The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

U.S. Suffers Biggest Pay Drop On Record, As Workers Squeezed Tighter

socialismartnature:

The economic “recovery” just keeps getting worse for the average worker: U.S. employers squeezed their employees even harder than usual in the first quarter, leading to the biggest drop in hourly pay on record. Hourly pay for nonfarm workers fell at a 3.8 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Wednesday.

… Hourly pay has grown by just 2 percent per year, on average, for the past four years, the weakest four-year stretch on record. At the same time, corporate profits are at record highs, and until a recent swoon, the stock market was setting records, too. Workers haven’t been reaping the rewards, but their employers have been.

A time will come when all matters concerning this particular incarnation of money will be seen as strictly ceremonial. Ben Bernanke, we will understand, was not stating facts before congress but rather singing a song, or rather chanting in a low, repetitive, tedious way in the primal manner of a frightened person trying to comfort himself with reassuring sound, that is, prayer. You would be surprised how well that goes over in a place like congress, which is stuffed with prayerful characters, people who exist in a religious delirium. James Howard Kunstler (via vulgartrader)

Capitalism and Economic Imperialism | Rob Urie

… The economic-social nexus at work in for-profit prisons is a microcosm of the imperial tendencies of the capitalist West. Its parts are the integration of state and private functions where presumed social legitimacy derives from the state function (right to imprison) and the structure (private prisons) derives its economic legitimacy from capitalist ‘efficiency.’ The broader context is political-economic relations as they have developed historically with the result of a social taxonomy (race, class) with embedded place in the existing social hierarchy. The explicit relation of domination and control affected by prisons to the systemic theft of labor of slavery finds its contemporary expression in for-profit prison labor with the ‘innovation’ of technocratic cost containment through deprivation that provides the ‘added’ profit motive. Quite explicitly here one person’s table is full because another’s has been emptied.

The strategies used to legitimate this system are fundamentally political—social taxonomy is history embedded in current relations. Statisticians call ‘crime’ statistics resulting from racist laws and policing ‘selection bias’ because the premise—the social artifact of ‘crime,’ is predetermined to derive from subsets of the population and the strategies of crime suppression ‘prove’ the predetermination by overwhelmingly targeting these subsets. The result that few ‘white collar’ criminals are in prison is a function of rich whites writing the laws and the police practice of partitioning the types of ‘crime’ they target and enforce to exclude rich whites. This tendency has multiplied with the ascension of finance capitalism with the predictable consequence economic ‘freedom’ is the freedom of the financier class to imprison historic and new under-classes under the veil of ‘efficiently’ providing a state function at a profit. The innovation is the mode of exploitation, not its purpose.

Of relevance here is the history embedded in social classes, the fact of these classes, and the social divisions produced by economic exploitation. The history of race in America, with its extended accoutrement of theoretical apologetics, provides the illusion of binary taxonomy, a convenient ‘other’ to be conquered with ‘divide and conquer’ imperial strategies. Blacks, and increasingly browns, have historically been excluded from political and economic participation to the extent their economic production has been stolen from them and put forward as the product of those who did the stealing. To the extent economic power buys political power, stolen slave labor is reified across history as a tool of economic domination.

The suggestion slavery is an existing mode of economic production in the U.S. in 2013 is twenty steps beyond outrageous to most Americans because the formal institution was ‘abolished’ one hundred and fifty years ago. I leave it to readers to decide the semantic matter yourselves with reference to the work of scholars Michelle Alexander and Kahlil Gibran Muhammad. The points of current relevance are slavery was a (radically egregious) mode of political economy premised on domination and control to expropriate labor from its producers; this stolen labor was put forward as the product of the people and institutions that stole it; and it bought exponentially greater social power for them as it aggregated and time abstracted it from its source.

The ‘innovation’ learnt from the ‘end’ of slavery was [that] degrees of the same political-economic outcomes can be produced without it. The remnants of social catastrophe left behind by incarnations of European and American imperialism and related ‘world’ wars provided the ‘natural’ states of existence conducive to labor ‘freely’ choosing to work for multi-national corporations for subsistence wages. The unstated fact of history is people by degree ‘got by’ for millennia with no help from, or need for, the institutions Western capitalists today put forward as indispensable. Where history didn’t suffice ‘free-trade’ agreements supported by conspicuously imperialist economic theory produced the local misery necessary for Western capitalism to ‘come to the rescue.’ [continue]

The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty -- and It's Creeping Upward

anticapitalist:

The Census Bureau has reported that one out of six Americans lives in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much, much worse.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009

Analysis of Economic Policy Institute data shows that Mitt Romney’s famous 47 percent, the alleged ‘takers,’ have taken nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets in 2009.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later

Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced formerly secure middle-income positions.

3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty.

The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130% of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.

Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own figures under-represent the number of people in poverty. Its Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50%, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold.

4. Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America.

A family in the top half, making $60,000 per year, will have their income reduced by a total tax bill of about $15,000 ($3,000 for federal income tax and $12,000 for payroll, state, and local taxes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau agree that food, housing, and transportation expenses will deduct another $30,000, and that total household expenditures will be about $50,000. That leaves nothing.

Nothing, that is, except debt. The median debt level rose to $75,600 in 2009, while the median family net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.

5. Putting it in Perspective

Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food, housing, and education budgets combined.

Woah

(Source: anticapitalist)

The economists sitting in forums congratulating the ‘economics profession’ for effective policies did so prior to the onset of every crisis of recent decades. Their ability to miss the proverbial ‘forest for the trees’ would be awe inspiring if they weren’t such a useful tool for ruling class interests. Rob Urie

The Resurrection of Ben Bernanke | Rob Urie

To recap, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke helped engineer some of the dirtiest deals in Wall Street history, can’t get firms to borrow with ‘standard’ Fed policies because of the negative hurdle rate (‘zero lower bound’), is managing with QE to build bank reserves that aren’t needed to ‘spur’ lending that isn’t needed, and has managed to send financial assets owned by banks, corporate executives and trust fund babies much higher. These acts all put money directly into the hands of the West’s plutocrats while the only demonstration of benefit to anyone else comes from the assertion the economy ‘would have been worse’ from the economists whose mainstream standing is a function of keeping official discourse comfortable for middle-aged white guys in expensive suits.

In this process one group of people, the very wealthy, used the political power purchased with their wealth to assure the institutions with the capacity to boost their fortunes did exactly that through insider financial deals and policies to send the stock market they own higher. The government policies that could likewise give money directly to victims of the economy crashed by the banks via government jobs programs, Federal teaching grants, arts grants etc. are missing in action and cutting government spending through ‘austerity’ is the policy choice instead. Ben Bernanke and Fed defenders can continue to argue the broad circumstance is a terrible accident, a series of ‘policy missteps,’ but their singular direction leaves alternate interpretations to only the dullest among us—the Federal Reserve is a tool being used by plutocrats for their own benefit in an epic class struggle.

But Fed defenders certainly take issue with this characterization. The ‘profession’ of economics traded relevance for the rhetorical guise of ‘apolitical’ technocracy a century ago. Herr Bernanke’s actions as seen through graduate economics departments are the manly work of a technocratic manly man where moral clarity sometimes takes a back seat to effective policy. That the deals he helped engineer to benefit Wall Street insiders would appear suspect to child pornography rings and to the meth dealers working local elementary schools relates today’s ruling class to its predecessors through history. The Fed’s back-room deals may have precedence but they are profoundly undemocratic and in their class dimensions, anti-democratic. Only by separating politics from economics can economists endorse policies with specific political effects under the illusion they are economically neutral.

[R]ecall for a moment that Fed Chair Ben Bernanke was in the room as the dirtiest of the bank bailout deals were being engineered. These weren’t deals to ‘save the economy,’ as establishment economists would have it, they were to enrich the same corrupt insiders who had looted the economy for their own personal benefit. Mr. Bernanke proceeded to lie repeatedly and in great detail about what it was the Fed was doing and subsequent forced disclosures demonstrated this to be the case. Fed defenders argue this was all necessary to serve the public—full disclosure would have hindered the very policies the Fed was promoting. This argument would have more weight if Fed policies had benefited the broad public. But from unemployment and income distribution data that is a hard argument to make. Who clearly benefited however were the bankers for whom bailouts were engineered, the corporate executives whose compensation comes from newly recovered stock options and the few hundred families who own most of the stock market. The Resurrection of Ben Bernanke

Lies, Betrayals, Obfuscation | Norman Pollack

The People (imprisoned in their own fantasies, delusions, false consciousness) vs. Obama (skillful practitioner of deceit, war criminal) is no contest, given the political culture of acquiescence he has intensified and accelerated, through the pervasive atmosphere of counterterrorism on one hand, and worshipful gratitude to wealth-concentration and the structural hierarchy of power—founded on that wealth– on the other, on the shoulders of his predecessors, themselves adept at pushing the fortunes of advanced capitalism. A vicious circle, or perhaps dark hole out of which the public cannot climb, defines the present, with Obama the personification, the ideal leader, from the standpoint of ruling groups, in achieving the smooth integration of capitalism and militarism—the latter critical to the prevention of stagnation in the former. In today’s New York Times editorial (May 19), practically beseeching POTUS to take action on the climate issue, rather than slamming down hard on his dismal, indeed, treacherous, record, one sees the problem: abject dependence on a policy-structure rooted in the performance and systemic requirements of capitalism, whatever the quality, character, or decisions of leadership, and the consequences to the United States and the world at large.

[…] “…and no one doubts that he cares about it [the climate issue].” Is there any salutary position affecting a vital issue that Obama does care about? None. NYT misreads his record and intentions at every turn, climate change being an obvious case in point. Why persist with this delusion? Why grant heart and intelligence which, if only Republican obstruction did not exist, presumably would be resoundingly clear?

Face the reality, a deceitful president who would say anything to get elected and reelected, while supporting, by inaction as well as action, every vested interest working against the American people. [++]

Deadly Manufacturing Mirage, Green-Red Alternative | Paul Street

[T]he fact that American and other global capitalists and their corporations increasingly find the U.S. to be a hospitable environment for manufacturing reflects the declining fortunes of the U.S. workers across the long neoliberal era (1970s to the present). The mass “off-shoring” (export) of formerly U.S.-based manufacturing jobs during that era did not occur because big “American” capital was interested in de-industrialization per se. It occurred because capital was interested in maximum profits and reduced costs – reduced labor costs above all. Capitalists who dismantled industry in the “high wage” and once heavily unionized United States were happy to promote a type of industrialization in “developing nations” – ultimately and above all “communist” China (endowed with spectacular supplies of newly available and super-exploitable labor power) – where low wages and weak worker protections promised higher rates of surplus value and profit. It was always implicit that some manufacturing might return to the U.S. if and when American unions were smashed and wages cut.

“U.S. Steel,” that company’s former Chairman David Roderick once commented in explaining why his firm was laying off workers and closing plants, “is in business to make profits, not to make steel.” That was a very candid statement of the cold reality of the profits system. “Rarely is the reality put with greater clarity,” notes the prolific Marxist analyst David McNally: “under capitalism, use is irrelevant; profit is king. Capitalist enterprises have no particular attachment to what they turn out, be it flat-rolled steel, loaves of bread, or pairs of jeans.”. An obvious fact should be added: capitalism has no particular attachment to turning out anything material or tangible in any particular country.

If manufacturing is reviving in the U.S. to any significant degree, it is not because of any particular commitment to the United States on the part of investors. It is happening because U.S. labor, materials, energy, transportation and/or other production costs have fallen so low that capitalists finally find it competitively advantageous to make more things in the so-called homeland.

US House set to approve cuts to food stamp programme with new farm bill | guardian.co.uk

How to make sense of this. Hmm. How about:

[F]our little words that capture the grand, overarching political philosophy of the age:

Fuck Off And Die.

This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you.

Richard Wolff Examines Class

Foreclosure in the United States today is in fact a classic example. Over the last thirty years, we have faced a phenomenon we never had before in the history of the United States. We have had rising real wages in America, roughly from the beginning of our history, up until the 1970s. If you worked hard, you got more money in your wage envelope at the end of the week. That was true for 150 years, that was really amazing, and no other country did that.

It stopped in the 1970s, because of computers replacing people, because of American companies moving abroad so they could pay lower wages, because of a mass movement of women into the labor force, immigration, and we went from a country with a chronic labor shortage to a country with a chronic labor oversupply. Employers no longer had to raise wages to keep workers working, to keep them happy, and keep them employed.

And as result, the American working people went into a kind of prolonged psyhic shock. Their wages weren’t rising any more. And so what they did was they turned to another source of money to realize the American Dream that they had been culturally developed to hope for, to expect, to promise to their kids.

They borrowed money like crazy. And the business community of the United States saw in the borrowing of the American working class a fantastic market to go after. You know in the 1970s, in the beginning, the only people who had a credit card were wealthy people or folks on business expense accounts. Starting in the 1970s, we gave credit to the mass of Americans. Everybody gets a credit card, and everybody can go to the bank to borrow to buy a home. Mortgage debt, credit card debt explodes.

It was a money-making extravaganza. We saw all the wealthy come together and get involved in this money. Bulding houses, lending workers at huge interest rates the money with which to buy the new and expensively built homes. Wealthy people poured their money in to companies that built these homes, furnished these homes, decorated these homes, and you had a literal explosion of profitability.

But of course. You can’t keep lending to working people if their underlying economic situation isn’t improving. So it was only a matter of time until the extra borrowing reached the limit of the underlying frozen, stagnant wages.

That was hit in 2007. Millions of Americans could no longer afford the houses that they had borrowed to buy. The foreclosure crisis represents the rage and anger of the wealthy class. If the underlying people they lent money to can’t pay for them, they’re going to take those houses back, throw those people out of their homes, and try to find another way to make money. Here’s a perfect example of the profit motive creating a housing boom that becomes a bust, and that now to recoup the money of the minority who invested in it, requires millions of people, the majority, to literally lose their homes, producing in the United States in 2010 and 2011, a society that has millions of empty homes, side by side with millions of homeless people. [++]

The Radical Center and Armed Revolution | Rob Urie

It is a virtual certainty professional liberals and progressives were sitting behind their office desks only last year when the NYPD (New York Police Department) and Oakland police were beating the crap out of Occupy, firing projectiles into faces at point blank range and parking their motorcycles on the legs of NLG (National Lawyers Guild) observers for daring to protest the ‘liberal’ state / plutocrat nexus. This was in marked contrast to Federal and local police respect for the ‘rights’ of Tea Partiers to carry loaded weapons at rallies for their political ‘opposition.’ FBI and local police infiltration of Occupy, including illegal ‘pre-emptive’ kidnappings and all manner of dirty tricks, was immediate, intense and had the desired effect of creating paranoia and mistrust. And those efforts tie historically to the COINTELPRO facilitated murders of black leaders and radical disruption of the legal and constitutionally ‘protected’ rights of (real) leftist and anti-war organizations trying to affect substantive political change in the 1960s and early 1970s. But the grassroots Tea Partiers aren’t responsible for the different treatment they received– the institutions of the radical right in Federal and state government working in the interests of their ruling class patrons are.