Monthly Archives: July 2014

The de Blasio balance sheet

Danny Katch looks at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first six months, in an article written for Truthout.  Mirrored from Socialist Worker.

July 31, 2014

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Mayor DeBlasio visiting a public high school

WHEN BILL de Blasio was elected mayor of New York City last November, speculation began about whether his victory would lead to a resurgence of genuine liberalism within the Democratic Party or whether de Blasio would be unable–and perhaps unwilling–to make a sharp break with the business-first policies of his billionaire predecessor Michael Bloomberg.

Call it the Obama question. In 2008, Barack Obama was entrusted with the dreams of a generation. Six years of bank bailouts and drone bombings later, the sound of those dreams shattering on the pavement still echoes wherever a politician attempts to renew hopes about peace and equality.

De Blasio came out swinging at the beginning of his term, grabbing headlines with proposals that ranged from major (raising taxes on the rich) to minor (adding more affordable housing to a Brooklyn real estate deal.) Now that de Blasio has been in office for half a year, however, it is becoming apparent that his overall strategy is to pursue progressive policies to reduce inequality without provoking conflict with the city’s rich and powerful who benefit from that inequality. If this contradictory strategy sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same one used by the current occupant of the White House, with disappointing results.

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Setting the Bar Low

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RETIREMENT HEIST: A REVIEW

by Left Labor Reporter

reitrement-heist_custom-0ea527a54a4ceb2c93cf1c435cbc63691df38b1e-s6-c30A plan by a group of Houston millionaires to eliminate traditional pension benefits for Texas’ public employees has begun to take shape. The Texas State Employees Union recently broadcast an outline of a proposal from an anti-public service policy organization for eliminating pensions for local and state government employees, public school teachers and other staff, and public higher education employees.

The proposal from the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) puts on paper the ideas expressed by Houston financier Bill King, who the Austin American-Statesman reported plans a public relations campaign to eliminate public pensions in Texas. The report said that King and his millionaire friends would finance the campaign.

The TPPF proposal takes a path similar to the one that corporations took to undermine traditional pensions and retirement security for millions of workers in the private sector. Ellen Schultz maps this path in a book entitled Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Egg of American Workers.

In Retirement Heist, Schultz, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who has covered the pension crisis for more than a decade, describes strategies that corporate executives, financial firms, and various consultants used to loot the pension plans of their workers, which in most cases resulted in the demise of traditional defined benefit pensions.

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How Capitalism Is Cheating Young Americans

by Paul Buchheit, mirrored from Common Dreams

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Capitalism is cheating young Americans. (Photo: Alex Cameron)

Our country’s wealthy white once-idealistic baby boomer generation has cheated those of you entering the working world. A small percentage of us have taken almost all the new wealth since the recession. Our Silicon Valley CEOs have placated you with overpriced technological toys that are the result of decades of American productivity, but which have mainly profited the elite members of their industries.

Although none of us in the older generations can speak for you, we can help you research the facts. And the facts are painfully clear.

1. You Have Very Little Savings to Pay Your Massive Debts

A recent report claims that median net worth for the millennial generation (18 to 35 years old) has risen from $9,000 to $32,000 since 2007, and that their median income is $47,000.

Most other sources disagree. A report from the Russell Sage Foundation concludes that all American households have lost wealth since 2007. Other evidence shows that about 90% of us lost wealth in the past five years, while the richest – and generally older – 5% made millions. Median income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is only about $35,000 for 25- to 34-year-olds, and just $25,000 for 20- to 24-year-olds.

Debt is apparently the difference, and the unrelenting burden, for college-educated young people. Based on Pew research, college-educated student debtors have twice as much debt as income. And they have only one-seventh the net worth of college-educated adults who have no student debt obligations.

2. You’re Being Cheated out of the Opportunity to Begin Your Own Households

As you were entering the working world after the recession, almost 60 percent of the new jobs were low-income ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour). The number of college grads working for minimum wage doubled in just five years.

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What has IBM Wrought?

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The CWA’s (Communication Workers of America union) Alliance@IBM Employees jobs cuts website has an interesting view of what’s going on inside IBM from its union employees in lieu of all the constant layoffs that are going on despite record quarterly profits.

Seems like no matter how good the quarterly numbers come in, more employee layoffs result in the U.S. and the number of employees increase in India and China.

In 2000, IBM had a U.S. workforce of 153,587; in 2014, it’s an estimated 83,000.

Lately, it looks like IBM HR is manipulating annual employee performance review scores as a way to cut workers and then skip paying full severance to those they  lay off.  This was GE CEO Jack Welch’s favorite way to keep employees on edge and goose up earnings.

It’s been a mess over at IBM since back in 1993 when Lou Gerstner was hired by the Board to run IBM.  One of his first actions was to cut 60,000 jobs to the tune of $8.9 billion in write-offs.

There continued to be layoffs throughout his tenure, but IBM kept numbers low enough to stay off the news programs and out of the main news pages; at one point IBM estimated that keeping layoff numbers just under 7000 per month would avoid excessive scrutiny and bad press for a company that was allegedly rebounding.

Gerstner was strictly a numbers guy.  He went to Harvard and came to IBM via McKinsey & Company management consultants, American Express, and RJR Nabisco. KKR (Kravis Kohlberg Roberts &Co.) is the notorious leveraged buyout firm who acquired RJR Nabisco  and installed Gerstner as its CEO.  The RJR Nabisco takeover inspired the book and movie “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco“, an ode to corporate greed and stupidity.  After the acquisition was completed, RJR Nabisco was broken up and sold off piece-by-piece until it stopped operating as a single entity in 1999.

While he was at IBM, Gerstner implemented a lot of gimmicks to increase the stock price and company valuation including enacting stock buybacks when the stock price was at its highest, which is a very stupid use of money, unless of course it’s being done to increase one’s own bonus.

In one of his numerous grabs for taxpayer dollars for corporate welfare, there was Gerstner was on-stage with Bush collecting a huge government handout (well over $1 billion) for “business interruption” compensation resulting from the 9/11 attacks.  IBM increased the amount of local, state, and federal tax breaks and subsidies it collected during Gerstner’s term.  Some states found out too late that IBM would grab the money and then close their facilities at a later date leaving people unemployed and taxpayers holding the bag.

In another Gerstner move, employees were classified as management (staff) in order to avoid paying overtime; most employees regularly put in between 50-60 hours per week for 40 hours pay.

One of his final acts was to convert pension plans from traditional defined benefit pensions to 401Ks. They did this over a weekend to attract as little attention as possible from employees.

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An Appreciation of James Garner; actor changed what a hero could be like

by Mary McNamara, LA Times, Published July 20, 2014

tumblr_n90vkdbhLj1rrdbgjo1_1280I secretly always wanted to marry James Garner, and was foiled only by the fact that, as humorist Jean Kerr once wrote of her designs on George S. Kaufman, he was already married and I never met him.

I cannot imagine I was alone in this desire — in her introduction to Garner’s 2011 memoir, Julie Andrews revealed a similar devotion and for pretty much the same reasons I had: Garner, who died at home Saturday at age 86, effortlessly combined strength and humility, humor and capability, frankness and empathy to create an ideal Alpha-male, of the sort that hadn’t existed before, at least not in drama. He constructed a new kind of hero, one who would much rather be playing cards or going fishing. But all right, if no one else was going to save the girl, or solve the case, or prevent the crime, well, then — here, hold this for a second — he’d do it.

When he brought this persona to life in “Maverick” and then again in “The Rockford Files,” he all but rebuilt an archetype. Before Garner, heroes were heroes, which meant, nine times out of 10, they were boring. After Garner, they could be funny, irritating, lazy, fearful and complicated. Without James Garner there would be no Indiana Jones, no Starsky and Hutch, no Gregory House, no Patrick Jane, certainly no Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Without James Garner, adventure heroes would be no fun at all.

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Guide to Classic Straight Razor Shaving

From Classic Shaving

The old-world, masculine charm of the straight razor shave is undeniable. Not since the days of Al Capone or the Old West have high end men’s grooming salons and products been so in demand as they are now, thanks to vast improvements in the technology, service and availability of the classic shave. But straight razor shaving still remains an art, and in most cases should be left to well-trained professionals; however, for those interested, this little practicum will provide you the basics to properly care for your face and skin before, during, and after so you can enjoy the pleasures of the gentlemanly shave.

Preparation

Prepare the face by showering before shaving. This allows moist heat to open pores and soften facial hair. If you are in the habit of shaving ‘pre-shower’, use hot water, or hot, soaked towels for the same effect. Be patient. Warming and moistening the face properly is an important step for several reasons, but mostly because it provides for a close and satisfying nick-free shave. A couple of minutes under hot towels prepare the skin nicely, preventing razor drag and allowing the barba (facial hair) to soften beneath the skin’s surface.

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Video game champions in the public library

Reprinted courtesy of: Joystiq and ilovelibraries.org

By: Matt Akers

For some, the image of the public library is one of quiet spaces and dusty hardback books, but for a handful of Massachusetts librarians, the term evokes something quite different: The preservation of video games.

12.20 f1Four such librarians work within the Minuteman Library Network, a consortium of 43 tax-funded institutions across MetroWest Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Their respective philosophies are unique, but they all agree that one of the public library’s most sacred tasks is to archive cultural artifacts and video games – just like books, music, and film – fit that bill.

On Being a Professional Video Game Collector

John Walsh is the Assistant Reference Supervisor at the Newton Free Library, a handsome, three-story brick building located in Newton, MA. It’s ‘New England old,’ built around 1870, and it loans out nearly two million items per year – one of the highest circulation rates of any public library in the state. Video games are some of Newton’s most popular items, but they haven’t been on shelves for long.

Walsh, being a general lover of public libraries, was perusing a nearby favorite two years ago in Watertown, MA., when he made a career-changing discovery: rows and rows of video games. “They have anime, manga, and video games next to each other. I want that [in my library],” Walsh remembered.

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The Lumberjack’s Boxcar Library

Reprinted courtesy of: The Exile Bibliophile: Adventures in book collecting and ephemera and ilovelibraries.org

By: Benjamin L. Clark

railroad libraryThe problem of getting books into the hands of readers has been solved in many ways over the centuries. Of course, one of my favorites is the bookmobile. A classic, and staple of rural life in the 20th Century. But in 1919, there was something else in the works to get books into the hands of the lumbermen in the employ of the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. The Anaconda company is one of those “too big to fail” sorts in the history of Montana– it’s name was apt. But that’s not to say this wasn’t a great idea.

Beginning in 1919, this railroad boxcar was refitted to be a library on rails to serve the mobile timber camps in western Montana. The men and their families could be in these remote camps for a few months at a time, and undoubtedly anticipated the days when the library car came. That’s how it was at least where I grew up on bookmobile days. According to the info posted, it was perhaps administered by the Missoula Public Library. I would certainly love to hear more about how this “cooperative effort” really worked between the public library and the Anaconda Co.

library car floor plan library car interior 0 original

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SHOCKING STATISTICS OF BLACK YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT

Capitalism’s Criminal Neglect

Published On March 15, 2014 | By Albert L. Terry, III | Socialist Alternative

Mobile, Alabama

A report released recently by the Chicago Urban League has shed a new and blinding light on the failures of capitalism to provide for working people, particularly those of color. The report revealed that the unemployment rate of black male teenagers in the city of Chicago is at an astounding 92%. This means that only about one in thirteen black males aged sixteen to nineteen hold some form of legal employment, even if it’s employment with few hours and low pay.

Black-unemployment
Source: BLS Labor Force Statistics, Current Population Survey, Unadjusted, http://bls.gov/data/#

An equally appalling released in this study highlights the similarly dire situation for this demographic nationwide, with 83% of black males aged sixteen to nineteen being unemployed. Indeed, there are fewer jobs for these teenagers to fill as more and more adults with families, often with four-year college degrees, seek out “teenager jobs” in food service, retail, and hospitality due to the lack of jobs in their own traditional fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that the number of college graduates working minimum-wage jobs in 2012 was 71% more than in 2002, and more than twice as many as had been in 2006, before the Great Recession.

Shortly after the release of the report, a Fox News affiliate in Chicago interviewed an eighteen-year-old black male that happened to have two jobs, asking him his thoughts on the situation. It was noted that these two jobs combined earned the young man less than $1,000 in the previous year.

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Worker rights: No balls, no gains

By Joe Bageant, JUNE 18, 2009

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Joe Bageant

In looking back on growing up, I always remember 1957 and 1958 at “the two good years,” They were the only years my working class redneck family ever caught a real break in their working lives, and that break came because of organized labor. After working as a farm hand, driving a hicktown taxi part ti me, and a dozen catch as catch can jobs, my father found himself owning a used semi-truck and hauling produce for a Teamster unionized trucking company called Blue Goose.

Daddy was making more money than he’d ever made in his life, about $4,000 a year. The median national household income at the time was $5,000, mostly thanks to America’s unions. After years of moving from one rented dump to another, we bought a modest home, ($8,000) and felt like we might at last be getting some traction in achieving the so-called “American Dream.” Yup, Daddy was doing pretty good for a backwoods boy who’d quit school in the sixth or seventh grade — he was never sure, which gives some idea how seriously the farm boy took his attendance at the one-room school we both attended in our lifetimes.

This was the golden age of both trucking and of unions. Thirty-five percent of American labor, 17 million working folks, were union members, and it was during this period the American middle class was created. The American middle class has never been as big as advertised, but if it means the middle third income-wise, then we actually had one at the time. But whatever it means, one third of working folks, the people who busted their asses day in and day out making the nation function, were living better than they ever had. Or at least had the opportunity to do so.

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