Friday, March 21, 2014

Oh, the Humanity

If CNN devoted even a hundredth as much time covering our hijacked economy as it does covering that missing airplane, we might just be getting somewhere and afflicting the comfortable. But, since a marathon reality show featuring an international scavenger hunt with overtones of terror, intrigue, and anguish is proving to be a ratings magnet, the most trusted name in news is only too happy to sate our appetites. The Saga of Flight MH370 must and will take dramatic precedence over that other truly epic humanitarian crisis playing out right now, in our own backyard. That's because unrelenting coverage by cable news of the tragedy of chronic, soul-killing, suicide-inducing mass unemployment would likely be box office poison.

But to be fair to CNN, they did run a story on depression, suicide and joblessness in 2012.

Jobless people themselves would probably just as soon forget their own woes.  Between interviews to nowhere and staring at their silent phones, they too can sit glued to the TV, watching stories of people even more missing-in-action and possibly dead than themselves. That is, if they still have cable, given the rapid rise in subscription rates. But just in case they're couch-surfing at a connected friend's or relative's, they can at least feel grateful to be alive and situated on dry land where they can be found if needed -- economically disposable as they've been deemed to be.

There were 239 people aboard that ill-fated airplane. We have learned the life stories of just about every single one of them in the past couple of weeks.

There are now some 5.66 million missing workers in the United States, neither counted nor accounted for. To notice them would be to raise the unemployment rate to at least 10%, up from the official 6.5%. And that would not jibe with the narrative of "the recovery."

Although the human wreckage of poverty and unemployment is littered all over the American landscape, how it got there in the first place (plutocratic greed and political corruption) is not an exciting mystery, requiring detection of the prized black box with expensive high tech toys and satellite imagery. The detritus has been out there in plain sight and hearing for so long that it's become either ignored background noise, or just part of the decor.

The popular style of understated catastrophe, which took off like a shot around 2008, has for all practical purpose just been dubbed Shabby Sober New Normal Chic by a group of Ivy League fashion critics. From the Los Angeles Times:
In a sobering new study, three Princeton economists found that only 11% of the long-term unemployed in any given month found full-time work a year later. 
Despite an improving economy, the proportion of people who have been unemployed for more than six months still exceeds the previous peak set in the early 1980s, the economists said. That's why the overall unemployment rate is still well above average.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people unemployed 27 weeks or longer rose by 203,000 in February, reaching 3.8 million.
New in the paper was a more detailed breakdown of who exactly makes up this group. The economists found that in 2012:
-- More than 30% of those out of work for extended periods are 50 or older, compared with 20% of the short-term unemployed.
-- 55% of the long-term unemployed are men.
-- 44% of the long-term unemployed have never been married and nearly 20% are either widowed, separated or divorced.
-- Blacks represent 22% of the long-term unemployed, a rate higher than their share of the population.
-- More than half of the long-term unemployed are white.
Oh, and if you're over the age of 50 and have been out of work for awhile, you might as well forget about ever getting another job for the rest of your life. Not that you really matter in the grand scheme of things, or so coldly proclaim the Three Fashionistas of the New Normal Study. And since they're part of the Establishment (Alan Krueger worked in the Obama administration) they hasten to add that miserable Americans are still not as badly off as the crushed Europeans. And there is even more than a hint of that dreaded "lack of skills" labor supply-side bunkum excuse in their report, designed (inadvertently of course) to make the miserable feel even worse and the architects of the misery more complacent as they continue to rake in more than 90% of the gains made in the "recovery." 

Interspersed among the myriad charts, graphs and mathematical formulae from the centrist Brookings Institution report is some rather condescending language, seeming to put the onus on the worker rather than the boss: (parentheses mine)
Even in good times, (sniffs, looks down nose) the long-term unemployed are on the margins of the labor market, (real lowlife fringe-dwellers, they)  with diminished job prospects and high labor force withdrawal rates, (what else can you expect from impotent withdrawal-prone Marginals?) and as a result they exert little pressure (they're diminished!) on wage growth or inflation. (They never counted anyway, so why are we even bothering with this purely academic exercise? Because the plutocrats running this establishment pay us handsomely to so expertly say what they want to hear, that's why!)
And what a lot of them want to hear is another excuse to not extend unemployment benefits for more than two million long-term jobless people.

According to Krueger and Co., there's also that annoying historical tendency of the Marginals to just up and quit their jobs:
 Although the long-term unemployed have about a one in ten chance of moving into employment in any given month, when they do return to work their new jobs are often transitory. (itinerant, hobo-ish) After 15 months, the long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely to have withdrawn (they studiously avoid saying laid off, fired, aged out, became sick or were injured) from the labor force than to have settled into steady, full-time employment. And when they exit (without, apparently, a swift kick in the butt from their boss to help them on their way) the labor force, the long-term unemployed tend to say that they no longer want a job, suggesting that many labor force exits could be enduring.(once a quitter, always a quitter.)
Words matter. And this is the part about the subset of the chronically unemployed that the moralizing Caligula Caucus will most likely pounce upon. Congress, of course, is now in the throes of debating unemployment benefit extensions. As long as there are some lazy bums who are deliberately quitting jobs and are unlikely to ever to work again for the rest of their lives, why extend the help? As Paul Ryan might say, it only encourages them to remain strung out in their hammocks of dependency. The sadistic lower House is balking at even a brief stay of execution, despite the outrageous CEO-friendly Senate compromise allowing employers to "temporarily" withhold contributions to current workers' pension plans and the additional regressive tax on airline travelers.

Although the Brookings charts do show that educated, professional people are just as likely suffer prolonged unemployment as the less educated, the authors of the study for some reason do not include these findings in their coldly written summary. Nowhere do we hear a story about the 50-something engineer laid off from a Fortune 500 company a year ago, and who has since given up even looking for work because of untreated clinical depression. Instead, according to the wonkishly dry economic report, he has "exited the work force" and has a "tendency" to not even want a job. He and millions of people like him shall remain nameless as they are rendered into statistical insignificance. 

The Social Darwinist subtext goes something like this: if we simply ignore the chronically unemployed, they will magically disappear from our radar screen. No more pings, no more blips. As Binyamin Applebaum of the New York Times puts it,
The basic argument made by the new paper, and others like it, is that the long-standing relationship between movements in inflation and unemployment, which appeared to break down during the Great Recession and its aftermath, can be restored by writing off long-term unemployment. The Phillips curve, a description of this relationship, predicted a decline of one percentage point per year between 2009 and 2013. The actual average was just 0.2 percentage points.
Adjust for – which is to say, ignore – long-term unemployment and voila! The difference almost completely vanishes.
And President Obama and Congress are not about to pledge the full bureaucratic or financial support of the United States government to search for and rescue this particular group of vanished, doomed, expendable passengers. Looking for miniscule glints of metal in a million-square mile locus, though? That, says the president, is now "among America's top priorities."

There isn't an ocean too deep, or a mountain so high it can keep them away.... away from thumping their chests and strutting their all-American exceptional stuff in their never-ending quest to become CNN Heroes.


James F Traynor said...

Yeah, if we all get together, sing Kumbaya, Onward Christian Soldiers, listen to a motivational spiel, quote a little Ayn Rand, plug our ears - or whatever soothes you, the screams of the dying will soon still and we'll be left only with the crying of the gulls above the uncaring waves. Life must go on. Yeah, sure.

But cheer up, we'll get another little cold war going and things will be back to normal. Duck and cover kiddies, daddy's going to buy you some new shoes! Duck and cover!

James F Trynor said...

Below is a really great video on B.O.. Funny! If only it weren't so damn true.

annenigma said...


Thanks for the link to that video. I loved it! And she didn't even sound like she was reading from any kind of teleprompter or script, like you-know-who.


Jay - Ottawa said...

That was a cute video of a progressive chica breaking up with her unfaithful homeboy.

Here’s a video that popped up automatically after I played the T-shirt burning (“they” know my preferences by now). It’s Cenk Uygur summarizing / acting out that recent paper by Yale Prof David Bromwich nailing down BO’s character (or lack of it).

James F Traynor said...

Yep, Jay, that Young Turk thing was very interesting. I don't know if Abramovich 'nailed it'as TYT says, but he certainly hit it a good whack.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Old Business:
A few sessions ago some of us discussed the drafting of pledge to be put to candidates and incumbents at rallies and public meetings leading up to the 2014 congressional election. Here’s my offering to (1) educate an audience and (2) introduce the pledge. If you can lay the predicate with fewer words, and phrase the pledge more sharply, be my guest.

Today our spy agencies don’t just focus their surveillance on bad guys and suspects who might harm us; they spy on everybody, because their technology is capable of it.

Government agencies and their private subcontractors spy on everybody in this hall. They have already copied down the morning’s emails for everyone in this room, and they’ve recorded all your phone calls. Your license plates have been photographed a number of times to trace you to this place. Analysts sitting before monitors know where you are in real time and where you’ve been. If you’ve purchased a computer lately, it just might be used to spy on you at home, even after you turn it off.

That vast store of data about your conversations, your thoughts and your travel is now kept in storage for at least for a month. Our spy agencies are seeking more funding from Congress to store the data for years. There are indications that private interests will be given access to that data, and not always for the most noble ends.

The best way to control this spying on everyone here and around the country, to include our Candidate/ Congressman/ Senator and her/his staff, is not to pass more “thou shalt not” legislation. Spy agencies repeatedly ignore the existing laws. Because they think they’re above the law. Then they lie about what they’re doing when questioned by Congress acting in its role in providing oversight.

The surest way to control spy agencies gone rogue is not through laws and nice speeches about privacy but through funding cuts. Originally, the budget for spy agencies was for unmasking terrorists period, not for wiping out the privacy of everyone in this hall and around the country.

So much depends on you, Senator/ Congressman/ Candidate. Will you go on record here to say that if we vote for you, you will take vigorous, meaningful, and practical steps to protect our privacy, specifically by cutting back sharply on spy agency funding, which funding is now estimated at being from between $______ and $______ billion per year?

Zee said...

@James and @All--

Interesting that Cary Wedler claims to have once been an ardent Obama supporter. In this video, Wedler claims to have once been an ardent supporter of Ron Paul and things Libertarian, and, at the time that the video was published, October 2, 2013, claimed to have evolved into, essentially, an anarchist.

Also mentioned in this earlier video is that Wedler is—or was at the time—the girlfriend of nutcase Adam Kokesh, the looney “libertarian/anarchist/agorist/voluntarist” who recently proposed an armed march from Virginia into Washington, DC to protest the draconian firearms laws of the nation's capital.

Kokesh's sociopolitical views are completely and utterly confused, just as Wedler's seem to be when comparing her two videos.

So was Wedler ever really a devout Obama groupie? I'm doubtful, even though I think her video is right on.

IMHO, what I think we are seeing in Cary Wedler is self-promoting political opportunism and a love for the limelight.

annenigma said...


Pardon my French, but who gives a shit who she is? Cary who?

I didn't know who you were referring to initially since the spelling of her name looks male and I didn't even read the blurb, just watched the video. But you actually looked up her background? Oh....of course! For her file - because you are The Archivist of Flame Warriors fame. I had totally forgotten.

Oh man, Zee, you're officially busted now! Just when we thought you were only keeping files on our old Sardonicky comments so you could quote us at will years later, you come up with this revealing information - revealing more about you than her. But hey, if you get bored in retirement, the NSA could use someone like you.

(Sorry, I just couldn't resist teasing)

Cirze said...

Oh, and if you're over the age of 50 and have been out of work for awhile, you might as well forget about ever getting another job for the rest of your life. Not that you really matter in the grand scheme of things, or so coldly proclaim the Three Fashionistas of the New Normal Study.


Thanks, Karen.

It's always good to be reminded how little I and people like I matter in the grand scheme of things.

I have a technical resume that the younger people who call me for telephone interviews tell me they would kill for, but it's not enough to get a job (any type of job) for someone like I (over 50).

And your prose succinctly exposes why I will not be voting for the national Dims again.

In NC, however, we haven't stopped our efforts to try to unseat the Pope/Koch-funded Rethugs who now rule the NC General Assembly and have just passed legislation revoking all the progressive changes NC had struggled to make in the last 50 years.

I believe that we must focus our attention on rebuilding our local political groups in the face of all the outside money and power being allocated against our interests at the local level.

Again, thanks for your outspoken advocacy for true representative democracy and enlightened social safety net policies.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., should all be strengthened by small increases in taxes over the next 30 years, which would guarantee the stability of the funds (and our country) for over 100 years. Even without that "horrid" tax on the wealthy taking place, this is a good plan.

For solid figures, Dean Baker supplies these:

The Trustees Report tells us that if we raise the tax tomorrow by 0.96 percentage points on both the employee and employer (1.92 percent in total),then the program will be fully solvent through its 75 year projection period. If we went this route, then it would mean that the tax increase would take up 5.9 percent of the projected wage growth over the next three decades.
But, we may not want to impose a tax increase like this tomorrow. There is a huge amount of uncertainty about these projections, and the program faces no imminent shortfall. Suppose we raised both side of the payroll tax by 0.07 percentage points annually beginning in 2020 and continuing at least to 2040. Then by 2040, the rate would have risen by 1.47 percentage points on both the worker and employer. This would take up 12.0 percent of the projected wage growth over this period, leaving our children on an after-tax basis just 42.8 percent richer than we are. This doesn’t quite sound like the story about our kids living in chicken coops

James F Traynor said...

Yes, 'the nasty little secret', as they say is that Social Security has been a resounding success and, because of that, scares the living shit out of the Republicans, blue dog Democrats, and others on the right.

Along the same vein, it's why the American right hates the Swedes (and now all of Scandinavia). Ditto for the Canadian health system. There's been so much crap spread round about this last it's became funny.

A couple of days ago I sat (not as a patient) in an outpatient chemotherapy ward and listened as an obvious tea partier went on as to his absolute surprise when it turned out the Canadian system was not anywhere near what he'd been told.

Seems he'd been visiting in Canada when his hosts took him to a hospital when he'd developed some suspicious symptoms (he'd had cardio problems in the past). The medics ruled out the heart and kept him the better part of the day to run a series of tests. It turned out he had cancer. The bill? Five hundred some dollars. He went on and on - you'd think he'd come to Christ. Remarkable. And the funny part of it was the look of disbelief and discomfort on the face of the person to whom he was relating this religious experience.