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Via Huffington Post

Technically, the economy has been in recovery for two years. But it turns out the rich have been doing most of the recovering.

In 2010 — the first full year since the end of the Great Recession – virtually all of the income growth in America took place among the country’s very wealthiest people, says an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. The top 1 percent of earners took in a full 93 percent of all the income gains that year, leaving the other 7 percent of gains to be sprinkled among the vast majority of society.

Those numbers come courtesy of Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist who co-created a resource known as the World Top Incomes Database. Saez and his colleagues crunched the data on income growth from 2010, the most recent year available, and found that it was shockingly lopsided.

While much of the country is simply treading water, with a growing number of people either edging toward poverty or already there, the richest of the rich seem to be coping nicely.

Saez’s findings suggest that even though the recession dealt a blow to the 1 percent, it did little to push the U.S. off the path it’s been on for decades — that of a vast and growing disparity between the richest and poorest citizens.

Income for most workers has barely risen in the last 30 years, but the top 1 percent of earners have seen their income almost triple in the same amount of time. Economists and other experts say that could be the result of any number of factors, including the decline of labor unions, the explosion in capital gains during the middle part of the aughts, and tax policies put in place in recent years that favor the wealthy.

In his State of the Union address this past January, President Obama called economic fairness “the defining issue of our time,” perhaps mindful of the growing number of voters who say they can’t even afford basic necessities like food.

The wealth gap has been cited as a major concern for the nationwide Occupy movement, and research has suggested that income inequality might be associated with the kind of underwhelming economic growth the country has experienced for the past two years.

The Occupy movement, which has been criticized for lacking specific goals, is now taking steps to redefine the political debate in California with a ballot initiative to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to increase funding for education and social services.

The Courage Campaign, which describes itself as a network for bringing “progressive change” to the state, submitted the measure on Monday, the same day that Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his own initiative to increase taxes to fund education and public safety.

Also on Monday, an East Bay group called the 99 Percent Solution announced plans to take out a full-page advertisement in Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle detailing “The 99%’s Proposal,” a national plan to create jobs, reduce the disparity between rich and poor and control spending.

“These kinds of acts, especially if they are sustained, represent a move toward institutionalization, you are moving from diffuse and largely symbolic gestures to a more focused effort to do real politics,” said Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at University of California, Berkeley. “What we are also seeing, sparked by the Occupy movement, is a number of political actors taking on the issue of income inequality and higher taxation for the wealthy.”

The Courage Campaign’s California Funding Restoration Act, intended for the November 2012 ballot, would raise income taxes by 3 percent for individuals earning more than $1 million a year, and by 5 percent for those earning more than $2 million.

“This gives everybody who had any reason to occupy Wall Street or Main Street a chance to take that energy and channel it into a measure that can actually tax people who are the very top of the pyramid,” said Rick Jacobs, founding chairman of the Courage Campaign, which is working on the tax initiative along with the California Federation Teachers, which represents 100,000 teachers statewide.

“It is important to give people an opportunity to put their ideas into law,” Jacobs said. “In California, we can actually create and vote for change.”

Brown’s plan would raise income taxes by up to 2 percent on millionaires and high-income earners and increase the statewide sales tax by half a cent, to 7.75 percent. Families making less than $500,000 a year would not see their taxes increase. The taxes, which would expire in 2016, would raise about $7 billion to fund education and public safety.

“The stark truth is that without new tax revenues, we will have no other choice but to make deeper and more damaging to cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts,” Brown said in what he called “an open letter to the people of California.”

Earlier this year, long before the Occupy protests began, Brown had tried to convince Republican state legislators to extend tax increases that were set to expire at the end of June — or to allow voters to decide whether to extend those taxes. The extensions, Brown said at the time, would close a $26.6 billion budget gap, while preventing the state from making even deeper cuts to education and social programs.

But no Republican legislator would support Brown’s plan. As a result, the cuts to higher education approved by Brown and Democratic legislators increased from $500 million to $650 million, leading the University of California and the California State University systems to raise tuition by 9.6 percent and 12 percent respectively this summer.

Those tuition hikes, the latest in a years-long series of increases, have fueled Occupy protests on campus and at meetings of the UC Board of Regents and the CSU Board of Trustees. The initiative submitted Monday marks the first step protesters have taken to try to effect change at the ballot box.

The Courage Campaign and Brown used similar language in their public statements about the initiatives, emphasizing taxes on millionaires. Backers of the measures will have 150 days to gather signatures to qualify for the ballot. Both proposals are likely to face stiff opposition from Republicans.

“For more than a decade, Sacramento Democrats have been coming up with one tax raising scheme or another – none of which have worked,” California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said in a statement Monday. “The answer to our budget and revenue problems lies not in taking more money from those already working but in finding work for those that are not.”

The Chronicle ad, which organizers said was funded with $8,500 in donations from 100 people around the Bay Area, emphasizes job creation as well as tax increases.

“Our political system is broken,” said Marti Roach, a consultant from Moraga who led the ad campaign. “A lot of people identify with the Occupy movement, but they don’t see constructive solutions coming out of it. This ad will start a broader dialogue in our society about real solutions.”

The two initiatives are among eight separate measures to increase taxes that may be on the November 2012 ballot. The proposals would raise a combined $40 billion in new revenue for everything from higher education and public schools to a new state bank and green energy jobs.

Critics say the competing tax measures may confuse voters, increasing the likelihood that they will be defeated.

“Clearly the state has a budget problem that hasn’t been fixed,” said David Kline, vice president of communications and research at the California Taxpayers Association, based in Sacramento. “It would seem that if the taxpayers are asked to weigh in on more than $40 billion in taxes, I can see people saying ‘no’ to all of them.”

But Thad Kousser, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, said research shows many voters take their best guess when confronted with a raft of ballot measures.

In 1988, for example, voters chose one of five competing initiatives to reform vehicle insurance.

“The conventional wisdom is that voters get confused, throw up their hands and say no to everything,” Kousser said. “But sometimes having multiple measures for the same thing changes the debate from whether we should go through with reform to how do we get there.”

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/14BgO)

via Good.is

Iran’s Green Movement was hailed as the Twitter Revolution. Egypt’s uprising was branded the Facebook Revolution. Will we remember Occupy Wall Streetas the Tumblr Revolution?

Pundits have tended to fawn over the tools of any movement, rather than the people using them, but the explosion of grassroots protests across the world is indisputably linked to the rise of social technology. Every recent mass street movement has been planned, accelerated, or magnified by online activists.

Tumblr, the mixed-media microblogging platform, has a tiny user base compared to Facebook and Twitter, yet it has emerged as the defining protest tool of Occupy Wall Street, uniting disaffected Americans through a series of handwritten signs telling tales of woe.

The Tumblr-Occupy Wall Street link began with We Are the 99 Percent. Launched in August, weeks before the first protests began at Zuccotti Park, We Are the 99 Percent asked readers to submit photos of themselves holding signs explaining how the economic downturn had affected their lives. Thanks in part to Tumblr’s “reblog” feature, which enables users to seamlessly share others’ posts on their own Tumblr blogs, We Are the 99 Percent quickly went viral, with people across the country flooding the site with their stories. By October, We Are the 99 Percent was posting nearly 100 submissions a day.

Prior to Occupy Wall Street, Tumblr was known mostly for cleverly curated photo sets, including Kim Jong-Il looking at Things, Unhappy Hipsters, and Hungover Owls. But We Are the 99 Percent has transformed Tumblr into a political battleground. It has spawned numerous spinoffs, including We Are the 1 Percent, a sincere Tumblr featuring wealthy Americans declaring their solidarity with the other 99, and the less sincere We Are the 1 Percent Bitches, a Dave Chappelle-inspired satire of America’s real and fictional moguls (including the Simpson’s Montgomery Burns) rubbing their riches in the rest of our faces. Parody sites with Photoshopped images of Occupy Sesame Streetand Occupy Black Street(with the caption, “No Justice, No Peace, No Diggity) have proliferated as well.

Meanwhile, conservative activists have launched a Tumblr counteroffensive: We Are the 53%. Based on the percentage of Americans who pay federal income taxes—the assumption being that the protesters are among the 47 percent who aren’t required to pay because of tax credits or poverty—We Are the 53% was launched by RedState managing editor Erick Erickson. His inaugural post read: “I work 3 jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Shut it up you whiners. I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”

When I first came across We Are the 99 Percent, I dismissed it as a derivative and not particularly well-executed idea. It felt like a rip-off of one of the most-viewed videos from the Obama campaign that featured people holding “Hope” and “Change” signs, which in and of itself was a derivative take on the Courage Campaign’s video of children of same-sex couples holding signs saying “Don’t Divorce My Parents.” At least those videos featured people holding concise and legible signs, I thought; the We Are the 99 Percent signs were long statements written in small and often illegible print. Yet more evidence that the movement lacked message discipline!

But then I actually read the full-text captions accompanying the photos. “Financially unable to divorce,” wrote a 63-year-old woman. “I don’t see my mommy and daddy a lot since they’re always working…” wrote a 13-year-old girl. “My parents get really scared when they have to pay our mortgage because it cuts down on our money. I stopped eating a lot so there’s more food for everyone else.”

The stories on We Are the 99 Percent helped turn the tide for a variety of mainstream types and media elites who previously dismissed Occupy Wall Street as a fringe left-wing movement. Take The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who wrote: “It’s not the arrests that convinced me that ‘Occupy Wall Street’ was worth covering seriously. Nor was it their press strategy, which largely consisted of tweeting journalists to cover a small protest that couldn’t say what, exactly, it hoped to achieve. It was a Tumblr called, ‘We Are The 99 Percent.’”

Why has Tumblr become the go-to platform of this moment? As we saw in Iran, Twitter can be a powerful broadcast tool for delivering minute-by-minute accounts of breaking news and amplifying concrete messages (“Down with Ahmedinejad”). And in Egypt, Facebook was pivotal for recruiting protesters and scheduling rallies in Tahrir Square. But Tumblr has served neither of these purposes for Occupy Wall Street, a diffuse and leaderless movement with a deliberately undefined goal.

Instead, Tumblr has humanized the movement. Tumblr is a powerful storytelling medium, and this movement is about stories—about how the nation’s economic policies have priced us out of school, swallowed us in debt, permanently postponed retirements, and torn apart families. We Are the 99 Percent is the closest thing we’ve had to the work of Farm Security Administration—which paid photojournalists to document the plight of farmers during the Great Depression—and it may well go down as the definitive social history of this recession.

For all of the talk about a lack of message discipline, a vivid message is rising out of the cacophony of stories on Tumblr: the system in place isn’t working for the 99 percent, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Check out our Tumblr at http://fiftyseven-thirtythree.tumblr.com/

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