Area Post Offices Slated For Reduced Retail Hours

Many post offices in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska are slated to have reduced hours of retail service.

Approval of the Post Office Structure Plan (POStPlan) by the Postal Regulatory Commission last week cleared the way for this process to begin. It doesn’t seem to be making much news right now, but I’m guessing that will change in the coming weeks as post offices get notifications of the plan and community meetings are scheduled.

More than 13,000 rural post offices across the nation will have their retail window hours reduced to six, four or two hours each weekday.

Retail window service hours are proposed to be reduced to six hours in the following area communities: Avon, Centerville, Menno, Springfield and Viborg. In Nebraska, Verdigre and Wausa will go to six hours.
Post offices slated to go to four hours are: Bridgewater, Gayville, Irene, Lesterville, Mission Hill, Tabor and Wakonda. In Nebraska, Center, Fordyce, Newcastle and Wynot will go to four hours.
Post offices scheduled to go to two hours are: Utica and Volin. In Nebraska, Magnet and St. Helena will go to two hours.
Elk Point, Freeman, Lake Andes, Vermillion, Wagner and Yankton will maintain eight hours of service, as will Bloomfield, Creighton, Crofton, Hartington, Laurel, Niobrara, Osmond, Plainview, Ponca and Randolph in Nebraska.

A story with more information will appear in Wednesday’s edition of the Press & Dakotan.

Save The Post Office” covers this issue in depth.

Where Have All The Good Jobs Gone?

Where have all the good jobs (i.e. good salaries) gone?

Well, increasingly, they don’t exist.

A recent NPR story titled “How America’s Losing the War on Poverty” gives us some insight:

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan delivered a State of the Union address in which he declared that the war on poverty had failed. Now, with the poverty rate in America expected to reach its highest rate since 1965, it looks like Reagan may have been right.

Not so, says Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert on poverty, but, he tells Raz, there is a lot to worry about.

“One reason is we’re still in a recession,” Edelman says. “We’ve had a change in our economy over the last 40 years that has produced a flood of low-wage jobs.”

One half of all jobs in the U.S. today now pay less than $35,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that’s one of the lowest rates for American workers in five decades.

There’s a common perception that somebody who’s poor or living below the poverty level is lazy or simply living off government handouts. Edelman says the actual average poor person is working.

“And working as hard as she or he possibly can,” he says. “And particularly in the recession, not able to get work or steady work. There are certainly people who make bad choices, but the fundamental question in our economy is the number of people who are doing absolutely everything they can to support their families — and they just can’t make it.”

You read that right: One half of jobs in America now pay less than $35,000 annually.

And just because you have an education beyond high school doesn’t mean you aren’t going to end up with one of those jobs that pay less than $35,000. (Full disclosure: I’m a case in point.)

I recently wrote a story about education levels in Yankton County which showed:

In Yankton County, for example, the number of people above the age of 25 with college degrees rose from 10.3 percent in 1970 to 26.8 percent in 2010, according to Census data.

That was slightly below the 2010 national average of 27.9 percent, but higher than the South Dakota average of 25.3 percent.

Yankton County had 10,273 adults over 25 years of age in 1970 and 15,390 such adults in 2010.

A study by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, “Where Have All The Good Jobs Gone?,” finds that the nation, in general, has increased its education levels, but that has not led to better jobs.

The U.S. workforce is substantially older and better educated than it was at the end of the 1970s.
The typical worker in 2010 was seven years older than in 1979. In 2010, over one-third of US
workers had a four-year college degree or more, up from just one-fifth in 1979.

Given that older and better educated workers generally receive higher pay and better benefits, we
would have expected the share of “good jobs” in the economy to have increased in line with
improvements in the quality of workforce. Instead, the share of “good jobs” in the U.S. economy
has actually fallen.

By our definition of a good job – one that pays at least $37,000 per year, has employer-provided
health insurance, and an employer-sponsored retirement plan – the share of workers with a “good
job” fell from 27.4 percent in 1979 to 24.6 percent in 2010. The total share of good jobs had
declined even before the Great Recession; in 2007, for example, only 25.0 percent of workers had a
good job by our definition.

Our estimates, which control for increases in age and education of the population, suggest that
relative to 1979 the economy has lost about one-third (28 to 38 percent) of its capacity to generate
good jobs.

Let’s look at some of the jobs in Yankton County and see how we stack up.

A recent flier from Yankton Area Progressive Growth showed that the average annual wage for a Yankton County manufacturing worker was $37,124 — just barely fitting into CEPR’s “good job” category by that measure. For someone in professional services, the average wage is $29,296. If you are in business support services, it’s $27,768.

Unknown is how many of those jobs have health care and a retirement plan.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Yankton County workers had an average weekly wage of $641 in the second quarter of 2011 (the most recent I could find). That’s $33,332 per year.

According to the BLS:

When all 66 counties in South Dakota were considered, none had wages above the national average of $891. Ten reported average weekly wages under $500, 23 had wages from $500 to $549, 12 reported wages from $550 to $599, 11 had wages from $600 to $649, and 10 had wages of $650 or more.

So what does CEPR think is happening with the economy?

The standard explanation for the deterioration in the economy’s ability to create good jobs is that
most workers’ skills have not kept up with the rapid pace of technological change. But, if
technological change were behind the decline in good jobs, then we would expect that a higher –
probably substantially higher – share of workers with a four-year college degree or more would have
good jobs today. Instead, at every age level, workers with four years or more of college are actually
less likely to have a good job now than three decades ago. This development is even more surprising
because the economy also has almost twice as many workers with advanced degrees today as it did in
1979.

We believe, instead, that the decline in the economy’s ability to create good jobs is related to a
deterioration in the bargaining power of workers, especially those at the middle and the bottom of
the income scale. The main cause of the loss of bargaining power is the large-scale restructuring of
the labor market that began at the end of the 1970s and continues to the present. The share of
private-sector workers who are unionized has fallen from 23 percent in 1979 to less than 8 percent
today. The inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage today is 15 percent below what it was in
1979. Several large industries, including trucking, airlines, telecommunications, and others, have been
deregulated, often at a substantial cost to their workers. Many jobs in state and local government
have been privatized and outsourced. Trade policy has put low- and middle-wage workers in the
United States in direct competition with typically much lower-wage workers in the rest of the world.
A dysfunctional immigration system has left a growing share of our immigrant population at the
mercy of their employers, while increasing competitive pressures on low-wage workers born in the
United States. And all of these changes have played out in a macroeconomic context that has – with
the exception of the last half of the 1990s – placed a much greater emphasis on controlling inflation
than achieving full employment. In our view, these policy decisions, rooted in politics, are the main
explanations for the decline in the economy’s ability to generate good jobs.

Ultimately, these are some sad facts to chew on, I think most anybody would agree. But those are the facts.

The question is, what do we do about them?

Let’s Dig A Little Deeper And Visit The People Underground

It’s easy to get caught up in your own life and perspective on things.

That’s one reason I’m such an avid consumer of news, books, films and music — because they are able to give me a wider perspective on things and prevent me from getting so caught up in myself.

This also helps develop a very important muscle called empathy. Too many people don’t exercise it enough.

I know I have my own work to do in this area.

I’ve been consuming a plethora of information about poverty lately — a lot of it by accident. It’s a subject that has really been occupying my thoughts more than usual and prompted me to write a column recently.

Last night, I stumbled across an incredible documentary from 2001 that is streaming on Netflix. It’s called “Children Underground.”

If you can handle a punch to the stomach, watch it and see if it doesn’t put some things in perspective for you.

Wikipedia sums up the film’s contents:

Homeless children are the casualties of Romania’s recent history. In an effort to increase the nation’s work force, former communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu outlawed contraception and abortion in 1966. Thousands of unwanted children were placed in state orphanages, where they faced terrible conditions. With the fall of Communism, many children moved onto the streets. Some were from the orphanages. Others were runways from impoverished families. Today there are 20,000 children living on the streets. The resources for sheltering these homeless youths are severely limited.

Children Underground follows the story of five street children, aged eight to sixteen who live in a subway station in Bucharest, Romania. The street kids are encountered daily by commuting adults, who pass them by in the station as they starve, swindle, and steal, all while searching desperately for a fresh can of paint to get high with.

If you don’t have Netflix, the whole Oscar-nominated film is available for free at various online sites, including Youtube. Here is the first 10 minutes:

When some individuals advocate making abortions illegal and contraceptives more difficult to access, “Children Underground” demonstrates the potential outcomes of those policies. Granted, the circumstances in Romania are/were much different than the United States. But it’s something to think about, all the same.

I also ran across a great column in The Guardian about poverty written by Jonathan Glennie.

It opens:

Speaking at a business meeting recently, I was reminded of a deep-seated instinct common among the elite, political and educated classes that continues to prevent many countries from addressing historic inequalities and progressing on poverty reduction: that it is the poor’s own fault that they are poor.

I have lost count of the number of well-educated, well-off people I have spoken to who seem to believe that poor people somehow “want to be poor” or are simply too dim to escape from poverty.

The banana-businesswoman’s view that “poor people suffer from a culture of poverty”. The ex-beauty queen who told me that she had once begged at a traffic light as part of her studies and had come to the conclusion that it was an easy way to make money – poor people must just be lazy, she said. The USAid consultant who explained to me over lunch that “some indigenous people just don’t want to develop”.

It is not only failed economic and social policies that are barriers to poverty reduction; it is this failure of so many people – voters, politicians and so-called “development experts” – to empathise with the reality of poverty and the problems poor people have to overcome.

Because, in a sense, the USAid consultant was right – many indigenous people see “development”, as traditionally understood, as a threat to their way of life, and therefore don’t want to “develop”. And some poor people have had so many knockbacks that they have become resigned to their poverty, which, to a non-empathetic mind, may look like laziness. In some cases, communities are just not as interested in making money as development experts think they should be. (And, yes, some poor people are lazy, just like lots of rich people.)

Read the rest of the column here.

How often do you find yourself thinking the same things Glennie laments hearing? How often do you hear other people say these things?

It’s very easy to project things onto people we don’t know, especially when they lead very different lives from us.

At a time when debates are being had about the poor (very much in the vein of “Are they poor because they are lazy and/or want to be poor?) in our own country and cutting more services available to them, it is important to dig into these subjects and better understand the circumstances these people face and figure out what we can do as a society to bring people out of or avoid poverty.

OK, this has been kind of a downer post, so perhaps I should end it on a musical note. It’s very much related to the subject at hand but also happens to be one of the best Britpop anthems of the 1990s.

Behold Pulp’s smart, wonderful (and glorious!) “Common People”:

‘An Unseen Hand’ Brings The Faint Out Of Its Slumber

The Faint is an amazing live act.

I’ve been attending the Omaha, Neb., band’s concerts for more than a decade now (which is hard to believe), and I would probably rate them as my second favorite live act behind, of course, Depeche Mode.

The Faint is similar to Depeche Mode in that they both mix electronic music and rock in a way that can keep the crowd moving for the whole show. In fact, The Faint is relentless in that aspect, whereas Depeche Mode offers its fans a few breathers during some slower numbers.

The Faint is quite possibly the band I’ve seen play live more than any other. I’ve danced through more than a dozen of their shows.

So it was with sadness when I read last year that the band was uncertain of its future with the departure of bassist Joel Petersen. The last time The Faint played live was at the 2010 Maha Festival. It was an incredible show, as always.

Thankfully, they reunited (sans Petersen) to play a show in Des Moines and two in Omaha this past week. I caught the Saturday night performance at The Slowdown.

It was just like old times, although the band was obviously still adjusting to having four members instead of five.

They played one of my favorite songs, “Hospital,” which I caught on video for you:

They opened the show with a song that, as far as I know, is new. I would guess it’s called something along the lines of “An Unseen Hand.”

As you can see, the fans were certainly enjoying the music, so I’d say the remaining members of The Faint made a good choice in returning to the stage.

My only complaint as a long-time fan is that the band wasn’t dressed uniformly in black like it often used to do. It just fit the music much better than — especially — singer Todd Finke’s current choice of wardrobe. What can I say? It’s a matter of personal preference. It’s kind of how Robert Smith of The Cure got a lot of flack in the 1980s when he cut his hair and wasn’t wearing as much make-up. Some bands have a stage persona that goes with the music. When they depart from that, they arguably lose something. Robert Smith recognized that. Will The Faint? (Not that it will prevent me from seeing their shows …)

***

UPDATE:

Tim McMahan at Lazy-i articulates some of what I was getting at with the wardrobe remarks:

If there’s a criticism of Saturday night’s show it was that the band seemed more stripped down, less “theatric,” and as a result, less sinister. At their best, there is a darkness to The Faint, a layer of dread that adds depth to everything they do. Hopefully, as they move forward, that dread will return.

Read his review of the show here. (Tim even includes a link to my video. Sweet.)

***

Read all about The Faint’s reunion here in an interview with The Reader.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t include the video for The Faint’s “Agenda Suicide.” The song is a fan favorite and often closes out the band’s shows, as it did Saturday.

Does Yankton Need An Events Coordinator Or A Retail Development Position? Or Both???

The Yankton City Commission had a really fascinating budget discussion Monday night about holding more events in the city to improve the quality of life and becoming more aggressive with retail development.

In speaking with residents here, I know both are very important issues with them.

The story below ran in the Press & Dakotan today, but I had to make quite a few cuts to it for the printed version. Here I am able to run the uncut version, so to speak. It has more details of the discussion.

Again, given how important these issues are, I thought some of my readers may appreciate the additional information.

———

The Yankton City Commission was in agreement during a budget session this week that it wants to support more events that improve the quality of life in the community and get more aggressive about promoting retail development.
However, the question came down to how best to accomplish those goals given limited budgetary resources.
During an hour-long discussion Monday, the commission debated the merits of creating an events coordinator position, a retail development position and other possible solutions.
Parks and Recreation Director Todd Larson said he had been looking at a concept of the city holding a significant event approximately every month with an event coordinator responsible for organizing them.
Among the events he proposed the city could put on using paid staff were:
• a summer-through-fall farmer’s market in Riverside Park on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Tuesday events could be linked to the summer concert series in the park, Larson noted;
• a concert in Memorial Park the first Saturday in June that could also incorporate sports tournaments like three-man basketball, sand volleyball and horseshoes;
• expanding the Fourth of July celebration to include sports tournaments, a beer garden, food vendors and inflatable rides for children;
• a two-day blues festival in August;
• a possible air show at Chan Gurney Airport in October;
• a fun run/walk in conjunction with a Veteran’s Day event in November;
• building on Bald Eagle Days in January;
• building on the annual winter festival held in February;
• a geocaching event in April; and
• a Cinco de Mayo event in May.
For the larger events, Larson said some of the costs could be recouped by bidding out sponsorships.
“We think there’s value there,” he stated, saying naming rights could go for $10,000, for example. “(Former City Manager Doug Russell) had a strong feeling we could sell some of these events pretty easily that way.”
Questions arise if the city began to assist nonprofits with their events, Larson admitted. How revenues would be shared or shortfalls filled are examples, he said.
“Concept-wise, it was never to take over anybody’s events in town, it was to supplement and add to what is already going on,” Larson stated. “Will the events attract people from out of town? Yes. But that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is, we want people in Yankton to have more to do and have more positive things to say about Yankton.”
Commissioners said the idea was a good one but all were leery of hiring a full-time events coordinator.
When asked, Larson said his department could accomplish at least some of the events without a new organizer. However, Interim City Manager Al Viereck said holding an event a month at current staff levels would be next to impossible.
“You’re going to tax his staff so badly that they’re going to leave him, even his part-time staff,” he stated.
Viereck pointed out that Russell put a significant amount of time into organizing the 150th celebration in 2011, and he was able to tap into different city departments for assistance. Larson would not have the same ability, he stated.
The success of the 2011 concert was a benchmark throughout the discussion.
“The reason we’re talking about (an events coordinator), in my opinion, is because how the 150th worked out,” Commissioner Paul Lowrie said. “It was a very light load on the community. That was the positive experience out of that. We were able to do something larger and manage it because we had city backing and staff doing everything.”
When it comes to other organizations needing assistance with events, Commissioner Charlie Gross said the Yankton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is available to help.
“The fact that the Chamber of Commerce can’t find volunteers to do the Fourth of July is why the city now has that as a parks function,” he added, referring to the Fourth of July fireworks celebration being taken over by the city in recent years. “If we make (an events coordinator) available, we’ll end up with a lot more than July 4 events. We’re letting everyone else off the hook.”
Gross suggested that the lack of volunteers indicates the public does not really care about whether an event like the Fourth of July is held.
“One thing the CVB definitely cannot do is the logistics of pulling off a large event like a blues fest,” Lowrie said. “They’re going to have the same thing where they say, ‘Increase our budget so we have someone who can do that.’ One thing the city has is a staff where, when appropriate, can be applied to some of these things.”
A lack of volunteers does not indicate community disinterest, Commissioner David Knoff said.
“The Fourth of July is a perfect example,” he stated. “If you don’t think it’s that important of a deal to the community because the Chamber doesn’t want to do it, then let’s quit doing it. Then (the public will) come in here, set us all on fire, shoot us and do everything else. They want the event. They just don’t want to step up to it. They want to go to it.
“People volunteer their time, but it’s easy to get burned out because nine people end up carrying the load,” Knoff continued. “I don’t think it’s a function of people not wanting the events. I think … taxpayers are willing to let their tax dollars go toward making the events happen. They would rather pay taxes and have the city do the event than do it themselves … Volunteers do wonderful things, but to take it to another level to actually get quality concerts and events, I think Riverboat Days is the exception to the rule. I think most of the time, you’re going to have to provide assistance to make that happen.”
Knoff said that, if an events coordinator were hired, the commission would have to do so with the knowledge they may have to be let go in a year or two if things don’t work out.
“Todd, as long as you’re comfortable with that, I may be willing to take a risk on something like that,” he stated.

Would A Retail Development Position Make More Sense?

Guiding the discussion, Mayor Nancy Wenande asked if adding a retail development position instead of an events coordinator would make more sense.
Several commissioners said having someone to promote retail growth in the community is a higher priority than an events coordinator.
“It’s nice to think the developers will come to us, but Menards didn’t come to us,” Wenande said. “We went to the developer, and we pushed it. ‘We’ being Doug and the city. Someone had to make that connection. Someone had to go after it. They weren’t just going to come knocking on our doorstep.
“If we want to be aggressive and really become a player in southeast South Dakota, we need to have someone lead us in that direction,” she continued. “Is it going to be our new city manager? Quite possibly. But if not, should we have someone driving that for us? Absolutely. I don’t think any of the nine of us has the skills to go out there and work on recruiting business development. We’re part-time commissioners. This is not our careers.”
Commissioner Craig Sommer said a full-time individual could work on not only retail but pretty much anything non-industrial. The Yankton Office of Economic Development focuses on that sector.
“What you need is to have somebody that is full time and out promoting Yankton and calling these developers every two weeks,” Sommer stated. “You don’t get back to them every six months. Without having somebody to do this, we’re at a big disadvantage to a Brookings, an Aberdeen or Omaha. Those towns have people actively going out and trying to do this for them. We’re just sitting here hoping that this new Menards is going to bring us a new strip mall or Target. We have no idea if that’s even been discussed with anybody yet.”
He said he was unaware of any contact with Greenbow Real Estate Partners, which is the developer for the Menards property, since city officials had visited with them during a retail convention earlier this year.
The commission also debated whether it wanted to encourage Mike Dellinger in the Office of Economic Development to begin pursuing retail development in addition to industrial growth.
Viereck reminded the commission that it will soon be interviewing for a new city manager.
“You know the success that can lead to,” he said. “I don’t think there is one of us that questions that Doug (Russell) is the reason Menards is here. What about challenging the new city manager and saying you’ll give him an administrative assistant?”
That employee could be charged with focusing on retail development, Viereck proposed.
Larson added that, when he was an employee of Orange City, Iowa, an assistant city manager focused on both retail development and events planning. Larson said he reported to that individual, who was able to give him the citywide assistance he needed for events.
Several on the commission said the idea of hiring an administrative assistant for the city manager who could take on these duties would be ideal. No one vocalized disapproval.
The commission agreed to come back to the issue in the future once a new city manager has been hired.

Greed Isn’t Good For Anybody

How did the people of Europe view greed in the Middle Ages?

Well, they didn’t like it — at all.

A Stanford researcher has looked into the subject:

Surveys of the carnage of the American financial crisis that began in 2008 have revealed the potent allure of personal gain above all else.

But greed hasn’t always been popular in Western societies.

Stanford historian Laura Stokes is uncovering how attitudes toward “acceptable greed” have done a turnaround in the past 500 years. Self-serving behavior deemed necessary on Wall Street today might have been despised in medieval Europe. One might even have been murdered for using wealth as a justification for circumventing societal norms.

While businessmen in the Middle Ages did amass personal fortunes, open greed was unacceptable to the community and could even lead to murder.

Capitalism, Stokes has found, managed to flourish in the intensely community-conscious culture of medieval times. Men of business successfully built financial empires based on trade and credit, even though unbridled greed was universally condemned.

The question that perplexes Stokes, an assistant professor of history, is how such men could be admired by their peers, when greed was frowned upon.

In short, blatantly selfish economic behavior was simply unacceptable. In describing the contradiction between present-day business attitudes and a medieval mindset, Stokes said, “A medieval businessman would surely be impressed by the successes of his modern descendants, but he would also despise them as men without honor or virtue.”

It’s worth clicking on the link to read the rest of the story.
Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for the murder of those who are openly greedy. Don’t try to pin that on me.
But in an America where greed is often considered a virtue and the rich are elevated to saintly status, perhaps it would be worthwhile to remember what our ancestors knew — greed isn’t good for anybody.
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, released a book earlier this year called “The Price of Inequality.”
He recently did an interview with The Associated Press that is a good indicator for what you can find in the book. I think the above theme applies to Stiglitz’ work — to repeat, greed isn’t good for anybody.
This interview with The Associated Press and some more background on Stiglitz can be found here.

Q: The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are no longer in the news, but you make the case that income inequality is more important than ever. How so?

A: Because it’s getting worse. Look at the recent Federal Reserve numbers. Median wealth fell 40 percent from 2007 to 2010, bringing it back to where it was in the early ’90s. For two decades, all the increase in the country’s wealth, which was enormous, went to the people at the very top.

It may have been a prosperous two decades. But it wasn’t like we all shared in this prosperity.

The financial crisis really made this easy to understand. Inequality has always been justified on the grounds that those at the top contributed more to the economy — “the job creators.”

Then came 2008 and 2009, and you saw these guys who brought the economy to the brink of ruin walking off with hundreds of millions of dollars. And you couldn’t justify that in terms of contribution to society.

The myth had been sold to people, and all of a sudden it was apparent to everybody that it was a lie.

Mitt Romney has called concerns about inequality the “politics of envy.” Well, that’s wrong. Envy would be saying, “He’s doing so much better than me. I’m jealous.” This is: “Why is he getting so much money, and he brought us to the brink of ruin?” And those who worked hard are the ones ruined. It’s a question of fairness.

Q: Markets aren’t meant to be fair. As long as we have markets, there are going to be winners and losers. What’s wrong with that?

A: I’m not arguing for the elimination of inequality. But the extreme that we’ve reached is really bad. Particularly the way it’s created. We could have a more equal society and a more efficient, stable, higher-growing economy. That’s really the “so what.” Even if you don’t have any moral values and you just want to maximize GDP growth, this level of inequality is bad.

It’s not just the unfairness. The point is that we’re paying a high price. The story we were told was that inequality was good for our economy. I’m telling a different story, that this level of inequality is bad for our economy.

Q: You argue that it’s making our economy grow more slowly and connect it to “rent- seeking.” That’s an economist’s term. Can you explain it in layman’s terms?

A: Some people get an income from working, and some people get an income just because they own a resource. Their income isn’t the result of effort. They’re getting a larger share of the pie instead of making the pie bigger. In fact, they’re making it smaller.

Q: So, for example, I put a toll booth at a busy intersection and keep all the money for myself.

A: That’s right. You just collect the money. You’re not adding anything. It’s often used when we talk about oil-rich countries. The oil is there, and everybody fights over the spoils. The result is that those societies tend to do very badly because they spend all their energy fighting over the pile of dollars rather than making the pile of dollars bigger. They’re trying to get a larger share of the rent.

Q: Where do you see this in the U.S.? Can you point to some specific examples?

A: You see it with oil and natural resources companies and their mineral leases and timber leases. Banks engaged in predatory lending. Visa and MasterCard just settled for $7 billion for anticompetitive behavior. They were charging merchants more money because they have monopoly power.

One good example was Goldman Sachs creating a security that’s designed to fail. That’s just taking money from some fool who trusted them. Our society functions well when people trust each other. It’s particularly important for people to trust their banks. Goldman basically said, “You can’t trust us.”

Q: Economic growth is slowing again. Unemployment seems to be stuck above 8 percent. Is that the result of high debts or slower spending?

A: The fundamental problem is not government debt. Over the past few years, the budget deficit has been caused by low growth. If we focus on growth, then we get growth, and our deficit will go down. If we just focus on the deficit, we’re not going to get anywhere.

This deficit fetishism is killing our economy. And you know what? This is linked to inequality. If we go into austerity, that will lead to higher unemployment and will increase inequality. Wages go down, aggregate demand goes down, wealth goes down.

All the homeowners who are underwater, they can’t consume. We gave money to bail out the banking system, but we didn’t give money to the people who were underwater on their mortgages. They can’t spend. That’s what’s driving us down. It’s household spending.

Q: And those with money to spend, you point out, spend less of every dollar. Those at the top of the income scale save nearly a quarter of their income. Those at the bottom spend every penny. Is that why tax cuts seem to have little effect on spending?

A: Exactly. When you redistribute money from the bottom to the top, the economy gets weaker. And all this stuff about the top investing in the country is (nonsense). No, they don’t. They’re asking where they can get the highest returns, and they’re looking all over the globe. So they’re investing in China and Brazil and Latin America, emerging markets, not America.

If the U.S. is a good place to invest, we’ll get money from all over the world. If we have an economy that’s not growing, we won’t get investment. That’s exactly what’s happening. The Federal Reserve stimulates the economy by buying bonds. Where’s the money go? Abroad.

Q: What’s the answer, then? Raising taxes on wealthy people can’t possibly solve all the problems you mention.

A: No, there’s no magic bullet. But there are other ways of doing things. Just to pick one, look at how we finance higher education. Right now, we have this predatory lending system by our banks with no relief from bankruptcy. In some fundamental ways, it’s really evil and oppressive. Parents that co-sign student loans now find out they can’t discharge those loans, even in bankruptcy.

Education is so important, but there are so many barriers. Just 8 percent of those students in the most selective colleges come from the bottom half of the income scale. Eight percent! They can’t get in because they don’t get as good an education in elementary and high schools. Education is the vehicle for social mobility. It’s how we restore the American dream.

A Dum, Icky Awesome Time: Maha Music Festival 2012

I attended the Maha Music Festival in Omaha this past weekend. It’s the third time I’ve been lucky enough to be present for the annual event.

This year’s line-up included headliners Garbage and Desaparecidos.

But I was most excited to see Icky Blossoms, an Omaha electronic dance band that put out its debut album earlier this year. In fact, my brother and I were both in agreement that they were the band we were most looking forward to despite many other highlights in the line-up. We’ve been listening to their album non-stop.

It turns out that our excitement was justified.

By the time the Icky Blossoms broke into their second song of the set, “Sex to the Devil” (which is just as seductive as it sounds), the crowd was going nuts. It was a full-fledged dance party under a light rain. The band joked several times that they were “rain gods.”

I took a break from dancing to catch footage of the Icky Blossoms playing their first single, “Babes.”

One of the real pleasures of the day-long music festival in Stinson Park was watching Icky Blossoms bassist Saber Blazek play. The man is possessed when the music gets going, and it’s hard not to follow him into that zone. (He is the animated gentleman on the left in the above video.)

Here is the most recent video from Icky Blossoms. It’s for one of my favorite tracks (and Saturday’s set closer), “Perfect Vision.”

When you start hearing Icky Blossoms music all over the place, remember you heard about them here first. They ignited an energy in the crowd at Maha that, quite frankly, no other band replicated.

Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls at the 2012 Maha Music Festival.

My second-favorite act of the day was The Dum Dum Girls.

I’ve been listening to the band for the last three years. They do their gauzy dream pop very well, but they hadn’t risen to the top of my playlists.

After seeing them live, I can tell you I’ll be listening to a lot more of them.

They aren’t the most animated of bands live, but they are beautiful enough that a little swaying can go a long way.

My favorite song of the set was “Coming Down,” which is off their upcoming EP “Only in Dreams.”

I didn’t record any footage of them Saturday, but this video pretty much replicates what I saw (down to the same outfits!).

Here is the official video for the song:

Other highlights of the day included:

— Icky Blossom Derek Presnall letting his little girl sing the “ABC Song” at the close of her set. It was a little surreal hearing an entire crowd sing their ABC’s;

— Rain starting to fall just as Garbage closed their set with “Only Happy When It Rains.” Lead singer Shirley Manson called it a “precious moment” and claimed it had never happened before.

— Desaparecidos ripping through their new song, “Left is Right.”

— The sets of Eli Mardock and The Conduits, though I think The Conduits would have benefited from playing in the dark rather than 1 in the afternoon.

For complete coverage of the Maha Music Festival, check out Kevin Coffey’s article for the Omaha World-Herald here and L. Kent Wolgamott’s story for the Lincoln Journal-Star here.