Friday Reads

Good Morning!

So, you should be able to tell that I’m knee deep in research and preparing to teach an MBA course because I’ve been writing so many finance and econ posts recently.  This morning is going to continue that trend. Plus, the War on Women is still on!  Some mornings it just doesn’t pay to read the news, I swear!

Feeling poorer?  There’s good reason!  According to statistics analyzed by Investor’s Business Daily “10-Year Real Wage Gains Worse Than During Depression”. That’s why no one has any money to spend.  This is especially true when you couple that with sagging wealth from your incredible shrinking home equity.

The past decade of wage growth has been one for the record books — but not one to celebrate.

The increase in total private-sector wages, adjusted for inflation, from the start of 2001 has fallen far short of any 10-year period since World War II, according to Commerce Department data. In fact, if the data are to be believed, economywide wage gains have even lagged those in the decade of the Great Depression (adjusted for deflation).

Two years into the recovery, and 10 years after the nation fell into a post-dot-com bubble recession, this legacy of near-stagnant wages has helped ground the economy despite unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus — and even an impressive bull market.

Over the past decade, real private-sector wage growth has scraped bottom at 4%, just below the 5% increase from 1929 to 1939, government data show.

Oh, and Moody’s is preparing for a US Government purposeful default on its sovereign debt.  Feel like you’re in Hooverville yet?  Just wait until Republicans looking to tank Obama’s reelection chances wind up tanking the US economy.

Moody’s Investors Service said today that if there is no progress on increasing the statutory debt limit in coming weeks, it expects to place the US government’s rating under review for possible downgrade, due to the very small but rising risk of a short-lived default. If the debt limit is raised and default avoided, the Aaa rating will be maintained. However, the rating outlook will depend on the outcome of negotiations on deficit reduction. A credible agreement on substantial deficit reduction would support a continued stable outlook; lack of such an agreement could prompt Moody’s to change its outlook to negative on the Aaa rating.

Although Moody’s fully expected political wrangling prior to an increase in the statutory debt limit, the degree of entrenchment into conflicting positions has exceeded expectations. The heightened polarization over the debt limit has increased the odds of a short-lived default. If this situation remains unchanged in coming weeks, Moody’s will place the rating under review.

Moody’s had previously indicated that its stable outlook on the Aaa rating was based on the assumption that meaningful progress would be made within the next eighteen months in adopting measures to reverse the country’s upward debt trajectory. The debt limit negotiations represent a real near-term opportunity for agreement on a plan for fiscal consolidation. If this current opportunity passes, Moody’s believes that the likelihood of anything significant being accomplished before the next presidential election is reduced, in part because the two parties each hopes to capture both a congressional majority and the presidency in the 2012 election, after which the winning party could achieve its own agenda. Therefore, failure to reach an agreement as part of the current negotiations would increase the likelihood of a negative outlook in the near term, because the upward debt trajectory would still be in place. At present, this appears the most likely outcome, in Moody’s opinion.

The Nation reports that the Banking Lobby joins the Republican party in attacking Elizabeth Warren. The fight continues to stop implementation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) and to stop Warren from head it up.  The bureau’s main mission is to stop bad lending practices that were rampant and damaging during the subprime mortgage crisis.

During last year’s financial reform debate, Congressional Republicans, along with some bank-friendly Democrats, launched a furious campaign to defeat the bureau. The US Chamber of Commerce led a $2 million industrywide ad campaign opposing the CFPB, using a butcher as its unlikely public face. “Virtually every business that extends credit to American consumers would be affected—even the local butcher,” one ad claimed. “I don’t know how many of your butchers are offering financial services,” quipped President Obama after meeting victims of lending abuses. The financial services firms that will fall under CFPB purview—big and small banks, payday lenders, mortgage brokers—did all they could to weaken it and create special exemptions for their industries, yet the consumer bureau improbably became “one of the central aspects of financial reform,” according to Obama, and the most tangible victory for consumers. Under pressure from consumer advocates, the administration named Warren a special adviser to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, her onetime foe, and the bureau’s interim director. Now Congressional Republicans and their industry backers are mounting a last-ditch effort to constrain the CFPB before its launch. Warren, according to associates, views this as an attempt to “pull the arms and legs off of the agency.”

Okay, so I’ll change the topic to how religionists are attempting to outlaw birth control and in vitro fertilizationThey’re doing it by attempting to redefine personhood again.

“The definition of personhood ranges if you’re talking about property law, or inheritance, or how the census is taken,” says Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

All those differences are exactly what Keith Mason wants to change. He’s president of Personhood USA, a group that’s trying to rewrite the laws and constitutions of every state — and some countries — to recognize someone as a person “exactly at creation,” he says. “It’s fertilization; it’s when the sperm meets the egg.”

Mason says the basic problem is that science has advanced faster than policymaking.

“We know, without a shadow of a doubt, when human life begins,” he says. “But our laws have not caught up to what we know.”

And according to his organization, those laws should recognize every fertilized egg as an individual and complete human being.

This movement is basically trying to push a definition that contradicts medical definitions.  A redefinition law is currently being considered in Colorado, Mississippi. and Alabama.

Medical experts say pregnancy begins when the egg implants in the uterus, not at fertilization. It is at this point that a woman’s hormone levels change and pregnancy can be detected through a urine test. Dan Grossman, an ob-gyn at the University of California-San Francisco who works with Ibis Reproductive Health, noted that about half of fertilized eggs implant and result in pregnancy.

Considering a fertilized egg a person with full rights also could outlaw popular forms of contraception, Grossman said. “This redefinition really could end up reclassifying all of these effective and safe birth control methods as abortifacients, or agents that induce abortions,” because some contraceptives can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, he explained. Grossman added that the idea that birth control methods that can block implantation are the equivalent of abortion is “certainly not a view that’s held by the medical profession or that’s based on medical evidence, and it’s certainly not consistent with what American women and couples want and use to plan their families.”

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said personhood proponents’ intent is to ban abortion and birth control. She said that giving rights to a fertilized egg could have far-reaching and dangerous consequences by legally separating a woman from her pregnancy. For example, in cases of potentially lethal ectopic pregnancies, personhood would give “all fertilized eggs legal rights under the law [and] calls into question what kind of methods a doctor can actually use to save a woman’s life,” she said.

Amanda Marcotte–writing for Slate–describes the laws as even “weirder than imaged”.  Basically, you can sum it up this way:  women are receptacles and fertilized eggs are people.  This seems unbelievable but it’s unfortunately real and represents just the  latest threat to our autonomy.

Even some anti-abortion groups oppose personhood bills, not because they disagree with the aims of the proponents—who want to ban all abortion, IVF treatment, stem cell research, and many forms of contraception—but because it’s bad and confusing law.  And part of the reason for this is that it creates a lot of confusion over the gap between belief and fact.  For instance, it’s clear that many supporters of personhood laws hope the laws can be used to ban hormonal birth control and IUDs, which they argue work by killing fertilized eggs.  However, attempts to use the law in this way are complicated by the fact that this is not how these contraception methods work; hormonal methods work by suppressing ovulation and IUDs work by making the uterus a hostile environment for sperm (which isn’t going to do much to quell the emasculation concerns of anti-choicers). Realistically speaking, if you believe fertilized eggs are “people” and losing one is equivalent to losing a child, then women who use the pill to prevent ovulation are actually the least murderous amongst us, since they are losing the fewest number of fertilized eggs.  Using these laws to stop the distribution of these kinds of contraception would likely depend on a number of factors, including judges’ willingness to treat made-up beliefs as equal to scientific information.

There’s way more at stake than even abortion and contraception, in fact.  The haziness of these bills could create all sorts of nightmarish scenarios. For one thing, they would absolutely make IVF illegal, but it would also call into question how you handle all the embryos that have already been created in labs.  With IVF being banned, it’s pointless to keep them around anymore, but disposing of them is killing “people.”  Are we prepared to throw people in jail for this?  There’s also a concern about how miscarriages are handled once you’ve determined that a “child” has been lost every time a woman miscarries, no matter how early in her pregnancy. These laws open the possibility of every woman miscarrying being detained for a legal investigation to determine if she has criminal liability for miscarriage. If you think I’m being ridiculous about this, consider that women are already being thrown in jail for giving birth to babies that don’t survive. Personhood laws could roll back the clock on your criminal liability to before you were even pregnant. Unfortunately, there are zealots in law enforcement that are willing to throw a woman who miscarries at eight weeks in jail because someone saw her drinking in a bar six weeks ago, before she probably even knew she was pregnant.

So, want some even more disheartening news?   Melissa at Shakesville finds yet another article tailored for young women that basically says you can avoid most rapes if you just don’t drink alcohol.  No kidding!

The Frisky‘s “Girl Talk: Why Being Drunk Is a Feminist Issue,” by Kate Torgovnick, who totes isn’t a victim-blamer, she swears! It’s just that we don’t live in an ideal world, so because women “do not have control over what men, drunk or sober, will do when presented with our drunkeness,” women should take control over “our side of the equation—how much we drink.”

There is a lot wrong with that article (not least of which is the author’s confusion about what actually constitutes rape), but I’m not going to waste my time fisking garbage. I’ll merely note that the entire premise is fundamentally flawed in the same ways that every other piece in this despicable genre is, in addition to the evident issue that victim-blaming, even if cynically rebranded as “taking control,” inexorably shifts responsibility from rapist to victim

Where have all the consciousness raising groups gone?

So, I really don’t want to talk about Wienergate or who is in New Hampshire or why Chris Christie thinks it’s okay to take state helicopters on personal jaunts.   So, maybe you’ve got something else to offer up?  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?