Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
The New York Times
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November 14, 2009
A Recovery for Some
By BOB HERBERT
President Obama’s strongest supporters during the presidential campaign were the young, the black and the poor — and they are among those who are being hammered unmercifully in this long and cruel economic downturn that the financial elites are telling us is over.
If the elites are correct, if the Great Recession really is over, then these core supporters of the president are being left far, far behind — as are blue-collar workers of every ethnic and political persuasion. Nobody wants to talk seriously about class in America, but the elites are smiling and perusing their stock portfolios while the checklist of Americans locked in depressionlike circumstances just grows and grows: construction and manufacturing workers, young men without college degrees (especially young black and Hispanic men), teenagers, and those who were already poor when the recession began.
The economic environment for all of these groups is an absolute and utter disaster.
Now we’re learning that unmarried women are among those being crushed by the epidemic of joblessness. As the Center for American Progress has noted, “The high unemployment rate of unmarried women, and particularly the 1.3 million unemployed female heads of household who are primary breadwinners for their families, is devastating to their financial circumstances and standard of living.”
Mr. Obama announced this week that he would convene a jobs summit at the White House next month to explore ways of putting Americans back to work. It remains to be seen whether the summit will yield anything substantial. But it’s fair to wonder why the president and his party have not been focused like fanatics on job creation from the first day he took office.
It was the financial elites who took the economy down, and it was ordinary working people, the longtime natural constituents of the Democratic Party, who were buried in the rubble. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have been unconscionably slow in riding to the rescue of those millions of Americans struggling with the curse of joblessness.
We’ve been hearing that there are six unemployed workers for every job opening in the U.S., but even that terrible figure is deceptive. There are 25 unemployed construction workers for every job opening in their field, and more than a dozen for every opening in the durable goods industries, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.
This was not a normal recession, and we are not on the cusp of anything like a normal recovery. The unemployment rate for black Americans is 15.7 percent. The underemployment rate for blacks in September (the latest month for which figures are available) was a gut-wrenching 23.8 percent and for Hispanics an even worse 25.1 percent. The poverty rate for black children is almost 35 percent.
Wall Street can boast about recovery all it wants, much of America remains trapped in economic hell.
It will take a monumental leadership effort by the administration and Congress to spark the kind of changes necessary to transform this wretched employment landscape. Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute has written: “By itself, the private sector is unable to create jobs in the numbers the United States needs to obtain a robust, full economic recovery.”
If that’s true, and I have long believed it to be the case, then we need to rethink our entire approach to employment. Conventional efforts to kick-start economic growth are dwarfed by the vast scale of the problem. Bold new efforts — creative efforts — are needed.
A recent survey for the policy institute found that one in four families had been hit by a job loss during the past year and 44 percent had suffered either the loss of a job or a reduction in wages or hours worked. Economic insecurity has spread like a debilitating virus through scores of millions of American families.
What kind of recovery are we talking about if blue-collar workers, and men and women without college degrees, and large percentages of ethnic minorities and the young and the poor are not part of it? And how can any recovery be sustained if economic insecurity is a permanent feature of even middle-class life?
The financial elites have flourished in recent decades to a great extent because they have had government on their side, with the politicians working diligently to ensure that rules, regulations and tax policies established an environment in which the elites could thrive. For ordinary Americans, it has been a different story, with jobs shipped overseas by the millions and wages remaining stagnant, with labor unions under constant assault and labor standards weakened, with the safety net shredded and the message sent out to workers everywhere: You’re on your own.
We’ll get a chance to see at President Obama’s employment summit whether anything much has changed.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
"According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (174 KB PDF), manufacturing one desktop computer and monitor requires 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water. Unlike most appliances which require more energy to use than to manufacture, it takes much more energy to produce a computer than that computer will consume in its lifetime. A report from United Nations University indicates that building a computer takes five times more energy than that computer will use throughout the rest of its life..."
Monday, November 9, 2009
November 9, 2009
Paranoia Strikes Deep
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Last Thursday there was a rally outside the U.S. Capitol to protest pending health care legislation, featuring the kinds of things we’ve grown accustomed to, including large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption “National Socialist Healthcare.” It was grotesque — and it was also ominous. For what we may be seeing is America starting to be Californiafied.
The key thing to understand about that rally is that it wasn’t a fringe event. It was sponsored by the House Republican leadership — in fact, it was officially billed as a G.O.P. press conference. Senior lawmakers were in attendance, and apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings.
True, Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, offered some mild criticism after the fact. But the operative word is “mild.” The signs were “inappropriate,” said his spokesman, and the use of Hitler comparisons by such people as Rush Limbaugh, said Mr. Cantor, “conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”
What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.
The state of mind visible at recent right-wing demonstrations is nothing new. Back in 1964 the historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay titled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which reads as if it were based on today’s headlines: Americans on the far right, he wrote, feel that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.” Sound familiar?
But while the paranoid style isn’t new, its role within the G.O.P. is.
When Hofstadter wrote, the right wing felt dispossessed because it was rejected by both major parties. That changed with the rise of Ronald Reagan: Republican politicians began to win elections in part by catering to the passions of the angry right.
Until recently, however, that catering mostly took the form of empty symbolism. Once elections were won, the issues that fired up the base almost always took a back seat to the economic concerns of the elite. Thus in 2004 George W. Bush ran on antiterrorism and “values,” only to announce, as soon as the election was behind him, that his first priority was changing Social Security.
But something snapped last year. Conservatives had long believed that history was on their side, so the G.O.P. establishment could, in effect, urge hard-right activists to wait just a little longer: once the party consolidated its hold on power, they’d get what they wanted. After the Democratic sweep, however, extremists could no longer be fobbed off with promises of future glory.
Furthermore, the loss of both Congress and the White House left a power vacuum in a party accustomed to top-down management. At this point Newt Gingrich is what passes for a sober, reasonable elder statesman of the G.O.P. And he has no authority: Republican voters ignored his call to support a relatively moderate, electable candidate in New York’s special Congressional election.
Real power in the party rests, instead, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who at this point is more a media figure than a conventional politician). Because these people aren’t interested in actually governing, they feed the base’s frenzy instead of trying to curb or channel it. So all the old restraints are gone.
In the short run, this may help Democrats, as it did in that New York race. But maybe not: elections aren’t necessarily won by the candidate with the most rational argument. They’re often determined, instead, by events and economic conditions.
In fact, the party of Limbaugh and Beck could well make major gains in the midterm elections. The Obama administration’s job-creation efforts have fallen short, so that unemployment is likely to stay disastrously high through next year and beyond. The banker-friendly bailout of Wall Street has angered voters, and might even let Republicans claim the mantle of economic populism. Conservatives may not have better ideas, but voters might support them out of sheer frustration.
And if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here — and it’s very bad for America.
Friday, November 6, 2009
November 6, 2009
House Republican leaders have produced their own health care reform bill. Here is the first thing you need to know: It would do almost nothing to reduce the scandalously high number of Americans who have no insurance. And it makes only a token stab at slowing the relentlessly rising costs of medical care.
Despite that, the Republicans are pitching their bill as far more affordable than the Democrats’ approach. And you are sure to hear a lot in coming days about how it could reduce health insurance premiums. How it compares in that respect with the Democratic proposal is not yet clear. But a lot of the Republicans’ savings on premiums come from reduced coverage. Pay less and get less.
The good news is that this bill has no chance of passing. The bad news is that unless the White House and Congressional Democrats push back with the hard facts, the Republicans could use it to spread false hope of a “cheaper” alternative to scuttle real health care reform.
There’s no question that the Republicans’ bill is cheaper because it does so little to help the uninsured. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would provide $61 billion over 10 years to expand coverage, compared with more than $1 trillion in the Democrats’ bill.
That paltry effort, the budget office estimates, would extend coverage to a few million people who would otherwise be uninsured in 2019, leaving 52 million citizens and legal residents below Medicare age without coverage or about 17 percent of that population, right where it is today. This is a dismaying abdication of responsibility.
The Republican bill is an amalgam of market-oriented and state-based reforms that conservatives have long proposed, including enhancement of tax-sheltered accounts to help pay premiums and allowing people to buy insurance in other states that might permit skimpier benefits than their home state.
It has some good provisions, such as prohibiting insurers from imposing annual or lifetime caps on what they will pay and automatic enrollment of workers in employer-sponsored group coverage. But it would not prevent insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions.
The Republicans have been railing that the Democratic reforms will do little to slow the rapid rise in medical costs. But neither party has a solution. The Republican bill would cap malpractice awards — a clear infringement of the rights of injured patients. It would get lesser savings by requiring electronic transactions for administrative tasks and opening an approval process for generic biological medicines. The Democratic bills would use both of those for savings and initiate an array of pilot projects to try to find solutions.
The Republican bill’s main emphasis is on reducing the cost of health insurance premiums, a real concern. Compared with current trends, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the Republican bill, the average premium would drop by 7 to 10 percent for employees enrolled in group plans at small businesses and by 5 to 8 percent for people who buy their own policies. At large employers, where most Americans get group coverage, the average premium might drop by a modest 0 to 3 percent.
Part of the premium reduction was attributed to savings in the cost of medical services. But much was attributed to shrinking the services covered. The Democrats plan to set minimum benefit requirements to protect people from skimpy policies that leave them without adequate protection when they need it.
The budget office is planning to estimate how the far more complex Democratic bills would affect premiums. Americans need to know that so they can make a full comparison. But there should be no illusions here. The “affordable” Republican health care reform isn’t health care reform.