sake why?  I’m 87 years old and getting tired of all this shit anyway.  Just take me out and shoot me like some old dog!

When I wake up my chest is yellow and the room is fuzzy and spinning. There’s sheets on big metal poles around me, and all sort of machines buzzing and clicking.  They have tubes running out my nose and my arms and about everywhere but up my backside.  They tell me they’s taken me to another place to rest up after my surgery, a better place down closer to Stevie and that girl he married and their baby.  We  pull up in a place they call Los Altos, and it’s kind of nice.  They have trees, and grass, and real nurses to help you too.  Ain’t a soul sitting yapping at each other playin’ no cards, or those sick old men in jammies lining the halls.  I get to kind of settle into my own room, and it’s quiet and peaceful.

Days turn into weeks, and week’s months.  Most of the time I sit out by the old oak tree, soak in the sun, and remember.  The people here are good, and kind, and I like it here.  Most of my old friends have long since passed on, Eva Mitchell, Gladys, Buss, Art, Commodore Barton, but there are a few nice nurses, a couple of friendly orderlies, and the old geezer that reminds me of Lawrence Welk.

Its been a while since I’ve seen Stevie; he’s all busy with his new baby and family and I know he does the best he can.  He came over with that girl he married, their baby, a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps, and his buddy Paul.  I remember feeling peaceful, like everything is gonna be OK now.  Stevie even says something about kind of an “aura” around me, like it’s a halo. I’m wonderin how much of that Schnapps he and Paul have been into.  Its Christmas time now and the rest home is all lit up and decorated.  There’s the smell of cinnamon candles, and cookies in the air.  We had just had a good big dinner, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy – my favorites.  It reminds me of the old farm in Ames.

Stevie has always been a good piano player (got the genes from my pa) and they sit down and play all sorts of Christmas songs in the lobby.  They play Silent Night, What Child is This, Away in a Manger, all my favorites.  We all sing along together, though I forget most of the words. A few of the other inmates straggle in one by one and join us.   They put the baby in my lap and I laugh a little and hold it up over my head.  It makes me feel kinda peaceful that I have a great-granddaughter, and that life will go on.  Paul gives me a little snort of the peppermint schnapps – then another.  It reminds me of my daddy, of Frankfurt, and of what a life I have had.  It feels warm, and good, and I’m getting kinda tired now. I think it might be time for me to go home.

And she passed that night in her sleep.

 

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Just When You Think It Can’t Get Deadlier – Another Radical Force Joins The Assault On Targets of Opportunity in the U.S.

Book Review

Greenwich, CT, October 21, 2011 – In Targets of Deception, which suspense master Robert K. Tanenbaum called “a fast-paced thriller,” we were introduced to CIA agent Jordan Sandor in a story praised by bestselling author Steve Alten as “terrific.”  Now Sandor is back in Jeffrey S. Stephens’s riveting Targets of Opportunity (Gallery Books; August 30, 2011; $24.00), playing for bigger stakes and facing deadlier challenges.

Whisked from his Manhattan townhouse to a gabled CIA safe house in Virginia, Sandor faces off with a top terrorist agent from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In exchange for protection from his own side, Ahmad Jaber is offering the CIA explosive information: word of a secret, unholy alliance forged among operatives in the Middle East, a ruthless South American, and Kim Jong-II’s North Korea. Jaber claims not to know specific details, only that the strike will target the heart of America.

The fanatics stage a stunning diversion in the Caribbean, mercilessly downing a passenger jet and unleashing an assault on a French intelligence installation. Sandor, however, has already moved in a different direction. Leveraging Jaber’s information, he assembles a small strike force to penetrate North Korea. The team knows they will not all return, but the intel they gather will be vital to American security. What they ultimately discover plunges Sandor into a frantic race against time, struggling to defeat a shadowy figure—a master terrorist with a plan of destruction so perfectly disguised that even with the new knowledge he has gathered, Sandor cannot guess where or how he will strike.

As a storm rages in the Gulf of Mexico, word comes that two submarines have penetrated U.S. waters. With the U.S. military hampered by the hurricane, Sandor turns to a few daring U.S. Navy SEALs to duel with the enemy they cannot see…for now they know only that there are two nuclear weapons aimed at a target of opportunity whose destruction would change the world order forever.

Brilliantly conceived, electrifyingly paced, Targets of Opportunity captures a terrifying twenty-first century reality: terrorists can—and will—try as many times as they need to attack the United States.  For the brave men and women who defend our country, failure is not an option.  Targets of Opportunity will leave every reader hanging on for Jordan Sandor’s next step, staying with him through to the end.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jeffrey S. Stephens began the Jordan Sandor series with Targets of Deception, published in 2009 to rave reviews. Born in New York City, he now lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with this wife, Nancy, not far from their sons Graham and Trevor.

Jeff welcomes visitors to his website at www.jeffreystephens.com

 
 

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What the Wall Street Protesters are All About, If You Have the Stomach For It

I had some money, once, and it wasn’t just my two divorces that cleaned me out. Being in a service industry can be just as volatile in a downturn as being in a manufacturing space.  For several years I was in business development for a corporate travel management concern, and as the recession bloomed people found less expensive and less frequent means of getting to point b, including webinars and teleconferencing.  Not to say that a little belt tightening and ending extravagant spending isn’t a good thing, but it didn’t seem to reach across the board.

While the average silicon valley executive had his boarding passes start to read “coach” instead of first class even on international flights, the board members of the auto industries had to be reminded that it would be slightly poor form for them to take their private jets to Washington while begging for bail-out money.

The list of golden parachutes and excesses is truly amazing, and I have attached a story by Henry Blodget of The Business Insider that documents the disparity of our distribution of wealth far better than I could have ever had the time to research.

The bail-outs and lack of accountability were actually the tip of the iceberg. Who in their right mind would give a child a blank check because they had spent their money on drugs and couldn’t afford their rent?  Well that is essentially what we did to the banks.  We took those functioning least responsibly and rewarded them for their incompetence without any direction as to where they had to spend this windfall.

Then came the Obama appointments.  If my memory serves me wasn’t it Geithner and Bernanke who were at the helm when the ship ran on the rocks in the first place? Another reward for failure.  They were appointed because of their “experience.”  Hell, Jeffrey Dahmer was experienced at what he did.

My wife and I went up to the City (and yes, there is only one) for the fleet week celebration last weekend.  There is another great example of the taxpayers money being oh so wisely spent.  It was a grand time though, hanging around the south beach marina with our boating buddies, having drinks at the Yacht club, and retiring to the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero Center.  It might sound opulent, but the Hyatt has seen its hay-day and we had deeply discounted rooms, the drinks at the Yacht club were $3, and we had dinner at Delancy Street (highly recommended) where the entries were around $12 and delicious.

My point?  We, like most Americans have had to learn to make do with less.  After I was laid off from the travel industry I started an internet marketing company specializing in social media and website optimization.  I’m getting by just fine, but like the rest of humanity (except for the 1%) my stocks have taken a beating, my property maxed out 5 years ago and I’m not holding my breath for Social Security.

Outside our window at the Hyatt, lies the Federal Reserve building.  It was swarmed with young and old people like with fire in their eyes, and blowhorns in their mouths till all hours of the night. The pace was fever pitched at 2:00 in the morning, and when we walked by on Sunday the tired but determined group was still there.  This morning they stormed downtown and demonstrated in front of the Wells Fargo building. My wife and I were discussing this on Sunday:  God bless these young wild eyed freaks that have the energy and principles to stand up and say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

We lost lots when Steve Jobs passed away.  We stand to lose lots more than that if we ever lose the spirit this country was founded on. Remember what we said to the British Monarchy?  Taxation without representation is tyranny.”  Well, isn’t that really what is happening again now?  Do we really have any say where our hard earned dollars go?  Let’s start another war over weapons of mass destruction.

Below are some facts that should make you ill.  Good luck protestors, I’m with you!

 

CHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About…

BY Henry Blodget |  The Business Insider

 

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests are gaining momentum, having spread from a small park in New York to marches to other cities across the country.

So far, the protests seem fueled by a collective sense that things in our economy are not fair or right.  But the protesters have not done a good job of focusing their complaints—and thus have been skewered as malcontents who don’t know what they stand for or want.

(An early list of “grievances” included some legitimate beefs, but was otherwise just a vague attack on “corporations.” Given that these are the same corporations that employ more than 100 million Americans and make the products we all use every day, this broadside did not resonate with most Americans).

So, what are the protesters so upset about, really?

Do they have legitimate gripes?

To answer the latter question first, yes, they have very legitimate gripes.

And if America cannot figure out a way to address these gripes, the country will likely become increasingly “de-stabilized,” as sociologists might say. And in that scenario, the current protests will likely be only the beginning.

The problem in a nutshell is this: Inequality in this country has hit a level that has been seen only once in the nation’s history, and unemployment has reached a level that has been seen only once since the Great Depression. And, at the same time, corporate profits are at a record high.

In other words, in the never-ending tug-of-war between “labor” and “capital,” there has rarely—if ever—been a time when “capital” was so clearly winning.

 

Let’s start with the obvious: Unemployment. Three years after the financial crisis, the unemployment rate is still at the highest level since the Great Depression (except for a brief blip in the early 1980s)

 

Jobs are scarce, so many adults have given up looking for them. Thus, a sharp decline in the “participation ratio.”

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

And it’s not like unemployment these days is a quick, painful jolt: A record percentage of unemployed people have been unemployed for longer than 6 months.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

And it’s not just construction workers who can’t find jobs. The median duration of all unemployment is also near an all-time high.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

That 9% rate, by the way, equates to 14 million Americans—people who want to work but can’t find a job.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

And that’s just people who meet the strict criteria for “unemployed.” Include people working part-time who want to work full-time, plus some people who haven’t looked for a job in a while, and unemployment’s at 17%

 

Put differently, this is the lowest percentage of Americans with jobs since the early 1980s (And the boom prior to that, by the way, was from women entering the workforce).

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

So that’s the jobs picture. Not pretty.

 

And now we turn to the other side of this issue… the Americans for whom life has never been better. The OWNERS.

 

Corporate profits just hit another all-time high.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

Corporate profits as a percent of the economy are near a record all-time high. With the exception of a brief happy period in 2007 (just before the crash), profits are higher than they’ve been since the 1950s. And they are VASTLY higher than they’ve been for most of the intervening half-century.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

CEO pay is now 350X the average worker’s, up from 50X from 1960-1985.

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

CEO pay has skyrocketed 300% since 1990. Corporate profits have doubled. Average “production worker” pay has increased 4%. The minimum wage has dropped. (All numbers adjusted for inflation).

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven’t increased in 50 years.

 

In short… while CEOs and shareholders have been cashing in, wages as a percent of the economy have dropped to an all-time low.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

In other words, in the struggle between “labor” and “capital,” capital has basically won. (This man lives in a tent city in Lakewood, New Jersey, about a hundred miles from Wall Street. He would presumably be “labor,” except that he lost his job and can’t find another one.)

 

Image: Robert Johnson

Of course, life is great if you’re in the top 1% of American wage earners. You’re hauling in a bigger percentage of the country’s total pre-tax income than you have at any time since the late 1920s. Your share of the national income, in fact, is almost 2X the long-term average!

 

Image: David Ruccio

And the top 0.1% in America are doing way better than the top 0.1% in other first-world countries.

 

Image: David Ruccio

In fact, income inequality has gotten so extreme here that the US now ranks 93rd in the world in “income equality.” China’s ahead of us. So is India. So is Iran.

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

And, by the way, few people would have a problem with inequality if the American Dream were still fully intact—if it were easy to work your way into that top 1%. But, unfortunately, social mobility in this country is also near an all-time low.

 

So what does all this mean in terms of net worth? Well, for starters, it means that the top 1% of Americans own 42% of the financial wealth in this country. The top 5%, meanwhile, own nearly 70%.

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

That’s about 60% of the net worth of the country held by the top 5% (left chart).

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

And remember that huge debt problem we have—with hundreds of millions of Americans indebted up to their eyeballs? Well, the top 1% doesn’t have that problem. They only own 5% of the country’s debt.

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

And then there are taxes… It’s a great time to make a boatload of money in America, because taxes on the nation’s highest-earners are close to the lowest they’ve ever been.

 

Image: National Taxpayers Union

The aggregate tax rate for the top 1% is lower than for the next 9%—and not much higher than it is for pretty much everyone else.

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

As the nation’s richest people often point out, they do pay the lion’s share of taxes in the country: The richest 20% pay 64% of the total taxes. (Lower bar). Of course, that’s because they also make most of the money. (Top bar).

 

Image: G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz

And now we come to the type of American corporation that gets—and deserves—a big share of the blame: The banks. Willie Sutton once explained that the reason he robbed banks was because “that’s where the money is.” The man knew what he was talking about.

 

Image: AP

Remember when we bailed out the banks? Yes, and remember the REASON we were told we had to bail out the banks? We had to bail out the banks, we were told, so that the banks could keep lending to American businesses. Without that lending, we were told, society would collapse…

 

So, did the banks keep lending? Um, no. Bank lending dropped sharply, and it has yet to recover.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

So, what have banks been doing since 2007 if not lending money to American companies? Lending money to America’s government! By buying risk-free Treasury bonds and other government-guaranteed securities.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

And, remarkably, they’ve also been collecting interest on money they are NOT lending—the “excess reserves” they have at the Fed. Back in the financial crisis, the Fed decided to help bail out the banks by paying them interest on this money that they’re not lending. And they’re happily still collecting it. (It’s AWESOME to be a bank.)

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

Meanwhile, of course, the banks are able to borrow money FOR FREE. Because the Fed has slashed rates to basically zero. And the banks have slashed the rates they pay on deposits to basically zero. So they can have all the money they want—for nearly free!

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

When you can borrow money for nothing, and lend it back to the government risk-free for a few percentage points, you can COIN MONEY. And the banks are doing that. According to IRA, the “net interest margin” made by US banks in the first six months of this year is $211 Billion. Nice!

 

Image: Institutional Risk Analytics

And that has helped produce $58 billion of profit in the first six months of the year.

 

Image: Institutional Risk Analytics

And it has helped generate near-record financial sector profits—while the rest of the country struggles with its 9% unemployment rate.

 

Image: Reuters (Felix Salmon)

And these profits are getting back toward a record as a percentage of all corporate profits.

 

Image: The Big Picture

And those profits, of course, are AFTER the banks have paid their bankers. And it’s still great to be a banker. The average banker in New York City made $361,330 in 2010. Not bad!

 

Image: New York Times, New York State Comptroller

This average Wall Street salary was 6X the average private-sector salary (which, in turn, is actually lower than the average government salary, but that’s a different issue).

 

Image: New York Times, New York State Comptroller

So it REALLY doesn’t suck to be a banker.

 

And so, in conclusion, we’ll end with another look at the “money shot”—the one overarching reason the Wall Street protesters are so upset: Wages as a percent of the economy. Again, it’s basically the lowest it has ever been.

 

Image: St. Louis Fed

So now you know!

 

Image: Julia La Roche for Business Insider

Now check out…

15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Inequality In America

Tags: EconomyOccupy Wall StreetInequalityTaxesPoliticsFeatures | Get Alerts for these topics »

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10?op=1#ixzz1abgi2Jwr

 

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