Late Night Bollywood: Global Recession Edition

Before I get to the movie masala… Three stories from today, which tell a larger story.

First, a follow-up to Dakinikat’s “Women of Egypt” thread the other day. Listen to this woman protester at Tahrir Square:

“Because we have had it, and it’s either they answer our demands or we’re not leaving this square no matter what.”

Second, Dean Baker, via Huffpo: “Debts Should be Honored, Except When the Money Is Owed to Working People“:

Let’s see if we can find a pattern here. When families take out a mortgage in the middle of a housing bubble, which may have been misrepresented at the time of sale, the homeowner has an obligation to repay the money to the bank. When people take on credit card debt, they absolutely have an obligation to repay the bank — even if it means changing the rules after the fact.

However, when the government signs a contract with workers, it doesn’t have to pay the workers’ pensions if it proves to be inconvenient. Of course, we may also throw in the fact that when the flood of bad mortgage loans issued by the banks threatened to push them into bankruptcy, the Treasury and the Fed give them trillions of dollars of loans at below market interest rates.

There certainly seems to be a pattern here. The story has nothing to do with preferences for the market or government intervention. The picture here is very simple: The rules get changed whenever it is necessary to make sure that money flows upward from ordinary workers to the rich. In 21st century America, upward redistribution seems to be the guiding principle.

And, last but not least, Think Progress: “Income Inequality In The U.S. Is Worse Than In Egypt“:

As Yasser El-Shimy, former diplomatic attaché at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote in Foreign Policy, “income inequality has reached levels not before seen in Egypt’s modern history.”But Egypt still bests quite a few countries when it comes to income inequality, including the United States:

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45.

In contrast:

– Tunisia is ranked the 62nd most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of 40.

– Yemen is ranked 76th most unequal, with a Gini Coefficient of 37.7.

And Egypt is ranked as the 90th most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of around 34.4.

On a less dreary note, here’s a clip I’ve been meaning to share with you from a Bollywood movie that came out a couple months ago. I tried everywhere to dig up a trailer or a smaller clip with subtitles to no avail. So below is the first 15 minutes or so of the movie. Some background — the movie is called Phas Gaye Re Obama (literally “Obama is Stuck). It’s a comedy about a millionaire Indian American who loses everything in the recession and under threat of foreclosure goes back to India to sell some ancestral property for whatever bit of money he can. There, various gangsters, who are also struggling due to the recession and not being able to force money out of people who don’t have any, are waiting to kidnap him–as inspired by sitting in their village and watching Obama preach “Yes We Can.” They think they can get a pretty penny for the ransom as they have no clue the big millionaire businessman from America has come home with empty pockets. Hijinks ensue from there of course. If it all sounds zany, it is. I’m probably not explaining this in a way that will make complete sense unless you’ve seen the movie, so just see for yourself — once you click play, there should be a CC on the bottom bar with the volume and other controls — click on that CC for the subtitles!

The first 15 minutes:

If you’re really interested, you can follow from Part 1 to 2 to 3 etc. if you click over to youtube… here’s the end where poor millionaire and the gangsters have their happy ending and say their goodbyes and have some choice words for Obama! Oh and there’s a Bollywood song and dance number as the credits roll :) Here you go:


Normalizing Poverty

A very disturbing article from The Economist caught my eyes over the weekend.  It seems like about as good of a time as any to share this with you.  It’s one of those articles you probably won’t see in the US media because it basically decries the notion that we’re the exceptional nation of opportunity and chance and that all that politically motivated and packaged hope and change has really brought neither to most of us.

It’s about Sarasota, Florida which has the been named meanest city in America by the National Coalition for the Homeless.  There are some amazing trends that we don’t hear too much about here.  For example, do you know that “Arizona now has the second highest poverty rate in the nation, after Mississippi”?  How about this?  Poverty is growing fastest in suburbs and especially sunbelt suburbs.   A third of America’s poor now live in suburban areas according to the article that cites Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution.

Here are the poverty statistics for Sarasota which joins Bakersfield, California; Boise, Idaho; Greenville, South Carolina; Lakeland, Florida and Tucson, Arizona as having the fastest climbing poverty in the country.

THE statistics are worthy of Detroit or Newark: almost half the children in the local schools are from families poor enough to be eligible for free or cut-price lunches; a tenth of households qualify for food stamps; one in eight residents gets free meals from soup kitchens or food banks; perhaps one in 12 has suffered a recent spell of homelessness. Yet the spot in question is not a benighted rust-belt city, but Sarasota, Florida—a balmy, palm-studded resort town on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Sarasota-Bradenton metropolitan area, a two-county sprawl of condominiums, marinas and retirement homes, saw the proportion of people living below the poverty line rise by more between 2007 and 2009 than any other big city in America, from 9.2% to 13.7%, according to the Census Bureau.

The story is filled with tales of citizens surviving in a tent and shed city run by the Catholic Church called Pinellas Hope. The picture you see above shows one of the sheds and a resident.  A small tent city that was supposed to be a six month temporary situation is booming.

Between 200 and 300 people live there at a time, large by shelter standards, but they are just a slice of Pinellas County’s overall homeless population, estimated at nearly 7,000.

Thousands of potential candidates are disqualified by a no-booze, no- drugs policy. Families with children aren’t allowed. Background checks seek to weed out sex offenders and those with violent pasts.

Even among those who do get in, dysfunction can run high.

Before background and sobriety checks improved, Tent City managers twice asked sheriff’s deputies to pose as residents to investigate drug dealing. Dozens were arrested.

Through April, deputies have been called to Tent City 102 times, though serious crimes like assault, drug dealing and grand theft have diminished noticeably over the past year.

Four out of 10 residents get kicked out, land in jail, or simply leave.

Who are American’s poor?  What will happen as the US austerity program pushes more and more people over the edge?  The official poverty rate in the US for 2009 was 14.5% .   You can compare our country with other countries at the CIA World Factbook. The countries with the worst poverty statistics are on the Continent of  Africa. For example, Cameroon has a 48% poverty level.  Canada’s poverty rate is just under 11% as is the poverty rate in Germany.

More information on poverty can be found at the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. The 2009 poverty threshold for a family of four was $ 21,756. For a single person under 65 it was $ 11,161.

The poverty rate for all persons masks considerable variation between racial/ethnic subgroups. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average. In 2009, 25.8 percent of blacks and 25.3 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.5 percent of Asians.

Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2009, 29.9 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 16.9 percent of households headed by single men and 5.8 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.

There are also differences between native-born and foreign-born residents. In 2009, 19.0 percent of foreign-born residents lived in poverty, compared to 13.7 percent of residents born in the United States. Foreign-born, non-citizens had an even higher incidence of poverty, at a rate of 25.1 percent.

I think that it’s important we put these numbers out there. The President and Congress are clearly putting ‘entitlements’ on the table.  Any changes will effect these numbers.  There is also a link between unemployment and Poverty.  There is no indication that there are any programs or there is a will in this country to deal with the high unemployment rate that we are now experiencing.  Forecasted GDP growth is not high enough to bring it down any time soon. This article is actually a year old.  See much difference now?

The response of state and local governments to this social catastrophe is drastic reductions in social services and job cuts, under conditions where the Obama administration refuses to provide emergency aid to help cover budget deficits.

The total deficit of the states from 2009 to 2012 is now estimated at $460 billion, a figure that is likely to grow as more state capitals adjust estimates for rapidly declining tax revenue.

”Anything and everything’s on the table,” said Todd Haggerty, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislators. States have “cut the fat, cut the muscle and are now cutting bone. The easy decisions have already been made.”

The fiscal situation confronting the states is expected to deteriorate sharply next year when funds from the federal economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are exhausted.

Like the states, the federal government faces a fiscal catastrophe, with cumulative US budget deficits expected to top $10 trillion by the end of the new decade, according to the Obama administration’s rather optimistic forecast. Cuts in spending must be put in place, in part, to convince creditors, especially China, that the US “can get its finances back in order,” the Wall Street Journal wrote Monday in a feature on the annual gathering of the American Economic Association.

The response of the Obama administration is to call for an unprecedented program of fiscal austerity and sharp cuts in social spending, to be announced in his State of the Union address early next month and outlined in the new federal budget proposal shortly thereafter. Obama’s repeated insistence on the need for Americans to reduce their consumption—even as trillions more are allocated for the banks and for ever-expanding wars in Central Asia and the Middle East—is code language for a deepening of the assault on the working class.

The discussion of possible deficit reduction measures includes regressive taxes such as a national sales tax and sweeping cuts in entitlement programs on which millions of people rely, such as Medicare and Social Security.

If this continues, we will see civil unrest.  I am reminded of the tweet from Robert Reich posted by Zaladonis yesterday and another one that I had read earlier.

30 Jan
Robert Reich
RBReich Robert Reich 3.5% ec growth pitiful. We’re in so deep a hole that we need twice that to get jobs back. Don’t believe the Wall St cheerleaders.
30 Jan

RBReich Robert Reich

If you think revolts in Tunis, Egypt, and Yemen are big, wait for coming food and energy shortages around world. US shld take lead now.


Historic Meeting of Ambassadors Called By Hillary Clinton (& other Hillary news)

Secretary Clinton meets with former first lady and presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. January 30, 2011.

From Politico:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called top envoys from U.S. embassies to gather in Washington on Monday for a wide-ranging foreign policy meeting.

Ambassadors from almost all 260 U.S. embassies, consulates and other posts in more than 180 countries are expected to convene at the State Department for what’s being billed as the first meeting of its kind.

Officials say the meeting will include discussion of foreign policy priorities for 2011, The Associated Press reported, as well as an assessment of the fallout from the release of secret diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. Clinton will meet individually with diplomats working in unstable countries.

I just picked the picture from yesterday because it looks kind of historic, too!

This is an Open Thread. I have to run some errands, but I’ll try to update with some more afternoon news later.

Updates

Well I’m back, and I see Kat’s got a breaking news thread up and running on HCR being ruled unconstitutional, so I’m just going to update this with some Hillary headlines.

Looks like our Energizer Secretary is having to put on a bit of a referee hat these days when it comes to elections. Hillary Clinton presses Haiti’s René Préval to break election stalemate” (via CSM):

After two months of electoral stalemate from Haiti‘s disputed national election, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Caribbean nation on Sunday with a clear message for their president: Move out of the way.

“It is important that the election go forward so there can be a new president,” she said in a series of interviews Sunday. “There is so much work to be done in Haiti, and the international community stands ready to help.”

Mrs. Clinton met with outgoing President René Préval – whose existing term expires Feb. 7– and the three leading presidential candidates from an initial round of voting on Nov. 28. The two leading vote-getters are to compete in a second round of presidential voting, now set for March 20 after a delay. The electoral council has said it would finalize the ballot Wednesday.

Clinton did not mince words about who she prefers to see in the runoff, saying she would push for Mr. Préval to accept the recommendation of the Organization of American States (OAS). While initial election results showed former first lady of Haiti Mirlande Manigat winning the vote and Préval-backed candidate Jude Célestin placing second, OAS election monitors analyzed a sample of ballots and found popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly had placed second.

“We have made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations, and we would like to see those acted on,” she told reporters, according to a transcript, adding that “at this time” there was no talk of suspending aid to Haiti.

This next one is actually from a few days ago, but I just saw it pop up again and I get a kick out of it, because for months I was telling the Hillary 2012 crowd that Hillary isn’t going to run, she’s put decades into public service, she gave it her all in 2008, and she’s got other priorities she’s allowed to think about like spending more time with her family and possible grandkids someday. Someone actually got mad at me once for saying that and questioned my intentions in bringing up grandkids since she doesn’t have any yet. Well here you go, straight from the Big Dawg’s mouth — “Bill Clinton Says Wife Wants Grandchild More Than Presidency” (Bloomberg):

“I’d like to live, I’d like to be a grandfather. I have nothing to do with that achievement, but I would like it,” Clinton, 64, replied, laughing. “I would like to have a happy wife and she won’t be unless she’s a grandmother. It’s something she wants more than she wanted to be president.”

Oh, this one I’m about to post is a real doozy, though not very unique in its theme, just exceptionally over the top in its delivery and rage directed at Hillary — the Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild asks, “Who’s Hillary Clinton Kidding on Egypt?“:

On Friday, Hillary Clinton urged “restraint” and Obama urged “reform.” But neither endorsed the demand of the Egyptian people to be rid of their dictator.

And then Clinton told a whopper on Sunday. “We are on the side” of the Egyptian people, “as we have been for more than 30 years,” she told Candy Crowley of CNN.

Who does Clinton think she’s fooling with this crap?

Was the United States on the side of the Egyptian people as Mubarak’s security forces engaged in rampant and hideous torture?

Was the United States on the side of the Egyptian people as Mubarak rigged one election after another?

At times like this, such bald-faced lies don’t fool anyone, especially not the Egyptian people.

Now, first of all I actually agree completely that the Egyptian people aren’t fooled by Hillary’s statement that we’ve been on the side of the Egyptian people for more than 30 years. Second, even before I saw Rothschild’s rant at Hillary, I wrote something in the last thread’s comments that is relevant here and that I thought of frontpaging afterward so this is as good a place to stick it as anywhere else. Pardon me as I commit the blogger sin of copy/paste…

I love Hillary, but I’m not sure to the Egyptians her being the face of the Admin really changes much. I can’t blame Egyptian protesters if they don’t see much daylight between Hillary and Obama on this, because in the end, no matter how well Hillary packages O’s indecision, it’s still his indecision that she’s representing. Frankly, as much as I love Hill, I don’t know anyone quote unquote ‘electable’ in the American political class who I could be certain would “turn away from the policies that got us here” where it concerns the Middle East. That’s the larger piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and no amount of “orderly transition” statements on Hillary’s part cleaning after Joe-please-stay-in-the-cone-of-silence-Biden changes that. If people wanted it to be her call and her policy to blame her for, they should have elected her. It’s O’s policy and frankly no one has a damn clue what it is as usual.

Well this is interesting… from the Independent’s write-up on Hillary’s historic ambassador meeting, “Clinton calls home US envoys in post-mortem on WikiLeaks crisis“:

The unprecedented gathering at the State Department began yesterday and brought together America’s most senior diplomatic representatives from 180 countries. Most have been told to stay in Washington all week for a series of meetings and pep talks. Ms Clinton is set to address them tomorrow and will have face-to-face meetings with envoys from front-line countries where the stakes for America are highest.

Officials stayed quiet about the initial purpose saying only that Ms Clinton was anxious to complete planning for 2011. However, it comes at a time of multiple challenges for the US in its foreign dealings, including the growing clamour on Capitol Hill for cuts in foreign aid and the impact of the turmoil in Egypt on Middle East policy. That is not to forget the running sores of Iran and North Korea or the perils of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While President Barack Obama focuses on domestic issues as he nears the start of his re-election campaign, Ms Clinton is almost alone in the foreign policy storm surrounding her. Only a few days ago she commented that she had not committed to staying in her job should Mr Obama get a second term.

Now is really the time for O to give up the Fierce Urgency of the Permanent Campaign and turn off the Candidate Obama so he can be a President. 2012 really doesn’t matter if he can’t get this one right. With all the news releases about the WH preparing for Huntsman to leave, though, seems like the WH has its priorities same as always and they’re dumping Hillary with the ones that should be theirs/his.


Second Court Strikes Down HCR (breaking)

A Florida District Court has struck down all of the HCR law.

This is developing story as the ruling has just been released and it’s a long one (78 pages).  A Federal judge in Florida has ruled the entire health care reform law unconstitutional because of the provision that mandates that all Americans must buy Insurance.  He hasn’t stopped implementation, however.

It looks like he’s relying on some section of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, but there are some truly bizarre things in this ruling.   You may recall that a Virginia judge ruled that portion of the law unconstitutional without throwing out the entire thing.

Vinson basically says that Congress cannot require people to buy a product.  He then goes into page after page of what looks like a libertarian view of American History.  It’s very strange.

Dahlialithwick Dahlia Lithwick

J Vinson strikes down whole healthcare reform law — finds not severable http://slate.me/ggZk4d

From the David Weigel article at Slate:

The money graf, in which Vinson strikes down the entire law — which, because of the mess in the Senate and House, lacked severability:

Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

From Bloomberg.com: Obama Health-Care Reform Act Unconstitutional, Judge Says in 26-State Suit

Vinson’s ruling may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, is already slated in May to hear challenges to two conflicting federal court rulings in that state, one of which upheld the legislation while the other invalidated part of it. The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately be asked to consider the issue.

The 955-page law bars insurers from denying coverage to people who are sick and from imposing lifetime limits on costs. It also includes pilot projects to test ideas like incentives for better results and bundled payments to medical teams for patient care.

In an Oct. 14 decision letting the case to proceed, Vinson narrowed the issues to whether the act exceeded the constitutional powers of Congress by requiring all Americans over the age of 18 to obtain coverage and expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the federal-state program offering care for the indigent.

The case is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10-cv-00091, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Pensacola).

Reuters Feed:

Vinson has suggested strongly that he too will rule the individual mandate oversteps constitutional limits on federal authority. He may also move to invalidate the entire law, by granting the plaintiff states’ request for an injunction to halt its implementation.

“The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent,” Vinson wrote in an earlier opinion in October.

Read the rest of this entry »


“A chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt”

From Sunday. LA Times Babylon & Beyond blog:

More than 80 American academics, including Noam Chomsky and several California scholars, posted an open letter online Sunday to President Obama [...]

From the Tahrir demonstrations

Here’s the open letter, as posted on the Institute for Public Accuracy site:

Dear President Obama:

As political scientists, historians, and researchers in related fields who have studied the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, we the undersigned believe you have a chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt. As citizens, we expect our president to uphold those values.

For thirty years, our government has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain the system the Egyptian people are now trying to dismantle. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday “political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants.

There is another lesson from this crisis, a lesson not for the Egyptian government but for our own. In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy. On Friday you rightly said that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.” For that reason we urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of US foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region.

You can view the signatories here. You can also download a pdf. And, to leave feedback, apparently you can to egyptletter.blogspot.com.

Earlier on Sunday, the Carnegie Endowment published the following statement from its Working Group on Egypt, urging for free and fair elections and recommending a suspension of economic and military aid to Egypt until certain conditions that would ensure a free and fair election are met:

Amidst the turmoil in Egypt, it is important for the United States to remain focused on the interests of the Egyptian people as well as the legitimacy and stability of the Egyptian government.

Only free and fair elections provide the prospect for a peaceful transfer of power to a government recognized as legitimate by the Egyptian people. We urge the Obama administration to pursue these fundamental objectives in the coming days and press the Egyptian government to:

  • call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible;
  • amend the Egyptian Constitution to allow opposition candidates to register to run for the presidency;
  • immediately lift the state of emergency, release political prisoners, and allow for freedom of media and assembly;
  • allow domestic election monitors to operate throughout the country, without fear of arrest or violence;
  • immediately invite international monitors to enter the country and monitor the process leading to elections, reporting on the government’s compliance with these measures to the international community; and
  • publicly declare that Hosni Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.

We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.

The Working Group on Egypt is a nonpartisan initiative bringing substantial expertise on Egyptian politics and political reform, and aimed at ensuring that Egypt’s elections are free and fair and open to opposition candidates.

Laura Rozen’s report on the Egypt working group’s statement provides further insight:

A bipartisan group of former U.S. officials and foreign policy scholars is urging the Obama administration to suspend all economic and military aid to Egypt until the government agrees to carry out early elections and to suspend Egypt’s draconian state of emergency, which has been in place for decades.

“We are paying the price for the fact that the administration has been at least of two minds on this stuff, and we should have seen it coming,” said Robert Kagan, co-chair of the bipartisan Egypt working group, regarding what many analysts now say is the inevitable end of Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year reign as Egypt’s president.

Though the Obama administration has tried to look like it’s not picking sides in urging restraint from violence amid five days of Egyptian unrest calling for Mubarak to step down, “the U.S. can’t be seen as neutral when it’s giving a billion and a half dollars” to prop up the Mubarak regime, Kagan said.

And, from Zaid Jilani at Think Progress:

The position of the Obama administration has been unclear. While administration officials have condemned abuses of civil liberties, they’ve also fallen short of endorsing Mubarak’s ouster or ending support for the regime, with Vice President Joe Biden even going as far as to say that Mubarak isn’t a dictator.

The United States gives nearly $2 billion in aid to the Egyptian regime every year, and offers diplomatic and military cooperation that helps bolster Mubarak. As protesters continue to be beaten, tortured, and killed by internal security forces, it’s important to know that these abuses are being subsidized by U.S. taxpayer dollars. Threatening to reduce or eliminate this monetary assistance to the Egyptian regime would be a powerful tool that the United States could use to help advance democracy and promote freedom in the country.

In light of the open letter from Chomsky et al and the statement from the CEIP’s working group on Egypt, I thought it might be helpful to recap what the Obama Administration said yesterday.

Read the rest of this entry »


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d start the day off with some new topics given we’ve spent the weekend following world events unfold.   One of the major complaints of the Egyptian people is their high unemployment rate. It’s basically the same as ours.  They also have seen rising food and energy prices.  Our overall price inflation is well under control at the moment, but there are world events that have made food and energy prices more volatile than usual.  The Egyptians have experienced GDP growth rates that are twice ours, but like our country, the income improvements have advantaged the very few instead of the many for many of the same reasons.  One of the guys that skedaddled on that airplane was the big telecom industry captain.  We have many huge corporations–like GE–that exist on no bid government contracts that they never lose, even when they’ve been found endlessly maleficent.

I thought I’d start with Tyler Cohen who has been riffing on themes relevant to his for sell on line pamphlet  The Great Stagnation.  His NYT article this weekend buried one of the themes of the SOTU.  It’s called ‘Innovation Is Doing Little for Incomes’.

The income numbers for Americans reflect this slowdown in growth. From 1947 to 1973 — a period of just 26 years — inflation-adjusted median income in the United States more than doubled. But in the 31 years from 1973 to 2004, it rose only 22 percent. And, over the last decade, it actually declined.

Most well-off countries have experienced income growth slowdowns since the early 1970s, so it would seem that a single cause is transcending national borders: the reaching of a technological plateau. The numbers suggest that for almost 40 years, we’ve had near-universal dissemination of the major innovations stemming from the Industrial Revolution, many of which combined efficient machines with potent fossil fuels. Today, no huge improvement for the automobile or airplane is in sight, and the major struggle is to limit their pollution, not to vastly improve their capabilities.

Although America produces plenty of innovations, most are not geared toward significantly raising the average standard of living. It seems that we are coming up with ideas that benefit relatively small numbers of people, compared with the broad-based advances of earlier decades, when the modern world was put into place. If pre-1973 growth rates had continued, for example, median family income in the United States would now be more than $90,000, as opposed to its current range of around $50,000.

You can find more discussion at Marginal Revolution. The Economist weighed in on the booklet tonight.

improvements in rich world living standards may, for the moment at least, come from the capture of policy low-hanging fruit. In other words, the rich world should focus on getting rid of blatantly foolish and costly policies. Moving from taxes on goods, like income, to bads, like traffic congestion, would be a good start. Not spending so much on medical treatments with dubious benefits would be another possibility. Cutting out policy foolishness like agriculture subsidies and the mortgage-interest deduction would be another positive step. Amid rapid growth, really silly policy choices could be tolerated, since surpluses continued to rise. As growth rates slow, the failure to cut out bad policies will mean continued stagnation or declines in living standards for some.And it’s a little amusing to focus on the implications of the spread of cheap-to-free internet amusement. As Mr Cowen notes, the availability of good, free internet entertainment has allowed a lot of people hit hard by falling incomes or recession-induced joblessness to maintain relatively high levels of utility (though this available substitute has also made it easier to cut down on physical consumption, with nasty effects on GDP).

Paul Krugman agrees here.   Robert Reich struck a similar chord on stalled incomes in his response to the SOTU.  Reich focuses on one of our topics. That would be the important list of what the president didn’t say.

What the President should have done is talk frankly about the central structural flaw in the U.S. economy – the dwindling share of its gains going to the vast middle class, and the almost unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at top – in sharp contrast to the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.

Although the economy is more than twice as large as it was thirty years ago, the median wage has barely budged. Most of the gains from growth have gone to the richest Americans, whose portion of total income soared from around 9 percent in the late 1970s to 23.5 percent in 2007. Americans kept spending anyway by using their homes as ATMs but the bursting of the housing bubble put an end to that – leaving them without enough purchasing power to reboot the economy. So the central challenge is put more money into the pockets of average Americans.

This narrative would be politically risky (opening Mr. Obama to the charge of being a “class warrior”) but at least honest. And it would allow him to connect the dots – explaining why his new health-care law is critical to reducing medical costs for most working families, why tax reform requires cutting taxes on the middle class while raising them on the rich, why the Bush tax cuts shouldn’t be extended for the wealthy, why deficit reduction must not sacrifice education and infrastructure (both important to rebuilding middle-class prosperity) and why any cuts in Social Security or Medicare must be on the backs of the wealthy rather than average working families.

I still can’t believe we have a President that doesn’t run a counter narrative to the Republican Voodoo economic fantasy.  I guess it’s left to those of us in the blogosphere to hammer home traditional democratic values.  So, speaking of some of the worst of the worst, there’s a movement afoot to UnCloak the Kochs.  Those John Birch Society Billionaires that want to bring down social security have been taking up some virtual ink in left blogistan.  Here’s something from the New York Observer:  ’7 Ways the Koch Bros. benefit from Corporate Welfare’.

Now that we’ve heard about their charitable giving, David’s 240-foot mega-yacht and role as patrons of the Tea Party movement, it’s time to ask a more serious question: How libertarian are they?

The short answer…not very.

Charles and David Koch, the secretive billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, the largest private oil company in America, have spent millions bankrolling free-market think tanks and pro-business politicians in order, as David Koch has put it, “to minimize the role of government, to maximize the role of private economy and to maximize personal freedoms.” But a closer look at their dealings reveals that for the past 35 years the brothers have never shied away from using government subsidies to maximize their own profits, even while endeavoring to limit government spending on anything else.

These guys are a veritable bankroll for so-called think tanks that spout more tank than think.  Some one should let them know that their businesses are hardly shining examples of a free market.  These guys are card carrying members of the crony capitalist set.

In 1977, Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute, an influential libertarian think tank, with the aim of injecting free-market ideas into the mainstream. The Kochs would go on to establish and fund a vast network of overlapping think tanks, institutes, foundations, media outlets, and lobby groups that would vilify centralized government and promote laissez-faire capitalism as the only route to economic prosperity. The Mercatus Center, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Magazine, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation are just a few of the right-wing organizations that run on Koch cash today.

David Dayen has a post up at FDL about protests organized to protest these bloated trust fund babies and their plutocratic friends.  These guys  are manufacturers of stupidity like climate change denial.  Common Cause organized the protest.

After a litany of speakers – including Jim Hightower, Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, and Common Cause President and former Illinois Congressman Bob Edgar, the entire group of protesters moved to the setup across the street from the resort. Police helicopters buzzed overhead. After a while, the police agreed to shut down Bob Hope Drive, and the protesters streamed across the street and directly in front of the resort, just a few inches away from the phalanx of riot cops. The usual protest chanting and raising of banners ensued. More cops were brought in, traipsing over the flower beds. And 25 protesters were taken away in a paddy wagon. The protests were generally peaceful, and the police professional.

The protesters generally decried the Koch Brothers’ influence over American democracy, in particular their use of the Citizens United ruling to spend corporate money in elections. Koch Industries’ funding of climate denialism and other conservative causes was on the minds of the protesters as well.

You can read some of the dirty deeds that pay others to do dirt cheap in the NYT article on the Tea Party targets. Here’s the list of who is in their ‘surveyor’ marks for the 2012 Senate elections.   Evidently, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar is one of the guys they’re after.  Here’s some more making their unclean, impure list.

In Maine, there is already one candidate running on a Tea Party platform against Senator Olympia J. Snowe. Supporters there are seeking others to run, declaring that they, too, will back the person they view as the strongest candidate to avoid splitting their vote. In Utah, the same people who ousted Senator Robert F. Bennett at the state’s Republican convention last spring are now looking at a challenge to Senator Orrin G. Hatch.

The early moves suggest that the pattern of the last elections, in which primaries were more fiercely contested than the general election in several states, may be repeated.

They also show how much the Tea Party has changed the definition of who qualifies as a conservative. While Ms. Snowe is widely considered a moderate Republican, Mr. Hatch is not. Mr. Lugar, similarly, defines himself as a conservative. He argues that he has consistently won praise from small-business groups, supported a balanced budget amendment and pushed for a reduction in farm subsidies and the closing of agricultural extension offices as part of an effort to reduce unnecessary spending — all initiatives that fall under the smaller government rubric of the Tea Party.

Guess that means there’s more bat shit crazy folks waiting in the wing to mangle and destroy American history and the constitution.  Do you suppose we’ll see any more “I am not a witch” ads?

So, last week I posted something sent to me from BostonBoomer about the rise in violent attacks in prisons due to cost cutting measures and outsourcing to private firms.  BB’s found another more horrible link.  CNN reports the death of a correctional officer in Washington who had made a complaint to her union steward that she feared for her safety.

Jayme Biendl, 34, was discovered late Saturday night after workers at the Monroe Correctional Complex noticed her keys and radio were missing, according to a statement from the Washington State Department of Corrections. Staff at the prison immediately went to where she worked and found her unresponsive, it said.

Emergency responders declared Biendl dead at the scene shortly before 11 p.m. PT, the department said.

She had been strangled, according to Chad Lewis, a department spokesman.

So, it’s monday morning, I spent all weekend rewriting an article on Venture Capital.  As long as you don’t have anything to say about that, because I’ve frankly reached my fill on the subject , I’d like to know …

What’s on you reading and blogging list today?


Late Night Drift: Women of Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 29: Egyptian woman shout out during a demonstration against President Hosni Mubarek in Tahrir Square January 29, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. Unrest continued in the Egyptian captial as President Mubarek said he would form a new government but remain in power.

The Daughters of Hatshepsut take to the Street.

There seems to be a narrative in some fairly strange places that the women of Egypt are not behind a move to democracy and that they will suffer if Mubarak is removed.  I thought I’d share some photos and stories on the role of  Women in Egypt’s struggle for democracy.

From Slate:Women Are a Substantial Part of Egyptian Protests

An unprecedented number of Egyptian women participated in Tuesday’s anti-government protests. Ghada Shahbandar, an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, estimated the crowd downtown to be 20 percent female. Other estimates were as high as 50 percent. In past protests, the female presence would rarely rise to 10 percent. Protests have a reputation for being dangerous for Egyptian women, whose common struggle as objects of sexual harassment is exacerbated in the congested, male-dominated crowd. Police hasten to fence in the demonstrators, and fleeing leads to violence. And women, whose needs are not reflected in the policies of official opposition groups who normally organize protests, have little reason to take the risk.

One of the protest organizers is a woman: Political activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, whose 15-day detention in 2008 for her activism made her a symbol of resistance. But Abdel Fattah’s position at the helm of the movement did not previously mean a large female presence. In 2008 Abdel Fattah tried to mobilize all of Egypt around labor conditions in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, north of Cairo. The male workers in the industrial town constituted the majority of the original protesters, and subsequent protests organized by the movement likewise failed to draw as large of a female crowd as seen on Tuesday.

Whoever is running this narrative can’t possibly be watching what’s going on unless they’re spending a huge amount of time on Faux News waiting for a pronouncement from Snowflake Snookie.


Women on the front lines in Egypt

Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has emerged as one of the most prominent representatives of the movement on Western news media. Yesterday, she successfully got CNN to change their headline from “CHAOS IN EGYPT” to “UPRISING IN EGYPT.

Eltahawy, whose Twitter feed has been essential reading for those following the events in Egypt, has been circulating a link to a Facebook album filled with inspiring pictures of women on the front lines of the protests. (Le Monde has a similar gallery for the protests in Tunisia.)

Why is it important to draw attention to this phenomenon? Because we know it’s in the The West’s playbook to exploit concern for women’s rights to justify its imperial ambitions. That’s one of the many ways that the war in Afghanistan was sold to the public, from the CIA’s Wikileaked cable on manipulating public opinion in Europe to the propagandistic cover of Time magazine depicting a woman disfigured by the Taliban.

Culture warriors have cynically co-opted feminist rhetoric to push for bans on the Islamic veil throughout Europe, despite evidence that such prohibitions might actually make women more isolated and less safe. In 2009, Switzerland actually banned the construction of minarets, supposedly in response to feminist concerns.

I would not be at all surprised to hear US leaders, media pundits, and even some liberals defend the Mubarak regime by underscoring the potential threat of newly-empowered Islamists to impose restrictions on women’s rights in Egypt.This possibility certainly exists, but we should not pretend that the United States is sincere about these concerns, nor should we ignore the tens of thousands of Egyptian women taking to the streets to demand change.

“Bravest girl in Egypt”

Mona Eltahawy to CNN: Call Egypt an Uprising

Do these sound like women that are going to be put behind some kind of  iron veil?    I’m not buying the narrative that a nation that produced Cleopatra and Hatshepsut is going to suddenly find itself promoting the Muslim Version of the Hand Maid’s Tale.

What is behind this sense of false chivalry?