Wednesday, May 9, 2012

President Nano-Nibbler

Okay, so most experts now agree that we are in a full-fledged Depression/Long Recession, and the jobs are never coming back. Real unemployment is at least 20% when you factor in the forgotten people who have just given up looking out of pure despair. Underemployment doesn't count in the official stats either: most of the new jobs are in the low-paying service and retail sectors. The working poor are the new normal. We may not be as officially austere as the Eurozone, but we are being subjected to a de facto austerity, with more cuts to the safety net looming on the horizon.

Yet even the phony deficit hawks who insist the country is broke have no problem recklessly spending billions of dollars of borrowed money on one acknowledged war that nobody supports, and more billions on secret narco-wars and drone strikes. And nobody knows the true cost of the bloated Homeland Security boondoggle in which everybody and his brother are considered potential enemies of the state. It has to have been trillions since 9/11 changed everything -- including the Constitution.

Epic crisis, right? Not if you listen to what passes for political discourse in this country, in which bickering and vague platitudes and bellicosity abound, and junior-size bandaids are being prescribed for gaping economic wounds. Take the presidential campaign. Instead of forging ahead with bold plans to fix things, President Obama's strategy is comprised of a weak two-pronged plastic fork attack: shoot (er -- jab) the Mittfish in the barrel, and double-dog-dare Congress to work with him on niblet corn initiatives.

(graphic by Kat Garcia)

Barry was in Albany yesterday, nano-campaigning at a "nano-scale" college. He sounded like an inept hand-wringing parent whose only solution is to complain about the misbehaving brats instead of exerting authority. Here's one line that got a lot of laughs from the audience:

"The only time Government employment has gone down under a recession has been under me."  Hysterical, right?

And the Republicans have the nerve to call him a big-spending socialist, right? Well, he'll show them how small he can be!
So today I’m announcing a handy little “To-Do” list that we’ve put together for Congress. (Laughter.) You can see it for yourselves at whitehouse.gov. It’s about the size of a Post-It note, so every member of Congress should have time to read it — (laughter) — and they can glance at it every so often. And hopefully we’ll just be checking off the list — just like when Michelle gives me a list, I check it off. (Laughter.) Each of the ideas on this list will help accelerate our economy and put people back to work — not in November, not in next year, but right now.
Oh my God, my sides are just splitting. (Just a little aside: Albany is one hell of a depressing place, so cornball presidential speeches must be laugh riots.) But let The Nibbler continue:
  First, Congress needs to help the millions of Americans who have worked hard, made their mortgage payments on time, but still have been unable to refinance their mortgages with these historically low rates. This would make a huge difference for the economy. (Applause.)
(Umm... here we go again with separating the hardworking Americans who pay their bills from those dreaded greedy homeowning slackers who are totally to blame for their own foreclosures. No mention of that vaunted financial fraud task force, no mention that banks are balking at refinancing and still foreclosing illegally,  or that the president has the power to enforce the rules and actually tell Justice to indict some of these bastards). 

Second, if Congress fails to act soon, clean energy companies will see their taxes go up and they could be forced to lay off employees. In fact, we’re already hearing from folks who produce wind turbines and solar panels and a lot of this green energy that they’re getting worried because there’s uncertainty out there. Congress hasn’t renewed some of the tax breaks that are so important to this industry. And since I know that the other side in Congress have promised they’ll never raise taxes as long as they live, this is a good time to keep that promise when it comes to businesses that are putting Americans to work and helping break our dependence on foreign oil. (Applause.) So we should extend these tax credits. That’s on the “To-Do” list. That’s number two.
(I have nothing against green energy and tax breaks for the worthy small business owner, but wouldn't you rather hear him call for scrapping or at least raising the FICA cap on Social Security contributions above the first $106,000? Congress isn't even going to do small shit, so why not just go for it and demand they do big shit? Maybe because he doesn't really want to, either?)
Number three, Congress should help small business owners by giving them a tax break for hiring more workers and paying them higher wages. (Applause.) We believe small businesses are the engine of economic growth in this country. We should not hold them to a situation where they may end up having to pay higher taxes just by hiring more workers. We should make it easier for them to succeed. So that’s on our “To-Do” list. That’s number three.
(Actually, in a Depression, government is the only  proven driver of economic growth. Obama obviously pays more attention to David Brooks than to Paul Krugman. He is more Herbert Hoover than FDR. Instead of making it easier for "small businesses" to succeed, he should ensure that ordinary people succeed. How about supporting the Living Wage Bill? How about that 2008 campaign promises for a federal minimum wage? But first, he should promise that regular people will just freaking survive this shitstorm. Where is his outrage over the GOP plan to cut food stamps, unemployment benefits, health care?)
Number four, Congress should help our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find a good job once they come home. (Applause.) Our men and women in uniform have served this country with such honor and distinction — a lot of them come from upstate New York. Now it’s our turn to serve them. So we should create a Veterans Job Corps that helps them find work as cops and firefighters, employees at our national parks. That’s on our “To-Do” list.
(Homeland Security is already inventing tens of thousands of jobs for returning vets, many of whom suffer from traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and other physical and mental problems. Their suicide rate is astronomical. How about we just bring them all home right now and get them the medical help they need before they are forced into even more stressful jobs as cops and firefighters? And yeah, upstate New York is indeed prime real estate for plucking up impoverished young people and convincing them that a military life of endless soul-destroying deployments is a cool career choice.)
Then the last item, the fifth item, which bears especially on what’s going on here — the last item on our congressional “To-Do” list is something that will help a lot of you in particular. You know better than anybody that technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last few decades. And that’s a great thing. Businesses are more productive; consumers are getting better products for less. But technology has also made a lot of jobs obsolete. (shades of David Brooks's structural unemployment canard)  Factories where people once thought they’d retire suddenly left town. Jobs that provided a decent living got shipped overseas. And the result has been a lot of pain for a lot of communities and a lot of families.
There is a silver lining to all of this, though. After years of undercutting the competition, now it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China. Wages are going up. (the horror!) Shipping costs are going up. And meanwhile, American workers are getting more and more efficient. Companies located here are becoming more and more competitive. So for a lot of businesses, it’s now starting to make sense to bring jobs back home. (Applause.)
(People are working longer hours and getting paid less. Skilled factory workers are paid only about half the going rate, adjusted for inflation, of a decade ago. Unions are being destroyed like crazy, but that's OK. Obama's got Big Labor in the bag. Of course, companies are more competitive when they can get away with cutting benefits and hoarding profits. CEOs pocket about 1000 times what their employees earn through honest labor.)

So that’s the fifth item. That’s all on our “To-Do” list. I’m not trying to overload Congress here. (Laughter.)
So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking about this “To-Do” list when I’m on the road. I’m going to be talking about all the things that Congress can do right now to boost our economy and accelerate even more job growth. Of course, it’s not enough just to give them the list — we’ve also got to get them to start crossing things off the list. And that’s where all of you come in.
I’m going to need you to pick up the phone, write an email, tweet, remind your member of Congress we can’t afford to wait until November to get things done.
So there you have it, folks. That is the answer to the Second Great Depression. Speak loudly and carry a small plastic fork. Make corny jokes and be amazed that audiences still exist who can laugh at and applaud this crap. Don't expect Barry to go all LBJ and go to Congress himself and twist some arms. That is not his cool cerebral style, and besides, he's got a lot of canoodling with rich donors on his plate. So Tweet your member of Congress and if you're lucky, your message will not be caught up by the Homeland Security dragnet. Just make sure you don't bring up how nauseated you feel about the bipartisan funding of war, the spy state, corporate welfare, and Citizens United.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a person who has never had any interest in doing anything other than averting my eyes when passing by automobile accidents--and yet I always read your blog entries, and some other blogs with similarly well researched problems that people appear to be helpless to correct or prevent. How on earth can you continue to face all this and write so coherently without having a major breakdown!? I wonder the same thing about Glenn Greenwald and others, too. It has occurred to me that Prozac Punch may not be enough for some of us and perhaps keeping a cyanide capsule locked in our medicine chest might not be a bad idea ; /.

Anonymous Z

'I can't go on; I'll go on.'

Valerie said...

I think so many of us are so discouraged that we can only watch in horror and despair as our democracy circles the drain.

Even Obama's campaign speeches are flat. His jokes seem to only get the obligatory, polite laughs and his statements about the Congress and mild rebukes of the Republicans ring hollow. Even his supporters have little expectation that this election is going to bring any meaningful change.

My only hope is the Occupy Movement. Yet I worry, along with Chris Hedges, that the Black Bloc is being used to destroy Occupy from within. The discussion panel on Democracy Now on May Day left me worried as the other panelists treated the Black Bloc as if is was just another approach to protesting. They are clearly ignoring the fact that most Americans are listening either to the MSM or Fox which is trying to portray Occupy as a bunch of violent, radical hippies who need to be heavily policed.

Noam Chomsky has a really great article on TomDispatch called Plutonomy and the Precariat. It is also available via TruthDig.

Apparently Obama is taking a stand on gay marriage. Whoopee! It is a pretty small bone to give us. It is not that I am not for gay marriage, but I think gay marriage and abortion are side issues used to distract us from the fact that the uniparty is turning America into a feudal plutocracy.

James F Traynor said...

You said it all in the first sentence: "...the jobs aren't coming back." At least the jobs that would support a middle (read working) class. Even were the ruling class willing to bring them back It may not be possible, given the emergence of the new global economy. It's a race to the bottom for the average American. But for the 1% it's their wet dream come true.

Neil Gillespie said...

@James F Traynor

"You said it all in the first sentence: "...the jobs aren't coming back."

Yes James, sad but true. There is too much more to say, and so little energy left in my life to say it, so consider this rant yesterday by Nigel Farage, UK Independent Party, on the coming crash, made before the European Parliament, Brussels, 9 May 2012

http://youtu.be/Bsl1_ju7Vxw

The jobs aren’t coming back…and the loans are due…

Neil Gillespie said...

@Anonymous Z

Eli Broad was on Charlie Rose the other day hawking his book "The Art of Being Unreasonable", which is a take on the quote by George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12349

On Sardonicky the quote needs an update: all progress depends on the unreasonable woman, Karen Garcia

keep fighting

The Doktor said...

Greetings All!
@Karen; Love the plastic fork analogy!

What I found interesting is how closely President Obama's 5 points followed "The Doktors Solution To Everything" except of course, I would use American Made Stainless Steel! ( Karen you would have to give me special leeway if you want me to post it, it is of necessity quite long ) To anyone who still says government is the problem I say;
How is it better to have some giant corporation telling everyone what to do and how to live and how much you can earn and what to eat as opposed to an elected Government?
Don’t we at least have some slight chance of a better outcome if we can at least vote out the the worst elements of said Government instead of no chance at all of removing the CEO of a mega-corp....
Small businesses need help and I think government subsidized labor is the key;
A sliding scale based on several variables such as age, financial need, skill level, training level, a return to apprenticeships in certain trades, cost of living in a given area, danger/hazards/distastefulness of a given job, should all be factored into this payscale which has been referred to as a “Living Wage” which will be paid for by mega-corps ( or anyone ) with profits exceeding a billion dollars.

Cranky in Australia said...

You know what? I don't buy that "the jobs aren't coming back." Drop Free Trade and slap a fat little import tax on all goods made in Third World countries with no environmental regulations that pay substandard wages and just watch those corporations come crawling back in order to have access to our markets.

I am sick of everyone buying into the idea that Free Trade is a fait accompli - Why aren't we fighting this notion? Why aren't we talking about this issue as if we are going to demand that any corporation that has access to our markets has to have 50% of all their product manufactured in the U.S? We all act as if we have Stockholm Syndrome! Wake up people! The corporations aren't going to hire Americans and give them a living wage out of the goodness of their hearts! We have to DEMAND that they do and make it impossible for them NOT to do it!

Sometimes I think the problem with the Middle Class in America is more of us need to get a backbone and stand up and fight the good fight instead of just lying there and taking whatever the plutocracy dishes out.

The Doktor said...

@Cranky;

Testify! ...can I get an Amen!?
Can a brother get an MF"n Amen!?!

Karen Garcia said...

Doktor,
Re your five point plan... you can either post it in increments in the comment boxes, or email me the whole shebang for consideration as a guest post. Thanks!

Val,
When I wrote the jobs aren't coming back, I meant they're not coming back without some heavy duty govt intervention. Obama will not rest until he expands free trade to every corner of the earth. Next stop, Asia Pacific. Corporations have no patriotism, so his "America Built to Last" is the height of cynicism. But he speaks well, so the fans lap it up without question.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, with respect to the last sentence of Cranky's post! In fact I offer a further "all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do (MF'n) nothing."

Anonymous Z

Thersites said...

There is only one question, and that is Lenin's:

What is to be done?

Zee said...

@The Doktor--

Great to come back from a few days off and find you posting again!

Would you mind sending me a preview copy of "The Doktor's [Five Point] Solution to Everything?"

I promise not to leak it to the general Sardonicky readership before you publish it!

Zee said...

@Cranky in Australia--

I guess that I'm not so sanguine as you that we can return jobs to the U.S. by provoking what will amount to a global trade war.

I'm not economist enough—certainly not international trade economist enough—to know how well the U.S. would fare if we suddenly decided to impose tariffs on imports in order to force global corporations to create more jobs here at home.

Yes, yes. I've heard the argument that they need our markets as much as we desire their cheap products, and that this Faustian bargain would help us “win,”—or, at least, not lose a—trade war.

Yet, brighter minds than mine on the leftist side of the economic spectrum seem to believe that those manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas really are gone for good.

Robert Reich does not go into great detail as to why in this article, but he certainly doesn't suggest imposition of burdensome tariffs as the solution to the problem:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
robert-reich/the-economic
-reality-that_b_377167.html

And would the foolish American public—addicted as we are to cheap, short-lived electronic gizmos manufactured abroad—be willing to accept the increased prices of American-made goods? I guess that I'm not so sure that we would be willing to do so.

I have only been able to find a couple of articles on how prices might increase if we were to “force” certain items— viz, the Apple iPad 2—to be manufactured in the U.S., but the price increase is substantial:

http://blog.stonestreetadvisors.com/2011/05/06/how-much-would-the-ipad-2-cost-if-it-was-made-in-the-u-s-a/

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/05/how-much-would-the-ipad-2-cost-if-it-were-made-in-the-us-about-1-140/238508/

The second article merely adds some other costs to the iPad 2 that weren't accounted for in the first.

I see kids that can't be more than eight years old running around with—to me, at least— expensive Apple products. How thrilled will their parents—who seem to need these diversions to keep their sanity—be when the cost of those “toys” jumps by 30-40%?

I don't know the answer to this question. I'm not a parent, modern-day or otherwise, and I hope that I would have more intestinal fortitude than today's parents and just send my kids out to play politically-incorrect games in the back yard, sans electronics.

But I can see a significant segment of the gizmo-addicted American public rebelling at the thought of large price increases even if it means more American jobs. (Hey, I didn't say the American public is “bright.”)

I would be happy to read arguments to the contrary, but I suspect that the “globalization genie” really is out of the bottle once and for all.

Valerie said...

We have to decide whether we want a Middle Class or we want cheap stuff.

No one is talking about this because 1) No one has an original thought anymore and can only parrot what others say 2) The corporations hold the purse strings on the media, the government and the money given to universities. 3) We assume that everyone is selfish and unwilling to pay more in order to have a stable economy.

And as much as I like Robert Reich he was Secretary of Labour when Clinton got the Free Trade thing going and he was part of the - ship factory work overseas, retrain our own factory workers and everything will be honky dory. He can see that it is a failure.

But it will take people looking at themselves and their lifestyles and choosing. For most, if their own jobs are secure, they will choose the cheap stuff. I mean, just don't think about the slave labour making the stuff and the unemployed people in our own country. But decent, reasonable people should be able to see that a stable economy and a stable Middle Class is far better in the long run for America.

And Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky and many other brilliant thinkers are not worshipping at the church of Free Trade or agreeing the genie is out of the bottle rhetoric. There is a whole group of economists who aren't buying that Free Trade is a good thing - some focusing on the destruction and exploitation of the Third World and some focusing on the destruction of the Middle Class in America.

I actually have gathered a lot on this subject and will write more - later - but I need to study.

Zee,

You can start by going to the Economist website and looking for debate there. They had an entire series of articles devoted to "for and against" Free Trade. It is only in America that you don’t read much about economist being anti-Free Trade - Kinda like you never read about a lot of important issues not being discussed in the MSM.

And Karen, I wasn't being cranky with you per se. I had just read that quote from Steve Jobs, Corporate Exploiter Extrodinaire, where he said the jobs were never coming back on a Krugman and a bunch of readers parroting it. It just made me mad that people accept it without questioning the alternatives.

Karen Garcia said...

Val,
I know you weren't being cranky with sweet little moi! We know Jobs ain't ever coming back, despite his millions, but for lower-case jobs to come back we need some help from the govt... stimulus, tax increases on the rich, punishing corps who offshore, creating some demand for to grow the economy. You have idiots like David Brooks pontificating about the recession being some uncontrollable, cyclical force of nature when it's people like him contributing to the cult of do-nothingism. Makes me want to scream!

Neil Gillespie said...

@Cranky in Australia

Granted, unfair trade is a problem. But the old jobs are not coming back. At the time of the 2008 crash people were living off credit because jobs paid so little. Wages have been stagnate for 30+ years or so. Only the 1% have made gains.

This is more a case of nostalgia than reality. The good paying jobs that supported a family were mostly in the 1950’s and 1960’s. That was well in the last century!

This is what I see:

1. America is an empire in decline. Chris Hedges says it better than me.

http://www.booktv.org/Watch/13110/In+Depth+Chris+Hedges.aspx

2. The post-WWII economic bump is long gone. See The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen, a review on The Spectator.

http://spectator.org/archives/2011/05/09/americas-slowdown

3. America is out of touch with much of the world. Watch Capitalism at the Crossroads, by Hernando de Soto (this is our competition in the world, and they are hungrier!)

http://youtu.be/WaDP0n4pV84

4. Changing social norms. The baby boom was an economic boom too. Fewer men and women marry now and families are smaller. In addition, more women entered the workforce from the 1970’s forward, without a corresponding increase in the number of jobs. That depressed wages.

5. Corporatism has been embraced by the Democrat-Republican duopoly, and large numbers of the American people too. Corporations have no allegiance to country. Corporations see the shrinking American middle class, and turn to the growing international middle class, which has more promise.

6. Financialization of the economy. Chase just announced it lost $2 billion on a market bet. Derivatives, credit default swaps, shadow banking - "financial weapons of mass destruction." Too Big To Fail is unaccountable. Banks no longer function to serve customers, they are an end to themselves. Financial institutions used to have a fiduciary duty to clients. The term "fiduciary duty" is now quaint. See The Death Spiral Of Debt, Risk And Jobs, by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmay12/death-spiral-debt-jobs5-12.html

"Risk is like the dog that didn't bark. In the story Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes calls the police inspector's attention to the fact that a dog did something curious the night in question: it did not bark when it should have."

7. Corruption is epidemic in America. We do not have an honest functioning legal system. The press is missing in action. See Naked Capitalism, "Frontline’s Astonishing Whitewash of the Crisis."

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/04/frontlines-astonishing-whitewash-of-the-crisis.html

8. Our work ethic has been undermined by wheeling and dealing. Our culture does not value labor or honest work as in prior generations. This is seen in tax rates, where hedge fund types pay a lower tax rate than teachers or plumbers.

9. Formal education has been oversold and is overpriced. College degrees are not a substitute for a marketable skill, common sense, or the ability to accomplish something. We need more vocational training, and apprenticeships, like unions used to provide.

10. You asked, "Sometimes I think the problem with the Middle Class in America is more of us need to get a backbone and stand up and fight the good fight instead of just lying there and taking whatever the plutocracy dishes out."

Isn’t that what Occupy is doing? BTW, what about the Working Class? It is much larger than the Middle Class.

Valerie said...

Neil,

You and I agree on almost everything you wrote.

But I disagree that decent paying, manufacturing jobs with decent benefits cannot come back to America. We just have to suck it up and pay more for our stuff. Ian Fletcher, if you go to Youtube, has a speech he gave to the Heritage Foundation and gives an interview to Thom Hartman on RT - (If you can put up with Thom's "Charlie Rose" interviewing style) He suggests slowly raising the trade barriers - maybe one percent at first. Especially in the Heritage Foundation talk and questions afterwards, he makes a very cogent argument for why Free Trade is hurting America in so many ways and suggests the way the we can bring jobs back.

Granted, these jobs don't pay what we today consider a liveable wage. But again, and I know I am preaching to the choir, maybe we need to look at that paradigm as well. Before the 80's and 90's and the explosion of consumerism, people lived more modest lifestyles. Maybe people will have to go back to living that way in exchange for a less insecure life. Personally, this endless appetite for lots and lots of stuff is sickening to me and has been for many years. I mean, who cares where you bought those red shoes? Like many people, my husband and I have had to cut back substantially on our spending in the last ten years and I wouldn't say our quality of life has diminished at all as a result of having less stuff.

And like many, when I refer to the Middle Class, I am including the Working Class in that group. We are, after all, in the same boat economically - losing ground – and the working class has until Free Trade has had a Middle Class life, even if it might have been considered Lower Middle Class.

And I adamantly believe that Occupy is our only hope. But the movement has got to grow exponentially and at a more dynamic rate than the security state. Right now, it has some problems. The MSM is either not giving it much press or the press it gets makes the protesters seem either silly or violent. And like Chris Hedges, I think the Black Bloc is a problem. But I consider myself part of the Occupy Movement and I support it 100%.

As I wrote in a more current thread, we might have caught a break with the British Police striking. Hopefully, it will wake up the American Police to the fact that they, with their nice pensions and good benefits, are expendable. It would be an incredible boon to the Occupy Movement to not have to fight the police for the right to peacefully protest.