Re GDP, what keeps getting lost in the 4th quarter GDP numbers is that the Christmas shopping season just wasn’t that great, and would have been positively dreadful without the fall in gasoline prices. The $50-$60 billion overhang in inventory is a reflection of this. But the really, really big news is that despite all the hoopla over the GDP in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, annual GDP grew more slowly last year (2014) than the previous year (2013). So all that talk about 2014 being a definitive turn-around year demonstrating the solidity and durability of the “recovery” was just that, talk.
What I found irritating in Baker’s post was the following: “Health care spending continues to be reasonably well-contained.” Lets be real clear about this. Health care spending is being contained because for many people their insurance is too damned expensive to actually use.
Finally, as a standard note, the GDP is one of many bogus indicators our elites use to distract us. It says something that they can’t even manipulate it to be consistent with their narrative of a spurious recovery, but this will not keep them from pounding away at it none the less. We should remember that our real measure should be whether our economy is producing the kind of society we want, and if not, why not. GDP in no way substitutes for this, no matter how much our elites try to equate the one with the other.
Writers like Chait and Sullivan were liberal in the more traditional pre-New Deal, Wilsonian sense of the term. This form of liberalism was Big Government (as opposed to small government libertarianism), pro-capitalist in its economics and pro-interventionist in its foreign policy. It was an elite doctrine aimed primarily at the petite bourgeoisie, that is property and business owners. It was never a movement directed to the mass of ordinary Americans. While it proposed some limits on the abuse of labor with regard to working hours and child labor, it was virulently opposed to any mass social movements that might vest political power in the hands of ordinary working Americans. If you want to really know who did in American unionism, it was Wilson, because by splitting unions from their social movement bases and consiousness, Wilson limited the scope of their demands and split them from their non-union worker counterparts. The effects of this were delayed by depression and the New Deal but bore fruit in the last 40 years in the decimation of unionism. Wilson was also responsible for the creation of the private banking cartel known as the Fed and promoting America’s entrance into the First World War.
The New Deal created a major distortion in liberalism because it needed to take on socialist and populist elements to survive. It also created a major ongoing confusion as to what liberalism is. Many identify liberalism with New Dealism. I know I certainly did growing up. But they are very different. New Dealism was an aberration. Neoliberalism is a true hearkening back to the tradition of Wilsonian liberalism, the liberalism of the capitalist and the corporation. What we need to understand is not that all these so-called liberals betrayed their principles but rather they returned to liberalism’s roots. This is why I draw a distinction between liberals and progressives. Aside from a temporary, limited alliance in the New Deal, liberalism has always been anti-populist and anti-progressive to its core.
Durbin’s comment rebutted Graham in significant ways and so I include it:
Senator Dubin: I know the object of this bill was to build a pipeline. TransCanada, a Canadian company, wants to build a pipeline through the United States. They may or may not sell any oil from it in the United States. We had a vote on that yesterday, and the Republicans overwhelmingly said they would not require them to sell their oil in the United States. They may or may not use American steel to build their pipeline. We had that amendment yesterday, and the Republicans voted overwhelmingly that there is to be no requirement to use American steel to build this pipeline. Yet it is characterized as an American jobs bill. It is hard to understand that characterization.
If nothing else, whatever happens to this bill–and it may not have a great fate ahead of it, if it is not changed significantly because the President has already threatened to veto it–what the Senator from Rhode Island said is significant. After years of denial from the other side of the aisle about the issues of global warming, we may have just reached a point where we are finally, on a bipartisan basis, going to acknowledge the obvious–the scientific facts which have been given to us over and over and over. That is a step in the right direction, and so I want to thank my colleague from Rhode Island.
Let me take 2 minutes to say a word about my pending amendment, which may come up for a vote shortly. It is amendment No. 69 [on petcoke].
What I have said on the floor is there is a dirty little secret about the Keystone Pipeline. You don’t take Canadian tar sands and turn them into gasoline and diesel fuel without filtering and refining out some pretty horrible things. What is filtered out is called petcoke, and petcoke is going to be produced in the refining process if this pipeline is ultimately built–over 15,000 tons a day of petcoke, the byproduct of this refining process.
If you look at it and you think to yourself what impact will that have, it could have a very negative impact. In my city of Chicago, which I am very proud to represent, as well as in other communities, petcoke piles have become a challenge to the public health and the people in the community. I am asking in my amendment that we establish a standard of safety when it comes to petcoke–that we establish a standard of transportation and storage of petcoke to protect American families and children from the hazards of breathing petcoke dust.
Graham gave the “reasoned” case for the pipeline and so I include it:
Graham: I would like to share some thoughts about the debate we are having on the Keystone Pipeline, climate change, and how the two intersect. The concept that climate change is real, I completely understand and accept. To the point of how much man is contributing, I don’t know, but it does make sense that manmade emissions are contributing, and the global warming effect, the greenhouse gas effect, seems to me scientifically sound. The problem is how we fix this globally is going to require more than just the United States to be involved.
This deal with China where they have to do nothing for 20 years is probably not exactly where I want to be. The bottom line is that the solutions coming from our Democratic friends about how to deal with greenhouse gas emissions turn our economy upside down and do more damage to the economy and to the welfare of the American people than it will in terms of helping the environment.
Our liberal friends give us a false choice. You have to reorganize the economy in a draconian fashion to help the environment. Some people on my side believe that the whole climate change experience is scientifically unsound. I am not a scientist, but I have heard enough regarding those who make it their life’s work to be convinced that manmade emissions are causing the problem and contribute to the overall warming of the planet.
About the Keystone Pipeline, my Democratic friends are making an argument that is just absolutely false. The product that Canada will produce from the oil sands is going to be used by us, the world community through the gulf port or by China.
Those who believe denying the building of the pipeline protects the planet from fossil fuels do not understand what Canada is about to do. Canada is going to sell the product to somebody. The question for us is, Would we benefit from building a pipeline that will create American jobs and help us put oil into that pipeline within the United States in a joint venture with Canada or we will say no to the Canadians and they will go build a pipeline and send it to China?
The product is going to be burned. It is going to be used. The only question for this Congress is, Do we want the pipeline to go West and export the product to China or do we want to build the pipeline so we will have more product from a friend rather than enemies?
Dirty oil is oil that comes from people who hate your guts. The sulfur content of oil sands product is higher than Mideast sweet crude but no different than the oil we find off the coast of California. The actual carbon content is no different than the oil we find off the coast of California. To lock this country and the world into buying more Mideast product seems to me to be a very bad idea at a very dangerous time. So when I hear Members of the Democratic Party take the floor and say: Don’t build this pipeline because it will help the environment, you obviously don’t realize what Canada is about to do. Canada is going to sell the oil to another customer, build a new pipeline, and the only question for you is, How do you justify that? How do you justify destroying the ability to create thousands of jobs in the country at a time when we need them? How do you justify not building a pipeline that could be used to help us with product from North Dakota and other places within our own country?
I don’t understand how you can justify voting against the Keystone Pipeline based on a concern about climate change because it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue in this regard. The product is going to be used by somebody, and they are going to build a pipeline somewhere. For you to deny us the ability to build this pipeline that would make us more energy independent from overseas’ fossil fuels is shortsighted and does not advance the cause of climate change.
To the people who believe in climate change, it is gimmicks such as this and tricks such as this that hurt your cause. You are undercutting a real genuine debate. You made climate change a religion rather than a problem. It is a problem, but you are taking a draconian approach to the problem to the point that you are denying our country the ability to build a pipeline that we would benefit from economically and energy security-wise. The alternative you are leaving this country is that the same product will go somewhere else, and the next pipeline will not benefit America. So it is stunts like this that undercut your overall efforts.
I wish you would change your mind about the pipeline and work with Republicans who are willing to work with you to deal with emissions in a realistic way and stop selling what I think is a fraud when it comes to this debate.
Because of the length of what follows I am breaking my comment into three. First, the vote was 98-1 with Reid not voting because of his health issues. Wicker (R-MS) was the presiding officer and voted against.
Here is Inhofe’s full statement:
Inhofe: Climate is changing. Climate has always changed, and it always will. There is archaeological evidence of that, there is biblical evidence, and there is historical evidence. It will always change. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant, who think that they are so powerful that they can change the climate. Man can’t change the climate.
Re Darren Wilson, is it a surprise to anyone that the Feds won’t be charging him with anything? The strategy of authorities from the outset has been “delay until it goes away.” That’s what the prosecutor Bob McCulloch did with his Grand Jury charade and it is what Holder did with his fake Justice investigation. I mean if murdering someone isn’t depriving them of their civil rights, what is?
The militarization of the police, allowing them to act with impunity even to the point of murder, for me, this is about the powers that be turning the police into an occuping army, not to protect us but to protect them from us.
The International Monetary Fund reports kleptocratic dictatorships in the Gulf will lose $300 billion as a result of low oil prices. Cry me a river.
Hugh commented on the blog post Taken For Granted At Davos That US Government Run On ‘Legalized Corruption’
Echoing JF, the Supreme Court declared that money equals free speech in the 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo. What this means in our money-driven, and owned, political process is that if you don’t have money, you don’t have speech, free or otherwise.
On to matters of language. We don’t live in a plutocracy, or even an oligarchy. We live in a kleptocracy. Yes, we are ruled by the rich, and yes, we are ruled by the few, but both omit the criminal nature of this situation. The rich acquired their wealth and power by looting the rest of us. They do not create. They do not give. They have stripped us to the bone, and now are grinding the bone. Ultimately, the choice is going to be, us or them. I choose us.
Second, Roubini is an Establishment “distinguished scholar”. He is about as neoliberal as they come. He along with many others, including yours truly, foresaw a crash coming but he thought it would be triggered by large amounts of debt. If memory serves, he did not see the actual cause of the September 2008 meltdown which was all the derivatives that were written on that debt.
Third, we should not talk about “rising inequality”. We should rather refer to the massive and unsustainable wealth inequality that is already here. And we should always keep in mind that this inequality is not the result of some chance or impersonal process or processes, but of crime.
In this regard, the Democratic and Republican politicians in Washington, the state houses, mayoral offices, and council chambers are not “cynical” or even corrupt. They are criminals doing the bidding of even bigger criminals. Moreover, on cable or nightly news when you see politician A lie to you one way and be rebutted by politician B who is lying to you another, remember that both are criminals even if they disagree, as well as the sincere-sounding announcer who is paid millions to get us to take all these cons on cons on cons seriously.
Finally, the US has never been a democracy. It is a republic and not a representative one at that. One of my favorite bugabears is the US Senate. Nine states have over half the US population. They are represented in the US Senate by just 18 Senators. That means that somewhat less than half of the country is represented by the other 82. Tell me on what planet or in what universe that is in any sense representative.
Hugh commented on the blog post Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki Calls Fall In Oil Prices “Economic War”
Maliki through his anti-Sunni policies was a primary architect in the creation of ISIS and through all the graft and corruption he sponsored a primary reason why Iraq is and has been unable to defeat ISIS.
Everyone, except the Saudis, has been overproducing oil for years. The Saudis finally got sucked up into the need to overproduce as well and that has sent prices tumbling.
I have been writing on wealth inequality for several years now. What I have stressed during this time is that wealth inequality is one of a triad of problems we face. The other two are kleptocracy and class war. Essentially, kleptocracy explains how wealth is looted, and that this accumulation is not happenstance but criminality. Wealth inequality is the end result. And class war, and not any particular conspiracy or group of conspiracies, is how it maintained through distracting us and setting us against each other.
The only way this is going to change is if we change it. The only path open to us is revolution. The rich own the elites and the political process. Revolutions are almost always violent and highly destructive. We need first to recognize that we are already the victims of great violence and destruction in the form of lost homes, lost jobs, ruined and lost lives. The second is that revolutions can be positive and much less violent if we remain focused on the kind of society we want to build for ourselves and each other. This question, what kind of a society do you want, not just for the people like you but for the people different from you, is the one we all need to be asking. Answering it will establish the organizing principle around which we can unite. United we are the power of this country, not the 1%. United we are the wealth of this country, not the 1%. Armed with a vision of a fair, decent, and equitable society, we can unite and take our country back. It will not be easy. It will require commitment, discipline, and sacrifice. But it can be done, and knowing that, how can we not start now?
Hugh commented on the blog post Obama Set To Propose Taxes On Capital Gains, Inheritance, And Wall Street
Trillions for Wall Street, smoke and mirrors for us rubes. I’m surprised he isn’t going to promise each of us a pony. There should always be a pony.
And if any of us think that taxing the rich an extra $320 billion over TEN years is going to reverse wealth inequality in America, then we really are as stupid as Obama thinks we are.
If you want tax proposals that really would address wealth inequality in this country, they would look like these:
1. A 40% tax rate for incomes above $300,000 going to 65% at $1 million.
2. A marginal 95% tax rate for income above $1 million. All earnings here and abroad from whatever source to be declared and taxed as income. Any income undeclared to be confiscated and subject to additional financial and criminal penalties. (Taken with 1, this effectively caps annual income within the $180,000-$350,000 range.)
3. A yearly 10% asset tax on household wealth above $20 million. Any wealth undeclared to be confiscated and subject to additional financial and criminal penalties.
4. Current charitable foundations set up by families (think Gates, Buffet, etc.) to also be taxed at this same rate. Ban family foundations in the future.
5. A 50% tax on gross corporate profits. No stock options for executives. All profits and assets here and abroad to be declared or subject to confiscation with additional financial and criminal penalties for both the corporations and their chief officers.
6. 100% estate tax on all estates over $2.5 million per individual, $4 million for couples. Eliminate most trusts.
7. No renunciation of citizenship accepted, past or future, until all tax assessments are paid and any assets in excess of $2.5 million returned to the American people.
8. Any bank which hides or abets in hiding assets from taxes shall lose its charter to do business in the US.
The other side of this is what this wealth would be used for: meaningful jobs that pay a living wage, affordable housing, and fully funded Medicare for All, schools, and retirements, as well as a sustainable industrial base and energy and transportation infrastructure.
In economics generally, there is a depersonalization, de-agency, and “objectivization” of events into nameless aggregates and processes. It isn’t about people who are unaware or misguided, simple individuals whose actions in the aggregate have devastating consequences on the rest of us. It is not “primitive accumulation” at our expense. It is theft and looting. It is criminality. Their very membership among the rich and elites means it is their duty to know these things and use whatever wealth, position, and privileges they have been accorded by us to serve society’s, that is our, needs, goals, and aspirations, not just their own individually or in the aggregate. So what we are seeing is not good people making mistakes or acting blindly. What we are seeing is criminals engaged in crime. This is the central fact, the starting point, to any understanding of our current politics, economy, and society.
I tend to be critical of Richard Wolff because like virtually all economists nowadays he does not take into account the central role of criminality in our economic systems. And when I say criminality I mean kleptocracy, that is a political and economic system directed completely to looting of the many by the few. This is a view that goes far beyond even a Bill Black who believes that while there is a great deal of criminal activity in the system, its foundations remain solid and untainted.
As for the Guardian article on the two research papers on overconsumption, it makes no mention of overpopulation. The effects of overpopulation, overconsumption, resource degradation and exhaustion, and climate change, ecosystem collapse, extinctions, and pollution can already be seen in changes in the weather, the increasing number of weather related disasters, events like the Ebola outbreak, and in the increasing number of failing states. The disintegration of a relatively strong state, albeit an authoritarian police state like Syria, shows that any state can fail anywhere, and that in the next decades many of them will.
Here is the entry on Foggo from my old Bush Scandals List from probably more than 5 years ago:
Kyle “Dusty” Foggo was Executive Director under Porter Goss at the CIA from November 4, 2004 to May 12, 2006. In this, the No. 3 post at the agency Foggo ran daily operations. On February 13, 2007, Foggo was indicted along with Brent Wilkes by fired US attorney for Southern California Carol Lam (two days before she left her office) for wire fraud, deprival of honest services, money laundering, and conspiracy for steering business to Brent Wilkes, a figure in the Duke Cunningham scandal. This indictment concentrated mainly on a water contract for CIA personnel overseas and expensive vacations to Hawaii and Scotland paid for by Wilkes. On May 10, 2007, an expanded, superseding indictment was filed. This indictment added Wilkes-Foggo deals involving cover for CIA air operations, selling armored cars to the CIA, and rental of office space, $1.35 million transferred out of government contract accounts to Wilkes’ businesses, and details more of the expensive dinners Foggo was treated to. On February 19, 2008, Foggo’s case was transferred from the Southern District of California to the Eastern District of Virginia, nearer to Langley and CIA headquarters. On May 20, 2008, Foggo was indicted in Virginia. Added on to previous charges were receiving “sexual companionship”, i.e. hookers in exchange for favors and seeking the “enrichment of a mistress” by helping her get a job in the office of the CIA’s general counsel. On September 29, 2008, in a plea bargain Foggo pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in exchange for no more than 3 years in prison.
One of the reasons I gave up on my Obama Scandals List can be seen here. It becomes, after a while, impossible to disentangle all the scandals from one another. Foggo was tied to the Cunningham corruption case, the disastrous tenure of Goss who left under a cloud at the CIA (he decided he needed to go spend more time with his family), the US Attorneys scandal, and as pointed out in this most recent article to the CIA’s black sites.
Hugh commented on the blog post Antonio Weiss Withdraws From Consideration For Treasury Undersecretary
Re Weiss being the publisher of the Paris Review, important to remember that the Kock brothers have underwritten the PBS science series NOVA to the tune of millions even as they fund the rankest kind of climate change denialism elsewhere. Or for that matter remember that Al Capone ran soup kitchens in Chicago. It’s all about the image, not the reality.
For those interested here is an article:
I should warn you it’s filled with BS, but does incidentally lay out some useful information. I especially loved how it described Jared Bernstein a Weiss supporter as “aligned with the left wing of the Democratic Party”. I haven’t a clue as to what that means because as far as I can tell the Democratic Party hasn’t had a left wing in 30 years. Another tidbit was that Weiss was looking to get a $21 million pay out from Lazard if he got the job. Don’t know if he still does for just being a counselor.
By the way, the tax reform proposal (December 2012) lauded in the article had as its co-authors in addition to Weiss, a sort of who’s who of neoliberalism: Roger Altman, William Daley, John Podesta, Robert Rubin, Leslie Samuels, Larry Summers, and Neera Tanden. Its goal was not to reduce wealth inequality but the deficit.
We need to look at this as infighting among the elites. None of those involved are progressive in any sense of the term that I at least recognize. Weiss may not be the Koch brothers but he is another predatory capitalist. Lew and Obama are owned by Wall Street. Weiss’ opponents like Warren, Durbin, Sanders, and Shaheen spend most of the time bolstering the system that in this one case they are minimally criticizing. I get the impression that this is another tangential fight for various players to establish their cred without the risk of actually changing anything.
Hugh commented on the blog post Antonio Weiss Withdraws From Consideration For Treasury Undersecretary
I am shocked that Obama and Lew wanted to put somebody from Lazard into a top post at Treasury. Was no one from Goldman Sachs available?
French elites have their own “national” interests which they pursue, mostly related to oil, but they have been coordinating militarily with the US in the Sahara, Libya, and Syria. The US did not officially send ground troops into Libya either, but both the US and France bombed there. And France has also been involved in the air war in Syria.
Re free speech, it is not about protecting speech we agree with but protecting speech we do not agree with. Our First Amendment protection has largely been sold down the river both in favor of “national security” and the War on Terror and in the Supreme Court’s equation of money with free speech.
Before this, the limits of free speech were defined by the 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio in what was known as the Imminence Doctrine.
“Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
In essence, this meant that someone could advocate the violent overthrow of the US government as long as that advocacy did not lead imminently to acts to that end.
France, Germany, and Great Britain do not have anything which corresponds to the First Amendment.
Re Charlie Hebdo, the French take cartoons and comics seriously. They are considered a literary and artistic genre. And some of them can be a lot coarser than the adolescent super-hero pap Americans are used to.
Holder was in Paris and didn’t attend.
Biden had zero events on his Sunday schedule.
So you had one not two senior Administration officials available besides Obama. On the one hand, you had one of whom actually there. On the other, this is the kind of ceremonial function which Vice Presidents have traditionally filled.
As for Kerry, he was in India supposedly meeting with Indian officials to finalize plans for an Obama visit later this month. Parenthetically, his car was involved in an accident on the way to the airport in Delhi. So he might have been safer in Paris.
I think the Administration didn’t send any high level official because A) they are paranoid, B) they discount the importance of France, and C) their security people had unfounded concerns about the venue, the gathering, and the French security services. If this sounds arrogant on their part, that’s because it was. Only when there was blowback to the Administration’s diplomatic and political tin ear did Obama react, as usual for him too little too late, and not really meant.
Quick word on the jobs data. To repeat again, the official figures are trendline numbers. They represent a smoothing of the M-shaped pattern of employment over the course of the year and an anticipation of hiring this spring. What actually happened was this: in the household survey in December, the labor force contracted by 776,000, reflecting drops of 476,000 among the employed and 300,000 among the unemployed. In the business survey, jobs were relatively flat dropping by only 65,000. The difference between the two surveys occurs because the household survey tends to show changes faster than the business survey. The big change will show up next month when the post-holiday job losses when, if last year is any guide, jobs will fall by about 2.8 million and employment another 900,000. However, the trendline anticipating job gains in the spring will likely show job creation in the 200,000+ region.
It never ceases to amaze me how the trendline data are taken to be real and what actually happened in a month is simply ignored or relegated to a footnote.
Finally, according to my calculations, real unemployment taking into account Boomer retirements, was 9.9%, unchanged from last month.
Greenhouse’s departure from the NYT is part of a general trend in newspapers. In their endless quest to cut costs, they are dumping senior, experienced writers for cheap, disposable newcomers. Institutional memory is lost but when so much of what is written is propaganda and so much quality has already been sacrificed I guess the powers that be figure who will notice.
I don’t have much of an opinion one way or the other about Greenhouse, another Establishment figure who spent his career not seeing the forest for the trees.
I second joeblue’s opinion of Boxer. I would wonder why California has two such terrible Senators if my own were not even more grotesque.
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