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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Member since: Thu Oct 28, 2004, 11:18 PM
Number of posts: 72,521

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“Consumers Aren’t Spending Even In a Booming Job Market”

from Naked Capitalism:

Bloomberg: “Consumers Aren’t Spending Even In a Booming Job Market”
Posted on March 12, 2015 by Yves Smith

I am sure Naked Capitalism readers can clear up what a Bloomberg headline screams is an “American Mystery Story,” that the economy is creating more jobs, yet retail sales have fallen three months in a row, with the latest being a 0.6% decline in February versus an expected increase of 0.2%. The analysts quoted on Bloomberg blamed the terrible February weather and were confident consumer spending would pick up soon.

Of course this article could simply be Dr. Pangloss meets the job market. It somehow appears to elude most commentators that the economy is creating more jawbs than jobs, and that the labor participation rate actually fell from 62.9% to 62.8%. But analysts somehow manage to look past that. From the Bloomberg story:

“The expenditures that add up to gross domestic product are coming in a lot softer than employment,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC. “Why would retailers be hiring if sales are falling? Why would they be boosting hours if sales are falling and why would they be paying more?”

The other factor leading to lower spending is that the saving rate is up. Well, why shouldn’t the savings rate rise on a secular basis as the public realizes (if they haven’t already) that social safety nets, and most important of all, Medicare and Social Security, are being hollowed out?

I’m thus mystified by the uniform tone of boosterism in the media about the state of the economy. In New York, where many finance reporters live, things aren’t all that rosy, so it’s hard to attribute it to being biased by local readings. I’ve never seen more vacant stores than now, for instance. Even though that is driven by overly-aggresive rent increases (no joke, rents are being doubled in my ‘hood on Madison and Third Avenues), it still destroys good business and jobs (I’ve kept tabs when I can, and hardly any of the stores that are leaving due to rent increases are relocating). Similarly, salons, an indicator of discretionary spending, are hurting. The man who cuts my hair, who used to run a very successful salon, says he’s had multiple offers from salon owners begging him to take up the balance of their lease. ...................(more)


The National Security Elites Are Co-Opting Democracy

The National Security Elites Are Co-Opting Democracy

Thursday, 12 March 2015 00:00
By Scott Horton, Nation Books | Book Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from the prologue to Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare by Scott Horton:

A fundamental concept underlying the American Constitution is the delicate rapport established between Congress and the various agencies of the executive. The massive government apparatus, including the ballooning intelligence community, is controlled by the executive. Yet the individual agencies, including the CIA - called into existence and defined by acts of Congress - operate using money that Congress gives them, subject to any limitations Congress may apply. The legislative branch exercises specific powers of oversight and inquiry into the work of agencies of the executive, including the right to conduct investigations, to require documents to be produced and employees of the government to appear and testify before it, and to issue reports with its findings and conclusions.

Throughout history executives have used the administration of justice as a tool to intimidate and pressure legislators. To protect legislators against this sort of abuse, the Constitution's speech and debate clause provides a limited form of immunity for members of Congress. The Supreme Court has confirmed that this immunity extends to congressional staffers, such as Senate committee staffers, when they are supporting the work of their employers, and protects them against charges of mishandling classified information.

Feinstein's suggestion that CIA activities had violated the Constitution and several federal statutes was on point. Eatinger's decision to refer allegations against committee staffers to the Justice Department also reflected an amazing lack of understanding of the Constitution and the respective roles of the two institutions. And so did Brennan's public statements. Brennan first pushed back against Feinstein's account, strongly suggesting it would be proven inaccurate: "As far as the allegations of CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that. That's just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do." He also suggested that the Justice Department would be the arbiter of the dispute between the CIA and the Senate: "There are appropriate authorities right now both inside of CIA, as well as outside of CIA, who are looking at what CIA officers, as well as SSCI staff members did. And I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law."

This formulation was of course nonsense - the CIA had turned to the Justice Department as a dependable ally, not as an independent fact finder. The department was the second government agency likely to be excoriated by the report. Its national security division, to which Eatinger had turned, was little more than the CIA's outside law firm. ................(more)


Apple Watch (cartoon)


After Rahm Emanuel’s Alleged Explosion, Mental Health Activists Demand Respect

(In These Times) A week after coming face-to-face with what activists say is Rahm Emanuel’s crueler, more aggressive side, advocates from Chicago’s Mental Health Movement gathered at City Hall demanding “respect” from the mayor.

On March 3, Mental Health Movement members Debbie Delgado and Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle confronted Emanuel during a neighborhood campaign stop in Wicker Park. Delgado stood up in front of the gathered audience and related her experience with the Northwest Mental Health Clinic. After losing one son to gun violence, she and her other son received what Delgado described as invaluable support at the city clinic, which closed in 2012. Ginsberg-Jaeckle filmed the encounter.

While Delgado told part of her story, she and Ginsberg-Jaeckle were nearly escorted out of the meeting by the mayor's staff. Mayor Emanuel began responding by saying that “to govern is to choose” and quickly pivoted to speak about neighborhood playgrounds. Later in the meeting, he referenced his own congressional actions on mental health parity but never publically addressed the clinic closures.

After the public meeting, Emanuel spoke with Delgado and Ginsberg-Jaeckle in a brief, closed-door meeting. Ginsberg-Jaeckle described what happened next.

“He started getting angry, his voice was completely different. He said, ‘You guys were clowning around in there. Now we can get to the real issue!’ I said we didn’t consider this clowning around,” he said. “We’ve lost people that we’re close to because of these closures. He got about an inch away from my face, shouted three times: ‘You’re gonna respect me!’ ” The incident came only days after the Emanuel campaign rolled out an ad trying to soften the mayor's image, showing him speaking in a soothing voice and admitting that he can “rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen.” ................(more)


Cookie-Cutter ALEC Right-to-Work Bills Pop in Multiple States

This week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an anti-union right-to-work (RTW) bill into law. RTW laws require unions to provide the same representation and workplace services to all workers in a workplace but make contributing to the cost of that representation optional. They lead to smaller, weaker unions and lower worker wages and benefits.

The Center for Media and Democracy detailed the fact that the Wisconsin bill was taken almost word for word from the American Legislative Exchange Council "model" bill. (See CMD's side-by-side here.) And we reported on the Koch and Bradley Foundation funding behind the panoply of usual suspects that flew into the state to testify on behalf of the bill, including "experts" from the National Right to Work Committee, the Mackinac Center and the Heritage Foundation with assists from ALEC "scholar" Richard Vedder and State Policy Network "stink tanks" like the Wisconsin Public Research Institute. And let's not forget the $1 million in TV ads from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity group.

But the push for RTW continues in multiple states in a variety of forms. From a legally dubious executive order in Illinois to an equally suspect county-level strategy in Kentucky, ALEC's effort to disable unions as an organized voice for working families marches on. .................(more)


Trade Agreements Rigged to Protect Capital From Democracy

Trade Agreements Rigged to Protect Capital From Democracy

Thursday, 12 March 2015 00:00
By Park MacDougald, Truthout | News Analysis

Barack Obama, like his Democratic predecessor in the White House, has gone all in for free trade. On January 20, the president used his sixth State of the Union address to ask Congress to pass a legal procedure (trade promotion authority) that would enable him to "protect American workers with strong new trade deals," a reference to two mammoth agreements currently in negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with 11 partners in the Pacific Rim; and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), with the European Union. The deals would, two decades after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), create the largest and second-largest free trade zones in the world.

Opposition to the trade deals is refreshingly widespread. In addition to criticism from the left, bolstered by the perennial trade-related concerns about wages and bargaining, the TPP and TTIP have provoked much suspicion, even among those who might normally be amenable to trade. They are secretive - most of our information comes from WikiLeaks - and, predictably, written in close collaboration with well-heeled corporate lobbyists. What we do know features, among other things, draconian rent-seeking from US copyright holders, threats to public health courtesy of US pharma giants, backdoor efforts to undermine Europe's fledgling efforts at data protection and significant problems for the environment. However, in recent months, as Obama's trade agenda has come increasingly to the fore, the headline-grabber of the trade agreements has been clause in the prospective treaties that was until recently an obscure bit of trade law: ISDS, or investor-state dispute settlement, which has dominated discussion, earning high-profile criticism from Elizabeth Warren and coverage in the mainstream media.

In the byzantine, technocratic and often boring world of international trade rules, its rare that a bit of legal machinery can inspire even passing attention from nonspecialists. Yet, ISDS - a legal instrument for settling disputes between investors and states - is something of a rock star. Nominally intended to provide a neutral arbitration forum to protect foreign investors from capricious state action, ISDS has been christened "corporate sovereignty" by opponents because of how it allows international investors to use trade tribunals to circumvent domestic legal systems - leading Greg Grandin to compare it unfavorably with another modish four-letter acronym.

In essence, ISDS provisions in treaties - traditionally, bilateral investment treaties (BITs), but more recently, expansive multilateral trade deals such as NAFTA or the upcoming TPP and TTIP - allow foreign investors who feel that their "investments" have been "expropriated" (both terms are rather vague and contentious concepts in trade law, hence the scare quotes) to bring the case before an independent tribunal, usually made up of three trade lawyers and administered by the World Bank-affiliated International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). ....................(more)


U.S. Workers Returning to Labor Force in Part-time Jobs with Stagnant Wages

Published on Mar 8, 2015

Economist Richard Wolff discusses the latest unemployment figures, and says the raising of interest rates by the Federal Reserve during a weak recovery would be disastrous for our heavily indebted society

Professor Richard Wolff on Recession, Economic Recovery in the U.S.

Professor Richard Wolff: Jubilee, Denial and Beyond

by Richard Wolff.

Thousands of years ago, various religions developed an idea some called “jubilee.” It entailed the acts of canceling or reversing income and/or wealth inequalities (especially of land holdings and debts) that had developed in their societies. Often, jubilees were stipulated to occur periodically every 49 years, more or less. The point was not to change the socio-economic system; it was rather to redistribute property and then restart the same system again as a way to preserve it. Variations of the jubilee idea have survived and occasionally surfaced into public discourse ever since.

The idea of jubilee was based on recognizing two tendencies in those societies and how they could threaten social cohesion. The first tendency emerged from their economic systems (their modes of producing and distributing wealth). It was movement toward ever-greater inequality of wealth and income until political authorities intervened to stop, slow or reverse that movement. The second tendency entailed beneficiaries of inequality using their wealth to prevent the political authorities from intervening in those ways. When both tendencies prevailed, the resulting extreme inequalities eventually brought the economy and society to crisis. Jubilee, it was thought, was the ultimate mechanism – the last political resort that was also sanctified by religion - that could forestall crisis by canceling or reversing such extremes.

Pre-capitalist economies based on individual farmers or slaves or feudal serfs often contained their tendencies toward inequality for centuries. Eventually, however, the beneficiaries of rising inequality blocked political authorities from mitigating inequalities. As the latter then worsened, the question was whether jubilee would re-emerge as the last-resort solution. When jubilee was forgotten, ignored, or repressed, such societies’ economies descended into extreme inequalities of wealth and income. Crises followed that could and sometimes did dissolve social cohesion and provoke revolutionary transitions to differently structured societies and economies.

Capitalism is no different. In the US, for example, economic inequality is reaching extremes not seen since the end of the 19th century. The reversal of inequality provoked by the Great Depression proved temporary. Even the crisis since 2007, the worst since the 1930s, has not deflected the US from its descent into extreme inequalities (as illustrated by the following chart from Too Much):

As Thomas Piketty’s and Emanuel Saez’s works have shown empirically, capitalism displays powerful, enduring tendencies toward ever greater inequalities. When these have approached extremes in the past, crises emerged that sometimes provoked reverse tendencies from political authorities. Considerations of jubilee were avoided. For example, income and wealth redistributions occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s and/or after World War 2 with labels like the New Deal or Social Democracy. Yet they were soon slowed and then mostly stopped. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://rdwolff.com/content/jubilee-denial-and-beyond

How Racism Became Policy in Ferguson

from Dissent magazine:

How Racism Became Policy in Ferguson
Colin Gordon ▪ March 5, 2015

If nothing else, the Justice Department’s Report on the Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, released yesterday, gives us a broader context for Michael Brown’s death last August. This is not, we are reminded, simply about the culpability of a rogue or panicked officer. It is about a systematic pattern of oppressive and petty policing, driven in equal parts by local racism and local fiscal incapacity. In the inner suburbs of St. Louis, law enforcement maintains the color line and—in the absence of a stable property tax base—it pays the bills. But this ugly glimpse of the institutional culture of the Ferguson Police Department still only gets us so far. In order to fully understand how and why race became the central premise of policing in the St. Louis suburbs, we need to take another step back and consider the long and troubled history of segregation in St. Louis County.

The first part of this history is one of quarantine. Long before it was subdivided into the western suburbs of St. Louis, St. Louis County was home to a few African-American enclaves—including Elmwood Park, Meacham Park, Malcolm Terrace, North Webster Groves, and Kinloch (just to the west of current-day Ferguson). As postwar growth carved the cornfields into cul-de-sacs, suburban development skirted these enclaves, and the infrastructure that came to the new white suburbs—roads, sewers, water—came to a screeching halt at their boundaries.

The motives and the consequences were unmistakable. In 1937, the city of Berkeley, Missouri was created, on a peculiar half-donut plot, for the express purpose of cleaving the residents of Kinloch (99.3 percent black) into a separate and segregated school district. In 1960, a polio outbreak in Elmwood Park was traced to the absence of potable water, in a neighborhood surrounded by conventional suburban development in Overland to the north and Olivette to the south. In 1965, five children died in a horrific fire in Meacham Park: the unincorporated neighborhood of 100-odd black families was not part of the local fire district and its rickety community fire truck would not start. In the 1970s, even the United Nations took notice of the fact that Meacham Park, at the heart of suburban central county, lacked basic sanitary sewer service. And, in each of these settings, bordering communities used industrial or commercial zoning to create buffers or barriers between white and black occupancy.

The second part of the story was expulsion. Having quarantined these pockets of African-American occupancy, local officials then looked upon them as unfortunate interruptions in the suburban landscape—and targeted them for redevelopment. St. Louis County was slow to get into the urban renewal game, largely because it had no interest in setting up the public housing authorities that federal law required. But when plans did progress, their intent was clear. .............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/how-racism-became-policy-in-ferguson

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