Monday, October 31, 2011

Victory against big bank fees! - Jess Kutch,

"Score one for a customer rebellion!" -- that's how Diane Sawyer announced on ABC Nightly News Friday night that big banks are backing off debit card fees after 300,000 people signed Molly Katchpole's petition against Bank of America's $5 debit card fee.
Not only is Bank of America revising its $5 debit card fee, but big banks like Chase and Wells Fargo are publicly canceling their plans to charge their customers for debit cards. 
Molly's fight against Bank of America isn't over. While BofA is revising its fee, many customers, including Molly, would still have to pay $5 for a debit card fee even after the bank's revisions. But, as the Wall Street Journal put it, the "big banks blinked." 
Here's what else the media is saying about Molly's petition against big bank fees:
  • ABC: "Banks Back Down from Fees"
  • CBS: "Bank of America Backs Down After Consumer Backlash"
  • Mother Jones: "Banks Surrender on Debit Card Fees"
  • Daily Mail: "Victory for customers as big banks back down from debit card fees"
  • Time Magazine: "Banks Back Off Unpopular Debit Card Fees"
  • NY Daily News: "After outcry, Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America back off on debit card fees"
Dan Rather covered Molly's petition too, saying that has become a "nerve-center for social justice the world over."
But here's what's most exciting: If a 22-year-old from Washington can best the biggest bank in America with a petition, think about what else is possible. 
Thanks for being a change-maker,
- Jess and the team

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Empire vs. Republic - The Editors, This article appeared in the February 20, 2006 edition of The Nation.

We must "stand behind the American military," George W. Bush declared in his dispirited State of the Union address. And so he did, wrapping himself in their courage and sacrifice to cover his follies and fantasies. The speech was a far remove from reality, but how could it be otherwise? Bush's catastrophic policies have laid waste the nation. Even a glancing proximity to truth would have been a telling self-indictment.
The President lauded our democratic values; indeed, he's so determined to export them to the Middle East that the domestic supply seems to be depleted. In the same chamber where Bush paid tribute to civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq, was tossed out simply for wearing a T-shirt that showed the number of dead American soldiers. Bush said our "economy is healthy" and that tax cuts have generated millions of jobs. In fact, he has the worst jobs record of any Administration since the Depression, and his tax cuts have created staggering deficits but not jobs.

Bush said "we are winning" in Iraq with a "plan for victory." In fact, the Administration's corrupt and incompetent reconstruction plan has run out of money, and the Army has been stretched to the breaking point. Bush warned of an Iran "held hostage by a small clerical elite" but didn't bother to mention its mutual defense pact with the Shiite leaders who will dominate Iraq. Bush's trillion-dollar war of choice has strengthened that "axis" and is the gift that keeps on giving--to Islamic extremists.
Bush's aides thought it wise for him to look more in touch with a worried population, so he addressed kitchen-table issues like healthcare, education and gas prices. But here, fatigue suppressed imagination. In a country with 45 million uninsured, Bush thinks we have too much insurance, so he offered to privatize healthcare, just as he sought to do with Social Security. That won't help the sick, the uninsured, those struggling with soaring costs. Education was presented as the answer to the loss of good jobs with benefits. More math and science teachers are a good thing, but Bush couldn't mention that he hasn't funded his own programs and is cutting education spending
The President from Big Oil discovered that we are addicted to oil, but he remains in denial about global warming. Instead of committing to a bold strategy to wean America from dependence on foreign oil, like that of the Apollo Alliance, Bush offered a few scant programs. Exxon announced the highest profits on record, but Bush didn't call for rolling back the billions in subsidies his party lavished on oil companies last year.
Bush made it clear what his party's strategy will be for the fall. The GOP will run the empire against the Republic.
The President lied us into Iraq, but hindsight is not a policy, he says--you must choose either duty and victory or retreat and "defeatism." He tramples the law to spy on Americans? Choose between an imperial President and a vulnerable country.
This may be the only hand the Republicans can play: Hide behind the troops and paint Democrats as weak. In fact, the Democrats offered a comprehensive response--not the official one of Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine but that of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at an event hosted by The Nation and the Institute for Policy Studies. The CPC's strategy includes a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, universal healthcare coverage, public financing of political campaigns and a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This country needs such a thoroughgoing program to recover from the damage wrought by this imperial President.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: A Twenty-First Century Populist Movement? - Joe Lowndes and Dorian Warren

Just over a month since protesters first hit the streets of lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is well on its way to becoming the first major populist movement on the U.S. left since the 1930s. This direct action, initially ignored by the mainstream media and treated skeptically by liberal critics, swelled at a startling rate, attracting an increasingly diverse group of participants, and inspiring similar phenomena in hundreds of cities. Why has this novel form of protest been successful so far, what potential does it have as a sustained social movement, and what challenges does it face going forward?

The movement’s surprising initial success owes much to a novel expression of what we might call an open-source populism. OWS and its slogan “we are the 99 percent” have antecedents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when populists framed their struggle as one of the common people against a tiny moneyed elite. Such dreams of unity always elide real differences both demographic and political. Yet in this case the economic crisis has had such far-reaching effects, and the culprits are so clear, that the fantasy of unity is understandable and credible. Indeed, what could better affirm its broad, hegemonic quality than the endorsements of Russell Simmons, Slavoj Zizek, and Suze Orman?

While OWS draws a lot of its style from the New Left, substantively it resembles movements from the 1930s or the 1890s more than the 1960s. In part this is because economic issues have returned to center stage. However, this is not a simple return to the New Deal, nor should it be. Liberal writers such as Todd Gitlin and Michael Kazinhave argued that the decline of that project is due in part to the emergence of black power and other identity-based movements in the 1960s and 1970s. For these class universalists, the new emphases on race, nationality, gender, and sexuality might have had a dramatic impact for marginalized groups, but they helped destroy the progressive populist vision and allowed the Right to gain control of the national political agenda by asserting its own.

Yet the demand for both inclusion and self-determination by these groups was inevitable given the limitations of both the People’s Party and the New Deal on those very grounds. Indeed, conservatives were able to posit their own populist project in the 1960s precisely because racism has run so deep in American political culture.Conservative strategists saw opportunities across the long civil rights era to win over white working- and middle-class voters to the Republican Party by associating the liberal state with people of color, an alliance they claimed squeezed honest, hardworking whites in the middle.

OWS is better historically situated to take on issues of exclusion. While the Right gained increasing control over the national political agenda after the 1960s, movements of antiracism, black, Latino, and Asian empowerment, feminism, and LGBT liberation also advanced, transforming how American society deals with these forms of exclusion in law, policy, and culture. Just as important, the U.S. workforce itself has become far more female, more multiethnic, and more multinational. Unlike the 1960s (or the 1890s) when the popular image of the American worker was white and male, labor is increasingly identified with immigrants and workers of color, especially women of color. For these reasons, populist assertions on the left today are more inclusive and credible than they were in previous populist movements. In order to be successful OWS will have to draw in the groups most affected by the mortgage crisis, joblessness, and other aspects of the recession, which means blacks and Latinos. For example, according to a recent Economic Policy Institute study African Americans face not recession but depression-like conditions in six U.S. cities. A new sub-movement called Occupy the Hood is highlighting the connection between race and class as it works to draw in more people of color.

THE OCCUPY movements’ claim of broad representation was ingeniously strengthened by the initial lack of specific demands or formal organizational structure. This direct-democratic impulse left the occupation what Ernesto Laclau calls an “empty signifier”—it allows a diverse array of people to attach to it their own grievances, and participate in their own way. This opens up the possibility for groups excluded from prior notions of populist majoritarianism—blacks, Latinos, LGBT folks, and women—to insist on full inclusion and direct participation.

The “99 percent” meme skirts another difficulty for the Left since the 1960s: nationalism. The post-60s Left has opposed chauvinism, imperialism, and nativism, but the 99 percent can be viewed in a patriotic light: it is a national identification insofar as it demands changes in the U.S. political system. Yet the term is vague enough to include both the citizen and the noncitizen immigrant. And by identifying Wall Street as the enemy in an era of neoliberalism, the 99 percent also stands for humanity across borders in alliance against a common global foe.

The moment it engaged in an extralegal direct action in the heart of New York’s financial district, OWS radically opened up the terrain of the possible. It performed the rage felt by millions of Americans about the economic and political wreckage wrought by the financial sector. The occupation symbolically broke out of the business-as-usual, incremental reform politics that typify progressivism today, offering instead a protest that indicts not just Wall Street but both major parties for the crisis in which we find ourselves. The principled militancy of the occupation inevitably resulted in police violence early on, but this only served to underscore the drama of the action and the conviction of the actors involved, while metaphorically playing out the brutality of the system being protected. Footage of the gratuitous pepper-spraying of a young woman by NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, along with images of bloodied protesters, went viral on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, making the silence from the mainstream media at the beginning on the occupation irrelevant. With social media OWS created its own compelling and easily digestible spectacle.

The antiauthoritarian orientation of many of the first occupiers contributed not only to OWS’s militancy but also to a horizontal, egalitarian, and creative style of protest, which has inspired participants and made clear its autonomy from the ossified institutions that currently run politics—including progressive institutions such as unions and other inside-the-beltway groups. The immediate antecedent of OWS’s organizational style are the counter-globalization protests of the 1990s, which, cresting in the powerful yet short-lived “Battle in Seattle,” emphasized participatory democracy and direct action for principled and strategic reasons. But while the actors in that social movement sought broad alliances with labor and environmentalists in opposition to multinational capital and global financial institutions, the targets were too abstract and the protesters too marginal to do more than grab occasional headlines. Under current conditions, however, that model has proved its worth, politically and strategically.

The ubiquitous use of the tools of social media has aided the attempt to remain democratic and “leaderless.” Forging ahead in uncharted political territory, the “open-source populism” of this potential social movement seems committed to empoweringthe multitude of voices of the 99 percent to speak. This is not to suggest the activists have no structure; they have implemented an inclusive, participatory, and consensus-based set of rules and practices at general assemblies to guide their organizing, decision-making, and direct actions. Smaller committees or working groups focus on specific themes or tasks to be taken up in more depth and then brought back to the broader group for discussion and action. This flattened and democratic model suggests that OWS might be leaderless, but it is not rudderless. Assuming the assemblies stay inclusive and don’t get paralyzed by ideological rigidity or agents provocateurs, OWS has the potential to continue to grow while maintaining its open-source and democratic decision-making structure.

OF COURSE this movement faces many challenges, from without and within. The most significant external challenge the protesters will face (besides the coming winter weather) is outright state repression. As the occupation spreads to cities across the country and around the world, local police directed by political elites might infiltrate, attack, or bring trumped-up charges against protesters, as has already happened in Boston and other cities. While this could backfire and add more fuel to the fire (as happened with the pepper-spray incident and when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatened to remove occupiers under the pretense of cleaning up Zuccotti Park), challenges to political and economic elites remain vulnerable to various forms of state aggression. Given the extraordinary rein given by the Obama administration to the FBI and its recent harassment of antiwar activists, we should assume that the movement will become a target, if it hasn’t already.

But OWS’s internal challenges are just as important. First, while OWS has the potential to overcome the racial and nativist limitations of its populist forebears, there is still much work to do. The commonality of the claim to the 99 percent could become a belief in a homogeneity that flattens out important distinctions that we should acknowledge, struggle with, and benefit from. Participants need to learn how to confront internal forms of hierarchy, and understand the ways that different social locations of participants (according to race, gender, class, and sexuality) can shape movement culture, structure, and strategy, and even the content of demands. It is encouraging that many of the occupations are already raising and struggling with these issues. At the same time, such struggles should not devolve into self-criticism circles that paralyze the hard-won populist character of the movement against its common enemies.

Second, the movement will need to develop clear organizational tools that can help build, sustain, and prevent it from being undermined. While consensus is an honorable goal, as a decision-making structure it has major problems and trade-offs. It is democratic and participatory in small groups, but in large groups it allows small minorities to stymie majoritarian will by vetoing proposals. Consensus has frustrated the potential of many organizations that value direct democracy. The use of consensus in the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1970s, for example, allowed police infiltrators to sow discord and prevent action. OWS will also need to channel its energy toward specific goals at some point, although in our view, the broad critique of capitalism and the failure of democracy inherent in the current message allows for the assemblage of a broad counter-hegemonic movement, one that may foster numerous organizations with differing but associated goals, as has been the case with all large social movements.

Finally, OWS will require vigilance to avoid co-optation by other political organizations or the Democratic Party. The participation of labor, for instance, has been extraordinary and essential to OWS’s current buoyancy (and overcomes the 1960s legacy of the divide between “hardhats” and the antiwar and black freedom movements). But union participation may be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, while unions can provide bodies, resources, and organizational power, they can also potentially steer the movement away from the dramatic militancy that struck such a chord to begin with. Insofar as organized labor is a core constituency of the Democratic Party, the temptation of unions to try to direct OWS toward the party or the Obama re-election campaign will be hard to resist. Vital social movements always have their greatest impact outside conventional channels where their moral power is most compelling, their demands remain uncompromised, and they are free to pursue a wide range of disruptive actions.

Yet despite these external and internal challenges, we are confident the protesters will stay true to their core critique of the nation’s financial interests and broken political system, as well as OWS’s radically democratic ethos. OWS is a uniquely twenty-first century movement committed to end elite rule and establish genuine democracy, and we hope that the protesters continue to garner the crucial resources necessary to sustain it. If the movement can overcome the inevitable challenges facing those who confront extreme concentrations of economic and political power, Occupy Wall Street and its model of open-source populism has the potential to be as transformative as prior populist movements on the left—or even more so.

Joe Lowndes is an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon, and author of From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism

Dorian Warren is an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why the Rich Are Getting Richer :American Politics and the Second Gilded Age - Robert C. Lieberman

The U.S. economy appears to be coming apart at the seams. Unemployment remains at nearly ten percent, the highest level in almost 30 years; foreclosures have forced millions of Americans out of their homes; and real incomes have fallen faster and further than at any time since the Great Depression. Many of those laid off fear that the jobs they have lost -- the secure, often unionized, industrial jobs that provided wealth, security, and opportunity -- will never return. They are probably right.

And yet a curious thing has happened in the midst of all this misery. The wealthiest Americans, among them presumably the very titans of global finance whose misadventures brought about the financial meltdown, got richer. And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer. In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else's income went down. This was not an anomaly but rather a continuation of a 40-year trend of ballooning incomes at the very top and stagnant incomes in the middle and at the bottom. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.

This is what the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call the "winner-take-all economy." It is not a picture of a healthy society. Such a level of economic inequality, not seen in the United States since the eve of the Great Depression, bespeaks a political economy in which the financial rewards are increasingly concentrated among a tiny elite and whose risks are borne by an increasingly exposed and unprotected middle class. Income inequality in the United States is higher than in any other advanced industrial democracy and by conventional measures comparable to that in countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, and Turkmenistan. It breeds political polarization, mistrust, and resentment between the haves and the have-nots and tends to distort the workings of a democratic political system in which money increasingly confers political voice and power.

It is generally presumed that economic forces alone are responsible for this astonishing concentration of wealth. Technological changes, particularly the information revolution, have transformed the economy, making workers more productive and placing a premium on intellectual, rather than manual, labor. Simultaneously, the rise of global markets -- itself accelerated by information technology -- has hollowed out the once dominant U.S. manufacturing sector and reoriented the U.S. economy toward the service sector. The service economy also rewards the educated, with high-paying professional jobs in finance, health care, and information technology. At the low end, however, jobs in the service economy are concentrated in retail sales and entertainment, where salaries are low, unions are weak, and workers are expendable.

Champions of globalization portray these developments as the natural consequences of market forces, which they believe are not only benevolent (because they increase aggregate wealth through trade and make all kinds of goods cheaper to consume) but also unstoppable. Skeptics of globalization, on the other hand, emphasize the distributional consequences of these trends, which tend to confer tremendous benefits on a highly educated and highly skilled elite while leaving other workers behind. But neither side in this debate has bothered to question Washington's primary role in creating the growing inequality in the United States.


Hacker and Pierson refreshingly break free from the conceit that skyrocketing inequality is a natural consequence of market forces and argue instead that it is the result of public policies that have concentrated and amplified the effects of the economic transformation and directed its gains exclusively toward the wealthy. Since the late 1970s, a number of important policy changes have tilted the economic playing field toward the rich. Congress has cut tax rates on high incomes repeatedly and has relaxed the tax treatment of capital gains and other investment income, resulting in windfall profits for the wealthiest Americans.

Labor policies have made it harder for unions to organize workers and provide a countervailing force to the growing power of business; corporate governance policies have enabled corporations to lavish extravagant pay on their top executives regardless of their companies' performance; and the deregulation of financial markets has allowed banks and other financial institutions to create ever more Byzantine financial instruments that further enrich wealthy managers and investors while exposing homeowners and pensioners to ruinous risks.

In some cases, these policy changes originated on Capitol Hill: the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts, for example, and the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a repeal that dismantled the firewall between banks and investment companies and allowed the creation of powerful and reckless financial behemoths such as Citigroup, were approved by Congress, generally with bipartisan support. However, other policy shifts occurred gradually and imperceptibly.

Hacker and Pierson's second important point is that major policy shifts do not always happen in such obvious ways. Many of the policies that have facilitated the winner-take-all economy have just as often come about as a result of what Hacker and Pierson call "drift," which occurs when an enacted policy fails to keep up with changing circumstances and then falls short of, or even subverts, its intended goal. The American system of separated powers -- with its convoluted procedures and bizarre rules, such as vetoes and the filibuster -- is especially conducive to drift, particularly compared to more streamlined parliamentary systems in other countries that afford majorities relatively unimpeded dominance over the policymaking process. Policies in the United States, once made, tend to be hard to overturn or even to modify.

Sometimes drift occurs through simple neglect or inertia. An example is the phenomenon known as "bracket creep," the process by which prior to the indexing introduced in 1981, inflation pushed incomes into higher tax brackets. But Hacker and Pierson particularly zero in on instances of intentional policy drift, when policymakers deliberately sidestepped or resisted available policy alternatives that might have reduced inequality. Allowing corporate executives to be compensated with stock options is one such case; stock-option compensation tends to bend incentives toward the short-term maximization of share prices rather than planning for long-term growth. Consequently, such compensation has allowed top managers to capture jaw-dropping gains despite their companies' often dismal performances. The long-term cost of corporate failure is borne not by CEOs and their executive minions, of course, but by rank-and-file employees, who get laid off when companies need to cut costs and whose pension investments are wiped out when companies' stocks sink.

In the 1990s, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which regulates accounting practices, noticed this practice, correctly predicted the damage it would do to the economy, and then sought to curtail it. But Congress, spurred on by the lobbying efforts of major corporations, stopped the FASB in its tracks. As a result, Americans spent the 1990s and the first decade of this century living under 1970s accounting rules, which allowed top executives to more or less help themselves and, through the mutual back-scratching habits of corporate boards, help one another.

Similarly, labor law has failed to keep up with the times. Policymakers have repeatedly failed to enact reforms that would have accommodated new union-organizing techniques and empowered unions to counter the growing power of business to resist labor's demands. In this realm, the United States is running a twenty-first-century economy under 1940s rules. A clearheaded understanding of the power of drift in policymaking puts the Republican congressional minority during President Barack Obama's first two years in a fresh light. Obsessive obstructionism is not just a symptom of general crabbiness; it is a shrewd and sensible part of a larger strategy to enrich corporations while gutting long-standing protections for the middle class.
The dramatic growth of inequality, then, is the result not of the "natural" workings of the market but of four decades' worth of deliberate political choices. Hacker and Pierson amass a great deal of evidence for this proposition, which leads them to the crux of their argument: that not just the U.S. economy but also the entire U.S. political system has devolved into a winner-take-all sport. They portray American politics not as a democratic game of majority rule but rather as a field of "organized combat" -- a struggle to the death among competing organized groups seeking to influence the policymaking process. Moreover, they suggest, business and the wealthy have all but vanquished the middle class and have thus been able to dominate policymaking for the better part of 40 years with little opposition.


In pursuing this argument, Hacker and Pierson revive the old academic tradition of pluralism to shine a bright light on some of the pathologies of American politics. The contemporary study of American politics emerged from pluralism, the post-World War II view that in the shadow of the two totalitarianisms of midcentury Europe -- communism and fascism -- democracy could be rendered stable and progressive through a politics of mutual accommodation among relatively evenly matched groups. Rather than titanic conflict between workers and capitalists, so the argument went, pluralist democracy would produce solid incremental policy changes that would inch American society forward toward security and affluence. The dramatic and decidedly nonincremental events of the 1960s and 1970s -- the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and broader cultural upheaval -- punctured this view.

Critics of pluralism began to note its limitations, emphasizing the primacy of individual motivations rather than group affiliations. Since then, the study of American politics has largely turned away from questions of organized interests and their role in policymaking and has focused instead on the ways in which individual attitudes and behavior combine to produce policy. Yet if one assumes that people vote based on their economic interests and that election outcomes influence policy through something like majority rule, how can one account for a generation of policies that promoted the interests of the wealthy few at the direct expense of everybody else?

Another critique of pluralism is that it underestimated the lopsidedness of political organization. As the great political scientist E. E. Schattschneider wrote in 1960, "The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent." Schattschneider, it turned out, did not know the half of it. To most observers, the 1960s seemed the height of American liberalism, and the decade's policy developments -- upgrading the basic New Deal package of social protection and labor rights to include extensive protection of civil rights and civil liberties and additional benefits such as limited health insurance -- seemed to bear out this view. But to business elites, the 1960s marked the nadir of their influence in American society, and they did not react passively. The era saw the stirrings of a conservative counterrevolution marked by ideological, political, and organizational developments, and particularly by the political awakening of business.
American conservatives, increasingly empowered by effective organization and lavish funding from their patrons in the business community, began to actively resist the politics of pluralist accommodation. Rather than accepting the basic contours of the New Deal and the Great Society and seeking to adjust them step by incremental step, conservatives assumed a newly confrontational posture and turned their efforts toward dismantling the legacies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

The economic crisis of the 1970s, which heralded the end of a generation of U.S. economic dominance, helped their cause by laying bare the limitations of the New Deal order. The country's economic and social policy regime -- which relied heavily on the private provision of important social protections, such as pensions and health insurance -- may have been adequate for a globally dominant industrial economy that generated 30 years of widely shared growth and stable employment for millions of industrial workers. But in the 1970s, it began to prove thoroughly inadequate for an era of globalization, deindustrialization, and economic dislocation, as displaced workers found themselves unable to rely on the government for economic protection. This, in Hacker and Pierson's parlance, was policy drift on a massive scale.

Ascendant conservatives seized on this state of affairs to argue that the whole New Deal edifice of social protection, financial regulation, progressive taxation, and civil rights should be dismantled rather than reinforced. Beginning with the Carter administration, the expanding business lobby successfully defeated proposal after reform proposal and aggressively promoted an opening round of tax cuts and deregulation -- mere down payments on the frenzy to come.


If there is a flaw in their telling of this grim tale, it is that Hacker and Pierson perhaps underestimate the actual discontent of the American middle class over the period they discuss. In the 1960s and 1970s, Americans came increasingly to distrust their government, and not without reason. Their leaders had led them into a distant war that proved unwinnable and tore the country apart; a criminally corrupt president was exposed and forced to resign; cities were going up in flames, exposing the deep racial rift that remained in American society despite the triumphs of the civil rights movement. Democrats and Republicans began to diverge on racial issues. The Republicans became the party not only of the wealthy but also of the whites (no Democrat since Johnson has received a majority of the white vote in a presidential election).

Even in the age of Obama, racial inequality remains an acute and intractable problem, and the forces of racial resentment, mingled with legitimate discontent over the government's abandonment of the middle class, infect American politics down to the present day (as the Tea Party movement's more lurid fulminations suggest). So by the late 1970s, dissatisfaction with the state of the government, politics, and policy was rampant across the board, among the wealthy and the middle class alike, and the conditions were ripe for a turn against the political status quo. Conservatives, on behalf of the wealthy, were ready with ideas and organization to seize the moment. Progressives and the middle class were not, and so began the spiral toward the winner-take-all game that Hacker and Pierson describe.

Like many social critics, Hacker and Pierson are long on diagnosis and rather short on treatment. Not surprisingly, they emphasize rebuilding the organizational capacity of the middle and working classes as the place to start repairing the infrastructure of American politics, neither a terribly precise prescription nor a route to a quick cure. But if they are right -- and theirs is a compelling case -- the task of restoring some sense of proportion and balance to the winner-take-all political economy is essential if the American body politic is to recover from its current diseased condition.

pictures taken by Isma'il ibn Bilal at Occupy Wall Street, October, 2011