Sunday, January 22, 2012

Last Call

A very, very sobering story from the NY Times today on what globalization means to manufacturing jobs in the US:  despite assurances that Chinese labor is getting more expensive, there are plenty of other countries to choose from as far as locations for factories and subcontractors.  And the bottom line is that the jobs that powered the US middle class in the second half of the 20th century are now gone in the 21st...and the middle class is vanishing along with them.

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

Apple has become one of the best-known, most admired and most imitated companies on earth, in part through an unrelenting mastery of global operations. Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.

However, what has vexed Mr. Obama as well as economists and policy makers is that Apple — and many of its high-technology peers — are not nearly as avid in creating American jobs as other famous companies were in their heydays.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s. Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States. Instead, they work for foreign companies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, at factories that almost all electronics designers rely upon to build their wares.

“Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now,” said Jared Bernstein, who until last year was an economic adviser to the White House.

“If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried.”

Apple's surely no longer alone.  Everything that the one percent tells us we need to do to create jobs is directly tied to reduction of wages and benefits of US workers at the expense of maximizing profit of companies:  lowering or eliminating corporate taxes, getting rid of unions and collective bargaining, the repeal of health care reform, lowering Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid benefits, the elimination of hundreds of thousands of state, local and federal government jobs, and the privatization of government services and infrastructure.

Everything about that suite of theories involves putting profit over job creation, the corporate masters over the workers, the elites over the masses.  Fixing the issue would require sacrifice from the multi-nationals that run the globe.

That will never happen.  It certainly won't happen while one political party is completely beholden to those corporate interests, and the other party is only somewhat less so.  The American dream is out of reach for the large majority of Americans, and it's only going to get worse unless we realize that we're being played against each other while the people pulling our strings make us dance and fight.

Those jobs aren't coming back unless *WE* do something about it.  Not our politicians.

A Detour On The Long Road Back

On her Facebook page today and in this YouTube annoucement, Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabby Giffords announced she is not only not running for re-election, but stepping down from office this week.

It's pretty heart-rending, and in the end the decision is 100% hers to make. She feels she needs more time to recover and that it's better for Arizona and her constituents that she does step aside.

But part of me is angry that this happened. What it means is that this particular "Second Amendment remedy" was ultimately effective in getting her out of office, and the GOP will take her retirement as a gift, and do everything it can to take her seat. If that one seat ultimately determines which party controls the House this time next year, then the repercussions may last for a very long time.  Arizona state law says that since the vacancy in Congress is occurring more than six months before the general election, a special election has to be held in the next three months, with a primary election within the next two months, so at least GOP Gov. Jan Brewer can't just appoint a Republican and be done with it.

I understand there's nothing I can do to change her mind, nor should I try. I'm not her constituent. I understand that the people of her district deserve to be represented fairly and capably by someone who can discharge the duties of office. I understand that, as she says in the video, "we can't change" what happened to her in the past. Most of all, I understand that I wasn't the person shot for being a politician and that I have no right to judge her decision. None of us do.

But I can express my anger at the events and their outcome. It was too much to hope that things would be business as usual for her. I accept it. I don't have to like it.

The South Shall Rise Again

Please tell me again how Ron Paul loves black people, because he sure digs the Confederacy, man. Imani lays it out, via News One:

Here is Ron Paul giving a speech about how the South was right, and the Civil War was awful because it destroyed “individual choice.” Never mind “individual choice” vis-à-vis the enslaved; they weren’t people and thus could lay no claim to “individuality” or “liberty.” What Paul means by “individual choice,” is “white men’s (specifically white property-owning men) individual choice.

Just look at this silly little man, standing proudly in front of a Confederate flag talking about the enslavement of black people in transactional terms. In the Ron Paul Gospel, adherence to the quintessential American values of “individual choice and” “liberty” would have required the Yankees to buy the slaves’ freedom. A detestable notion, to be sure, but also historically inaccurate since, as we all know, the South started it.

Ultimately, when it comes to black people, the world “liberty” seems to disappear from Paul’s vocabulary. Funny, that.

At this point, with Paul's anti-war stance and civil liberties stance thoroughly debunked, he's got nothing left but this nasty coded "state's rights" nonsense.  And that hasn't changed since 1860.

i am a dwarf and im digging a hole diggy diggy hole - Minecraft

Any "progressive" backing Paul was never a progressive, liberal, lefty, or hippie or whatever in the first place.  Please feel free to defend him in the comments, so we know who you are.

Local Stupidity: Ozark Minutemen

Who are the Ozark Minutemen?  Lots of people want to know.  Based in my home city of Springfield, MO the group started off saying they just wanted to use E-Verify procedures to ensure employees are legal citizens.  They're not racists, and they're just trying to protect us, they say.

But that's not entirely true, is it guys?

They are cowards, at the very least.  While demanding cooperation from businesses and trying to lay the blame for our economy on immigrants, most members refuse to be identified.  They're afraid of discrimination or harassment.  Those poor folks, being picked on for being white and bossy.  Can you imagine how they must feel?  My heart goes out to them.

They won't reveal who they are, but send letters as an organization.  They say they are only concerned about illegal immigrants, I can personally say I know otherwise.  The rhetoric I've heard sounds frightening and unreasonable.  It plays on emotions, stirring up hate and confusing protecting ourselves with harming others.  I'll come right out and say it, it reminds me of the White Supremacist crap I've heard my entire life.  And yeah, the article confirms all the members are white.

They fancy that they create a shield around the Ozarks, protecting us from "unwanted" immigrants.  A shield where brown people can't come through, preserving our standard of life. Very little of what I've heard said really involves business or economic reason.  It's about hate, and a really chickenshit way of expressing it.  I've heard slurs, jokes, insults... none of them had anything to do with improving our area.  It had to do with hating "the invaders" who want to rape our women and steal our jobs.  Come on folks, tell me that doesn't sound familiar.

I don't need them to save me from the invaders.  I need for our country to devise a strategy to allow immigrants to flourish here while setting (and enforcing) an expectation that they will contribute back to the system that supported them.  That's right, that's fair, and that's worth working towards.  The rest is bigotry barely masked with false concern.

We must be able to see the difference.

Blaming It On The Dog

A man is blaming his dog for killing his wife, saying he sat on her and suffocated her. Opponents say there is no way the dog strangled the woman, but this is his defense nonetheless.

Imagine my surprise when I find out this isn't the first time it's happened, either. Another man blamed his wife's death on their pit bull.

And of course, there's the local case of a man who blamed his wife's fatal "jump" from seeing a snake. Nope, he didn't push her, despite witnesses saying they saw him move towards her as though pushing her.

So now we know, somewhere between a fart and attempted murder, there is a line on what one can blame on their animals. Please, don't be this guy.

A Veteran Liar, Our Ricky

This Andy Kroll piece at MoJo is yet another reminder that no Republican makes it into contention to be President without a long and ugly history of screwing over the American public.  That of course includes career politician Rick Santorum, who has no problems with making winners, in this case the Catholic Church, and losers, in this case, America's retired vets.

Take the Armed Forces Retirement Home, for example.  The DC facility ran into cash problems in the late 90's, and was forced by Congress to sell off some of its land.  But thanks to then Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the Catholic Church was able to buy the land for a steal...a fraction of the price it was worth.  And as a result, the facility remains in terrible condition.

Enter Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.). At the behest of the Roman Catholic Church, and unbeknownst to the Home, Santorum slipped an amendment into the 1999 National Defense Authorization Act handcuffing how the home could cash in on those 49 acres. The amendment forced the Home to sell—and not lease—the land to its next-door neighbor, the Catholic University of America. Ultimately, the Catholic Church bought 46 acres of the tract for $22 million. The Home lost the land for good, and by its own estimates, pocketed $27 million less than the land's value and $83 million less than what it could've made under the lease plan. Santorum's amendment sparked an outcry from veterans' groups and fellow US senators, who barraged his office with complaints.

Laurence Branch, then the executive director of the Home's board, says Santorum's amendment was "a travesty" and the Church's lobbying for the land a case of "coveting thy neighborhood's goods." To this day, Branch says he blames Santorum for the Home not receiving more money for the 49-acre parcel of land. "I'm convinced Sen. Santorum is no friend of veterans," Branch says. (A spokesman for Catholic University did not respond to a request for comment.)

And in 2012, the home is still in bad, bad shape.

Yet today, despite some improvement in the Home's financial health, its campus is pocked with boarded-up, decrepit buildings. All but one of the Home's gatehouses is shuttered, as are some of the Home's more elegant buildings, including the historic Grant building (named after the Civil War general) and the red-brick hospital that now sits empty, bearing a sign warning off trespassers. Some veterans believe the Home's constant financial struggles have led to a slow-motion decline of the Home. As longtime resident and Navy vet Robert Devaney says, "I like to call it demolition by neglect."

This is just one example of Santorum's predilection for the church over everyone else. He's a theocrat, period.  It's crazy that anyone would think anything different about the man.  And remember, he went on a total tirade in Thursday's debate accusing the President of declaring war on both the military and religion.

Glass houses and all.

Landing On Bankrupt

A staggering story from the New York Times today: a new study of personal bankruptcy rates in the last several years found African-Americans were nearly twice as likely as whites to be driven towards expensive and painful Chapter 13 bankruptcy procedures, rather than the much less onerous Chapter 7.

The disparity persisted even when the researchers adjusted for income, homeownership, assets and education. The evidence suggested that lawyers were disproportionately steering blacks into a process that was not as good for them financially, in part because of biases, whether conscious or unconscious.

The vast majority of debtors file under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, which typically allows them to erase most debts in a matter of months. It tends to have a higher success rate and is less expensive than the alternative, Chapter 13, which requires debtors to dedicate their disposable income to paying back their debts for several years.

The study of racial differences in bankruptcy filings was written by Robert M. Lawless, a bankruptcy expert and law professor, and Dov Cohen, a psychology professor, both with the University of Illinois; and Jean Braucher, a law professor at the University of Arizona.

A survey conducted as part of their research found that bankruptcy lawyers were much more likely to steer black debtors into a Chapter 13 than white filers even when they had identical financial situations. The lawyers, the survey found, were also more likely to view blacks as having “good values” when they expressed a preference for Chapter 13.

“Unfortunately I’m not surprised with these results,” said Neil Ellington, executive vice president of Consumer Education Services, a credit counseling agency in Raleigh, N.C. “The same underlying issues that created the problem in mortgage lending, with minorities paying higher interest rates than their white counterparts having the same loan qualifications, are present in all financial fields.” 

So not only did the financial industry prey upon minorities, particularly the black middle class, in creating the financial crisis in 2008, it appears that the bankruptcy law industry has preyed on black families again when it came to fixing the issue.  Awesome.

And I've talked about the most pernicious and generation effect of the 2008 financial crisis before:  the near total annihilation of the black middle class in the US.  The median net worth of black households in 2009 was $5,677...less than 5% of the same number for white Americans, $113,149.

There IS no black middle class.  It has been all but decimated.  And now we learn that those who have seen their dreams destroyed are far more likely to have been forced into economic servitude for no other reason than the color of their skin.

Of course, nobody wants to talk about this.  It's far too awful to think about the fact that as bad as things are economically for the white middle class, it's bordering on genocide for blacks (and Latinos don't fare much better, either.)  The financial crisis and its results have combined over the last several years to create a permanent black underclass in America.  Those who tried to get out were all but destroyed.

The message of course is not to try to improve your lot in the first place.  And for black America, we've been put back at square one.  Again.
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