Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

From the New York Press: 

What You Make

A surprising analysis of what mostly white kids, 22 – 32, make in New York. The answer is, apparently, not much – a lot of folks in this city, established, professional, educated, or not, make less than 30 grand a year. 

And here I thought it was just me that was broke.  Small comfort I guess . . . 

This parallels the situation in London where I knew many 20 something producers, directors, graphic artists, admin people,  and so on, who survived on more or less the same – and London is still more expensive than New York. I made more as a housepainter – not that I made much. 

When the folks on Wall Street, the City can make stratospheric salaries for, I don’t know – failing – there’s something wrong here. 

The article would have been a lot stronger if they’d profiled what, say, a black working man in Brooklyn is making, but this gives a good example of the gross income disparity in our society . . .

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From London’s Independent: 

Are the Greek Riots A Taste of Things to Come? 

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Greece Riots in Pictures

From Yesterday’s Guardian: Greek Riots Enter Third Day

Third Night of Greek Riots

They even torched the Christmas tree in front of the Parliament. And why not? 

I was at the anti-globalization protests in Quebec City in the summer of 2001. Kids spent days throwing rocks and even molotov cocktails at lines of riot police. When you asked them, they couldn’t articulate what they were against – because there wasn’t anything tangible to BE against. Coca-Cola, MacDonalds – these aren’t countries after all, these are just banalities in our lives. But we all knew that power was being taken away, that decisions were being made that would alter the world irrevocably. 

   And altered it was. After 9-11, such protests became almost unheard of in the West. In 2003, I was in New York City when some half-million people marched against the Iraq war. It was fifteen below and the wind off the East River was sharp and very cold, and still people marched. My girlfriend and I stopped at a bar to get warm. CNN and NY1 were playing in the corner. CNN showed clips at the top of the hour, NY1 showed nothing. It’s like the protests – the biggest since the Vietnam war – didn’t even happen. 

What’s motivating these kids is apparently a mix of gross inequality, a bailout for the banks, and admiration for an earlier generation of anarchists who fought the military junta in the 70’s. But I wonder if these kinds of protests are going to become more and more common, throughout the West, especially if times get worse.

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What do recessions bring?

On the most basic level, what’s happening now: the collapse of one or many sectors of the economy, a drop or collapse in house prices and, most importantly, a loss of jobs. The latter is the hardest – when you have to struggle all day every day for weeks, months, years just to get a job (‘finding a job is a full-time job’), and kiss ass to some dickhead boss just to keep the job you have – and it’s amazing how many cretins, how many exploitative, bullying little pricks come out of the woodwork when times get bad – a recession is more than just numbers or news of some hedge fund company going bust. It’s real, and it’s now.

But recessions are awful only incidentally because of economics. After all, in purely economic terms, folks around the world and in very recent history lived much worse than us and put up with much more. It’s the way people get. You can see it even now, before the pain has really set in – people withdraw, get fearful, they look inward. Emotionally, spiritually, culturally, it is the equivalent of the banks not wanting to lend to each other. In some cases, if things get bad enough, and go on long enough – people can even get evil.

It’s not the economics, it’s the fear, resentment, the inward-turning loss of spirit you have to watch out for. And in Britain, it’s an open question which way it will go . . .

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They have more money. A lot more money . . .And they come to England to go Partridge Hunting. 

Piece in the News Of The World – lending itself credibility as a newspaper for once – about AIG bigwigs spending £50,000 to go PARTRIDGE HUNTING!! Private jets, vintage wines, private manor – nothing’s too good for our betters in the financial district. At least Maureen Dowd at the Times had the temerity to call for a Wall of Shame for these guys.  But why does it take a columnist? Why indeed aren’t the guilty all over the front page of the Times? Why aren’t they in jail? 

To continue: From the Guardian: Wall Street banks in $70 billion staff payout. This is such a blatant looting of the economy, along the lines of the Soviet nomenklatura and KGB stealing the assets of the crumbling Soviet state before they set themselves up in business as mafiosi and other riff-raff. Wonder if the same thing will happen in the US. 

As Mark Steel in the Independent writes; If we stop their bonuses, bankers are hardly going to go on strike. And if they do, who will miss them? 

People seem to forget that class war existed for a reason. I mean, what do these guys do exactly? Besides hunting partridge and looting the economy? How do they benefit society?

 And, yes indeedy, why aren’t they in jail?

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Black Friday . . .

Work getting so scarce, you have to chase it like a boll weevil through the underbrush. At the JobCentre – known as the dole office in less PC times – they’re hiring more staff to take on the rush. You get £60 a week on the dole now, up from the £28.80 a week you got in my day in the early 90’s. Back when a pint of beer could still be had for £1.50.

Life in Britain . . . called Brook Street, one of dozens of agencies I registered with this summer and fall, none of whom have found me a fucking thing. Woman answers, regional accent, shrewish voice. “We’re busy right now . . . if there was anything we would have called you.” – then she hung up. Last week when I called in, she hectored me for not calling in more often. Hard times brings out this very Teutonic bullying quality in a certain kind of British person – the taste of power.

On the way home, the train was packed. Absurdly – you could hardly breathe. Usual plethora of people nattering on their mobiles. A black girl waving her arms around, acting out everything she was describing, smacking the other passengers. A woman just down the aisle, YELLING: “I can’t believe the fucking shit they make me put up with, I won’t take their FUCKING SHIT!!!”
I mean man. Five minutes on that train exhausted me. Wait ’til the pain really hits.

You see it in the ads: ‘Competitive rates: £7 per hour for admin, or admin work at minimum wage, less than £200 a week. How do you live in London on less than £200 a week?
Meanwhile: Bonuses for City high-flyers will be hard to reign in.

Seems Britain’s high-flying and obviously very valuable City execs, traders or whoever the fuck these people are will simply go to Mumbai Dubai Shanghai if they don’t get the million plus bonuses they feel they deserve. 

Well, let ’em go I say. Enough to make you a goddam Bolshevik. 

How about you readers, are recent events turning you into a Bolshevik?

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The papers were full of it Friday. We are ‘sliding into recession’. So we’re not actually IN a recession yet, but ‘sliding’ into one. Some figure on a ‘shallow but painful’ (whatever that means) slowdown over Christmas, and a ‘difficult’ first half over 2009. Some say we’re in for 1992. But no one is predicting the Apocalypse, at least not for the moment.

This after the headlines, and not just the redtops, but all papers, have been trumpeting the return of 1929 and the Great Depression. For the last two weeks. Since economic cycles are so much about perception and confidence, it’s hard to see how this helps. Why, perhaps, such scaremongering, isn’t illegal.

The real trouble is that all this scaremongering creates intense anxiety without giving a clear picture of what’s going on. Sure, the US gov’t is about to siphon 700 billion dollars into Wall Street – a move that most commentators, liberal or conservative, Stateside or over here, seem to feel is a necessary evil. But will the aftereffects have a greater impact on everyone’s life than, say, the tech crash, the Russians defaulting on their loans in 1997, or even the lull after 9-11? And since the last few years of the ‘boom’ – the post 9-11 years, as far as I can see, have mostly been propped up by debt (‘If you don’t shop, you let the terrorists win’) – then how, in real terms, will the next year or two be different for the average man than they were before?

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If you haven’t seen the headlines – splashed one after the other in front of every newsagent, on the TV, radio, pretty much fucking everywhere – the dissolution of Lehman Brothers, the take-over of Meryl-Lynch by Bank of America (who only stand out in my mind because they’d put up ugly orange awnings all over New York this spring) , and Halifax by Lloyds, the near collapse of AIG – is being heralded as the harbinger of a new, 1930’s style depression.

Where the hell did this come from?

A little over a year ago, things were supposed to be just fine. The City boys were awarding themselves bigger and bigger bonuses, we were all working, albeit for lower wages, housing prices were on the up and up (for those of us who had property – those, who didn’t like yours truly, had to scramble in the ever-tighter rental market). No warning about any of this.

Now we’re cryin’ like it’s 1929.

The Tuesday morning Metro at least had a sense of humour: SACK MONDAY!! But what are we supposed to expect? Ten years depression? Bread lines? Another Adolf? I mean let’s get a grip – is this going to be worse than the late 80’s/ early 90s? it doesn’t feel anywhere near that bad – not yet at least not yet? Worse than the Open Cartel in 73? Worse than the late 40’s early 50’s when rationing was still in place and basic infrastructure that had been destroyed in the Blitz had yet to be restored?

Someone had enough lolly to pick up Damien Hirst’s Taxidermy for a whopping 100 million and change. Pounds that is – nearly a quarter million US for glorified pickled herring. If there’s a better symbol of why things gotta change, then I ain’t found it.

I’m sure it ain’t gonna be good for the next little while. But they haven’t been great for a lot of people for a long time. The best scenario I could see would be to return to some pre-turbo-capitlistic phase where the state had some say in running the economy and actually took care of it’s citizens. Wait, you say – the welfare state didn’t work! State intervention didn’t work!

Oh, and turbo-capitalism does?

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O Happy Days . . .

Good news on the train on the way in . . .

Tube fares to soar in the New Year. Food Prices is already risen by 8.3% this year. And some feller in the Guardian say the recession is gonna make people happier. Claims he already see it happening. Claims people are gonna go back to consuming sausage and chips (did they stop?) to save money instead of eating healthy. 

   Well I don’t know what Britain he’s living in, but I ain’t seeing more happy people in London. Not by a long shot. 

   I’m sure this sick joke of a summer is part of it – the Gulf Stream too far south this year or something. And Londoners didn’t seem happy last year either – hell, I’ve never known people in London to be happy – but they sure as hell seem a lot LESS happy now. Walking into my friendly local recruitment agency this morning was like walking into a morgue for all the glum faces – which I take to mean there’s not much recruitment going on.  On the train in, aside from the ubiquitious mobile phone rabbits filling the carriage with pathic bursts of their elevated, one-sided and profoundly annoying voices, everyone looked like their favorite pet had died just that morning. With all these glum headlines – economy in worst crisis in 60 years!! Gas prices going up by a zillion percent!! Gas companies record profits (another great British tradition – screwing the common man – that has never changed at all) – you don’t have to look far to find what’s behind all these sour faces.

   Fact is, you could feel the anger crackling just below the surface here even before the downturn. Wonder how things will be in six months, a year from now. And having been here for the middle of the last recession – 1991/ 92- I can say being broke back then didn’t make people happier. It made people in charge drunk with power and just plain mean. It made people depressed and desperate and anxious to get out. And people way up top made more money than ever.

   But maybe the Guardian feller has a point. Not about the sausages and chips – some traditions deserve to die – but maybe an end to the good times (that weren’t that good, either here or over the pond, for a whole lot of people) might make people return to some kind of values. Might make them think about their neighbor or spend more time reading or go back to that truly great British tradition, of fucking around on the job and taking the mickey out of the boss-man and generally screwing the system as much as possible. Of not taking things too serious. Might make this a fun place to be again, instead of the turbo-capitalist rich man’s palace that London has become in latter years.

Might bring back some form of real socialism, instead of the turbo-capitalism with a PC gloss that New Labour, Livingston et al have been peddling. Might. But folks are gonna have to get real unhappy first.

What do you think, readers? Are folks getting happier because there’s a recession on? Are you happier?

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Depressing News:

Britain’s economy as bad now as it was in the 70’s

Even if the Independent likes to go for the sensational on their front covers – wasn’t it the Independent who forecast methane fireballs rising from the sea before the century is out, eviscerating all life as we know it? – things do feel slowed down. Frankly, with this sick joke of a summer, they don’t just feel down, they feel depressed. I didn’t go to the Notting Hill Carnival this year – crowds just too intense last year – but I’m sure even that felt grey.

More beggars for one thing. Even the return – admittedly only one, in the form of a short little guy with a beard and a beret who appears over and over on the train to Victoria – of aggressive begging. But you’re starting to see more beggars on the high streets, around the train stations. Regional accents mostly, but a few downtrodden Londoners.

But mostly you feel it in the job market. More ads flogging ‘fantastic’ roles for 15,000, 13,000 a year, or 7 and even 6 pounds an hour. Rents don’t seem to be going down but a few more sales for dress shirts, shoes.

But most importantly, you feel the change in the crowds. Little of the ebullience I felt when I first came back to Enterprise Britain one year and a half ago, when the little matter of all that personal debt was not considered to be a real problem, either here or in the US. Now . . . it seems to be a problem. A big problem. What do folks do when they can’t make the payments no more?

But back to the Independent article, didn’t a recent study find people in Britain were happier in the 70’s than they were now? After all, we had better art. Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola. Punk rock. Hell, even disco seems refreshing now. And we had socialism, of a sort. Whatever the flaws of the pre-Thatcher era – and they were legion – turbo-capitalism sits uneasily with the British.

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