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Member since: Wed Dec 11, 2013, 03:23 PM
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Sharp Drop in Unemployment Due to People Leaving the Labor Force

The headline unemployment rate fell sharply to 6.7 percent in December. However, this is not good news. The drop was almost entirely due to people leaving the labor force as the number of people reported employed in December only rose by 143,000, just enough to keep the employment-to-population ratio constant.

Blacks disproportionately left the labor market, with the labor force participation rate for African Americans dropping by 0.3 percentage points to 60.2 percent, the lowest rate since December of 1977. The rate for African American men fell 0.7 percentage points to 65.6 percent, the lowest on record.

The data on the establishment side was not any brighter with the survey reporting an increase of just 74,000 jobs. Some of this weakness was due to unusually slow growth in health care and restaurant employment. This is likely an anomaly that will be reversed in future months. However, there was also a decline in the index of average weekly hours. This suggests that the economy may be weaker than some of the more recent optimistic accounts indicated.


NAFTA at 20 Years/The Deserted Village

This has already been a rotten year for Washington state’s Boeing workers, who “agreed to concede some benefits in order to secure assembly of the new 777X airplane for the Puget Sound region,” an Associated Press article claimed on January 4. Jim Levitt, a 35-year Machinist at Boeing, gave a shop-floor view... “Besides losing the defined-benefit pension,” Levitt stated in a follow-up piece, “we’ve lost collective bargaining, for all intents and purposes,” with Boeing’s “new modus operandi” being “Take It or We Leave.” This threat is serious, revealed by the company’s diligent efforts to help eviscerate U.S. labor in recent years. “From 2001 to 2004,” historian Norman Caulfield writes, “Boeing cut more than 35,000 employees from its U.S. workforce,” part of some 3 million domestic manufacturing positions eliminated around the same time.

NAFTA, the so-called “free trade agreement” between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. that turned 20 on January 1, secured rights for investors, and has helped spur this devastation of U.S. manufacturing. It was a bipartisan triumph, Jeff Faux reminds us, “conceived by Ronald Reagan, negotiated by George Bush I, and pushed through the US Congress by Bill Clinton in alliance with Congressional Republicans and corporate lobbyists.” And one of its accomplishments has been “accelerating the offshoring of jobs in the aircraft and aerospace industries,” Caulfield explains, noting that, in 2005-2006, “Cessna Aircraft, Bombardier Aerospace, and Raytheon Aircraft announced plans to move wire harness production from Wichita, Kansas, to various locations in Mexico.” Depicting these developments as “failures,” a common criticism, misses the point, since NAFTA’s supporters shaped it to serve their interests. Activists Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark list “Boeing, General Electric, Motorola, Caterpillar, and IBM, among others” as some of its chief backers...

Furthermore, NAFTA’s proponents were well-aware of its predictable outcomes, having produced scant evidence to counter the grim forecasts....But NAFTA prevailed not because of its champions’ intellectual finesse, “but because of a mammoth lobbyprop conducted by corporate ‘big hitters’—including Federated Department Stores, Amana, Whirlpool, G.E., Westinghouse, Caterpillar, CitiBank, Fruit of the Loom, and Boeing—that insisted in media adprop campaigns that NAFTA was the key to prosperity,” communications theorist Alex Edelstein clarified...Dean Baker wrote recently that NAFTA was “designed to push down the wages of manufacturing workers by making it as easy as possible to set up operations overseas...”

The U.S.-Mexico border, no barrier to the corporations that pushed for NAFTA, has become increasingly militarized over the past two decades, to the point where only the most hostile desert stretches remain free of Border Patrol swarms—a “physical layout” that “promotes the death of migrants,” in investigative journalist Óscar Martínez’s grim assessment. These migrants try to escape a country where huge swathes of the terrain have been transformed from lands serving subsistence needs into potential profit sources, shattering poor farming communities in the process. David Bacon, quoting business columnist Carlos Fernández-Vega, notes that, from 2000-2012, “about 26 percent of the national territory was given to mining consortiums for their sole benefit.” These transfers were concurrent with wipe-outs of both tariffs on agricultural goods entering the country, and subsidies for Mexican farmers—“a death sentence” for these people, Ronald Mize and Alicia Swords conclude, and Laura Carlsen points out that one-quarter of all Mexicans now lack access to basic food, while malnutrition plagues one-fifth of Mexico’s children.

Reviewing a similar catastrophe, the Irish nationalist John F. Scanlan argued in 1880 “that free trade is by far a more formidable agent than war in the subjugation of a nation.” Scanlan was referring to the British-Irish Acts of Union (1800-1801)...which created a “free trade area” between the two kingdoms.

An earlier historian and economist, Henry Charles Carey, discussed in an 1872 book the impressions of one “English traveler” surveying the wreckage of “the free-trade provisions of the Act of Union” throughout Ireland in 1834; in Kilkenny, the wanderer recounted, rather than “finding men occupied, I saw them in scores, like specters, walking about,” while in Callan, “containing between four and five thousand inhabitants, at least one thousand are without regular employment,” with “six or seven hundred entirely destitute.” The similarities between past and present are obvious, and should be borne in mind, Faux writes, as U.S. officials shed “crocodile tears over jobs and inequality”—while Obama demands the authority to force through arrangements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, described as “NAFTA on steroids.”


The Deserted Village is a poem by Oliver Goldsmith published in 1770. It is a work of social commentary, and condemns rural depopulation and the pursuit of excessive wealth.

The poem is written in heroic couplets, and describes the decline of a village and the emigration of many of its residents to America. In the poem, Goldsmith criticises rural depopulation, the moral corruption found in towns, consumerism, enclosure, landscape gardening, avarice, and the pursuit of wealth from international trade...

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay...

Socialized Health Care in a Red State

Most people in the United States don’t really know what the Canadian health care system is all about. And they certainly don’t know that the Canadian national health care system—called Medicare in that country—began not as a national system, but as a provincial experiment...

Now, 50 years later, Montana has implemented a remarkable program to provide socialized health care to state employees. They don’t call it “socialized health care,” but just put two and two together as you consider the following remarks from a story on National Public Radio from last July:

“Montana opened the first government-run medical clinic for state employees last fall. A year later, the state says the clinic is already saving money.”

Note that Montana’s experiment is not a “single-payer” insurance plan. It’s actually socialized medicine, as the NPR report makes clear without stooping so low as to use the “S” word:

“The state contracts with a private company to run the facility and pays for everything—wages of the staff, total costs of all the visits. Those are all new expenses, and they all come from the budget for state employee healthcare. Even so, division manager Russ Hill says it’s actually costing the state $1,500,000 less for healthcare than before the clinic opened.”

“Physicians are paid by the hour, not by the number of procedures they prescribe like many in the private sector. The state is able to buy supplies at lower prices. ‘Because there’s no markup, our cost per visit is lower than in a private fee-for-service environment,’ Hill says.”

“Bottom line: a patient’s visit to the employee health clinic costs the state about half what it would cost if that patient went to a private doctor. And because it’s free to patients, hundreds of people have come in who had not seen a doctor for at least two years.”

And, in a telling comment about what can happen when life experience contrasts with the “free market” ideology with which we are constantly propagandized, we have this comment:

“Pamela Weitz, a 61-year-old state library technician, was skeptical about the place at first. ‘I thought it was just the goofiest idea, but you know, it’s really good,’ she says. In the last year, she’s been there for checkups, blood tests and flu shots. She doesn’t have to go; she still has her normal health insurance provided by the state. But at the clinic, she has no co-pays, no deductibles. It’s free.”

Had Obamacare included a “public option” that looked anything like Montana, we might be hearing comments like those of Ms. Weitz from every corner of the USA. Could Montana be our health-care Saskatchewan?


Historically, capitalism in protracted crisis without an organized Left generates fascism

From Cambridge University in 1932-1933, John Maynard Keynes observed a promising new U.S. president presiding over what he saw as half-baked and confused policies, while labor insurgency was mounting. Roosevelt’s measures were, Keynes conceded, without precedent, but novelty was not enough. Long-term commitment to direct federal employment was required.

Existing programs were not only too small, but they were also either temporary (Civilian Conservation Corps and Civil Works Administration) or irrationally tied to the severely weakened states’ ability to raise substantial revenues on their own (Federal Emergency Relief Act and Public Works Administration)...Roosevelt feared that CWA would raise workers’ expectations of what they could permanently expect from government...

The 1920s was the benchmark decade for mature pre-Keynesian capitalism. The major capital-intensive industries were in place and oligopolized (or rapidly becoming so), technological development raced ahead and production and profit levels were high. By 1919 union power had been dealt a crippling blow; labor was almost entirely unorganized during the 1920s.

The remarkable increases, between 1919 and 1929, in GDP (40 percent), production (64 percent in manufacturing), productivity (43 percent in industry as a whole, 98 percent in automobiles) and profits (200 percent) were not matched by a comparable increase in wages. Productivity advances did not lead to higher wages; wages were no higher in 1929 than they were in 1922. Nor did they bring about falling prices; industrial concentration made for “downwardly sticky” prices. The result was inexorable: national income was distributed upward so that by 1928 the nation exhibited the greatest inequality of the century to that point.

In his landmark study of the economy of the 1920s (3), George Soule spelled out the consequences of that settlement:

“…toward the end of [the decade] large amounts of cash remained in the hands of of the big manufacturing and public-utility corporations that they did not distribute either in dividends or by means of new investment… the large corporations accumulated even more cash than they needed for their own uses… This money eventually spilled over into stock speculation. … ...surplus funds of large business corporations were now being lent directly to speculators… A curious commentary on the state of the American economy at the time is the fact that business could make less money by using its surplus funds in production than it could by lending the money to purchasers of stocks, the value of which was supposed to be determined by the profit on that production.”

A comparable dynamic was in effect during the period preceding September 2008...After the postwar boom began the term ‘secular stagnation’ fell out of use as the 1920s fantasy of endless growth and prosperity once again took hold. But two post-Golden-Age factors have made it increasingly difficult for mainstream economists to sustain optimism. The slow growth rates since 1974, and especially the ineffectiveness of the Fed’s recent unparalleled monetary stimulus, defies orthodox comprehension. More importantly, we are seeing both the mass destruction of full-time jobs, many of which will never return, and record levels of long-term unemployment (unemployed for 15 weeks or longer).

Most revealing is that long-term unemployment has been rising since the late 1960s, well before the triumph of neoliberalism. The short-term unemployed have been a shrinking percentage of all unemployed throughout the entire postwar period. Looking at the business cycle over the last forty years, an ominous trend emerges: in each business-cyclical expansion, the long-term unemployment rate remains either at or above the level of the previous expansion. In a word, for the last forty years the short-term unemployed have been a declining, and the long-term unemployed an increasing, percentage of all unemployed. By Keynes’s own standards, pretend-Keynesian fiscal policy has been a seventy-year bust...

Bluntly put, if you don’t want a full-fledged Depression, you’ve got to keep the bubble going. Slow growth, high un- and underemployment and low wages are the best we can do. Expect no relief, says Summers: “The underlying problem may be there forever.”

The Summers-Krugman point confirms Keynes’s central claim that, contrary to the neoclassical theory that the free economy naturally tends toward full-employment equilibrium, the economy can reach equilibrium (the quantity of goods supplied is equal to the quantity of goods demanded) at any level of employment.

Secular stagnation leaves the nation with a large number of permanently un- and unemployed persons devoid of hope for themselves or their children. But it is just this hope that constitutes the “American dream.” With the dream become a nightmare, we are on the path to social dislocation on a potentially terrifying scale: higher rates of crime, suicide, domestic violence, psychological depression and other forms of social disorder characteristic of periods of intense material insecurity. These are forms of unorganized resistance, and cannot be “wrung out” of the system like idle plants. They will be repressed. The powers that be have been putting in place for some years now, surely in anticipation of widespread social turbulence, the infrastructure of a police state. This comes as no surprise. Historically, capitalism in deep and protracted crisis and without an organized and active Left generates the makings of fascism. If the Left remains dormant, we are in for big trouble.


Aristo Fetishism in Downton Abbey

The Big House is where the nice, kind, decent, pragmatic, charitable liberals just by chance happen to be the rich folks upstairs and the reactionary, even stuffier, tradition-upholding homophobes lurk down in the scullery. I love Carson the butler (brilliantly played by Jim Carter) as the avatar of the “deference vote” that keeps Britain’s big and little c conservatives in power. Really I do love Carson. SOMEONE has to uphold standards when Lady Mary screws a (gasp)Turk to death...

Here’s the thing they omit from this stupendously successful tosh. Summer or winter in real life you freeze your bum off in those big draughty impossible-to-heat halls. I’ve been there. Now try to imagine an episode at the Abbey where the doorbell rings and a new guest arrives: a young American reporter (me) so morally soft, O GOD THE HORROR!, he has along with him his own Valor paraffin heater. Can you just hear hear Maggie Smith sniffing...?

That was my experience when for a period I was “taken up” by the English lower aristocracy and higher gentry in their Downton-style country houses for shootin’-and-huntin’ weekends and sometimes longer. The real life OR Book Going Rougeversions of Lord Grantham were gracious and charming…until they spied my Valor heater in hand... For one thing, burning paraffin awfully smells up the place. For another, the very existence of a Valor is a rebuke to a stately, ordered, stoical way of life where enduring cold used to be, and perhaps still is a mark of upper class virtue.

Ben Disraeli, who more or less invented the “One Nation” wheeze, was one of the more clever prime ministers. (And Jewish yet!) One Nationism trumpets a view of “organic” society in which we all, regardless of political disagreements, have our God-given parts to play under the paternalistic guidance of a wise and tolerant Lord Grantham clone. (UK’s current leader David Cameron claims Disraeli is his favorite politician.) Nation matters more than class. Indeed, this patrician-conceived “philosophy” – a pragmatic response to lower class turbulence – is trotted out periodically when, in the good old Yorkshire/Lancs phrase, “there’s trouble at t’ mill”. That is, the restless natives threaten to riot. As soon as the proles cool off it’s back to free market capitalism. Tick tock. Like a cuckoo clock.

Disraeli, the Tory genius at muffling class hatreds in periods of quasi-revolt, is a direct ancestor of the Tory peer Julian Fellowes – Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford – the writer-genius of Downton Abbey with his incredible talent for keeping plot lines unfouled (well, almost) and lack of talent for creating real human beings on the screen. Reality is not what we want in a stylish soap, is it?

Parenthetically, Julian Fellowes battled successfully against a change in rules of royal succession so that his wife, a distant relation of Lord Kitchener, could become a Countess. In his private life no One Nationer he. But in public he sounds almost like Rodney King...
In response to critics who crabbed about Fellowes fawning over his own class in Downton Abbey, he pleaded that “it is possible for us all to get on, that we don’t have to be ranged in class warfare permanently.” Right on, Julie.

Why is Downton Abbey so popular? Of course it has nothing to do today’s rage of the 99% against the one percent which, as in Disraeli’s time, threatens to get out of hand.


Dumbing America Down: The Right wants us to think higher education has no value.

Among the many visionary goals of our nation’s right wing—impoverish older people, starve the poor, deny climate change, outlaw abortion and contraception, eliminate healthcare for millions—few are more foundational than defunding education in general and higher education in particular. Public colleges and universities nationwide have seen significant funding cuts over the past five years, and while the recession is usually blamed, the Right keeps the fiscal screws tight by cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Here in Michigan, in Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s first budget, there was a 15 percent cut in state aid to universities and a $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses....

The Pew Research Center and others have found that lower income and less-educated whites are becoming more likely to vote Republican than Democrat, with 54 percent of those without a college degree identifying as Republican in 2012; only 37 percent identified as Democratic, so the gap is, well, quite wide.

The recent assaults on the value of a college degree (coupled with the shameful student loan scandal) have borne fruit: According to a College Board and National Journal poll, 46 percent of respondents believe a college degree isn’t necessary for success, while only 37 percent said so in the previous year’s poll. Here is another victory of opinion over fact...

Or take California as an example. Disinvestment has been so massive—9 percent over the past ten years—that according to the Public Policy Institute of California, the state now spends more on its prison system than on its public universities. With few choices but to raise tuition, University of California and California State schools have seen enrollments drop by one-fifth over the past five years. If the trend persists, the state faces a significant drop in college graduates just at the time when more and more jobs—some estimate as many as 60 percent—will require some post-secondary education.


Once a bastion of good jobs, manufacturing has gone gaga for temps.

Kelly Girl Service, a staffing agency founded in 1946, pioneered the temp industry. Temping was originally framed as a way for white middle-class housewives to earn a bit of extra money...Married women weren’t perceived as breadwinners in need of full-time hours or family-sustaining wages. “That’s how (temp agencies: gained entry into the labor market...” ...from the beginning, temp agencies had a toehold in manual labor and manufacturing, but they deliberately played up the “girls,” in part to avoid conflicts with then-powerful unions. By the 1970s, though, they began openly targeting men... Kelly Girl Service became Kelly Services in 1966, and today its work placements range from offices to universities to banks to factories...with a combined 2012 revenue of $117 billion.

A 2010 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that “while manufacturing’s share of total national employment fell from 16.2 percent in 1990 to 9.8 percent in 2008, manu- facturing’s use of temporary workers greatly intensified.” ...the agency has no good data on how many of those “lost” manufacturing jobs simply migrated over to staffing agencies. But according to a 2004 report from the Council of Economic Advisers, a third of all temp service employees work in the manufacturing sector.

...the logic is simple: “They have none of the costs of outsourcing with all of the benefits of outsourcing and all of the benefits of a native-English-speaking local workforce.” In many cases, that workforce is highly skilled... While temp agencies once emphasized unskilled labor, these days some openly recruit skilled labor on the cheap. A job application obtained this fall from the Smyrna, Ga., facility of gun manufacturer Glock lists... One of the agencies, Automation, recently posted a skilled machinist position on its website for an (unnamed) gun manufacturing company in Smyrna. The listing called for an array of skills:

Applicants must have experience operating the robotic machine, must be mechanically inclined, must have metal working experience. Applicants must also be able to read specs and be technically skilled.

Applicants would also have to be extremely flexible: “This position rotates weekly between 1st and 2nd shift (this is a requirement),” meaning day and evening shifts. And the wages on offer for all those skills and flexibility? “$10 hour to start, but depending on experience, may go up to $13.” According to the BLS, the mean hourly wage for a machinist last year was $19.65.

This should remind us that manufacturing jobs weren’t good jobs because of the inherent value of the job, says Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at the non-partisan think tank Demos. “They were terrible jobs until people organized.”

It’s not enough that companies are widening profit margins on the backs of low-paid temps—in some cases, taxpayers are helping them do it.

A 2013 report from the policy center Good Jobs First, commissioned by the United Auto Workers (UAW)... calculated that Mississippi handed Nissan nearly $1.3 billion in state and local subsidies to build the Canton plant in 2001. That includes a controversial type of subsidy in which Nissan gets a rebate on part of the taxes the state withholds from workers’ paychecks—in effect, as Good Jobs First puts it, this means workers are “paying taxes to the boss.” According to the report, this portion of the package alone—a 25-year, $160 million deal—was the largest such subsidy ever awarded, anywhere. The report calculates that taxpayers are paying more than $10,000 per job per year at the Canton plant that in many cases start at $12 an hour.


We finally know who John Galt is

One of the weird consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown and the measures taken to counteract it (enormous sums of money to help banks) was the revival in the work of Ayn Rand, the closest one can come to the ideologist of the “greed is good” radical capitalism. The sales of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged exploded again.

According to some reports, there are already signs that the scenario described in Atlas Shrugged—the creative capitalists themselves going on strike—is being enacted.

The ridicule of this reaction is that it totally misreads the situation: Most of the gigantic sums of bail-out money went precisely to the Randian deregulated “titans” who failed in their “creative” schemes and thereby brought about the meltdown. It is not the great creative geniuses who are now helping lazy ordinary the people, the ordinary taxpayers, who are helping the failed “creative geniuses.”

One should simply recall that the ideologico-political father of the long economic process that ended up in the 2008 meltdown was Alan Greenspan, a card-carrying Randian “objectivist.”

Now we finally know who John Galt is—the idiot responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown and, consequentially, for the ongoing shutdown.


Can my employer force me to be in a reality show as a condition of continuing employment?

Here's the deal: I currently have a shitty, manual labor, unbenefited job that pays very close to minimum wage. When I hired in there was nothing about being on reality shows.

So suddenly we're told that this reality show is coming to our workplace & given these contracts to sign. One part is that we can't tell anyone the details of the show, & if we do we have to pay the show like a million bucks.

OK, fine by me, I'm not the least bit interested in talking about it or even watching the filming.

But part 2 is that they may film us if they like, and they have perpetual rights over our image, which they can alter or do with as they see fit, until the end of time.\

A. I don't want to be filmed for their frigging reality show & don't see why I should have to agree to it as a condition of continuing employment in a suck ass minimum wage job which has nothing to do with reality shows.

B. The terms of the contract really piss me off -- I pay them a gazillion bucks if I say anything about their lousy show; I have to agree that their 'intellectual property' is worth a gazillion bucks too, in writing -- but I don't get paid for the use of my image, & they can do anything they want with it. (Even if its unlikely I'll be filmed & unlikely they'll do anything with my image -- nevertheless, the contract allows them to. This pisses me off.)

C. I've heard of these things called "extras" in regular TV shows that get paid some kind of industry minimum. So my third & final objection is that the thing feels like a cut-rate, union-busting freak show.

I just hate the whole idea and would like some feedback or advice.

So I'm watching this documentary, "Class Dismissed," about how class is portrayed in the media.

(It's worth watching, BTW.)

And Jeff Foxworthy is one of the examples: "The guy who resurrected the hillbilly image & gave it new pride is Jeff Foxworthy..."

Then they show a clip of JF doing his schtick: "Sophisticated people invest their money in stock portfolios. Rednecks invest OUR money in commemorative plates...yeah, that's the 'Legends of Nascar' series raaht there..."

I've never found Foxworthy funny & one of the reasons (besides his lousy material) is that he looks exactly like a preppy type I went to high school with. So just out of curiousity I looked up his background: son of an IBM executive.

Who is this stuff targeted to when it's an upper-middle class to upper class guy essentially putting on a kind of "white trash face" to mock "rednecks" (southern working class whites)? It seems to me its directly analogous to white performers putting on "blackface" to portray blacks stereotypically back in the day.

But then it was whites who were the audience for it, I guess. In this case supposedly those being mocked by the son of the IBM exec are its prime audience? It doesn't make sense & there's something kind of awful about it.

Anyway, I recommend the documentary (in 8 parts starting here

Bill Engvall's dad was a doctor & medical professor at Texas A&M.
Larry the Cable Guy's dad was a guitarist for the Everly Bros, a rancher/farmer, a preacher, a radio host, a school administrator & counselor.

So none of the "blue collar comedy" troupe come from blue collar backgrounds. It's just white-trash-face schtick.
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