All posts by Mad Hemingway

From the Moon to the Sun: How America’s Ego Could Save the Planet

Paul Buchheit | January 03 2017 | Common Dreams 

‘The greatest imaginable energy source is out there for the taking by the nation smart enough to take it,’ writes Buchheit. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0/Public Domain)

In October, 1957 the U.S. suffered a crippling blow to its pride when Russia’s Sputnik soared 500 miles into space. The response from the White House was to call it “a useless hunk of iron” and “a silly bauble in the sky.” But for the first time American Cold War superiority came into question. David Halberstam called Sputnik’s success “a kind of technological Pearl Harbor.” All America was stirred up, determined to fight back, especially after Sputnik II, a month later, sent a dog into space. In a hurried effort to catch up, America fired off the Vanguard in December 1957, but after a journey of several feet it sputtered and blew up. Russia’s Premier Khrushchev mocked us, saying “the sputniks are lonely…waiting for American satellites to join them in space.” Americans mocked themselves, calling our first rocket the Flopnik.

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The Devastating Transformation Of Work In The US

Marty Hart-Landsberg | December 28 2016 | Reports From the Economic Front

Two of the best-known labor economists in the US,  Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger, recently published a study of the rise of so-called alternative work arrangements.

Here is what they found:

The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.1 percent [of all employed workers] in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015.

That is a huge jump, especially since the percentage of workers with alternative work arrangements barely budged over the period February 1995 to February 2005; it was only 9.3 in 1995.

But their most startling finding is the following:

A striking implication of these estimates is that all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements. Total employment according to the CPS increased by 9.1 million (6.5 percent) over the decade, from 140.4 million in February 2005 to 149.4 in November 2015. The increase in the share of workers in alternative work arrangements from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015 implies that the number of workers employed in alternative arrangement increased by 9.4 million (66.5 percent), from 14.2 million in February 2005 to 23.6 million in November 2015. Thus, these figures imply that employment in traditional jobs (standard employment arrangements) slightly declined by 0.4 million (0.3 percent) from 126.2 million in February 2005 to 125.8 million in November 2015.

Take a moment to let that sink in—and think about what that tells us about the operation of the US economy and the future for working people.  Employment in so-called traditional jobs is actually shrinking. The only types of jobs that have been growing in net terms are ones in which workers have little or no security and minimal social benefits.

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The World Map of Billionaires

howmuch.net |  September 13 2016

Billionaires are the richest of the rich. Many young entrepreneurs hope to one-day reach this ultimate financial milestone. But before these entrepreneurs are allowed to join this group, they first must ask how did billionaires acquire their wealth in the first place? Take a look at the map below to see the distribution of billionaires by country and type.

Click image for full size

The map above shows each country of the world separated by the percentage of billionaires into various types. The size of each country on the map is relative to its total number of the world’s billionaires. There are five categories of billionaires designated by the colors found in the legend: Inherited, Company Founders, Owners and Executives, Political Connections and Resource Related and the Financial Sector. The data was compiled from this report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

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How to Rig an Election

Victoria Collier | November 2012 | Harper’s Magazine 

Published in the November 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “How to Rig an Election” explores the long history of vote rigging in the United States. Read the full story here.

The G.O.P. aims to paint the country red  [abstract]

From the earliest days of the republic, American politicians (and much of a cynical populace) saw vote rigging as a necessary evil. Since the opposition was assumed to be playing equally dirty, how could you avoid it? Most Americans would probably have confessed to a grudging admiration for New York City’s Tammany Hall machine, which bought off judges, politicians, and ward captains, ensured the suppression of thousands of votes, and controlled Democratic Party nominations for more than a century.

By the beginning of the last century, however, sentiment had begun to shift. In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that vote suppression could be federally prosecuted. In Terre Haute, Indiana, more than a hundred men had already been indicted for conspiring to fix the 1914 elections for mayor, sheriff, and circuit judge. The incumbent sheriff and judge went to jail for five years, and Mayor Donn M. Roberts spent six years in Leavenworth.

Roberts and his gang, declared the New York Times, had failed to grasp that “what is safe and even commendable one year may be dangerous and reprehensible the next.” Almost overnight, commonplace corruption had become unacceptable, and vote rigging a serious crime. It took a strongman like Huey Long to remain an exception to the rule. But the overall trajectory seemed to point toward reform, accountability, and security. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, seventy-two years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton first demanded women’s suffrage—the right that would, in Stanton’s words, “secure all others.” By the 1960s, Northern Democrats abandoned their Southern allies and pushed to end the mass suppression of black votes below the Mason–Dixon line. With the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many Americans began to believe that the bad old days of stolen elections might soon be behind us.

But as the twentieth century came to a close, a brave new world of election rigging emerged, on a scale that might have prompted Huey Long’s stunned admiration. Tracing the sea changes in our electoral process, we see that two major events have paved the way for this lethal form of election manipulation: the mass adoption of computerized voting technology, and the outsourcing of our elections to a handful of corporations that operate in the shadows, with little oversight or accountability.

This privatization of our elections has occurred without public knowledge or consent, leading to one of the most dangerous and least understood crises in the history of American democracy. We have actually lost the ability to verify election results.

The use of computers in elections began around the time of the Voting Rights Act. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the use of optical scanners to process paper ballots became widespread, usurping local hand counting. The media, anxious to get on the air with vote totals, hailed the faster and more efficient computerized count. In the twenty-first century, a new technology became ubiquitous: Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which permits touchscreen machines and does not require a paper trail.

Old-school ballot-box fraud at its most egregious was localized and limited in scope. But new electronic voting systems allow insiders to rig elections on a statewide or even national scale. And whereas once you could catch the guilty parties in the act, and even dredge the ballot boxes out of the bayou, the virtual vote count can be manipulated in total secrecy. By means of proprietary, corporate-owned software, just one programmer could steal hundreds, thousands, potentially even millions of votes with the stroke of a key. It’s the electoral equivalent of a drone strike.

Read the full story here.

The Fate of the New Deal

Gabriel Milner | December 18 2016 | Living New Deal

Will the New Deal fare a Trump presidency? © 1996-2016 Scholastic Inc. All Rights Reserved. Source

One of the many unknowns of Donald Trump’s impending presidency is the fate of America’s New Deal legacy. Last Tuesday, Newt Gingrich spoke before the Heritage Foundation in a wide-ranging speech celebrating Trump’s victory and the social, economic, and cultural changes it seemed to auger.

Gingrich’s speech centered on his vision of an America gutted of New Deal programs, not to mention ideals. As Ian Millhiser writes for ThinkProgress, the former Speaker of the House exclaimed, “this is the third great effort to break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model.” He pontificated that if a Trump presidency is followed by another Republican administration, the “FDR model” would be done for. Ambitious infrastructural projects promised by the president-elect may resemble New Deal efforts, but would likely have little in common with the mass job generating, civic minded public works of the New Deal.  And, no doubt, the liberal social programs that went along with them will have little place in any new iteration of government stimulus projects.

Gingrich may be more of a spiritual advisor to Trump than anything else. Still, as Millhiser notes, “Early signs suggest that Gingrich’s predictions that Roosevelt’s legacy could be undone should be taken seriously. Republicans in the House hope to cut Social Security benefits by 20–50 percent. [House] Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare would drive up out-of-pocket costs for seniors by about 40 percent. Then he’d cut Medicaid by between a third and a half.” And despite Trump’s campaign promises to protect the social safety net, his recent cabinet choices suggest that his agenda will align with that of Speaker Ryan.

America appears to be far, far away from the kind of new New Deal that those who remember President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy have envisioned for the country

 


Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University

‘All for ourselves and nothing for other people’: The takeover of economics by neoliberalism

MURRAY DOBBIN | DECEMBER 16, 2016 | rabble.ca

Image: Adbusters/flickr

All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

— Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

In these days of economic stagnation, misery and insecurity, housing bubbles and the growing precariate, it seems appropriate to speculate on what Shakespeare might have written today were he penning a modern rewrite ofHenry VI. In declaring, “first let’s kill all the lawyers,” his character was voicing support for Jack Cade, whose revolutionary vision cast lawyers as paper-shuffling parasites ruining the lives of the common people. In the past 25 years that ignoble role has been usurped by economists. I liked them better when economics was called the dismal science — now the profession is simply a self-satisfied apologia for the plunder of society’s wealth by the greedy and ruthless 1% — the “masters of mankind.”

Priests of neoliberalism

Economics is no longer a science, if it ever was. It is a religion whose priests bend every effort to make the dogma of neoliberalism impervious to its disastrous outcomes. If it were a science the facts would long ago have prevailed and they would have denounced the ideology from the rooftops.

But, no, instead we get articles on a weekly basis about Canadians’ staggering debt load and the only attempt at explanation is so-called “human nature” — i.e. “Gee, people just don’t seem to be worrying — they’re ignoring the warnings.” Then there’s the ingenious concept of “recency bias” developed by someone in the field of  “behavioural finance” (who knew?). Recency bias means, according to the Globe’s Rob Carrick, “People are looking at recent events and projecting them into the future indefinitely.”

That’s it? That’s the best the economics profession can come up with to explain Canadians’ indebtedness catastrophe? It’s all about human behaviour, written in stone, so I guess we might as well just sit back and observe the meltdown in the comfort of our economist’s middle-class lifestyle.
But of course that’s the very thing they should be examining — people’s determination to live the middle-class life style that our entire culture is based on and which the sophisticated marketing machine tells us we must have — or we are losers. They need to explore this classic bait-and-switch: manipulate people to buy stuff and then suppress their incomes so they can’t.

Carrick’s article detailed just how serious the problem is — repeating numbers that have been quoted numerous times: over 700,000 people would be financially stressed if interest rates rose by even a quarter of one per cent. One million would face that circumstance if they rose by one per cent. The Canadian Payroll Association regularly tracks people’s financial stress and its recent survey revealed 48 per cent of people said “[i]t would be tough to meet their financial obligations if their paycheque was delayed even by a week. Almost one-quarter doubted they could come up with $2,000 for an emergency expense in the next month.”

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The Terrorism Targeting Our Grandchildren

Paul Buchheit | November 21 2016 | Common Dreams

‘Our grandchildren will face the economic terror trickling down from the greedy top.’ (Illustration by Daniel Pudles)

Four decades of American narcissism and greed and exceptionalism have allowed the super-rich to dictate the future path of our nation. We’re paying the price now, with environmental disasters, nonexistent savings for half of our families, Americans dying because of expensive health care, and a growing fear of blowback from desperate victims of our foreign wars.

Environment Be Damned

Almost all reputable sources agree that human-caused climate change is killing people, with up to 400,000 annual deaths “due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries,” and up to 7 million deaths—over a half-million of them children under the age of five—caused by air pollution.

The richest people in the world create most of the pollution, yet are the least likely to feel guilty about the effects of their behavior, and the least likely to suffer from the impending environmental damage. This could lead to terror-filled years for the generations to follow us. Even the CHANCE of such misery for their grandchildren should motivate the super-rich to address the root causes of global warming. Instead, they have plans to retreat to impregnable “safe rooms” with food and water, oxygen, medical supplies, and all the amenities for a year or more of underground living.

Disdain for the Taxes that Support Society

Charles Koch said, “I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.”

Beneficial to society? Where is the incentive for Charles Koch, or any other billionaire beneficiary of decades of tax subsidies, to support the needs of average people?

The breakdown in taxes began in the 1970s, when University of Chicago economist Arthur Laffer convinced Dick Cheney and other Republican officials that lowering taxes on the rich would generate more revenue. Conservatives have contorted this economic theory into the belief that all tax reductions are beneficial. It was proved wrong from the start. Several economic studies have concluded that the revenue-maximizing top income tax rate is anywhere from 50% to 75%. Yet our next president wants to cut taxes on the rich.

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What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class

Paul Buchheit | December 05 2016 | Common Dreams

A technician makes an adjustment on Hiro, a “humanoid robot for automotive assembly tasks in collaboration with people.” (Photo: Tecnalia/cc/flickr)

The simplistic response to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on employment is that we’ve experienced this before, during the Industrial Revolution and beyond, and that the “market” will eventually provide plenty of jobs. The reality is that tens of millions of Americans will have to accept food service and retail and personal care jobs that don’t pay a living wage.

The Deniers: The Middle Class Has Nothing to Worry About

Optimism is the feeling derived from sources like The Economist, which assures us that “AI will not cause mass unemployment…The 19th-century experience of industrialisation suggests that jobs will be redefined, rather than destroyed..” The Atlantic concurs: “The job market defied doomsayers in those earlier times, and according to the most frequently reported jobs numbers, it has so far done the same in our own time.” And even economistDean Baker scoffs at the tech takeover of jobs: “Large numbers of elite thinkers are running around terrified that we will have millions of people who have no work because the robots have eliminated the need for their labor…The remarkable aspect to the robot story is that it is actually a very old story. We have been seeing workers displaced by technology for centuries, this is what productivity growth is.”

Perhaps most significantly for the optimists, the New York Federal Reserve found that since 2013 over two million jobs have been added in transportation, construction, administration, social services, education, protective services and other middle-wage areas.

The Doomsayers: The Middle Class Is Disappearing

According to a comprehensive study by Citi and Oxford University, nearly half of American jobs are susceptible to automation. Based on analysis that one reviewer calls “some of the most important work done by economists in the last twenty years,” a National Bureau of Economic Research study found that national employment levels have fallen in U.S. industries that are vulnerable to import competition, without offsetting job gains in other industries. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates an annual $9 trillion in employment costs within ten years due to the impact of AI and robots. The McKinsey Global Instituteconcludes that technology and related factors are having “roughly 3,000 times the impact” of the Industrial Revolution.

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How Capitalism Kills… And May Be Getting Deadlier

Paul Buchheit | December 12 2016 | Common Dreams

We’ve seen what capitalism can do, but it’s possible we ain’t seen nothing yet. (Photo: Jörg Kantel/flickr/cc)

In each of the following areas of our lives, capitalism has been a deadly force in the past, and prospects for the future seem even worse with Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.

1. Medications

In 1996 Purdue Pharma began marketing its painkiller Oxycontin with a promotionalcampaign unlike any other seen before. As noted in the American Journal of Public Health, “The high availability of OxyContin correlated with increased abuse, diversion, and addiction, and by 2004 OxyContin had become a leading drug of abuse in the United States.”

About 75% of heroin addicts used prescription opioids before turning to heroin. Deaths related to heroin have more than tripled since 2010, and a dramatic surge in overdoses has occurred among children. Opioid use is also triggering a rise in hepatitis C, which kills19,000 people every year, most of whom can’t get treatment because the drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences charges $84,000 for pills that cost less than $300 to produce. In Kentucky in 2016, for every 100 people with hepatitis C only THREE were able to receive treatment.

Donald Trump’s rumored candidate for the FDA is staunch libertarian Jim O’Neill, who said about drugs: “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”

2. Jobs

Numerous studies show that the suicide rate is linked to unemployment and deterioratingwork conditions and declining wealth. The rate has accelerated since the 2008 recession. Too many black people, especially, can’t find living-wage jobs, and a lot of it is due to racism. A recent study found that job applicants were about 50 percent more likely to be called back if they had “white” names. A hiring analysis study found that white job applicants with criminal records were called back more often than blacks without criminal records.

Donald Trump’s reported choice for Labor Secretary is Andrew Pudzer, who opposes a minimum wage increase and favors robots over workers: “They’re always polite…they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never…an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

3. Environment

The World Health Organization, the United Nations, cooperating governments, andindependent research groups all agree that human-induced climate change is killing people, with up to 400,000 annual deaths “due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries,” and up to 7 million deaths caused by air pollution, over a half-million of them children under the age of five.

Continue reading How Capitalism Kills… And May Be Getting Deadlier