The American People Are Angry

The middle class is rapidly collapsing, and the numbers are staggering. Today, the 400 wealthiest individuals together own more than the bottom 50% of our population combined. That’s 400 people vs. 150 million people. One American family – the heirs to the Walmart fortune – now owns more wealth than the bottom 30% of American families combined. That’s one family vs. 90 million Americans. And people wonder why Occupy Wall St. happened.

Bernie Sanders is amazing. Check out at least the first 10 minutes of this:

The Smart Idiot Effect

Salon on the “smart idiot” effect – why more education amongst conservatives leads to more firmly believing the opposite of the facts. Interestingly, the “smart idiot” effect does not seem to hold amongst liberals, for whom learning more may actually get them to change their views.

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The ugly delusions of the educated conservative
Better-educated Republicans are more likely to doubt global warming and believe Obama’s a Muslim. Here’s why

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Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory – It’s About Us

This American Life is pretty much always great, but this podcast – covering one man’s journey into the Chinese factories that make our tech products – affected me deeply.

Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

Heartbreaking and fascinating, seriously worth 45 minutes of your life. Stories of extraordinarily long hours, child labor, and repetitive stress injuries that make our own seem like hangnails in comparison. Stories of people assembling parts as small as human hairs by hand for 16 hours at a stretch, stories of people working with their hands until their bones simply crumble (and they’re out of work for life). Stories of experiments with neurotoxins like hexane being done on unwitting human workers. It goes on and on.

But listen through to the last ten minutes, where the emotional impact, and the anger the story generates,  is sort of qualified by observations of economic realities in China: “Hundreds of thousands of Chinese choose the grimness of factory life over the grimness of the rice paddies.”

I remember when the suicide nets went up around the Foxconn factory, and the simplistic reactions people had to their existence. But some perspective helps – the truth is, China as a whole has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, while those rates are actually lower in factory cities like Chengdu than they are in the rest of the country. And Foxconn is doing the right thing by trying to prevent them – that’s a good thing, not an example of Foxconn simply accepting suicide as a cost of doing business.

But while Apple is  a sexy centerpoint for the story, it’s important to remember that this isn’t really a story about Apple – virtually every single technology product we buy, from DVD players to smartphones to game consoles to blenders, is made under similar conditions.

Actually, this isn’t even a story about the human cost of our enjoyment of technology. Virtually everything on the shelves at Walmart and Target is made in China. The clothes on your back, that car you drive… chances are high those things were made in conditions that are similar or worse than those at Foxconn. It’s not about Apple – it’s about us (ZDNet’s Larry Dignan does a good job widening the scope of the story in this post).

The popularity of this story is an opportunity for the west to reflect on the implications of its addiction to cheap products in general. We’ve grown into  a dangerous symbiotic relationship with China – we can’t shake the allure of cheap products, and they can’t shake the allure of jobs for their citizens. Your cheap jeans create jobs for peasants. And if we were somehow to bring those jobs back to the U.S., we would be throwing those peasants back into the poverty they’ve partially escaped in the past decade. Reality is messy.

Coupled with a recent NY Times piece covering the same topic, it’s been a hard week for Apple, who are scrambling to do spin control. But whether this is an Apple problem or a larger problem of our addiction to cheap goods, Apple could be stepping up as a leader in making a difference here. With the company’s insane bankroll, they could and should be doing more to affect manufacturing conditions.

What about you? Would you be willing to pay 50% more for an iPhone or an HP laptop if it meant you knew it was made in the U.S., under different conditions?

See also: Apple CEO Steve Cook Responds to Allegations

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

I got to see Hitchens debate former J-School dean Orville Schell during the height of the Iraq war, and found him a puzzle, as one often does when you agree with exactly half of what someone really smart is saying.

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Christopher Hitchens Is Dead at 62 — Obituary

Mr. Hitchens wrote in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell and trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa.

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Raising #OWS from Protest to RealPolitik

The goals of the #ows movement have been well-communicated by now, and continued encampments are starting to do more harm than good in the public perception. It's time for an effective political movement to grow from this soil, and seeds for the real politics of #ows may lie in Lawrence Lessig's new book,

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It

which apparently gets both parts right – what corruption is, AND what to do about it. Lessig's book could become the "manual" for the future of #ows. Sounds like a great read.

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Has a Harvard Professor Mapped Out the Next Step for Occupy Wall Street?
His call for state-based activism on behalf of a constitutional convention could provide the movement with a political focus

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Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

I have TWO friends in their mid-40s who are still paying off their student loans – halfway through their lives. America needs to invest in education. Forgiving student loan debt would have an immediate and profound effect on the economy.

MoveOn:

Forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans will have an immediate stimulative effect on our economy. With the stroke of the President's pen, millions of Americans would suddenly have hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of extra dollars in their pockets each and every month to spend on ailing sectors of the economy.

As consumer spending increases, businesses will begin to hire, jobs will be created, and a new era of innovation, entrepreneurship, and prosperity will be ushered in for all. A rising tide does, in fact, lift all boats—forgiving student loan debt, rather than tax cuts for corporations, millionaires and billionaires, has a MUCH greater chance of helping to raise that tide in a MUCH shorter time-frame.

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Want a Real Economic Stimulus and Jobs Plan? Forgive Student Loan Debt!
I just signed a petition to The United States House of Representatives, The United States Senate and President Barack Obama: Forgiving the student loan debt of all Americans will have an immediate sti…

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Occupy San Francisco

Spent the first half of this beautiful Saturday helping teach digital media skills to journalists, the second half in the streets of San Francisco marching in solidarity with OccupySF protestors. Today there were more than 1500 “occupation” marches taking place in cities around the country (check out the meta-information site OccupyTogether for information on greed-opposition protests near you).

Give a damn

The movement is criticized for being unfocused, for making too many simultaneous statements. In a way, that’s true. But that’s also its power. People are mad about a lot of different things: The bank bailouts, tax shelters, joblessness, golden parachutes for executives, corporations treated legally as persons, starvation of school budgets, the mystery of allowing churches to not pay taxes, threats to Medicare, the unlimited power of The Fed and the wars it funds… but most of the complaints come down to one thing: The effect of greed on the economy and our lives.

Health care for all

So what’s my beef? Posted this on Google+ the other day:

I am not opposed to wealth and I am not opposed to capitalism. I am opposed to greed. Capitalism without checks in place gives way to greed, which is abuse of the capitalist system. When greed rules, people get hurt. Bankers were allowed to crash our economy in part because, in the system of checks and balances, checks were removed that allowed greed to rule. Unwise deregulation allows self-serving greed to run rampant. If you were to ask me “What does Occupy Wall Street want?” I would answer “We want to restore the regulations that prevent unchecked greed from destroying the level playing field.”

It was just amazing to feel the collective energy of these 5,000 people taking over 10 square blocks in San Francisco. In the 1960s, when people got pissed they took to the streets. There was a spirit of collective power that’s largely gone missing in the 2000s (protests against the Iraq war were anemic and rare compared to those against Vietnam). But this felt different. Felt like the start of a new awakening that people actually have had enough, and are ready to stop being steamrolled by greed. I don’t know where all of this is headed, but it’s incredibly satisfying to see a protest movement rising up to address this very broken system. Over time, the message will become more concise. And who knows, maybe something will actually get done.

Miles told me this morning “Protests are boring – they’re just a bunch of people carrying signs that say ‘Up with this’ and ‘Down with that.'” Not sure I was able to get through to him – it’s tough figuring out how to explain all of this to a child. But in the streets today, I felt like the message of the day was carried more by the huge variety of ideals expressed through signs, even more than (often simplistic) chants that spread through the crowd like floating bubbles. Took a lot of photos today, mostly of signage. Here’s a Flickr set from the day, mostly of signs.

Or view the slideshow full-screen.