Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chills, Thrills, Skills & Shills

The scams just keep on coming. But as they say in the trade, grifters gotta grift.

It seems like only yesterday when austerity was all the rage, and we were being told by our president to tighten our belts and share the sacrifice with Richie Rich and Warren Buffett so as to "win the future." But then, this being a fake populist midterm election year and all, along came the inequality craze. However, that phrase freaked out the rich people so much that in less than a week, it was bowdlerized into the opportunity gap. And now it's been even further watered down into the previously debunked "skills gap."

Grifters gotta grift. The plutocrats and the politicians and the pundits need to constantly come up with old-new ways to blame regular people for the horrible economy they had no hand in creating. And so, we have been officially diagnosed with another outbreak of the dreaded Skills Deficit Plague.

As he has done so often, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman again finds himself battling elite propaganda while neglecting to mention Democratic complicity in same:
This (the skills gap) is very much a zombie doctrine — that is, a doctrine that should be dead by now, having been repeatedly refuted by evidence, but just keeps on shambling along. EPI presents some very interesting evidence from a survey of manufacturing, but they’re hardly the first to show that the data don’t at all support the skills-shortage hypothesis. And it’s not just labor-associated think tanks or progressives who have rejected the skill shortage story based on the evidence.
Funny, that "progressive" rejection. Because running right now on Politico is a "sponsored content" story by Melody Barnes, late of the Democratic White House. She absolutely accepts the skill shortage meme that blames the victims and absolves the thieving oligarchy for its own greedy role in making the terrible economy so terrible. Could it be that her continuing employment as a Thought Leader for an elite think tank (Aspen Institute) -- funded by such oligarchs as Dem-designated bad guy David Koch and Dem friend Jamie Dimon -- depends upon her acceptance of crap? Or, given Obama's own neoliberal belief in structural unemployment, has she always sincerely bought into what she's selling?

Follow the money, and examine just who is bankrolling this truly bipartisan skills gap zombie plague. JP Morgan Chase, headed by unindicted Whale Fail banker Jamie Dimon, is the actual sponsor of the "native ad" disguised as a news story on Politico (where else?) To give the propaganda the patina of credibility, the piece bears the byline of Barnes, who is only one in a long line of lackeys who've spun through the revolving door to cash in on the Obama Brand.

Barnes is glib as she lurches on: "The skills gap plays a significant role in our unemployment picture right now. We know from an analysis by the International Monetary Fund that about one-third of those who are unemployed in the United States are unemployed because they don't have the necessary skills."

(Of course, the IMF is run by the self-same oligarchic banking cartel for whom Barnes now shills. They are best known for imposing austerity on such bankster victims as Greece, with the tragic results still playing out.)

 Barnes then goes on to plug the "National Fund for Workforce Solutions".... administered by her partner, too big to fail/jail JP Morgan Chase. Add this to the recent Brookings report that subtly denigrates the chronic unemployed who are impeding the "recovery" by "exiting" the work force, and you've got the perfect recipe for Paul Ryan and his band of sadists to deny extension of jobless benefits. Can't have those skill-less Marginals wasting away on their hammocks of dependency when all they need is some philanthropic STEM training!

As a matter of fact, the Republican House has already passed cynical legislation called the SKILLS Act (Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills) as a substitute for temporary insurance benefits that would actually help sustain life. Its purpose is to pit the jobless against each other, making them fight over plutocratic crumbs.

But back to JP Morgan Chase and its partnership with Democrats. It brags that it's "committing" $250 million over five years to JobsJobsJobs!!! (a piddling drop in the bucket, considering it has assets of well over 2 trillion -- a GDP bigger than most countries)  Because, according to its own philanthropy website, more than half of the world's overpaid CEOs are growing ever more concerned that stupid proles will stifle their profits. And ergo, the taxpayers had better fork over "matching" money to train people so as to enable the CEOs to become confident enough to hire a lucky handful of them to work longer hours for less money. Of course, they don't put it quite that way. They put it like this:
The numbers seem to contradict each other: unemployment is high across the globe, while recent data reveals that employers are having trouble finding workers who are trained for the jobs that are available, particularly in skilled labor and professional positions. And more than 50% of global CEOs are concerned that a key skills gap could limit their growth prospects. What can we do to ensure that people are trained and competitive for the skilled jobs of the 21st century?
 Through New Skills at Work, JPMorgan Chase will use its resources, expertise, and global reach to help inform and accelerate efforts to support demand-driven skills.
That last bit sounds downright ominous. It reminds me of Matt Taibbi's gloriously gruesome "vampire squid" metaphor, with those banking tentacles reaching across the globe to suck the assets out of every last man, woman, and child. For appetizers to their human feast, the financiers will be munching and crunching their cherry-picked data. Which are suspiciously fuzzy, by the way. Kind of like a plague of fungus after a heavy rain.

The real problem is not a skills gap, but a wage and jobs gap. If anything, worker skills have improved while wages have stagnated and jobs disappeared because of lack of demand. Employers like to complain about the unavailability of good help, but their real gripe is that the help doesn't want to work for the slave wages they're willing to pay. If there were truly a skills gap, the allegedly dwindling skilled labor pool would getting higher salaries. And of course, they are not.

Also, employers don't want to invest in on-the-job training. They want people fresh from their last job doing the exact same tasks as they're expected to perform perfectly from day one on the new job. And since there are fewer and fewer "last jobs" out there, the immediate proficiency the bosses expect as their god-given right is not forthcoming. So the jobs stay vacant. Employers also expect new hires to multi-task to a degree bordering on the ridiculous.

Labor economist Peter Cappelli tells a blackly humorous story about another real problem: the truly outlandish expectation gap plague that is afflicting employers:
One of my favorite examples of the absurdity of this requirement was a job advertisement for a cotton candy machine operator – not a high-skill job – which required that applicants “demonstrate prior success in operating cotton candy machines.”  The most perverse manifestation of this approach is the many employers who now refuse to take applicants from unemployed candidates, the rationale being that their skills must be getting rusty.
Meanwhile, Melody "I Walked With a Zombie" Barnes is using her Obama connection and her own tried and true "up by her bootstraps" hardscrabble autobiography (she grew up near "dried out" tobacco fields) to lend that sweet liberal glow to Jamie Dimon's get-out-of-jail PR campaign. His bank recently settled with Obama's friendly Justice Department for a slightly more piddling $13 billion for the fraud that collapsed the economy and threw all those unskilled Marginals out of work in the first place. Dimon was awarded a bonus for his malfeasance, and the fine itself will be largely whittled down through tax deductions and charitable donations and greed-washing in partnership with friendly Obama officials, both past and present. When Dimon found out about Eric Holder's criminal investigation of his establishment, he demanded and got an unprecedented face-to-face with the attorney general in order to hammer out the terms of the pretend punishment.

And the next thing you know, he's concern-trolling the unemployed with Obama's minions openly beaming by his side, secure in the knowledge that the president will never have to campaign for public office again, and that the president views financial high crimes and misdemeanors as fleeting public relations glitches.

What else did we expect? I will never forget reading that chilling chapter in Confidence Men in which Ron Suskind chronicles the new president's 2009 meeting with the big bankers, post-bailout and pre-Tea Party explosion. Their aggrieved victimhood was apparent even then; they were actually bitching about the possibility that their bonuses would be curtailed:
Obama cut them off.
"Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn't buying that," he said. "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks."
It was an attention grabber, no doubt, especially that carefully chosen last word.
But then Obama's flat tone turned to one of support, even sympathy. "You guys have an acute public relations problem that's turning into a political problem," he said. "And I want to help. But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices."
According to one of the participants, he then said, "I'm not out there to go after you. I'm protecting you. But if I'm going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation."
No suggestions were forthcoming from the bankers on what they might offer, and the president didn't seem to be championing any specific proposals. He had none; neither Geithner nor Summers believed compensation controls had any merit.
After a moment, the tension in the room seemed to lift:
the bankers realized he was talking about voluntary limits on compensation until the storm of public anger passed. It would be for show.
The storm of public anger, of course, never did abate. Rather, it was cleverly deflected away from the banking cartel with a little help from the Koch Brothers, and aimed directly at a Marxist Socialist Obama straw man. Instead of blaming the banks, people blamed the government, which had forced all those lazy Blah people to buy homes they couldn't afford. Rick Santelli issued his famous racist dog whistle of a rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and thus was the right wing Tea Party movement born.

Oh, and speaking of Chicago, I almost forgot. It turns out that one of the very first recipients of Dimon's largesse will be Mayor One Percent himself, former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The money will not necessarily go toward training actual people, in case you still thought it would be. From the New York Times Dealbook:
Mr. Emanuel will have a “key role” in how the initiative unfolds in Chicago, one of the first cities the program will target, although his official position within the effort is not yet clear.
The initiative will include a heavy research component, drawing on the bank’s internal market data as well as data from outside analytics firms.
 The program is part of the bank’s larger push to focus its charitable giving on areas that have more to do with its own businesses. In 2014, the first year of the program, it plans to donate $225 million, a figure that will likely include some cuts to the bank giving for the arts and culture. Last year, JPMorgan donated $183 million in total charitable giving.
Okay, now I understand. This is more robbing from the poor to give to the indigent... but with a twist. Because this time, the money first winds up in the pockets of the protection racket.  Even the bank's pitiful pittance for charity Arts & Crafts is subverted into the Art of Graft.

And you thought Chris Christie had cornered the market on political corruption? These people not only don't bother hiding the fingerprints all over the messes they create. They're openly flaunting the huge, purple, inflamed knuckle-marks inflicted daily on the vulnerable body politic of a moribund nation. 

Dick Cheney isn't the only character who has no regrets over torture.

Those revolving doors must be spinning so fast because they want us to get dizzy trying to watch them -- and too stunned and wounded to have even a hope of stopping them.

Or, so they hope.


Pearl said...

Karen: I had to read your column a second time after the dizziness in my head cleared enough to get some idea of where, how and to whom this latest ideology is going or, coming from. First of all, there are questions. The figures of 30% of the unemployed do not have appropriate skills - for what?
Filling only jobs for the corporations that bring in profits? And if any of
them had jobs before, how come they are suddenly unskilled? And what about the other 70% supposedly have (had) skills so how come they are not working?
And among the 30% of unskilled workers, and skilled 70% are any of them of sound enough mind and body to help repair the crumbling infrastructure, assist in areas of need for people, etc.? Oh yes: I forget, they would have to be hired by the government and be paid just like in the WPA or CCC days and that will not happen under Obama's watch. So all these useless unskilled, or jobless people can rot along with the country.
It is also interesting to follow where all the people who have left the current administration go to rest up from the stress they have undergone but seem to move into more stressful jobs, But then all that money they get for lobbying, seats on prestigious corporations, right wing think tanks and
requests for expensive speeches makes it all worthwhile. I know our President of the people can hardly wait to see what is awaiting him as well
in 2016.

And Bernie Sanders, you had better start getting your running shoes on. As to the question of whether or not he should stay in the Democratic Party or run as an Independent may have the same results. He will probably help more Republicans get into power by dividing the votes of the former democrats and be blamed for it. But it doesn't matter and I for one hope he makes a dent
somewhere, somehow, by giving decent citizens a chance to thumb their collective noses at both parties.
We had better all get our running shoes on to get active in what is coming down the pike. Karen, I hope this column will also get to Truthout.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

This is an incredibly dangerous idea that was floating around in the schools when I taught in Washington state. Schools were "failing the kids" because they weren't equipping students for the jobs that industry needed to be filled. There was the cry from industry - "Where are the engineers?" Well, I was married to a highly trained one and it turns out they wanted engineers but at bargain basement prices.

The fact is, THIS is the oligarchy's big excuse for off-shoring jobs. There are plenty of people who want to work - They just aren't happy working for peanuts and no benefits. All the computer programmers, scientists and engineers they are FORCED to hire from China, India and elsewhere could be had in the U.S. if they would offer these people a decent wage.

But this is the elephant in the room with globalization - many,many jobs can now be outsourced to countries where the outsourcer doesn't have to pay them much of a wage at all and certainly doesn't have to pay health insurance or retirement benefits. And since we have NOTHING to discourage them from this practice.

When will we realise that it is better to pay more for our stuff (and have less of it) and keep jobs in our communities, states and nation than it is to get everything on the cheap and have no Middle Class?

Karen Garcia said...


I tweaked my post and added some new links to better explain the skills gap mythology.

James F Traynor said...

Yeah, the 'lack of engineers' bit has been a scam for as long as I can remember. What they mean is a shortage of engineers at the right price as Tweedie has pointed out. The same goes for a lot of other techie positions. It's even worse now since I was a footloose 'engineering technician' picking up courses at night towards a degree. And teachers have always been 'failing their students' - it's the American way.
I said to hell with it eventually and started to study animals and plants. Never looked back.

Pearl said...

HBO and The Shriver Report Present ?Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert?
via @ShriverReport

This is a very interesting documentary being shown on HBO and featured on Oprah Winfrey's TV show tonight with candid hardhitting reports from women in the audience. What was shocking is how low the pay is for women with education and skills and having to take care of their children while being on the edge of poverty with no fallback even with husbands working. It was well done and Maria Schriver was very effective as was Oprah on speaking out about the new poor and what it does to people's lives. Oprah said they want to start a dialogue about this important issue. It connects with your column Karen about unemployment and lack of skills and the mythology involved.

Pearl said...

Karen: Congratulations!!! Two days after you posted Thrills, Skills, Chills,
and Shills in Sardonicky, Truthout posted your great column on their
I predict there will be lots of comments (one lengthy one already there). It made my day. and yours too I hope. I know I speak
for all of us when I say how proud we are of the work you do.

Karen Garcia said...

Thank you, Pearl!

The subject matter is really touching a nerve. Krugman also followed up on his blog post and devoted a whole column to the same topic -- there were some great Times reader comments there too.

People appear to be getting wise to the bipartisan con, and most important, getting fed up. Time will tell if Occupy re-emerges. My Magic 8 ball says it looks auspicious.