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Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Member since: Thu Sep 25, 2003, 02:04 PM
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Mussolini-Style Corporatism, aka Fascism, on the Rise in the US

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. Confucius

One of the distressing things about politics in the US is the way words have either been stripped of their meaning or become so contested as to undermine the ability to communicate and analyze. It’s hard to get to a conversation when you and your interlocutors don’t have the same understanding of basic terms.

And that is no accident. The muddying of meaning is a neo-Orwellian device to influence perceptions by redefining core concepts. And a major vector has been by targeting narrow interest groups on their hot-button topics. Thus, if you are an evangelical or otherwise strongly opposed to women having reproductive control, anyone who favors womens’ rights in this area is in your vein of thinking, to the left of you, hence a “liberal”. Allowing the Overton Window to be framed around pet interests, as opposed to a view of what societal norms are, has allowed for the media to depict the center of the political spectrum as being well to the right of where it actually is as measured by decades of polling, particularly on economic issues.

Another way of limiting discourse is to relegate certain terms or ideas to what Daniel Hallin called the “sphere of deviance.” Thus, until roughly two years ago, calling an idea “Marxist” in the US was tantamount to deeming it to be the political equivalent of taboo. That shows how powerful the long shadow of the Communist purges of the McCarthy era were, more than a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Similarly, even as authoritarianism is rapidly rising in the US and citizens are losing their rights (see a reminder from last weekend, a major New York Times story on how widespread use of arbitration clauses is stripping citizens of access to the court system*), one runs the risk of having one’s hair on fire if one dares suggest that America is moving in a fascist, or perhaps more accurately, a Mussolini-style corporatist direction. Yet we used that very expression, “Mussolini-style corporatism,” to describe the the post-crisis bank bailouts. Former chief economist of the IMF, Simon Johnson, was more stark in his choice of terms, famously calling the rescues a “quiet coup” by financial oligarchs...


The Global Test Most Will Fail: Surviving the Bust That Inevitably Follows a Boom


Now that virtually every nation is entering the bust phase, all are being tested.

Booms powered by credit, new markets and speculation are followed by busts as night follows day. This creates a very difficult test for every nation-state facing the inevitable bust: how does the leadership deal with the end of the boom? As the world is about to learn once again, the "fix" may make the next bust even more destructive.

Let's start by reviewing what conditions generate booms.

    1. An undeveloped nation gains access to new credit, markets and resources and goes through a "boost phase" much like a rocket lifting off when suddenly abundant finance capital ignites the country's latent growth potential. When a country with little to no public or private debt suddenly gains access to essentially unlimited capital, growth explodes.

      One variant of this is the discovery of vast new resources that quickly attract capital (for example, oil) or that generate new wealth (for example, gold).

      The modern example of a developing nation gaining access to new credit, markets and resources is of course China, but this model also describes America in the 1790s and early 1800s, and many other nations in various phases of their development.

    2. A new sector opens up in a developed nation's economy. A recent example is the Internet, which exploded in a boost phase from 1995 to 2000. In these cases, the new sector simply didn't exist, and the boost phase is as spectacular as the ones in newly developing economies. Examples from American history include the railroad-fueled boom of the 1870s and 1880s and the advent of electric light and later, radio.

    3. A previously "safe" sector is financialized as the assets are collateralized into vast mountains of debt and leverage, both of which fuel runaway speculation.

      The mortgage-backed-securities and subprime-fueled housing boom of 2002-2008 is a recent example of this: a safe, conservative sector (mortgages and housing) was rapidly financialized into a speculative frenzy.

      Eventually this boost phase burns thru all the productive investments and moves into mal-investment, rampant speculation and outright fraud as insiders take advantage of new entrants. In the U.S., this occurred in the early 1890s once the construction of railroads had moved to the over-indebted, speculative mal-investment phase.

      The same post-boost phase bust occurred in 2000 after the dot-com frenzy had run its course.

The difference between the three booms is that busts that are limited to one sector are easier to manage than busts in the entire economy. The problem with the subprime housing bust was that it wasn't limited to housing or mortgages--the speculative boost phase had infected the entire financial system. When entire economies enter the bust phase, the nation's political, social and economic foundations are tested. If they aren't rock-solid, the country enters a crisis that is often marked by war, economic collapse and political destabilization.

The political and financial leadership that won plaudits during the boost phase for wise management is loathe to accept the bust phase as necessary medicine for over-indebtedness, speculation and mal-investment. Instead, the leadership attempts a series of hastily assembled financialization "fixes" aimed at returning the economy to the boost phase of rapid growth: fiscal and monetary stimulus, lowering interest rates, etc. These have the same effect as tossing gasoline on a fire. Debt, leverage and speculation are ignited, but since the productive investments have long been made, all that's left is unproductive mal-investment and speculative bets.

Exhibit A is the global economy's soaring debt, with China's vast expansion since 2007 as the prime example of "fixing" Degrowth with vast mountains of new debt that flow mostly into speculative wormholes and mal-investments such as empty malls, airports, sports facilities and cities.

Now that virtually every nation is entering the bust phase, all are being tested. So far, virtually all are in denial and still trying to 'solve" the Degrowth/speculative bust reality with the same old financialization tools.

That these will fail is as predictable as night following day.

Technology, Competition and the 'Crapification' of Jobs


The 'crapification' of jobs is the direct result of the 'crapification' of the economy.

Two recent articles shed light on the 'crapification' of jobs and the rise of income inequality:

Martin Wolf on the Low Labor Participation as the Result of the Crapification of Jobs (Naked Capitalism)

The Measured Worker: The technology that illuminates worker productivity and value also contributes to wage inequality. (Technology Review, via John S.P.)

While both articles offer valuable insights into the secular trend of stagnating employment and wages, I think both miss a couple of key dynamics. As a general starting point: if you want to understand the 'crapification' of jobs and wages, we have to look at the 'crapification' of the economy from the perspective of those who are doing the hiring: the employers. From the perspective of employees, the 'crapification' of jobs boils down to 1) low/stagnant wages for 2) highly structured, boring, repetitive and often difficult work. The decline in the quality, pay and upward mobility of jobs is directly related to the dynamics of globalization, financialization, and the surplus of ordinary labor and capital:

    1. Increased competition suppresses wages as employers seek to cut expenses. Rents, taxes, healthcare, government fees, etc. all rise like clockwork; that leaves labor as the largest component that can be trimmed.

    2. Cheap capital incentivizes replacing labor with new software/technology. With the cost of capital at all-time lows, the pressure to replace costly labor with new software, robotics, etc. is intense. Software, robotics and related technologies are dropping in price even as their productivity increases.

      The reality is that humans can only be pushed to produce more if the tools they're using become more productive.

      The second reality is that for many enterprises, these global pressures boil down to automate or die, with the purpose of automating being to reduce labor costs and boost productivity, as both are required to survive competition and stagnating sales.

    3. The total compensation costs of employees is rising even if wages are flat. Employees (and the vast majority of pundits, most of whom have never hired a single employee with their own money) tend to overlook the overhead costs paid by employers: workers compensation insurance (soaring), healthcare insurance (soaring), disability insurance, unemployment insurance, 401K or pension contributions, etc.

      Total compensation costs = wages + labor overhead. If labor overhead costs are climbing, the employer is paying more per employee even though the employees aren't getting a dime more in wages.

    4. As system costs rise, those with stagnant incomes have less to spend. We can't say no to higher taxes, higher healthcare costs, higher junk fees, higher fees imposed by monopolies, etc. and so the share of income that is truly disposable is declining as the big-ticket expenses continue rising.

    This means stretched consumers are foregoing expenses that they once paid for without thinking: the $350 blood test for the ailing pet, the broken air conditioner in the car ($500+ to repair), the after-school enrichment class, the Friday dinner out, etc., etc., etc.

    The net result of stagnating income for 90% of the households is stagnant sales. The cheerleaders on propaganda-TV never mention that the rising corporate profits they are trumpeting are typically accompanied by declining sales and declining same-store sales. In other words, the "profits" are accounting gimmicks, not true profits earned on rising sales.

    5. It is increasingly difficult to generate a profit in this environment unless you own/operate a monopoly or quasi-monopoly. Those focusing on the 'crapification' of jobs tend to look at global corporations--those with thousands of low-paying jobs or those doing extremely well (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.)-- while everyone from Mom and Pop small businesses to mid-sized corporations are generally being squeezed by slumping sales and higher total compensation costs.

If the management of public companies don't meet Wall Street's grandiose profit expectations, they'll be fired. If small businesses lose money, the owners are forced to either close the business or go bankrupt. So everyone in the managerial food chain hoping to avoid the crapified employment market below their current job (i.e. those trying not to get fired) must crapify every job they manage to wring enough productivity and profit out of stagnant sales to keep their job.

The 'crapification' of jobs is the direct result of the 'crapification' of the economy.

Weekend Economists Remember Wars that Didn't Have to Be November 6-8, 2015

Armistice Day (which coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, public holidays) is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. While this official date to mark the end of the war reflects the ceasefire on the Western Front, hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire.

The date was declared a national holiday in many allied nations, to commemorate those members of the armed forces who were killed during war. An exception is Italy, where the end of the war is commemorated on 4 November, the day of the Armistice of Villa Giusti. In the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway World War I is not commemorated as the three countries all remained neutral.


It was hyped as "the war to end all wars", but the conflict triggered by the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand actually ended all political Empires (but not the empires of Wealth). The Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Romanov Empire, the Victorian Empire, the Prussian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, all were destroyed by the destruction of Europe that transfigured the Old World.

But out of all the convulsions and turmoil, a singularly unusual story developed in the Hundred Acre Wood....



Now, keep in mind that disaffected Republicans are going to want to vote for SOMEBODY to ensure that She Whom They Hate With the Heat of a Thousand Hells doesn't end up in the White House.

I am expecting a HUGE crossover vote in the primaries, and a popular and Electoral College vote sweep for the Bernster.

Reality Check ROBERT REICH


The other night I phoned a former Republican member of Congress with whom I’d worked in the 1990s on various pieces of legislation. I consider him a friend. I wanted his take on the Republican candidates because I felt I needed a reality check. Was I becoming excessively crotchety and partisan, or are these people really as weird as they seem? We got right into it:

Me: “So what do really you think of these candidates?”

Him: “You want my unvarnished opinion?”

Me: "Please. That’s why I called.”

Him: “They’re all nuts.”

Me: “Seriously. What do you really think of them?”

Him: “I just told you. They’re bonkers. Bizarre. They’re like a Star Wars bar room.”

Me: “How did it happen? How did your party manage to come up with this collection?”

Him: “We didn’t. They came up with themselves. There’s no party any more. It’s chaos. Anybody can just decide they want to be the Republican nominee, and make a run for it. Carson? Trump? They’re in the lead and they’re both out of their f*cking minds.”

Me: “That’s not reassuring.”

Him: “It’s a disaster. I’m telling you, if either of them is elected, this country is going to hell. The rest of them aren’t much better. I mean, Carly Fiorina? Really? Rubio? Please. Ted Cruz? Oh my god. And the people we thought had it sewn up, who are halfway sane – Bush and Christie – they’re sounding almost as batty as the rest.”

Me: “Who’s to blame for this mess?”

Him: “Roger Ailes, David and Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh. I could go on. They’ve poisoned the American mind and destroyed the Republican Party.

Me: "Nice talking with you.”

Him: “Sleep well.”

PSA: Don't snooze and cruise; Are You Too Tired To DRIVE? Here's How To Tell


..Data shows that operating a vehicle when you're exhausted is just as dangerous as drunk driving -- and it occurs rather frequently. An estimated 1,550 people die each year from drowsy driving accidents. ... Below are a few signs you may be too drowsy to drive, and expert-approved advice for what to do instead.

  1. You haven't slept. All nighters are especially a no-no, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Be realistic about your alertness. The recommended amount of sleep is around seven to nine hours, but if you're still lagging, it's better to be safe than sorry.

  2. You've been driving a long time. Driver fatigue can happen very easily on long drives and road trips, Nathaniel Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told The Huffington Post. Be aware of the amount of time you've spent behind the wheel and make alternate arrangements if necessary.

  3. You're cranky. You may believe you racked up enough Z's, but you can tell a lot about your level of sleep deprivation based on your mood. A recent study found that those who didn't get an adequate amount of sleep were less able to regulate their emotions, causing them to overreact to everyday challenges they would otherwise take in stride. Road rage, anyone?

  4. You don't remember the last few miles. Did you pass a landmark? What exit are you near? Short-term memory loss or a lack of awareness about your surroundings is a glaring sign you're probably too tired to drive, Watson said.

  5. You're drifting. Difficulties concentrating or weaving in and out of lanes isn't just a sign of drunken driving. "If you have trouble focusing your eyes on the road, or difficulty steering straight or steady, you are likely to tired to drive," said David Davila, a board member of the National Sleep Foundation.

So what do you do about it?

Driving is pretty much inevitable in the day-to-day lives of many of us. Here's how to minimize the effects of sleepiness and transportation:

  • Prioritize your sleep. The right amount of Z's should be a top health goal, says National Sleep Foundation environmental fellow Natalie Dautovich. From maintaining a regular sleep schedule to making sure you're sleeping in a cool, dark room, it's important to adjust your behavior accordingly. Lifestyle habits, like consuming too much caffeine and alcohol late in the day, can also disrupt sleep, she explained.
  • Take breaks. If you're feeling snoozy on the road, give yourself some rest. This is especially applicable if you're on a long trip. "Try to find a safe location to stop driving, drink a caffeinated drink and take a 10-20 minute nap," Davila said. "It will take about 30 minutes for the caffeine to take effect."
  • Know that distractions don't work. And they shouldn't be used as a substitute for breaks if you're cruising when you're tired. "Rolling down the windows or turning up the volume on the radio will do little to increase your alertness while driving," Watson advised.
  • If you can avoid it, don't get behind the wheel. This is especially true if you didn't get a good night's rest and you can't keep your eyes open. Nothing is worth potentially putting your life -- or someone else's -- at risk, Watson says. "At the end of the day, there's no substitute for sleep," he stressed.

Robin Williams’ Widow Opens Up About His Suicide: 'It Was Not Depression That Killed Robin'


A report after the actor’s death revealed that he was suffering from Lewy body dementia, a complex form of neurodegenerative dementia that causes mood instability and hallucinations and impairs motor skills.

“People in passing… would say to me, God, I wish I had done something more for him. If only I had called him,” Williams explained. “And I’m thinking, No one could have done anything more for Robin. I just want everyone to know that. Everyone did the very best they could. This disease is like a sea monster with 50 tentacles of symptoms that show when they want. It’s chemical warfare in the brain. And we can’t find it until someone dies definitively. There is no cure.”

While Robin didn’t know what was wrong with him, Susan says he had scheduled neurocognitive testing the week before he died. She says she watched her husband “disintegrating” as a result of the unknown illness, racked by depression, paranoia and anxiety, and that she now knows he would have had only three years to live given his diagnosis. She says she does not blame him for taking his own life.

In her opinion, the suicide was Robin’s way of taking back control. “I mean, there are many reasons. Believe me, I’ve thought about this. Of what was going on in his mind, what made him ultimately commit… you know, to do that act. And I think he was just saying no. And I don’t blame him one bit. I don’t blame him one bit.”

In another interview with People, Susan Williams says she hopes to raise awareness about Lewy body dementia. “I’ve spent this last year trying to find out what killed Robin. To understand what we were fighting, what we were in the trenches fighting and one of the doctors said, ‘Robin was very aware that he was losing his mind and there was nothing he could do about it,’ ” she says.

“This was a very unique case and I pray to God that it will shed some light on Lewy body for the millions of people and their loved ones who are suffering with it,” Susan continues. “Because we didn’t know. He didn’t know.”


Why eco-austerity won’t save us from climate change


Despite the anti-capitalist rhetoric of green-left writers like Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben, and the anti-corporate street protests of environmental NGOs, could it be that their small-is-beautiful, degrowth, localist, organic, anti-GMO and anti-nuclear approach to solving climate change and biodiversity loss is in fact working in service of neoliberalism (while not even doing much to help the planet either)?

Ever since The Population Bomb, the 1968 bestseller by serial-Chicken-Little and anti-natalist Paul Ehrlich, warning that four billion would die of starvation by the end of the 1980s, and the Club of Rome’s 1972 report Limits to Growth that predicted civilizational “overshoot and collapse” within decades, neo-Malthusians have been telling us we need to degrow the economy and retreat from a Western, consumerist, high-technology, unsustainable way of life, or else Hobbesian doom is all but a fortnight away. Updated for the era of the genuinely exacting challenge of global warming and biodiversity loss, a retreat from economic growth is argued to be necessary today because “We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet”. Yet all this talk of “we” in the developed world (or, as some hair-shirt wags put it, we in the over-developed world), of “our” overconsumption, of an undifferentiated mass of big spenders, ignores the billowingly large class differences that exist in the global north and the decades-long bludgeoning of workers’ standard of living.

Throughout the post-war period of powerful trade unions, full employment and a strong welfare state that the French nostalgically call Les Trente Glorieuses, workers’ pay across the West rose in tandem with growth. But since that time, wages and benefits have stagnated or declined in most sectors. If the median US household income had kept pace with the broader economy since 1970, it would now be $92,000 instead of $50,000. From 1990 to 2009, labour’s share of national income declined in twenty-six out of thirty developed economies, according to the OECD. Overall across advanced economies, labour’s share dropped from 66.1 percent to 61.7 percent. And as poor as many are in the developing world, the gap between them and the workers of the global north is less than the gap between the latter and the one percent. That is to say: us ordinary folks in the supposed rich countries are closer in wealth and have far more in common with third-world workers than we do with our own bosses.

So who exactly is this “we” that is doing all the overconsuming? Almost everyone I know is just struggling to get by. We don’t need the “Buy Nothing Days” of the trendy anti-consumerist Adbusters magazine, but rather some “Finally-Able-to-Buy-Lots-More Days”...It is not growth, but unfettered free markets that are the problem. Capitalism depends on growth, but growth does not depend on capitalism. Naomi Klein’s jumbling together of the two says more about the contemporary left’s atrophying knowledge of the ABCs of socialist economics than it does about the problem that the current mode of production poses to ecological services...It is true that the right-wing Pollyannas say: “Don’t bother your pretty little head; technology will save us.” The green left Cassandras meanwhile run around screaming: “Technology can’t save us; we’re doomed!” The socialist meanwhile says: “So long as we plan and regulate the economy carefully, we need never run out of anything, no matter how large we grow.”


Leigh Phillips is a science writer and author of Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-porn Addicts, which has just been published by Zero Books.



That was big of Obama, I'll admit

Most gun molls don't get any public appreciation.
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