Monday, May 13, 2013

Goodbye, Roberto

So Roberto Mancini is gone. Good riddance. I never liked him much to begin with, and the way he was brought in under a blanket while Mark Hughes was still toiling away without any degree of support from his superiors. Hughes was part of the old guard, hired under Shinawatra's reign, and the new boys in town wanted a toy all their own. I get it, it's water under the bridge. Hughes was never much good at managing that kind of money and talent, so what else is there to say?

But Mancini, here was a man who was supposed to make a difference. A man to ring in a new era of City dominance. Did he? He won the FA Cup in his first full year, you say. He won the league in the next. He qualified for Champions League play three years in a row. How can you fire a man after three and a half years when he ended the club's longest silverware drought in history? We're being daft, you say. We're expecting too much, too soon. We haven't given him a chance to truly turn the club around.

You must be joking.

When we hired Mancini, he was supposed to change the face of the club, to develop it into a powerhouse, a squad to be feared across Europe. What we got from Mancini was, in essence, a stock broker dealing in footballing futures. Mancini's talent was to buy and sell--though, really, mostly just to buy. Do I believe an outlay of cash was required to set City up for success? Of course I do. That's the face of the modern game, whether you like it or not. You have to spend the big bucks to get the big players. But to only do that is the mark of a man with only his own accolades in mind. You cannot build a legendary squad simply by splashing money. You need to do that through development. And that had never been part of Mancini's plan.

While talents like John Guidetti waited in the wings and Edin Dzeko rode the pine, Mancini cried about not having enough strike options. Would Robin Van Persie had made a difference in our squad? Yes, without a doubt. He is a player like few others in the world. But we managed to win the league without him the year before. And while we're on that, let's get this straight: we barely won the league. We won on goal differential in the last whisper of a moment in the last game of the campaign. We did not crush United into the ground. So lifting Mancini up as some kind of hero is ridiculous. What else did we have that year? A piss-poor showing in Europe, a handful of disappointing cup runs, and a bunch of signings that never really did kinda pan out, did they?

Everyone has made a great deal out of the Ballotelli Experiment, but that wasn't the only one Mancini has been playing at during his time here. What about the Savic Experiment? The Nasri Experiment? How about the Tevez Conundrum or maybe the Entire Signing 2012 Summer Signing Period Debacle? I don't expect a manager's ever decision to go his way, but who are the stars of this squad? Zabaleta and Kompany, surely. Tevez got his kinks worked out and has produced like his old self again. Same goes to James Milner. And of course Silva, Yaya and Aguero would have to round that group out. Of the seven of them, the first four were not even Mancini's signings. They were brought on under Hughes. It took them a few years to dig in their heels, but by god, look at what they've done. They're consistent! They're hard-working! They're loved by the supporters! They're… developed, is what they are. They've spent a lot of time working together and it shows.

It's the reason City routinely loses to squads like Sunderland or Everton: there is no consistency in their play because there is no consistency in their squad. Teams that languish in the middle of table don't have the money to spend on massive A-Level squad sheets--every week they play with roughly the same 11 men. I would bet Stephane Sessegnon and Sebastian Larsson can all but read each other's minds by now. Leighton Baines probably wakes up in the night when Marouane Fellaini has a bad dream.

But it's hard to build that kind of consistency when your manager is picking the team sheet every week with all the consideration of a popular high school girl choosing friends to invite to her Sweet Sixteen party. Money, as the rest of the league loves to remind us, cannot buy success. It can buy players who should by all accounts be able to achieve that success, but without proper man management, all money can get you is a bunch of big names who don't know how to work together. You or I could have put together the team Mancini did with about an hour's worth of reading the Guardian's Rumor Mill every other day. And, to boot, we probably would have been a little more gracious about it.

Roberto Mancini wasn't canned today because he lost the FA Cup to Wigan. He wasn't canned because he couldn't get City past the Champions League group stages. He wasn't canned because he let the league slip away, once more, into a more organized, more galvanized United's hands. Roberto Mancini was canned today because he had no future at City. When this summer's transfer window opened once more, it would have been the same old scramble for whatever striker's name was trending on Twitter. And when he wasn't granted another £200m to do whatever he wanted, we'd have spent another campaign hearing excuses about how the owners just didn't understand. He had no future at City, just like he never considered the future of City. He lived in the now and now the now has passed.

So goodbye, Roberto. Auf wiedersehen and adieu. I dare say you won't be missed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Divide and conquer

A brilliant new bit of Republican strategy has come out just in time for the holiday season, as reported on by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. In this time for goodwill toward your fellow man and the spirit of giving, the GOP is doing their best to crack the already shaky unity of the 99% down below.

What is being proposed is an extension of the payroll tax cut, a little bit of a boost for the extra expenses around the holidays. Like a Christmas bonus from the federal government! Sounds great! But how in the world are they planning to do this in the midst of an economic crisis that has nearly left the fed in default? By hacking off unemployment benefits at the knees. With the money they will save on unemployment spending by tightening eligibility and reducing benefit duration by almost 40 weeks, they'll toss us a few pence to spend on a scrawny Christmas goose.

The problem is that this pits us against our own. No matter how the vote on this initiative falls, there is going to be anger directed at exactly the people with whom we should be uniting. At any moment, in this economy, you can lose your job. There virtually is nothing like "job security" any more. If your company can find someone to do your work for cheaper, they'll have you out on your ass, saying something about "tightening our belts" and waving tiny American flags to show that they only meant it in patriotism. If this vote goes through, we've just forsaken our unemployed for a minuscule pay-day, leaving them even worse off than before and ourselves gaining very little at their expense. But I don't think that's what Republican leaders are counting on.

No, I believe they are counting on this measure being voted down, because it gives them more firepower than ever. If it is voted that unemployment benefits need to stand where they are, it will halt this tax break for the rest of the working and middle class. And that is a brilliant way to insinuate even more resentment and anger into the working 99%'s feelings against their non-working brethren. Divide and conquer. If you can get friends to turn against friends in need for their own self-interest... well, you've just reinvented the American Dream. Those defending unemployment will be socialists and those defending the tax cut will be heroes--who are you going to vote for? It's a brilliant see-saw measure that is worthy of some kind of complex-but-extremely-boring dystopian political movie plot. Shame that Philip K. Dick isn't still around to write it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The myth of job creation

You've been hearing it non-stop for the entire past election cycle (and, really, much before that), but now that the top-earning 1% in our country are coming under serious fire by the Occupy Movement, it's been trotted out more than ever: the claim that the rich create jobs, so for us to spur the economy, we must pretty much just let them do whatever they please.

Besides the fact that that is a ridiculously fatalistic view of economics, it's also an extremely twisted statement spiked with a logical fallacy. Yes, the rich do give us jobs. Without the companies that the rich own and operate, very few of us would have jobs indeed. Whether that is inherently fair or not is a different discussion completely, but it's just how our system works, so that much of the statement is true. However, the kind of talk that we're hearing now is a convolution of this fact. Rich people do not just create jobs because they are rich and run those companies who employ us. The fact that they are rich has nothing to do with the actual creation of jobs; they are simply the tools, not the catalyst. The catalyst that creates jobs is a basic principle of economics, one that has somehow been ignored as this argument has come to a boil.

It's called supply and demand.

Just because you have a boatload of money and a company that is doing well does not more jobs create. You've got the ability to hire more people, sure, but you're not going to do so unless the demand for your product or service is also growing. Herman Cain, the one who has reverted to this empty buzz-phrase the most, should understand this concept the best. He was the CEO of a major American pizza chain, Godfather's Pizza. Now, we don't have Godfather's Pizza in Pittsburgh, but we do have another local chain called Vocelli Pizza that I can reference as an analogous example.

There are, within the immediate city limits, three Vocelli locations, as well as numerous others out in the suburbs. The three city locations are in Lawrenceville, Oakland and Downtown, and have served the community for many years. If Mr. Vocelli wished to, with his power as a very rich man, he could "create jobs" by building a fourth location, say in Shadyside. But without the demand, what is the point of creating more supply? It would be a foolish move for him to open another location in the city, because the three locations that exist already supply plenty of pizza to fit the demand. Pumping all that money into another location when the consumer could simply drive five more minutes to the already existing Oakland location? That's a terrible business plan, one destined for failure. So he can't just create jobs out of thin air. If he did what the Republican candidates are claiming the rich business owners can do, there would be a Vocelli Pizza on every corner in Pittsburgh, and they'd all go out of business within months because they wouldn't each be selling enough pizza to stay afloat.

The fact that there isn't a floundering Godfather's Pizza in every single two-horse town in America goes to show that, no matter what he says on television, Herman Cain does understand this. There just isn't enough demand to drive that kind of growth and job creation--and the ultimate irony is that the 99% are not paid enough to create that demand. Maybe not in terms of pizza, but in the purchasing of many other goods and services. The less we are paid and more we are taxed (while the inverse is true for the richest Americans), the less we are able to buy. The rich can only create jobs if the rest of us are clamoring for the things that those jobs produce. And right now, we can't afford to do so.

The only way for jobs to be "created" outside of this system is for the government to do so, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did with the Civilian Conservation Corps and many of the other New Deal initiatives. In the public sector, demand can be eschewed, the supply being not economic but a sense of greater good. Development of infrastructure, of highways and railways and parks, investing in our future rather than the immediate profits of now. That is the kind of job creation we should be rallying behind as we continue to see unemployment rise. We cannot depend upon corporations to look out for our best interests, and why should they?

Businesses are about making money, not about taking care of people. It doesn't necessarily make them evil, but it is a fact that we need to understand before we put them on a pedestal and worship their almighty power to provide for us. That's some 19th century, pre-union, company town crazy talk, but it's found its way into our national zeitgeist once more. And this time we're cheering it on! Have we really forgotten how hard we've worked to get away from selling our soul to the company store, as we now cheerlead for these companies and lay ourselves out on the altar, praying they toss us some bread? It is we that provide for them, not the other way around.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tax Responsibility

Looking back at yesterday’s blog, I believe that the graph I posted warrants a little bit more attention. What the graph displays is the difference in the percentage of tax to the upper-most and bottom-most brackets of our tax system over the last century, and as you can see, we have had a raucous relationship with the taxation of the rich, while at the same time, have found the taxation of the poor to be relatively consistent. The importance of this differentiation becomes readily apparent when you explore the deep canyons of the red “rich” line, and realize what events happen to fall within them. Namely, the Great Depression and then later, the Reagan/Bush tax cuts (and consequent 2008 Depression). For your convenience, I’ve now plotted both depressions on the graph:

Now, it would be silly and inaccurate to put the blame completely on the taxation patterns of the rich for our economic recessions, but the graph illustrates an undeniable trend. After periods of deregulation and “free market” expansion, in which the rich see their personal investments increase and responsibility to the greater good decrease, we have been left, as a nation, in dire straits. In response to the Great Depression (which barely made a dent in the pocketbooks of those supremely rich) Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted the New Deal and increased the tax responsibility of the rich to bring the rest of our country back from the brink of extinction. That is what we need now.

“Tax responsibilty” would be a good phrase to use in the Occupation protests. Because that is what we are talking about when we talk about increasing tax rates. It’s not about wanting to tax the rich just because we don’t think they deserve the money—it’s about making them accountable to the country they live in. What the upper eschelons of society do now is take, take and take. We work for almost free, well under a living wage, for companies that have stifled our unions, cancelled our health care and cut back our benefits. We have come full circle to the days of Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick, where workers are a mere commodity, easily replaced if they dissent.

And all the while, our masters have gotten richer and stronger, pulling more and more money out of the government whose strings they somehow still inexplicably pull. They put money into trusts, reinvest into tax shelters or simply keep money overseas, avoiding taxation on their wealth. They skirt the rules and avoid their civic duties and then have the gall to call us unpatriotic in our protests. We need to demand tax responsibility for all. If you make more, your responsibility to this nation should be greater. It is, after all, the freedoms of this country that allow you to make that money in the first place. The 99% pays more than our fair share--it’s about time we demand that the 1% do the same.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How this tax thing works

It’s time for a little economics lesson.

Recently, it came to my attention that no one really understands how taxes work. Yes, we pay them to the government and they use the money to buy things, like war for example. Some people seem to forget that they also pay for things like street signs, street lights, sidewalks and streets, but that’s a topic for another entry entirely.

With the Occupy Movement starting up and people finally taking notice of how badly the economy of this country skews to the upper echelons, it is important that we understand not only where our tax dollars go, but also how they are paid in, and what creates the income disparity to begin with. This subject is extremely important to the discourse that needs to take place about the massive and continually growing gap between the super rich and everyone else, and it is often so convoluted by those who wish to devolve honest debate into the screaming of buzzwords.

The most important thing about the assessment and collection of taxes are tax brackets. You’ve probably heard of them before, and if you’re currently reading this, it is likely that you exist in the first one. Where you fall in the series of five tax brackets is based on your gross income (less deductions and such), and are divided as such:

Now, most of you probably already know this, especially if you file your own taxes. And you know that it is based on this bracket system that your income tax rate is determined. You’ve no doubt heard a lot about income tax rates in the recent months, and what you know is that with each increasing bracket, the tax rates increase as well, from the first bracket’s rate of 15% to the last one’s at 39.6%. What you’ve also no doubt heard is that this is unfair. Even if the rich do make more money, why shouldn’t we all be taxed at the same rate? How is it fair that they pay over double what the lowest bracket pays on their income? All that this tax scheme is doing is taking more money the harder you work.

It’s not, they don’t, and we do.

What is so often glossed over is how the tax brackets operate. If you make $100,000 a year (falling into the middle of Bracket 3), you don’t get taxed 31% rate on your entire income--the bracket only applies to the money that is taxed in that bracket. Namely, $10,850, or the difference between your $100,000 income and the cut-off point of Bracket 2. The same goes for Bracket 1. No matter how much money you make, the first $37k of your income is only taxed at 15%, then the next couple tens of thousands at 28%, and so on and so forth. It’s a graduated tax system, which means we all get taxed the same amount on the money that we similarly make. The head of BNY Mellon and I pay the same amount of tax on our comparable income, and it is only once he skips upward in the scale that he pays more. And as you climb into the upper reaches of the bracket system, the numbers become neglible.

No, really, look at how the margins shrink as they increase. Between the first two, we see a nine point increase, then as we climb into the realm of upper management and junior executives, the increases shrink to four points each. The final jump, to the world of the top-level execs making a quarter million and infinitely upward, isn’t even a full four points. What the fuck?

The reason most of us are unaware of this issue is that we never get out of that first bracket. Ours, therefore, is a flat tax. No matter how hard you work, unless you’re getting a boatload of overtime, you’re paying in 15% for the rest of your blue-collar life. Unless you are consistently bumping up into Bracket 2, you’ll likely never even consider how the system operates, and you’ll surely never explore the piddling rate at which the upper brackets are taxed and how ridiculously unfair that is. It wasn’t always that way, either. With every new conservative regime that has taken control of our country, the upper rates have shrank and shrank. In the mid-80s, when my good friend Curtis Faith had an income reaching into the top-most bracket, taxes there were around 50%. Before that, they were much higher, as evidenced by the following graph:

As you can see, the rates throughout the “best years” of our country were gargantuanly higher. Not only have those rates shrunk significantly with the increasingly conservative, isolationist approaches government has taken toward our economy, but when the Reagan and Bush tax cuts went into effect three decades ago, we found the lowest tax brackets actually raised and the disparity of wealth increased as the gap in taxation shrank to an all-time low. Now, as economists try to argue for rolling-back the upper-end George W. Bush tax cuts and allow the top bracket to rise to a slightly more reasonable rate, conservatives argue tooth and nail against it, even as the evidence against the economic effectiveness of willy-nilly tax slashing piles up against them.

The reason we need to understand these things is to truly understand what we are fighting for. The Occupy Movement has a great thing going for them, and it is just beginning, but we need to be clear in our message so as to not be spun by those who wish for us to fail. We don’t want to tax people more, we want to tax them progressively. We want to tax them fairly. This discussion about income tax has not even taken into consideration the topic of capital gains taxes—the very bane of the rich and conservative set, which they have repeatedly tried to excise to further benefit themselves. But that, again, is a topic for another post.

To those Occupying, again this is my call: Be strong and be clear. Educate yourself and use that knowledge as a weapon. Be able to answer the questions that will be asked of you, and answer them with passion and with respect. This is how we win this war. We are not an angry mob; we are angry, but we come with purpose. Not to smash windows but to talk. To explain. To feel. And that is all we ask: for someone to listen, to understand and to feel for us as well.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Think globally, protest locally

Yesterday began two brand-new legs of the Occupy movement: one in London and one here at home in Pittsburgh. The movement, which began on Wall Street mere weeks ago, has grown exponentially and is finally coming to represent a well-rounded anger that we're feeling, worldwide, at those who make all of the decisions for us, who tell us that we are nothing with their actions though they still pay lip service to our hopes and dreams. Unlike the way Fox News and USA Today have attempted to represent it, the Occupations are not anarchist rally, it's not a hyper-leftist movement--it is by nature a progressive stand, yes, but it has nothing to do with partisan politics. It is about class warfare, and there are plenty of Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and Socialists alike down here in the muck to fight.

It took a while for Occupy Pittsburgh to find its legs, but now there are tens of tents set up, housing around a hundred people on the park in front of the BNY Mellon headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh. It also just happens to be located directly behind the hotel where I work. I was concerned about our local chapter of the revolution--that it may be met with apathy or that it would become a long, drawn-out discussion and never physically manifest itself. But the time that it took to get rolling was used brilliantly as an incubation period, and instead of a few more protesters trickling in every day, the march through the city ended with quite a sizable population now respectfully taking up residence on one of the largest American banking institution's front lawn.

The camp is also situated right on the corner of Grant Street and Sixth Avenue, one of the most significant thoroughfares in downtown, so a constant flow of cars is being funneled by the protestors holding signs, banners strung from poles and draped over tents. I was excited to see the Occupiers outside this morning, and I hope to be able to spend some time in the park with them: perhaps around noon or six when the general assemblies are being held. But as thrilled as I was, I worried about the response of the rest of the city. Walking out after work, I passed right by the protest on my way to the bus stop, chatting for a moment with a gentleman on the corner and offering my sincerest support. To my surprise, as I waited for the bus, cars upon cars that were fed from the highway down Grant Street were honking their horns in support. It was an almost-constant blare of horns, issuing from trucks and cars and even a large city maintenance vehicle.

I realized that Pittsburgh is perhaps one of the most interesting cities for this kind of a protest to take place. In New York (and particularly on Wall Street) that richest 1% is really much higher--maybe even 5% or 10%, when you consider the vast amounts of money that move through those particular veins of the Big Apple. Here in Pittsburgh, on the other hand, that 1% is probably more like a .5% or less. This city is built on, and vehemently proud of, its blue-collar ethics and traditions. Here, too, the income gap is much smaller than in New York or in Boston. There just aren't as many multi-millionaires per square acre. So the breeding ground for support is much broader. Provided the media pays fair attention to the protest and what it is about, not spinning it into some kind of anarchist nonsense as has been the case in the past few weeks of OWS, this is exactly the kind of sentiment that can take hold in Pittsburgh. And that warms my heart to an unreal degree.

In a single day of Occupation, before any media has really been by to explore, there is already respect and warmth to this protest. It is honest and it is true. It is simple. It is something we can all understand and something we all can feel. You are, as this revolution will soon show, either for us or against us; not in a pugnacious way, but in the truth of what this whole thing is about. Those people on the lawn, no matter whether you love them, join them, laugh at them or sound off against them, are fighting for your rights. It is selfless and it is true, and we should be so lucky to have people like them sitting in for our rights to be acknowledged.

For more information on the Occupy Movement here and abroad or to find out how you can help in the revolution, please visit occupypittsburgh.org and occupywallst.org, or just go down to Mellon Green, on the corner of Grant and Sixth in the shadow of the BNY Mellon Center and visit with the protesters there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupation dedication

I have not yet been deeply involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement (or locally, the Occupy Pittsburgh one--the irony being that my shitty job keeps me too busy to do so), but I have been keeping an eye on developments with it. It has warmed my heart to see it grow, and even though it may not be perfect, it stands for something important: that the vast majority of us are getting fucked.

Now, with the most recent Republican debate, the GOP candidates for 2012 have decided that they can see the advantages of steering this anger, much like they did with the Tea Party in 2010, and in less than a week, almost all of the polling candidates have changed their tune, coming to now “understand” the frustrations of the OWS protestors. But have they come out in support of the people on the street? Have they, too, denounced the record profits made and massive bonuses doled out during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Of course not. They’ve got the gall to suggest that protestors should be occupying Pennsylvania Avenue, not Wall Street. “They have basically targeted the wrong target,” said Herman Cain. “It should be against the failed policies of this administration, not Wall Street, is where they should be protesting.”

We live in a twisted world where demanding changes in the businesses that suck the blood of our working nation dry is viewed as “unpatriotic”, but the systematic destruction of our very government itself is something every red-blooded American should be chomping at the bit to do. At the heart of it, OWS really is a partisan movement. It is clearly geared toward the left, just as the Tea Party was geared toward the right. I don’t want to believe that, hoping rather that we can all be outraged at the current coddling big business receives from our increasingly more economically conservative system here in the United States--but I know it isn’t true.

However, we now begin to see OWS painted in a different light, and it is my sincerest hope that the protestors themselves remember those roots as the GOP tries to find a foothold to work their own angle. “I think the people who are protesting on Wall Street break into two groups,” Newt Gingrich said at the last debate. “One is left-wing agitators who would be happy to show up next week on any other topic, and the other is sincere middle-class people who, frankly, are very close to the Tea Party people and actually care.”

I see what you did there.

Occupy protestors the world over: Do not be misled. Your target is the right one. It will be attractive to let into the fold all of those who share your sentiments, your frustrations. But be careful, because some will come as wolves in sheeps clothing. You are the left’s retaliation against the astroturfed uprising of the neo-conservative right, and for that you should be proud. The media has said your message is unclear, but it is simply because the message really is so broad, so simple. Do not allow that to be compromised, to have your anger steered in the wrong direction. You have the roiling frustration of a nation behind you and it is growing with every day, so captain it well and maybe the change we have been so long waiting for can finally be made.