Archive for May, 2015
A survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that if you work full-time for minimum wage, 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year, and set aside 30 percent of your income for housing, you can’t afford to rent a moderately priced standard one-room apartment in any state in the USA. And that goes for states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage.
That doesn’t mean that minimum wage workers have to be homeless. But they do have to work more than 40 hours a week, or devote more than 30 percent of their incomes to apartment rent, or settle for cheap substandard quarters, or all three. Most Americans are struggling these days, but some of us are struggling harder than others.
Out of Reach 2015: Low Wages and High Rents Lock Renters Out by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
In No State Can A Minimum Wage Worker Afford a One-Bedroom Apartment by Tyler Durden for Zero Hedge.
In These 21 Countries, a 40-Hour Work Week Still Keeps Families in Poverty by Flavia Krause-Jackson for Bloomberg News.
What this chart indicates is that the big religious split in the United States is not between Protestants and Catholics, or among Christians, Jews and Muslims, but between pro-science religion and anti-science religion.
This chart is based on a 2007 survey by Pew Research. It will be interesting to see if the 2014 survey is significantly different.
Evolution, Science and Religion by Josh Rosenau for the Science League of America.
Our new pro-science pontiff: Pope Francis on climate change, evolution and the Big Bang by Chris Mooney for the Washington Post.
The world has too many rich people whose wealth is derived from political power, and too many politicians whose political power is derived from wealth.
Originally Memorial Day was a holiday to honor the fallen soldiers in the Civil War.
So on this Memorial Day, I remember a Northern hero—Ben Grierson—who conducted the most impressive raid of the Civil War, who never turned his back on black freedman afterwards and who, in the words of Gary Brecher, did not have a weak or a mean bone in his body.
I didn’t know anything about Grierson, except for an old movie starring John Wayne I saw years ago, and brief accounts in Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, and James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, until I read Brecher’s article about him. Brecher is the pen name of the author of PandoDaily’s War Nerd column, and he is not easily impressed.
Grierson was scarred by being kicked in the face by a horse as a boy, and grew up with an aversion to horses. But when circumstances put him in command of a cavalry regiment, he adapted.
Grierson’s first assignment was chasing guerrillas in Tennessee, where his kin came from, under Gen. Lew Wallace. The one thing everybody knows about him is he wrote Ben Hur, which I had to watch as a child because it was supposedly “Christian,” but Wallace was a pretty good officer, and he set Grierson to work hunting fellow Tennesseans.
Here again Grierson is like this ridiculously perfect officer-and-gentleman type; he crushed the local bushwhackers but the Tennessee ladies loved him for his perfect manners. You don’t get that a lot from ladies you meet while hunting down their kin, but that was Grierson, Mister Ridiculously Perfect.
What he was famous for was Grierson’s Raid.
Grierson left Tennessee in mid-April 1863 with a brigade of about 1700 men from two Illinois and one Iowa regiments. From the beginning he was in enemy territory, which like MacPherson says, is one handicap Forrest never had to face.
When I was growing up, I believed that the Civil War was the result of a tragic misunderstanding, brought on by the radical abolitionists of the North and the radical fire-eaters of the South.
I believed that the Southerners were better and more chivalrous fighters, and had better generals. I believed that the North won only because of greater numbers and better supplies. I believed that black people were bystanders in a war between white people.
I believed, too, that Reconstruction was tyranny, dis-enfranchising the white people of the South and putting them under the rule of ignorant black people and corrupt Northern carpetbaggers.
I learned that the Reconstruction Ku Klux Klan was the liberation movement of the Southern white people, and not to be confused with the 20th century Ku Klux Klan, which warred on white Catholics and Jews as well as black people.
All this coincided with a strong belief, which I got from my parents, teachers and Sunday school teachers, that all people have equal rights and that people should be judged as individuals and not on the basis of their color, religion or nationality.
Our history was written to make possible the reconciliation of the white people of the North and South, and to conceal the fact that the price of reconciliation was to sacrifice the freedom of the black people in the South. In all my high school and college experience, I was never assigned a book by a black author.
This may have been the result of growing up in Maryland, a border state, where people had fought on both sides, although a friend of mine, who grew up in Brooklyn, recalls being taught the same version of American history.
The fact is that the Civil War was fought over slavery. It was not a war for the abolition of slavery, but in defense of slavery.
President Lincoln said that slavery was a bad thing and should not be allowed to spread. The white Southern leaders said that slavery was a good thing, and should not be restricted. The white Union soldiers fought to preserve the Union, but the white Southern soldiers fought to preserve slavery. There also were black regiments fighting for the Union, and their members had no doubt they were fighting against slavery.
Reconstruction was a noble but half-hearted attempt at nation building, and it was a tragedy that it was stopped by means of terrorism—terrorism that was still in place during the civil rights era of the 1960s.
That doesn’t mean that Southern white people were individually worse than Northern white people, as Abraham Lincoln was at pains to point out, or that the Confederates did not fight bravely against great odds. It means they were part of a bad system whose effects linger today.
I recently re-read My People Is the Enemy, a 1964 book by a white lawyer named William Stringfellow, who’d spent the previous seven years providing legal services in a poor neighborhood in Harlem.
He wrote about black people in New York City were barred from decent jobs, were denied credit and were harassed by police. This couldn’t go on much longer, he wrote. Things were about to blow—which, in fact, they did.
But as I read the book, I was struck by what was missing. He didn’t give any example of an unarmed black person being killed by police. He didn’t give any example of police cruising up and down the streets and arresting young black men for trivial reasons or not reason at all.
He wrote about how a young black man found life in the Rikers Island prison more comfortable than the slum he came from. He had a clean cell, nourishing meals and access to a gym and a library. That’s a far cry from the hellhole of violence that Rikers Island is reported to be today.
Which raises the question: Why is it, in spite of all the civil rights laws and all the social pressure against racist language and behavior, that things haven’t gotten better?
My answer is that things have gotten better, much better, but only for a certain segment of the black population—what W.E.B. DuBois called the “talented tenth”.
Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.
The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims. This is a big mistake.
The sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation. The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia. But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route. The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.
The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.
In the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces. In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.
I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments. They both abuse human rights. They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors. An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.
But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.
It’s not just the USA that allows bankers and financiers to break the law and get away with it. Or regards the largest financial institutions as “too big to fail”.
This goes back to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who thought he could make London the world’s financial hub by freeing banks from all regulation.
As in the USA, the government’s priority is to protect the financial institutions rather than to protect the public.
Banking regulation is even weaker in Europe than in the United States, and one of the goals of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the next international agreement in the pipeline after the Trans Pacific Partnership, is to set limits on financial regulation.
That would make banking and finance un-reformable, either in the USA, the UK or other TTIP signatories.
Update 5/22/2015. The five banks that pleaded guilty to rigging interest rates and the exchange rate for foreign currencies are Britain’s Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the USA’s Citicorp and JP Morgan Chase and Switzerland’s UBS.
Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received. Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition. His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.
One of the least controversial things you can say about Barack Obama is that he campaigned better than he has governed. The same might be said about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but with Obama the contrast is very marked.
Governing has no relish for him. Yet he works hard at his public statements, and he wishes his words to have a large effect. Even before he ascended to the presidency, Obama enjoyed the admiration of diverse audiences, especially within black communities and the media. The presidency afforded the ideal platform for creating a permanent class of listeners.
I am more disappointed in Barack Obama than in anyone else I ever voted for. His speeches are often eloquent and wise, but his actions have no seeming connection with his words. He is conciliatory toward his American political enemies, and tough with his core supporters.
I read The Audacity of Hope in 2008 and was under no illusion that Obama was a progressive reformer. In that book, he presented himself as one who understood both liberals and conservatives and, by showing his reasonableness, could reconcile the two. This was either hypocrisy or naivete.
What hoped for was that Obama as President could restore the country to normal after the excesses of the George W. Bush administration—a country in which the President respected the Constitution, didn’t start wars and kept his distance from Wall Street. But none of these things happened.
There are three possible explanations of this. One is that the entrenched power of Wall Street and of the covert military-intelligence complex—the so-called deep states—are too powerful to overcome, and that Obama is the best we can hope for. I hate to believe that because it means there is no hope for my country.
Another is that Barack Obama has certain character flaws that make him ineffective. The third, which is what I tend to believe, is that Obama’s intentions are not what his liberal supporters think they are. Although he ran on a platform of hope and change, he is a very effective defender of the status quo.
David Bromwich, writing in the June issue of Harpers magazine, examined the Obama record in terms of his character. The article worth reading, but it is behind a pay wall, so you have to buy the magazine or go to a public library to read it. I subscribe to the magazine, so I can provide the highlights.
Yves Smith wrote on her naked capitalism blog:
… … The claim that outsourcing and off-shoring lower costs is greatly exaggerated.
Off-shoring and outsourcing … … do lower direct factor and lower-level worker costs.
But they do so at the increase of greater coordination costs of much more highly-paid managers. And they also increase shipping and financing costs, and downside risk.
Having people work at a distance, whether managerially or by virtue of being in an outside organization where the relationship is governed by contract, increases rigidity (harder to respond to changes in market demand) and the odds of screw-ups due to communication lapses.
And outsourcing also reduces an organization’s skills. Those lower-level people have a lot of product know-how that you lose when you transfer activities to an outside operation.
It’s nice to think that you can hollow out your organization and just do all the sexy design and marketing stuff and dump the grunt work on other players. But over time you are breeding future competitors.
Thus off-shoring is best understood as a device for transferring income from the rank and file to middle level and senior executives.
via naked capitalism.
In short, off-shoring lowers the wages of production workers, and raises the salaries and importance of managers. And who makes the decision about off-shoring? The managers!
This reminds me of America by Design and Forces of Production, books I read by an economic historian named David Noble. He wrote that there was no evidence of an overall economic benefit in replacing skilled workers with automatic machinery. The benefit was in increasing the power of managers and industrial engineers, and decreasing the power of workers.
There’s something called public choice theory, which is about how public officials, when making decisions, consider their own good as well as the public good. I’d say this theory applies just as much to decisions within corporations or any other organization.
What it means is that when corporate officials say “the market” determines this or that, we the people are entitled to ask—the market for what and for whom?
The World Trade Organization has overruled a U.S. law requiring that imported meat be labeled as to its country of origin.
The law gives an unfair advantage to domestic livestock breeders and meat processors, the WTO said.
Now the WTO is in the process of deciding what retaliatory tariffs can be imposed by Canada and Mexico if the United States does not repeal the law.
This is a sample of what can be expected if Congress approves the Trans Pacific Partnership or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements.
The mechanism is different in the TPP and TTIP, but the purpose is the same. Under the investor-state dispute settlement processes in these agreements, a panel of arbitrators could fine a government whose laws supposedly treated a foreign investor unfairly. The government would have the choice of paying the fine or repealing the law.
It might be good to have a trade agreement that set minimum standards for inspection of imported meat. But the existing and proposed trade agreements go the other way. They restrict the power of democratically-elected governments to protect their citizens.
WTO Rejects U.S. Appeal of COOL Ruling by Lydia Zuraw of Food Safety News.
If Fast Track Passes, Anything Attached to a “Trade” Treaty Will Pass by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny! [Hat tip to naked capitalism]
The recent derailment of an Amtrak train, killing eight people and injuring 200, has people worried about the safety of railroad transportation. But rail transportation is extremely safe, compared to automobile driving.
It is also more energy-efficient and affordable, and this is going to become more important over time.
I enjoy the freedom of driving my car and of not being tied to a bus or train schedule. At the same time I’m glad that bus and train transportation is available when I’m not able to drive, and I’d use it more if it were more convenient.
I might prefer a comfortable leisurely train trip to the hassle of traveling by air, if the schedule were convenient. I’ve never heard of anybody losing a seat on a passenger train because it was over-booked.
My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article making the case for investing in rail transportation. But the U.S. government is doing the opposite. It is dis-investing in rail.
Why? I think it is due to an ideology that has taken root in the Republican Party that public services are in and of themselves a bad thing, unless provided by for-profit corporations. So public services are starved of the funds they need, which makes them function poorly, which provides a justification for punishing them by further budget cuts.
Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.
In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.
While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.
Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments. The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.
The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points. Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.
That is, they are not necessarily poor (according to the federal definition), but they are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
Students can get free lunches if their parents’ incomes are 135 percent of the federal poverty threshold or less, and reduced price lunches if their parents’ incomes are 185 percent or less.
A child of a single parent could get a free lunch if the parent’s income was $19,669 or less. The child could get a reduced-price lunch if the single parent’s income was $27,991 or less. The reduced-price limit is $43,568 for a family of four.
Low-income students were fewer than 32 percent of students in U.S. public schools in 1989 and only 38 percent in 2000, the Southern Education Foundation reported. Reed Jordan of the Urban Institute said the 51 percent figure reflects rising child poverty, increasing economic instability and possibly increasing number of poor immigrants. About one in four American public school students are the children of immigrants.
Changes in eligibility rules also could affect the number. Schools in which a majority of students are low-income now offer reduced-price lunches to all.
Matt Taibbi thinks it is silly to question Jeb Bush about what should have been done about Iraq “in the light of what we know now.” Any sensible American knew enough then to realize what a bad idea invading Iraq was, he wrote.
The Iraq invasion was always an insane exercise in brainless jingoism that could only be intellectually justified after accepting a series of ludicrous suppositions.
First you had to accept a fictional implied connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Then you had to buy that this heavily-sanctioned secular dictator (and confirmed enemy of Islamic radicals) would be a likely sponsor of radical Islamic terror. Then after that you had to accept that Saddam even had the capability of supplying terrorists with weapons that could hurt us (the Bush administration’s analysts famously squinted so hard their faces turned inside out trying to see that one).
And then, after all that, you still had to buy that all of these factors together added up to a threat so imminent that it justified the immediate mass sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.
It was absurd, a whole bunch of maybes piled on top of a perhaps and a theoretically possible or two. O.J.’s lawyers would have been embarrassed by it.
via Rolling Stone.
Source: Tom Toles Political Cartoons
Hat tip to occasional links and commentary
Hedge funds are misnamed. Very few of them are designed to hedge against risk. Most of them are vehicles for high-risk speculation. None of them provide capital for growing the real economy. No trustee for other people’s money should ever invest in one.
The Highest-Earning Hedge Fund Managers & Traders by Forbes magazine.
Poor guys: Top US hedge fund managers earn $11bn in 2014, but worst in years by Rupert Neate for The Guardian.
Hedge Funds Close Doors, Facing Low Returns and Investor Scrutiny by Alexandra Stevenson for The New York Times.
A plan is afoot to store natural gas in salt caverns beneath Seneca Lake, one of the world’s beauty spots, an important location for the New York wine industry and a source of fresh water for 100,000 people.
Although Gov. Andrew Cuoma has suspended hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York state, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to allow fracked gas to be brought in for storage from Pennsylvania and other states.
Filmmaker Josh Fox and author and activist Sandra Steingraber report in the video above how the natural gas industry intends to make New York’s Finger Lakes a storage and transportation hub for gas throughout the Northeast.
They argue that this creates danger of not just of a gas explosion, but even of the collapse of the lake bottom.
Video of the Week: We Are Seneca Lake – A Call to Action from Josh Fox and Sandra Steingraber from Josh Fox’s Gasland blog. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)
We Are Seneca Lake: Josh Fox & Fracking Opponents Fight Natural Gas Storage Site in Upstate NY on Democracy Now! (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)
Much of the world is on track for zero population growth. Birth rates in many countries are at the replacement rate of 2.1 children per average couple, or lower.
The change, in my opinion, has come about because (1) knowledge and availability of birth control are widely available, (2) women are emancipated and have control over their bodies and (3) people are raised far enough out of absolute poverty that they think it is better to have a small number of prosperous, well-educated children than to have many children.
I think that, in the long run, Muslims and Hindus will be as willing to practice contraception as Catholics have proved to be.