Sunday, February 1, 2015

US Sponges, Unite!   (It's Not Recession - It's Robbery and It's Been Planned for Decades) No Noah? (Extreme-Super Rich Billionaires Breakdown (Or Who Has Your Money))

All hail the supremely gifted David Sipress.

What a surprise.

Obama's ready to cut Social Security/Medicare/Disability/Medicaid/Food Stamps (even more) . . . did I leave any social safety net programs out? Excuuuuuuse me (h/t Steve Martin) but I forgot the ever-in-the-background jobs/country-destroying TPP which will inevitably cut every program of any type of current (meaning already paid-into-by-taxpayers-for-years) safety-net-for-the-helpless program left in the country once it is finally fast-tracked through to completion. But not to worry - they'll all go/disappear/be traded in the search for a Great Deal (terrible compromise) with the Big Bad Scary Republicans. So it'll be worth it.

Or something.

Anyone wanna join the BRICS yet?

Pssst. Yo, Jamie and Lloyd and all you Too Big to Fails and billionaire donors. You are growing at warp speed, guys! You are creating crappy precarious low-wage jobs at the fastest hyper-capitalistic pace in decades. Your own wages are rising, at upwards of 300 times that of your average worker. That is the most extreme in the entire world. The wages of the little guy are not only stagnating, they are falling. David Cay Johnson has the lowdown and the charts over at Al-Jazeera. No worries, though, the "Times"  and the cable channels aren't covering this inconvenient truth.

The superb Sardonicky, political theorist par excellence for the underclasses, explains the latest Obama phenomenon.

He's above 50% in the polls.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Obama's Fascist Dog Whistle

In what President Obama grotesquely calls the fourth quarter of his game, he is simultaneously acting as both head cheerleader and star player of the plutocracy's burgeoning corporate global coup. Under the guise of a campaign called the "middle class economy," he's performing an epic fake on the heads of the populace and executing end-runs around democracy itself. And he does all of this while Deflategate is sucking up all the media oxygen in the room.

You have to hand it to Obama. Against all odds, his approval rating has clawed its way back to the 50 yard line. Fully half  the thirsty sponges that pass for the minds of the American consumer-spectators in the stands apparently believe the hype. He deserves a Super Bowl ring for being one of the most valuable players ever employed by the International League of the Oligarchs.

He exemplifies the power that propaganda has over desperate people during desperate times.

The Republicans have their racial dog whistle to divide and conquer the colonies of sponges. Obama has his fascist dog whistle to Wall Street, thrumming just below the surface of the populist song he croons to unite and daze and conquer the colonies of sponges.

His latest weekly address to the nation is a textbook example of the technique perfected by Joseph Goebbels. The title alone should give you an immediate heads-up:   "A Path Towards a Thriving Middle Class."

It's only a path, mind you - not an actual destination. The fun of travel is not the getting there, but the journey itself, and the anticipation of getting there. And since you will be flying on standby, you can get bumped at any time. So fasten your seat belts and enjoy the scenery while it lasts. This is your Captain speaking:

Hi, everybody. At a moment when our economy is growing, our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s, and wages are starting to rise again, we have to make some choices about the kind of country we want to be.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?>

Obama then pivots to diversionary question-begging, even pretending to channel socialist Senator Bernie Sanders by borrowing his frequent complaint that only a few at the top are doing "spectacularly well." (He doesn't dare try to imitate the spluttering enraged Brooklynese "spectaculuh-ly well") The dog-whistled answer to the plutocrats to his first question - can only a few do well? - is a very definite "Yes We Can!"

The second rhetorical question shamelessly adheres to Mitt Romney's criticism of the takers and the moochers, implicitly declaring that the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the marginalized, the chronically unemployed will not have the same chance as the hard workers to "get ahead."

We’ll help working families’ paychecks go farther by treating things like paid leave and child care like the economic priorities that they are. We’ll offer Americans of every age the chance to upgrade their skills so they can earn higher wages, with plans like making two years of community college free for every responsible student. And we’ll keep building the world’s most attractive economy for high-wage jobs, with new investments in research, infrastructure, manufacturing, and expanded access to faster internet and new markets.
So many Orwellian obfuscations in just that one tiny paragraph.

First and foremost, Obama's populist initiatives have absolutely no chance of passing. They are not only too late, they are too little. One lousy week of paid family leave and free community college for "responsible" non-moochers are pathetic compared to the more generous safety nets and subsidies in other civilized nations. European countries commonly grant workers months or even years of paid time off to care for children or other family members. Many, including Germany, offer free university education to all. So why then, since even crumbs for the struggling have no chance, didn't the president go really big?

Because even hopeless ideas always have an outside chance of sticking, and offer the merest possibility of being implemented in some future, more lefty administration. Obama is not about to take even a rhetorical chance.

He further dog-whistles to Wall Street by giving credence to the much-debunked "skills gap" excuse used by the right wingers and the ultra wealthy, tax-averse job creators for not hiring people at liveable wages. There is no skills gap - there is only an empathy gap. But Obama buys into this blame-the-victim theme because it enables using public money to train workers for private profit. The community college funding idea is very much of a piece with the fascist policies now euphemised as "public-private partnerships." It's the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk and cost.

Obama really pulls a fast one by coupling "expanded access to faster internet and new markets." Everybody wants faster internet service, so why not tack on "new markets" as code for the job-killing, planet-polluting corporate coup of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Be very vague while presenting it as a good thing for regular people. It is such a grotesquely bad thing that even the glib Obama can't bring himself to say its name right out loud. It's such a bad thing that he refuses to divulge what's actually in it.

Of course, he couldn't afford to be so circumspect with Congressional Democrats this past week. He warned them to "keep their powder dry" on the TPP and not to read the "Huffington Post." He apparently didn't realize that one of his propaganda hacks had just signed Obama's name to a "Huffington Post" editorial published only the day before. Hilarity ensued. Even Obama warns us not to believe Obama.

We can afford to make these investments. Since I took office, we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds – the fastest sustained deficit reduction since just after the end of World War II. We just have to be smarter about how we pay for our priorities, and that’s what my budget does. It proposes getting rid of special interest loopholes in our tax code, and using those savings to cut taxes for middle-class families and reward businesses that invest in America. It refuses to play politics with our homeland security, and funds our national security priorities at home and abroad. And it undoes the arbitrary, across-the-board budget cuts known as “the sequester” for our domestic priorities, and matches those investments dollar-for-dollar in resources our troops need to get the job done.
Obama still pretends that austerity worked. He still brags about cutting programs and prolonging suffering. But now he is willing to ease the suffering somewhat, because he's got world wars to fund and defense contractors to enrich and citizens to spy upon. He's in his last quarter.He needs to get the job done. And that job is total weaponized domination of the globe and permanent feudalism here at home.

Now, I know that there are Republicans in Congress who disagree with my approach. And like I said in my State of the Union Address, if they have ideas that will help middle-class families feel some economic security, I’m all in to work with them. But I will keep doing everything I can to help more working families make ends meet and get ahead. Not just because we want everyone to share in America’s success – but because we want everyone to contribute to America’s success.
This is the part in virtually every Obama speech where he poses as The Adult in the Room. This is the part where he appeals to the tribalistic instincts of the sponge colonies and pretends that the bad GOP won't let him get stuff done. The truth is that Republicans very much agree with his approach. They're anxious to give him unitary executive fast track authorization to complete the trade deals for the oligarchs served so well by both political parties.

They agree with his bloodthirsty foreign policy of total world domination, the only minor quibbles being with the timing and locations of the various invasions and bombings and plunder-fests. They agree with his shielding of Wall Street criminals and Bush torturers. They think it's fine that he has the power to drone people to death. They are totally down with his administration's record deportations and prosecutions of whistleblowers and war on journalism.

And they definitely agree with the penultimate graf in his weekly address:  they sincerely want everyone to contribute to America's success - be it by their minimum wage precarious labor, the use of their bodies as cannon fodder, their forced contributions to the predatory medical insurance industry, their occasional votes to pick among pre-approved corporate shills to pose as their representatives.

That’s the way the middle class thrived in the last century – and that’s how it will thrive again.

The middle class thrived in the last century with a strong labor movement and a 90-plus percent tax rate on obscene wealth under the Eisenhower administration. The middle class thrived because a president named Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcomed the hatred of the same breed of sociopath that Obama now fawns over.

From FDR's April 1938 Message to Congress:

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.

Both lessons hit home.

Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.

Gag US with a TPP spoon?


And on another storm front . . . .

New Social Security Crisis Set for 2016

It seems we've entered the discussion below in the middle of a conversation, and we have, sorta; if you're really curious about what went before, click on the links provided.

Otherwise, Kenneth Thomas has got it going on.

Economics-wise, that is. (And he's quite a guy!)

Stick with this one, you'll be surprised at the leverage you'll gain in discussions when you quote these facts.

I promise.

Middle Class Political Economist

Kenneth Thomas
I grew up in a middle-class family, the first to go to college full-time and the first to earn a Ph.D. The economic policies of the last 35 years have reduced the middle class's security, and this blog is a small contribution to reversing that.

January 27, 2015

What is Noah Thinking? Part 2

(Part 1)

Noah Smith has replied to my recent post criticizing his use of median household income to measure middle class living standards. He raises some interesting questions, but some of them still leave me scratching my head.

Smith writes:

I don't understand the idea that "households have had to" compensate for lower weekly wages (also the choice of weekly over hourly wages continues to mystify me, since long workweeks suck, but OK).
Of course, no one literally had to compensate for the fact that their wages were falling, but people do prefer to maintain (if not improve!) their current level of consumption. So, if wages are falling, and you want to maintain your standard of living, you have to adjust something.

Let's make no mistake, real wages were falling (see Table B-15), and even today remain below their all-time peak. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) likes to use the period 1982-84 as its base period for inflation calculations, so the numbers that follow are in 1982-84 dollars to adjust for inflation.

Smith likes to talk about 1980-2000, working from one business cycle peak to another, but he ignores the previous business cycle peak, 1973, which is a very interesting and important one since that is the year of peak real hourly wages (equal to 1972) and real weekly wages were just 37 cents less than 1972. It seems to me that it's more interesting to ask if middle class workers are as well off as they were at their peak than to ask if they are as well off in 1979 or 1980.

What happened to real wages? In inflation-adjusted dollars, the hourly wage peak of 1972-73 was $9.26 per hour; in 1980 it was $8.26 per hour, in 2000 it was $8.30 per hour, and in 2013 it had increased to $8.78 per hour.

But it's actually worse than that. Unlike professors, whose working time is pretty much their own as long as they teach well enough and publish enough to get tenure, most people cannot choose how much they work:  Their employer decides that for them. Your paycheck is hourly wage times hours worked, and hours worked by production and non-supervisory workers has fallen from 36.9 in 1972 and 1973 to a low of 33.1 in 2009 and in 2013 was 33.7 hours per week.

That is why we can't look at just the hourly wage, but need to use the weekly wage (hours per year would be an even better metric, but BLS does not publish the data that way). By the way, this category of workers is no small slice: It makes up about 62% of the entire non-farm workforce and 80% of the non-government workforce.

Because both hourly real wages and hours per week fell, real weekly earnings fell even more: From $341.73 (again, 1982-84 dollars) in 1972 to $290.80 in 1980, $284.78 in 2000, and $295.51 in 2013. If you're keeping track at home, that's a fall of 15% from 1972 to 1980, a 16.67% fall from 1972 to 2000, and still 13.5% below the 1972 peak in 2013.

But wait! After directly quoting and discussing what I said about real weekly wages, Smith suddenly, with no documentation, rejects that premise:  "So, median real wages in America stayed roughly flat in America in 1980-2000, and people worked more - actually, what happened is that many women stopped being housewives and began working."

Nothing I said in my post was about median real wages, but weekly real wages of production and non-supervisory workers. And he knows this is my view, because he clicked through, and even linked to, my much longer post, "The best data on middle class decline." He suddenly introduces a different measure entirely, and gives no argument for why it's better.

That's not to say there's no argument one could make for that measure. In fact, Dean Baker in an email a few years back pointed out to me that the real weekly wage measure I have used does not include McDonald's supervisors, who certainly are not well paid by any stretch of the imagination. But likewise, it does not include everyone from CEO on down. To clarify the difference, my preferred measure is the average (mean) of what's close to the bottom 62% of workers, while the median is of course the median of everyone. Which better captures the situation of the middle class?

I submit that my measure is better. Smith is right that real median wages have stayed fairly flat from 1980 to 2000, and in fact they have also varied little from 2000 to 2013. But that does not seem consistent with increasing cries of economic distress, as people have lost jobs, homes, and, too often, their pensions.

I have always thought that declining real wages were fairly invisible at first:  People might have made less than the previous generation, but for any given individual, that effect was offset by their increasing experience over time, leading to a slightly higher  real income for that person. It was only when large numbers of people began to lose jobs, and could not find anything that paid as much as their old job, that the issue of middle class decline rose more to public consciousness.

Having shifted measures in midstream, Smith's final comments are rather less compelling. He has via  this shift precluded the answer that women entered the workforce in large numbers from 1980 to 2000 to help maintain consumption, a position buttressed by the finding of Elizabeth Warren and co-researchers that private debt has increased sharply. I would also point out that women entered the workforce more rapidly in the 1973-79 period (when incomes were falling the most consistently) than in 1980-2000, as a close inspection of this FRED chart will show.

Finally, going back to Warren's work, she argues that the rapid rise of home prices swallowed up the nominal income increase due to women entering the workforce, and that the average house grew in size by less than half a room in over 20 years, even while new single-family houses were growing by the much larger percentages Smith gave in his initial article.

Hence, Smith's claim that I'm saying increased women's labor force participation "represents a deterioration in the living standards of the average American" is mistaken, based on his using a different measure of middle class income than I do. I have tried to indicate why I think my measure is better, which would make women's labor force participation indeed at least in part a response to the falling incomes his measure doesn't show.
- - - - - - -

The reason the wealth of the richest has doubled since 2009, is because “it’s not a recession, it’s a robbery.” Central bank and government policy has done this, it is no accident.

Try to keep in mind that the people appearing on the list below are hardly taxed.

If they pay anything at all.

My email buddy, R.J. Sigmund, is channeling here.

From Zero Hedge we learn:

Meet The Extreme Super Rich:  A List Of The 80 People Who Own As Much As The World’s Poorest 3.6 Billion

Late last year, in the post Inside the Mind of an Oligarch – Sheldon Adelson Proclaims “I Don’t Like Journalism,” I attempted to frame the word oligarch as I use it. I wrote the following:

In a nutshell, while many oligarchs are extremely wealthy (or have access to extreme wealth), not all people with extreme wealth are oligarchs.

The term oligarch is reserved for those with extreme wealth who also want to control the political process, policy levers and most other aspects of the lives of the citizenry in a top-down tyrannical and undemocratic manner. They think they know best about pretty much everything, and believe unelected technocrats who share their worldview should be empowered so that they can unilaterally make all of society’s important decisions.

The unwashed masses (plebs) in their minds are unnecessary distractions who must to be told what to do. Useless eaters who need to be brainwashed into worshipping the oligarch mindset, or turned into apathetic automatons incapable or unwilling to engage in critical thought. Either outcome is equally acceptable and equally encouraged.
With that out of the way, Five-Thirty-Eight provided the following information:

Eighty people hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis just released from Oxfam. The report from the global anti-poverty organization finds that since 2009, the wealth of those 80 richest has doubled in nominal terms — while the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population has fallen.
There you have it. The reason the wealth of the richest has doubled since 2009, is because “it’s not a recession, it’s a robbery.” Central bank and government policy has done this, it is no accident.

For more evidence…

Four years earlier, 388 billionaires together held as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world.

Thirty-five of the 80 richest people in the world are U.S. citizens, with combined wealth of $941 billion in 2014. Together in second place are Germany and Russia, with seven mega-rich individuals apiece. The entire list is dominated by one gender, though — 70 of the 80 richest people are men. And 68 of the people on the list are 50 or older.

Oxfam notes that global wealth inequality is increasing while the rich get richer. If trends continue, the organization projects that the richest 1 percent of people will have more wealth than the remaining 99 percent by 2016.
Now here’s the list:

I didn’t provide this list to say whether these people are good or bad. I provide it, because whenever 80 people own as much as the poorest 50% of the globe, we sure better know who they are.

We should also be cognizant of the disproportionate influence any of them can have on public affairs should they want to.

I understand now why John Paulson and Rupert Murdoch are still cutting deals.

Seems they only have $14 billion apiece.

Gotta catch up with the pros!

Thieves of State

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