Article 43

 

Dying America

Friday, November 09, 2018

Zealots

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The Economy Does Not Care Who Won The Midterm Elections

By Brandon Smith

Activist Post
November 8, 2018

Over the past few weeks I received numerous requests from readers to publish my predictions on the outcome of the midterm elections, but I did not do so for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I view the election process very differently from many people. I do not see it as legitimate in the slightest; therefore, my predictions of the past have been based not on voter turnouts, polls or any other such nonsense. Elections are molded events, framed under the false pretense that the Left/Right paradigm in politics is real. As far as the upper echelons of politics are concerned, the paradigm is completely theatrical.

To be sure, the average American does lean either “left” or “right” on the political spectrum. Such divisions are a natural part of social discourse. However, political theater is designed in most cases to drive citizens away from centrally shared principles of freedom and equal opportunity (not equal outcome) and push them to the far ends of the spectrum toward extremism and zealotry. And to be clear, there is no “good” form of zealotry.

Zealots are not self-aware, and they never subject their own positions to scrutiny. They operate on pure assumption that they are divinely correct in everything they do, and anyone who disagrees with them, even in the slightest, is an enemy that must be destroyed by any means necessary. Zealotry is the root of human atrocity. Zealots are a tidal wave of war and genocide. They are a cancer on the soul of mankind.

Certain groups of people within the establishment, namely globalists that desire total centralized control of every aspect of economy and society, prefer that the public remain as radicalized and divided as possible. For them, zealotry is an asset.

To pursue this goal, they purchase allegiance from politicians through various means, including financial favors, media favors and campaign contributions. There are very few people left in politics that are not part of the club.Ӕ Both Democrat and Republican leaders are essentially on the same side the globalist side. They attack each other with rhetoric, but when it comes down to actual policy and action, they are all very similar.

The outcome of elections is, therefore, erroneous in the long term. Their only purpose is to manipulate public psychology to a certain reactionary end game.

When I predicted the election of Donald Trump in 2016 many months before voting commenced, I did so based on which election outcome better served the interests of globalists. I concluded with the highest certainty that Donald Trump would win based on the same premise that drove me to predict the success of the Brexit vote in the U.K.; that premise being that the globalists would allow ԓpopulists (conservatives) to gain an illusory foothold on political power, only to then collapse the global economy on their heads and blame them for the disaster.

At the time it was unclear whether Trump would play along with the globalist narrative of conservatives as ԓselfish bumbling villains. Today, with his consistent relationships with banking elites and globalist think-tank members, it is obvious that Trump intends to play the role he has been given. TrumpԒs policy actions the past two years indicate that he is following a model very similar to the one Republican President Herbert Hoover used just before the crash of 1929. Trump was a perfect choice for the globalists.

So, the question I had to ask in terms of the midterm elections is, what outcome best serves globalist interests this time? The only conclusion I could come to in this instance was it didn’t matter who wins the midterms. The globalists will get their economic crash regardless and conservatives will still be blamed.

The ultimate outcome turned out to be mixed, with Democrats taking the House and Republicans holding the Senate.  The assertion in the mainstream being that this will result in political gridlock.  In terms of stock markets, the reaction is not surprisingly euphoric, as it has been not long after almost every election event.  But there are many that assume this is a euphoria that will last.  This is a narrow view of the situation that ignores economic reality.

It is certainly possible that equities will sustain a jump on the news of a Republican win, but I see this as a very limited event, lasting perhaps one or two weeks. In the long run as December approaches, stocks and every other sector of the economy will continue accelerated declines seen in October.

Here are the facts:

New home sales, an indicator highly valued by mainstream economists, has been in decline for the past year, hitting two-year lows in September.

This has come as a surprise to many mainstream analysts because the story thus far has been that the U.S. is in advanced recovery which should continue the supposed rejuvenation of the housing market. Alternative economists will give you the real story on home sales, though.

The “housing boom” hailed in the mainstream over the past few years was a farce driven primarily by corporate behemoths like Blackstone.  Companies buying up distressed properties across the U.S. using cheap loans and bailouts through the Federal Reserve and turning them into rentals hardly constitutes a “recovery” in housing.

Regular homebuyers have also enjoyed artificially low mortgage rates for many years. But now, mortgage costs are spiking as the Fed raises interest rates, and corporate debt is becoming more expensive, making it less profitable for companies to continue vacuuming up properties.  Add to this the fact that the Fed is now dumping Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) from its balance sheet. These are the same securities that constituted a toxicӔ influence that led to the mortgage and derivatives bubble. It is hard to say exactly what the effects will be as they add to existing ARM-style mortgages and derivatives already on the market, but I suspect the result will be destabilizing.

Auto sales, another fundamental indicator used in the mainstream as a signal for economic health, is also failing recently. U.S. auto sales plunged in September from 11 percent to 25 percent depending on the company and make of vehicle. While the mainstream media argues this massive year-over-year decline was due to destructive hurricanes in 2017 creating overt demand, the truth is that the average monthly payment on new vehicles has rocketed to over $525 and interest rates rise due to the Federal Reserve.

Car sales, new and used, have thrived in recent years in most part because of artificially low rates and ARM-like loans to people who cannot afford them. Much like the mortgage bubble in 2008, the auto bubble is set to implode as car payments become too expensive for the average buyer and defaults increase.

The US budget deficit climbed to six-year highs under Donald Trumps watch in 2018 as fiscal spending skyrockets.  Conservatives hoping for budget responsibility and reduced government spending are given a rude awakening once again, as Republicans and Democrats and Trump ALL seek bigger government.  This is hardly gridlock.  In fact, there has been resounding unity in Washington for ever increasing power, and ever increasing costs.

The trade deficit, which was supposed to decline aggressively in the face of Trump’s trade war, has actually climbed to record highs with China (among other nations).  I have heard claims that the outcome of the midterms will force Trump to end the trade war because he is no longer receiving backing from the Federal Reserve or Congress.  The trade war will not stop.  It provides perfect cover for central banks as they continue to remove artificial support from the overall economy.

Perhaps the biggest factor in economic decline in the U.S. will be corporate debt, as mentioned earlier. Corporate debt has jumped to record highs not seen since 2008, with debt-to-cash levels in 2017 hitting lows of 12 percent. Meaning, on average for every $1 of cash a company has in reserve it owes $8 in debt.

How is all this debt being generated? Its all about stock buybacks. In 2018, U.S. corporations increased spending on stock buybacks by 48%, while only increasing spending on development by 19%. Meaning, corporations are spending far more capital, and borrowing far more money, just to keep their stock prices artificially propped up than they are spending money to invest in future growth.

In 2016, globalists needed a conservative president to sit in the Oval Office as the Federal Reserve pulled the plug on artificial economic life support by raising interest rates into the greatest corporate debt crisis since 2008. At this point, that program seems to be in full swing.

The midterms are now over, but it is important to understand that where economic consequences are concerned, the result would have been the same no matter who came out on top. It makes sense for the globalists to desire a dominant Republican party, for when they crash markets the blame would fall entirely on the heads of conservatives. On the other hand, it also makes sense for globalists to introduce a Democratic takeover of Congress, for they can continue to push citizens to further political extremes as the Left blames the Right for the financial crisis while the Right blames the Left for political interference.

In the meantime, the banking elites can simply blame the extreme political divide, wait until the crash runs its course and then sweep in after the dust settles to admonish the capitalist structure, barbaric nationalism, populism, etc. They will shake their fingers at all of us as if we should be ashamed and then offer their own solution to the disaster, which will surely include even more centralization and more power for the banking class.

The Fed will continue to raise rates and cut assets.  The trade war will escalate. The housing market will continue to falter, auto markets will implode, and corporate debt will become a millstone on the neck of stock markets.

Economic function and repair are far beyond the scope of any political body to fix when the dysfunction reaches the point we are at today. To believe otherwise is foolhardy.  To believe that the political elites actually want to fix the economy is even more foolhardy. The answer is not replacing one set of political puppets with another set of political puppets, but for regular people to begin localizing their own production and trade - to decouple from dependency on the existing system and start their own system. Only through this, and the removal of the globalist tumor from its position of power and influence, will anything ever change for the better.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/09/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

American Implosion

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The Final Stage of Collapse and the Institutionalization of Mass Violence

By Umair
Eudaimonia
October 30, 2018

Consider three events from the last two weeks in America. Fascists beat people on the streets of Manhattan. An organized campaign of mass political bombing, by an ardent member of an authoritarian movement, was thwarted just in time. And yet that very same authoritarian movement, expressing no remorse, let alone culpability, began to demonize refugees approaching the border as a caravan packed with mafias and terrorists - precisely the kind of delusion that had probably inspired the bomber.

American collapse is becoming American implosion, my friends. How so? As always, you are to judge, and I will simply state my case.

A decade or so ago, I used to point out - or at least try to - that America was a failing state. Now the pundits, cosseted in their bubbles, neatly swaddled in the safety blankets of ideology = a little more cruelty, it’s good for everyone, laughed and cried: “failing! LOL” how!? “Get a grip, dude!ʔ Yet even then, if you cared enough to look, you could see, very clearly even then, the problems that would lead directly to American collapse. Skyrocketing inequality, a struggling middle, shrinking real incomes, failing public institutions of every kind, a long history of tribalism, seemingly no escape from all the preceding - hence, a growing sense of despair, rage, and frustration, a catastrophic loss of trust in institutions, faith in the future, and optimism for society. Bang! A perfect, classic, setup for social collapse. Itגs not that Im some kind of oracle by any means - its that I was one of a handful of people who bothered to look up at the gathering dust. I wondered, in fact, why more didn’t. But I digress.

And then America did collapse. Funnily enough, ironically enough, when no one thought it would or even could. In three precise ways, which is what Id always meant by American collapse. Society collapsed structurally, into a place where the middle was a minority, and mobility and opportunity were things of the past. The economy collapsed from one that offered something like a dream, to one in which 80% of people live paycheck to paycheck, will never retire, exploited mercilessly, and just as cleverly, by the very capitalism they go on believing in faithfully and cheering for. Hence, as a result, the polity collapsed, too - from something like a barely-democracy, to one which didn’t function at all, as extremists took it over, and began the project of regress, stonewalling, paralyzing, and jamming up the gears of an already sputtering machine. System failure wham!! crash.

In such a society, there is only one route left - each stratum, each caste, must prey on the one below it, punching it down further, for the illusion of prosperity to appear. Bang! Already, perhaps you see the problem: now, such a society is descending into the abyss. There is nowhere to go but lower when everyone is pulling the next now down a little further. Where is the bottom, exactly?

This is the demagogues moment. “It’s their fault! Those dirty Jews, Mexicans, Muslims, those women, those gays!” That much is the story of the last decade, and its culmination, which was the election of a demagogue’s social collapse becoming a grim reality, without often fully or consciously understanding, really, that it is collapsing, or why, or even how. Only desperately trying to survive it. I’ll come back to that.

All this was the story of the last few years in America. But now collapse is becoming something different. It is approaching its final and terminal phase, which is implosion. Let me be precise in what I mean by that. A society collapses socially, politically, and economically - from an open society into a caste society, from democracyגs fundamental goods of equality, justice, freedom, and truth, into authoritarianism’s bads, of hate, spite, paranoia, lies, rage, vice, and from prosperity into predation.

But what comes next?

What comes next, my friends, is the institutionalization - the formalization, if you like, of all those things. And that is the final stage of collapse. When a society has built institutions which pervert democracy, and enshrine and formalize authoritarianism, fascism, and so on, then the work of collapse is done. Society is reborn now - from light into darkness - as a blind, keening thing, screaming for blood. It is just a knife, a gun, a fist now - a system of violence. But I will come to all that.

Democracy offers us the great primary goods above - which are the most valuable ones of all. Authoritarianism offers us, in their place, corresponding bads. It tells us to prey on our neighbours and peers and colleagues and friends - and in that way, to define ourselves as members of the tribe, who are the protected ones, or the true volk, or the party members. It tells us to give up on freedom, justice, equality, and truth, and instead seek spite, rage, hate, fear, and lies - often, so much so that collapsing societies come to call the latter the former  as the primary aims of society, of culture, of an economy, and, of course, the lives within them.

Now instead of institutions which enshrine and promote democracy’s great goods of equality, freedom, truth, equality and justice, a society begins to build new institutions, which produce authoritarian bads - spite, hate, rage, fear, paranoia, lies - instead. How do they produce them? The same way institutions always do. By incentivizing them economically, socially, and culturally. By creating rules, codes, and laws, which punish their nonproduction. By creating values which normalize - spread, promote, and glamorize them - culturally. By creating role models of fine young Nazis, for example, who are profiled in august newspapers. By impressing upon peoples minds that this is who we are now, and this is what we have become.

Let me give you a specific example of what I mean by ғinstitutions of implosion. Today, courts try little infants from certain ethnic groups as if they were vicious criminals. It violates every principles of reason and civilization, doesnԒt it? But why  what is it an example of? Such a court is an implosive institutions, which enshrines ח codifies, legalizes  the bads of hate, spite, delusion, paranoia, and fear.

Now, it’s true that there are always dissidents and resistances and even freedom fighters. Alas, my friends, one of the most misunderstood components of social implosion is that it rarely takes an active, loud, participant majority. It only takes a minority of fanatics - and a majority who is too weary, too apathetic, too resigned, or too foolish, perhaps - to act before it is too late.

When is too late? When the new institutions of implosion have arisen. So what too late means is that by the time such institutions have come to replace enough of a democracy’s institutions, then the game is over. When the courts, the government, the libraries, the polices, and the armies, as an incomplete list, have all been infiltrated, changed, transformed - from agents of democracy, to agents of authoritarianism - then what is there left not just to fight for, but more crucially, to fight with? This, my friends, is why it has never really taken a majority to implode a society - just a minority of committed enough fools.

The problem is that America has had those in spades, and still does. The Newts and Jeff Flakes and Ben Sasses. Men who abjure but do not reject, who are alarmed, but will not act. They do not seem to understand that complicity is not the just the action of bad people, but the inaction of good people, too - and much more so, where and when it matters most. America’s minority of fools led it to the cliffs of collapse, and now it is pushing it off the cliffs of implosion.

Remember my three examples? Lets go through them to understand how badly institutions in America have already been perverted and corroded from democratic to authoritarianism.

When the fascist gang beat people on the Manhattan streets, the police were right there. In Manhattan, they are never more than a block away, really and in this instance, apparently, they stood there - watching. When the would-be mass bomber began to issue threats on Twitter, users reported him - but no action was taken. Then he was suspended - after he was arrested. LOL. And a caravan of refugees - which is to say a few hundred souls seeking refuge - is demonized as a criminal gang full of terrorists daily by some large component of the media, the intelligentsia, and the polity.

How many institutions is that, in just those three examples? You can judge for yourself. The point is that all this is the institutionalization of violence. And while its true in a sophomoric grad-school way to say - but a society always institutionalizes violence, dude! (yes, we all know that - wisdom is understanding there is a world of difference between a system that minimizes some necessary level of violence, so that the the public good is safeguarded, and one that maximizes violence, which trickles down in great waves, from caste to caste, from tribe to tribe, so that there is no longer any public good. One is democratic, and the other, fascist, to speak plainly.

The point is that many, perhaps the majority, of America’s institutions are now beginning the process of institutionalizing authoritarianism’s bads - hate, spite, rage, delusion, lies, paranoia, fear. They are institutionalizing violence - rewarding people for it, whether economically, socially, culturally, professionally, and punishing those, of course, who receive it. So by implosion, I mean the institutionalization of violence.

And when that process begins, it is often both unstoppable, and far swifter and more deadly than people realize. Soon enough, the brownshirts and death squads and morality police stroll down the streets, caning and beating those who look them in the eye. Soon enough people cheer publicly - even if they are disgusted on the inside - when the knives cut and the guns fire on the helpless, powerless, and weak.

Soon enough, a society is just a gun, just a knife, just a fist. Just violence, conducted over and over again, daily, by the mindless against the powerless, at the behest of the powerful. Violence which is ecstatically ritualized, celebrated, and applauded, whose rituals serve the purpose, of checking for and enforcing every last bit of absolute conformity in habit and in thought. Conformity, submission, obedience. To hate, to delusion, to the lie. The lie that is always violence. For the moment we see the truth of another, their grief, their sorrow, their mortality, we do not wish to harm them, do we? We take them in our arms, like a brother, like a mother, like a father. We only harm them when all we see is a monster, an infection, a stain, something to be rubbed away and cleansed, before it infects us, too. Should we think that then we have become what the fascist wanted all along to reduce us to: the gun, the knife, the fist.

Ah you see? You just thought it didn’t you? Don’t be ridiculous!! It can’t happen here!  Ah, my friend. You poor soul. But hasn’t it been, all long? Vote, then, vote, as if your life depends on it. It does only maybe you dont know it yet.

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image: third world

Americas Next Civil War
The United States shows all the warning signs of impending social and political collapse

By Stephen Marche
The Walrus
October 29, 2018

Everyone in Canada with any power has the same job. It doesn’t matter if you’re prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, or premier of Alberta; it doesn’t matter if you’re the mayor of a small town or a CEO of a major company, if you run a cultural institution or a mine. Canadians with any power at all have to predict whats going to happen in the United States. The American economy remains the world’s largest; its military spending dwarfs every other country’s; its popular culture, for the moment, dominates. Canada sits in America’s shadow. Figuring out what will happen there means figuring out what we will eventually face here. Today, that job means answering a simple question: What do we do if the US falls apart?

American chaos is already oozing over the border: the trickle of refugees crossing after Trumps election has swollen to a flood; a trade war is underway, with a US trade representative describing Canada as “a national security threat;” and the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known openly praises authoritarians as he attempts to dismantle the international postwar order. The US has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and scorned the bedrock NATO doctrine of mutual defence. Meanwhile, the imperium itself continues to unravel: the administration is launching a ԓdenaturalization task force to potentially strip scores of immigrants of their US citizenship, and voter purges = the often-faulty processes of deleting ineligible names from registration listsare on the rise, especially in states with a history of racial discrimination. News of one disaster after another keeps up its relentless pace but nonetheless shocks everybody. If you had told anyone even a year ago that border guards would be holding children in detention centres, no one would have believed you.

We have been naive. Despite our obsessive familiarity with the States, or perhaps because of it, we have put far too much faith in Americans. So ingrained has our reliance on America been, we are barely conscious of our own vulnerability. About 20 percent of Canadaגs GDP comes from exports to the United Statesitגs a trade relationship that generates 1.9 million Canadian jobs. This dependence is even clearer when it comes to oilsomething the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will ship our natural resources to global markets, could remedy. The fact that the premier of British Columbia tried to stall the project in a show of regional power is a sign of a collective failure to recognize how perilous our position is. Ninety-nine percent of our oil exports go to a single customer. And that customer is in a state of radical instability. According to a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports, 31 percent of likely US voters anticipate a second civil war in the next five years.

We misunderstood who the Americans were. To be fair, so did everybody. They themselves misunderstood who they were. Barack Obama’s presidency was based on what we will, out of politeness, call an illusion, an illusion of national unity articulated most passionately during Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America - there’s the United States of America.” It was a beautiful vision. It was an error. There is very much a red America and a blue America. They occupy different societies with different values, and the political parties are emissaries of those differences - differences that are increasingly irreconcilable.

Many Canadians operate as if this chaos were temporary, mainly because the collapse of the United States and the subsequent reorientation of our place in the world are ideas too painful to contemplate. But, by now, the signs have become impossible to ignore. The job of prediction, as impossible as it may be, is at hand.

After the midterms, special counsel Robert Mueller presents his report to the deputy attorney general, and America is thrown into immediate crisis.

Congressional committees call a parade of witnesses who describe the president’s collusion and obstruction of justice in detail. The Republicans respond on television and through public rallies. Rudolph Giuliani, on Fox & Friends, declares that “flipped witnesses are generally not truth-telling witnesses.” Trump airily waves away the Mueller report at a rally for 100,000 supporters in Ohio: “I’m going to pardon everyone anyway, so its all a waste of taxpayer dollars.” A ProPublica survey shows Americans are divided on impeachment.

Since the Republican base remains overwhelmingly supportive of the president, the House Republicans, arguing the need for national unity,Ӕ do not vote for impeachment, which requires a majority in the House. The vote then goes to the Senate, where Republicans refuse to remove Trump from office. Mueller presses instead for an indictment. There is no legal precedent for indicting a sitting president.

The case proceeds to a federal judge overseeing a grand jury and then eventually to the Supreme Court, which has been tipped rightward with Trump nominees. The court rules that the president cannot be indicted. Protests fill the streets of Washington, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Polls vary. Somewhere around 40 percent of Americans believe the government is legitimate. Somewhere around 60 percent do not.

Steven Webster is a leading US scholar of “affective polarization,” the underlying trend that explains the partisan hatred tearing his country apart. In 2016, he and his colleague Alan Abramowitz published the paper “The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization of U.S. elections in the 21st century,” which was one of the first attempts to track the steady growth of the mutual dislike between Republicans and Democrats.

Affective polarization is a crisis that transcends Trump. If Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election, the underlying threat to American stability would be as real as it is today. Each side - divided by negative advertising, social media, and a primary system that encourages enthusiasm over reason - pursues ideological purity at any cost because ideological purity is increasingly the route to power. Abramowitz runs a forecasting model that has correctly predicted every presidential election since 1992. After he modified his model in 2012 to take into account the impact of growing partisan polarization, it projected a Trump victory in 2016 - and Abramowitz rejected the results. That should be a testament to the power of the model; it traced phenomena even its creator didn’t want to believe. Nobody wants to see whats coming.

Webster describes a terrible spiralling effect in action in the US. Anger and distrust make it very difficult to go about the business of governing, which leads to ineffective government, which reinforces the anger and distrust. “Partisans in the electorate don’t like each other,” he says. That encourages political elites to bicker with one another. “People in the electorate observe that. And that encourages them to bicker with one another.” The past few decades have led to “ideological sorting,” which means that the overlap between conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans has more or less disappeared, eliminating the political centre.

But its the people in the parties, not just the ideas in the parties, that have changed. “There’s a really big racial divide between the two parties,” says Webster. The nonwhite share of the American electorate has been increasing tremendously over the last few decades, and most of those voters have chosen to affiliate with the Democratic Party. What worries Webster isn’t that the Republican Party remains vastly whiter than the Democratic Party, which, in turn, has become more multicultural - though that’s happened. The real source of the crisis is that white Republicans have become more intolerant about the country’s growing diversity. According to the PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey, half of Republicans agree that increased racial diversity would bring a mostly “negative” impact to American society. During the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush years, there really wasn’t as much of a difference between the racial attitudes of white people in both parties. “That’s no longer true. During the Obama era, if you look at just white Republicans, 64 percent scored high on the racial-resentment scale. For white Democrats, it was around 35 percent,” says Webster, who analyzed data from the American National Election Studies. The Republican Party has become the party of racial resentment. If it seems easier for Americans to see the other side as distinct from themselves, that’s because it is.

The loathing just keeps growing. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats declared the opposing party’s policies a threat to the nations well-being - up from 37 and 31 percent, respectively, in 2014. Political adversaries regard each other as un-American; they regard the others media, whether Fox News or the New York Times, as poison or fake news. A sizable chunk also don’t want their children to marry members of the opposing party. A lot of people say, “What would happen if there were a very independent-minded candidate, a third-party candidate with no partisan label, who would come and unite America?” Webster says. “That is absolutely not going to happen.” In surveys, independents seem to make up a large percentage, but if you press those self-identified independents on their voting behaviour, they look just like strong partisans. Abramowitzs own analysis of the 2008 election suggests that only about 7 percent of American voters are truly independent in that they don’t lean toward one party or the other.

America is becoming two Americas, Americas which hate each other. If the Democrats represent a multicultural country grounded in the value of democratic norms, then the Republicans represent a white country grounded in the sanctity of property. The accelerating dislike partisans feel for the other side - the quite correct sense that they are not us - means that political rhetoric will fly to more and more dangerous extremes. In September 2016, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin gave a speech at the Values Voter Summit in which he openly speculated about violence if Hillary Clinton were elected: “Whose blood will be shed?” he asked. “It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren.” More recently, Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official, wrote that “it was quite near time” for Trump supporters to kill Trump opponents (the blog post has since been deleted).

Such explicit calls for violence are being driven by a “dynamic of othering” that, once started, might not be easily stopped - except by disaster. “I don’t see an optimistic scenario here,” Webster acknowledges.

the man who assassinates the president uses a .50-calibre Barrett rifle with armour-piercing incendiary ammunition. He purchased it legally at a gun show.

The assassins note, posted on Facebook the moment after the assassination, amounts to a manifesto, but it’s nothing Americans havent heard before. He quotes Thomas Jefferson, about the tree of liberty refreshed by the blood of patriots. He compares the president to Hitler. “People say that if they had a time machine they would go back and remove the monsters of history,” he writes. “I realized that there is a time machine. Its called the present and a gun.”

The assassination of the president leads, at first, to a great deal of public hand wringing. On social media, the assassins heroism is suggested and then outright celebrated. Within a month, the assassin’s face appears on T-shirts at rallies.

The assassination is used as a pretext for increasing executive power, just as in the aftermath of September 11. Americans broadly accept the massive curtailing of civil rights and a dramatic increase in the reach of the surveillance state as the price of security.

Scott Gates is an American who lives in Norway, where he studies conflict patterns at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. His work has been devoted to political struggles in the developing world, where most of the civil wars happen. He now sees that his research has applications at home. The question for the US, as it is for every other country nearing the precipice, is whether civil society is strong enough to hold back the ferocious violence of its politics. Gates isnt entirely sure on that point anymore.

Democracies are built around institutions that are larger than partisan struggle; they survive on the strength of them. The delegitimization of national institutions :almost inevitably leads to chaos,” Gates says, citing Trump’s constant attacks on the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system as typical of societies headed toward political collapse, as happened in Venezuela under Hugo Chvez. The Supreme Court has already been the engine of its own invalidation. Since the ideologically divided Bush v. Gore ruling which decided the 2000 election, the Supreme Court no longer represents transcendent interests of national purpose. Trust in the Supreme Court, according to a recent Gallup poll, is split sharply along partisan lines, with 72 percent of Republicans reporting approval compared to 38 percent of Democrats. Mitch McConnell’s decision to make the appointment of a Supreme Court justice an election issue in 2018ᒗan appointment that will likely not get the support of a single Democratic senator - is an example of a political institution being converted into a token in a zero-sum game, exactly the kind of decision that has played a part in destabilizing smaller, poorer countries. Once the norm has been shattered, it becomes difficult to glue back together.

In a sense, the crisis has already arrived. Only the inciting incident is missing. In December 1860, the fifteenth president of the United States, James Buchanan, believed he was offering a compromise between proslavery and antislavery groups in his State of the Union address, but his remarks preceded the Civil War by four months. His declaration - that secession was unlawful but that he couldn’t constitutionally do anything about it - became the moment when America split and the war was inevitable.

Few American institutions now seem capable of providing acceptably impartial arbitration - not the Supreme Court, not the Department of Justice, not the FBI. The only institution in American life still seen as being above politics is the military, which, according to a 2018 Gallup survey, is the most trusted institution in the country, with 74 percent of Americans expressing confidence in it. No surprise: the worship of the armed forces has been ingrained into ordinary American life since the Iraq War. Not so much as a baseball game can happen in the US without a celebration of a soldier. Members of the military are even given priority boarding on major US airlines.

If civil order were threatened, could America look to the troops to step in? In 2017, about 25 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans said they would consider it דjustified if the military intervened in a situation where the country faced rampant crime or corruption. In an article in Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks, previously a counsellor to the US undersecretary of defence for policy and a senior adviser at the US State Department, could imagine ԓplausible scenarios where military leaders would openly defy an order from Trump.

A coup would hardly be unprecedented, in global terms: in Chile, in the 1970s, a democracy in place for decades devolved into winner-take-all hyperpartisan politics until the military imposed tranquilidad. But even the armed forces might not be enough of a power to stabilize the United States. There is a huge gap between enlisted troops and officers when it comes to politics. According to a poll conducted by the Military Times, a news source for service members, almost 48 percent of enlisted troops approve of Trump, but only about 30 percent of officers do. It appears that the American military is as divided as the country.

Would a coup even work? The American military hasn’t been particularly good at pacifying other countries civil wars. Why would it be any good at pacifying its own?

There are trends - which no country can escape, or that few have escaped, anyway - that forecast the likelihood of civil conflict.

A 2014 study from Anirban Mitra and Debraj Ray, two economics professors based in the UK and US respectively, examined the motivations underlying Hindu-Muslim violence in India, where Hindus are the dominant majority and Muslims one of the disadvantaged minorities. The two professors found that דan increase in per capita Muslim expenditures generates a large and significant increase in future religious conflict. An increase in Hindu expenditures has a negative or no effect.

That suggests revolution is not like the communist prophets of the nineteenth century believed it would be, with the underclass rising up against their oppressors. ItԒs sometimes the oppressors who revolt. In the case of India, according to Mitra and Rays research, riots start at the times and in the places when and where the Muslims are gaining the most relative to the Hindus. Violence protects status in a context of declining influence.

ғA very similar pattern of resentment can be seen in the US right now, Gates tells me. The white working-class community perceives its position in life as worsening. ԓAt the same time, he says, ԓthe Latino community and the black community have been improving their status, relative to where they were. In other words, white resentment doesnԒt necessarily reflect actual changes in financial well-being as much as frustration in the face of minorities making significant gains. And, as status dwindles, the odds of violence increase. Gates points to the bloody Charlottesville rally as the kind of flashpoint fuelled in part by a sense of aggrieved white diminishment.

We can track the destabilizing effect of threatened status in other conflicts around the world. A struggle between ethnic groups losing and gaining privilege contributed, in varying degrees, to the brutality between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1990s and to the earlier Biafran War in Nigeria.

There are deeper anxieties and more troubling visions for anyone whose job is to predict where America is headed. For the really scary stuff, you have to go to Robert McLeman, who studies migration patterns and climate change at Waterloos Wilfrid Laurier University. HeҒs got a kind of cheerful and upbeat way of describing the spread of total chaos thats disarming.

Climate change can bring about political chaos, in large part through migration. ғMilitary people call it a threat multiplier, McLeman tells me. Usually, migration is the last resort, a response to changes that are unpredictable and unexpected. So Bangladesh, to take an example, will typically not experience mass migration because of flood, because people in that region have been dealing with floods for thousands of years. But a drought could cause a serious crisis, causing waves of migration into India.

As its departure from the Paris climate agreement clarified, America is barely able to face the fact that climate change exists, never mind able to come up with effective strategies to accommodate itself to the reality it is already facing. In 2012, a hot and dry year in the US, soy bean, sorghum, and corn yields were down as much as 16 percent. And, because the country is a major producer of commodity crops, the drought pushed up food prices at home and globally. There are a lot more 2012s coming. And, of course, America is utterly unprepared for the vastly less predictable catastrophes of climate-change extremes, as New Orleans and Puerto Rico have both learned to their destruction.

Most worrying to McLeman is the fact that American populations are growing in the areas that are most vulnerable to unpredictable catastrophes. They include coastal New York, coastal New Jersey, Florida, coastal Louisiana, the Carolinas, the Valley of the Sun, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. Many Central Americans who were separated from their children at the American border were fleeing gangs and political instability, but they were also fleeing drought. ԓEnvironmentally related migration already happensweגre just seeing the thin edge of the wedge right now, McLeman says. Get used to refugees at the Canadian border. There may be more of them.

All right, you say, there are conditions that lead to civil war: hyperpartisanship, the reduction of politics to a zero-sum game, the devastation of law and national institutions in the context of environmentally caused mass migration, and the relative decline of a privileged group. Fine. But when you land at JFK and line up for Shake Shack, where are the insurgents? Then again, in other countries and in other times, itԒs never been clear, at least at first, whether a civil war is really underway. Confusion is a natural state at the beginning of any collapse. Who is a rebel and who is a bandit? Who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist? The line between criminality and revolution blurred in Mexico, in Cuba, and in Ireland. The technical definition of a civil war is 1,000 battle deaths a year. Armed conflict starts at twenty-five battle deaths a year. What if America is already in an armed conflict and we just haven’t noticed? What if we just haven’t noticed because were not used to uprisings happening in places where there’s Bed Bath & Beyond?

If there is an insurgency-in-waiting, it will likely be drawn from the hundreds of antigovernment groups across the country, many of which were readying for civil war in 2016 in the event of a Hillary Clinton presidency. One of the most extreme examples is an ideological subculture made up of “sovereign citizens,” who believe that citizens are the sole authority of law. Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been researching them for nearly eight years. Its been a terrifying eight years. A 2011 SPLC report pegged the number of the sovereign citizens, a mix of hard-core believers and sympathizers, at 300,000. The movement, Lenz believes, has grown significantly since then.

To put that in perspective, the Weather Underground was estimated to contain hundreds of members. Some guesses put the number of Black Panthers as high as 10,000, a debatable figure. Both the Underground and the Panthersҗwho talked a great deal about the justification for violence but managed to commit relatively littlecaused immense panic in the late sixties and seventies and massive responses from the FBI. Sovereign citizens, and antigovernment extremists as a whole, are part of a much larger movement, many are armed, they anticipate the government to fall in some capacity, and they are responsible for about a dozen killings a year. The FBI has addressed them, and their growing menace, as domestic terrorism. In 2014, a survey conducted with US officers in intelligence services across the country found sovereign citizens to be the countryגs top concern, even ahead of Islamic extremists, for law enforcement.

Theirs is a totalizing vision of absolute individual freedom and resistance to a state they believed is ruled by an unjust government. Rooted historically in racism and anti-Semitismthey hovered on the extreme fringes of American politics until the 2008 housing crisis and the election of Barack Obamaחsovereign citizens believe they are sovereign unto themselves and, therefore, can ignore any local, state, or federal laws and are not beholden to any law enforcement. According to the SPLC, the sovereign citizens believe that the federal government is an entity that operates outside the purview of the US Constitution for the purposes of holding citizens in slavery.

Understanding sovereign-citizenry ideology is like trying to map a crack that develops on your windshield after a pebble hits it. ItӒs a wild and chaotic mess, Lenz tells me. Ultimately, the movement boils down to a series of conspiracy theories justifying nonobedience to government agents. Sometimes it expresses itself as convoluted tax dodges, as in the case of the self-proclaimed president of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), James Timothy Turner, who was convicted of sending a $300 million fictitious bond in his own name and aiding and abetting others in sending fictitious bonds to the Treasury Department. Turner was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. Bruce A. Doucette, a self-appointed sovereign ԓjudge, received thirty-eight years in jail for influencing, extorting, and threatening public officials.

At other times, the spirit of disobedience expresses itself in straight violence, as in the case of Jerry and Joseph Kane, a father-son pair who, in 2010, killed two police officers at a routine traffic stop in West Memphis, Arkansas. Or in the case of Jerad and Amanda Miller who, in 2014, after killing two police officers at a CiCiԒs Pizza in Las Vegas, shouted to horrified onlookers that the revolution had begun.

he summers grow hotter, and the yields on corn and beans grow smaller. During the first drought, the declines are small. The year after is more serious. Food prices spike. Inflation rises, leading to a sharp jump in unemployment.

China, holding $1.18 trillion (US) of US government debt, dumps its bonds as a retaliatory measure against US tariffs. This causes every other country to panic and sell their holdings as well, bringing China closer to becoming the global reserve currency. With the US bond market routed, higher interest rates ripple through the economy, slowing it down.

The hardest hit are the farming communities dependent on commodity crops. The antigovernment movements in these areas swell and organize. They elect local politicians, particularly sheriffs. Pockets of the southern and midwestern states, under these sheriffs, believe that the federal government has no legitimate authority over them.

By this time, a Democratic president has come to power, with significantly more socialistic ideas than any president in history. She eventually passes legislation imposing national education and health care programs. The local authorities take these programs as illegitimate government interference and, in the heated rhetorical climate, claim the mantle of resistance, which is also taken up by armed insurgencies.

The National Guard swiftly imposes order. But the states consider themselves, and are considered by others, to be under occupation.

The borders of North America are, in their ways, as patchwork as those in the Middle East and as nonsensical. The French lost to the English. The British lost to the Americans. The Mexicans lost to the Americans. The South lost to the North. The alignments of any political unity are forced; they defy historical experience, geography, ethnicity, or political ideology. And that’s why it’s all so breakable, so fragile.

The antigovernment extremists know who they are. They see themselves as the true Americans. And who could deny there’s a certain justice in the claim? What could be more American than tax rebellion, the worship of violence as political salvation, a mangled misinterpretation of the Constitution, and a belief system derived sui generis that blurs passionate belief with straight hucksterism? The next American civil war will not look like the first American Civil War. It will not be between territories over resources and the right to self-determination. It will be a competition over distinct ideas of what America is. It will be a war fought over what America means. Is it a republic with checks and balances or a place that yields to the whims of a presidentҒs executive power? Is the United States a country of white settlers or a nation of immigrants? Its also possible, maybe probable, that the country will never get answers.

★★★

in canada, in the middle of the American collapse, the Queen dies. Charles III accedes to the throne. Despite the prospect of having his face on the money, there is no serious attempt to challenge the status quo. ItҒs a hard time to argue in favour of any dramatic political reordering. For the same reason, though Quebec separatism rises and falls as usual, a new referendum on independence is put away for a generation; theres enough instability in North America.

The refugee crisis at the border continues to grow, quickly outstripping the ability of border agencies to manage it effectively. CanadaҒs appetite for refugees withers as the tide swells. Calls for order grow louder. Asylum centres appear as in Germany and Denmark.

Despite restrictions on refugees from the United States, Canada remains scrupulously multicultural. When a visa applicant from India, hoping to work at Google, is separated from his daughter at the US border, and they are reconciled after a month, the worlds technological elite move to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. People who have young families and arenҒt white find the prospect of building a career in the United States too precarious.

The hunger among young Canadian talent for New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco naturally diminishes for the same reason. Innovators cannot just head south when they encounter the inertia which defines so much of Canadian life. The stolid cultural industries and the tech world lose their garrison mentality, at least somewhat.

To sum up: the US Congress is too paralyzed by anger to carry out even the most basic tasks of government. Americas legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government is in free fall. The president discredits the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system on a regular basis. Border guards place children in detention centres at the border. Antigovernment groups, some of which are armed militias, stand ready and prepared for a government collapse. All of this has already happened.

Breakdown of the American order has defined Canada at every stage of its history, contributing far more to the formation of Canada’s national identity than any internal logic or sense of shared purpose. In his book The Civil War Years, the historian Robin Winks describes a series of Canadian reactions to the early stages of the first American Civil War. In 1861, when the Union formed what was then one of the worlds largest standing armies, William Henry Seward, the secretary of state, presented Lincoln with a memorandum suggesting that the Union “send agents into Canada to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence.” Canadian support for the North withered, and panicked fantasies of imminent conquest flourished. After the First Battle of Bull Run, a humiliating defeat for the Union, two of John A. Macdonalds followers toasted the victory in the Canadian Legislative Assembly. The possibility of an American invasion spooked the French Canadian press, with one journal declaring there was nothing so much in horror as the thought of being conquered by the Yankees.

The first American Civil War led directly to Canadian Confederation. Whatever our differences, we’re quite sure we don’t want to be them.

How much longer before we realize that we need to disentangle Canadian life as much as possible from that of the United States? How much longer before our foreign policy, our economic policy, and our cultural policy accept that any reliance on American institutions is foolish? Insofar as such a separation is even possible, it will be painful. Already, certain national points of definition are emerging in the wake of Trump. We are, despite all our evident hypocrisies, generally in favour of multiculturalism, a rules-based international order, and freedom of trade. They are not just values; the collapsing of the United States reveals them to be integral to our survival as a country.

Northrop Frye once wrote that Canadians are Americans who reject the revolution. When the next revolution comes, we will need to be ready to reject it with everything we have and everything we are.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/31/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Rigged Economy

image: dying america

The American Economy Is Rigged
And what we can do about it

By Joseph E. Stiglitz
Scientific American
November 2018 Issue

Americans are used to thinking that their nation is special. In many ways, it is: the U.S. has by far the most Nobel Prize winners, the largest defense expenditures (almost equal to the next 10 or so countries put together) and the most billionaires (twice as many as China, the closest competitor). But some examples of American Exceptionalism should not make us proud. By most accounts, the U.S. has the highest level of economic inequality among developed countries. It has the world’s greatest per capita health expenditures yet the lowest life expectancy among comparable countries. It is also one of a few developed countries jostling for the dubious distinction of having the lowest measures of equality of opportunity.

The notion of the American Dream - that, unlike old Europe, we are a land of opportunity - is part of our essence. Yet the numbers say otherwise. The life prospects of a young American DEPEND MORE on the income and education of his or her parents than in almost any other advanced country. When poor-boy-makes-good anecdotes get passed around in the media, that is precisely because such stories are so rare.

Things appear to be getting worse, partly as a result of forces, such as technology and globalization, that seem beyond our control, but most disturbingly because of those within our command. It is not the laws of nature that have led to this dire situation: it is the laws of humankind. Markets do not exist in a vacuum: they are shaped by rules and regulations, which can be designed to favor one group over another. President Donald Trump was right in saying that the system is riggedby those in the inherited plutocracy of which he himself is a member. And he is making it much, much worse.

America has long outdone others in its level of inequality, but in the past 40 years it has reached new heights. Whereas the income share of the top 0.1 percent has more than quadrupled and that of the top 1 percent has almost doubled, that of the bottom 90 percent has declined. Wages at the bottom, adjusted for inflation, are about the same as they were some 60 years ago! In fact, for those with a high school education or less, incomes have fallen over recent decades. Males have been particularly hard hit, as the U.S. has moved away from manufacturing industries into an economy based on services.

Deaths of Despair

Wealth is even less equally distributed, with just three Americans having as much as the bottom 50 percent - testimony to how much money there is at the top and how little there is at the bottom. Families in the bottom 50 percent hardly have the cash reserves to meet an emergency. Newspapers are replete with stories of those for whom the breakdown of a car or an illness starts a downward spiral from which they never recover.

In significant part because of high inequality [see “The Health-Wealth Gap,” by Robert M. Sapolsky], U.S. life expectancy, exceptionally low to begin with, is experiencing sustained declines. This in spite of the marvels of medical science, many advances of which occur right here in America and which are made readily available to the rich. Economist Ann Case and 2015 Nobel laureate in economics Angus Deaton describe one of the main causes of rising morbidity - the increase in alcoholism, drug overdoses and SUICIDES - as DEATHS OF DESPAIR by those who have GIVEN UP HOPE.

image: fading american dream

Defenders of America’s inequality have a pat explanation. They refer to the workings of a competitive market, where the laws of supply and demand determine wages, prices and even interest rates - a mechanical system, much like that describing the physical universe. Those with scarce assets or skills are amply rewarded, they argue, because of the larger contributions they make to the economy. What they get merely represents what they have contributed. Often they take out less than they contributed, so what is left over for the rest is that much more.

This fictional narrative may at one time have assuaged the guilt of those at the top and persuaded everyone else to accept this sorry state of affairs. Perhaps the DEFINING moment EXPOSING the lie was the 2008 financial crisis, when the bankers who brought the global economy to the brink of ruin with predatory lending, market manipulation and various other antisocial practices walked away with MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in BONUSES - JUST AS millions of Americans lost their HOMES and tens of millions more worldwide suffered on their account. Virtually none of these bankers were ever held to account for their misdeeds.

I became aware of the fantastical nature of this narrative as a schoolboy, when I thought of the wealth of the plantation owners, built on the backs of slaves. At the time of the Civil War, the market value of the slaves in the South was approximately half of the region’s total wealth, including the value of the land and the physical capital - the factories and equipment. The wealth of at least this part of this nation was not based on industry, innovation and commerce but rather on exploitation. Today we have replaced this open exploitation with more insidious forms, which have intensified since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s. This exploitation, I will argue, is largely to blame for the escalating inequality in the U.S.

After the New Deal of the 1930s, American inequality went into decline. By the 1950s inequality had receded to such an extent that another Nobel laureate in economics, Simon Kuznets, formulated what came to be called Kuznets’s law. In the early stages of development, as some parts of a country seize new opportunities, inequalities grow, he postulated; in the later stages, they shrink. The theory long fit the databut then, around the early 1980s, the trend abruptly reversed.

Explaining Inequality

Economists have put forward a range of explanations for why inequality has in fact been increasing in many developed countries. Some argue that advances in technology have spurred the demand for skilled labor relative to unskilled labor, thereby depressing the wages of the latter. Yet that alone cannot explain why even skilled labor has done so poorly over the past two decades, why average wages have done so badly and why matters are so much worse in the U.S. than in other developed nations. Changes in technology are global and should affect all advanced economies in the same way. Other economists blame globalization itself, which has weakened the power of workers. Firms can and do move abroad unless demands for higher wages are curtailed. But again, globalization has been integral to all advanced economies. Why is its impact so much worse in the U.S.?

The shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy is partly to blame. At its extreme - a firm of one person - the service economy is a winner-takes-all system. A movie star makes millions, for example, whereas most actors make a pittance. Overall, wages are likely to be far more widely dispersed in a service economy than in one based on manufacturing, so the transition contributes to greater inequality. This fact does not explain, however, why the average wage has not improved for decades. Moreover, the shift to the service sector is happening in most other advanced countries: Why are matters so much worse in the U.S.?

Again, because services are often provided locally, firms have more market power: the ability to raise prices above what would prevail in a competitive market. A small town in rural America may have only one authorized Toyota repair shop, which virtually every Toyota owner is forced to patronize. The providers of these local services can raise prices over costs, increasing their profits and the share of income going to owners and managers. This, too, increases inequality. But again, why is U.S. inequality practically unique?

In his celebrated 2013 treatise Capital in the Twenty-First Century, French economist Thomas Piketty shifts the gaze to capitalists. He suggests that the few who own much of a country’s capital save so much that, given the stable and high return to capital (relative to the growth rate of the economy), their share of the national income has been increasing. His theory has, however, been questioned on many grounds. For instance, the savings rate of even the rich in the U.S. is so low, compared with the rich in other countries, that the increase in inequality should be lower here, not greater.

An alternative theory is far more consonant with the facts. Since the mid-1970s the rules of the economic game have been rewritten, both globally and nationally, in ways that advantage the rich and disadvantage the rest. And they have been rewritten further in this perverse direction in the U.S. than in other developed countries - even though the rules in the U.S. were already less favorable to workers. From this perspective, increasing inequality is a matter of choice: a consequence of our policies, laws and regulations.

In the U.S., the market power of large corporations, which was greater than in most other advanced countries to begin with, has increased even more than elsewhere. On the other hand, the market power of workers, which started out less than in most other advanced countries, has fallen further than elsewhere. This is not only because of the shift to a service-sector economy - it is because of the rigged rules of the game, rules set in a political system that is itself rigged through gerrymandering, voter suppression and the influence of money. A vicious spiral has formed: economic inequality translates into political inequality, which leads to rules that favor the wealthy, which in turn reinforces economic inequality.

Feedback Loop

Political scientists have documented the ways in which money influences politics in certain political systems, converting higher economic inequality into greater political inequality. Political inequality, in its turn, gives rise to more economic inequality as the rich use their political power to shape the rules of the game in ways that favor themחfor instance, by softening antitrust laws and weakening unions. Using mathematical models, economists such as myself have shown that this two-way feedback loop between money and regulations leads to at least two stable points. If an economy starts out with lower inequality, the political system generates rules that sustain it, leading to one equilibrium situation. The American system is the other equilibriumand will continue to be unless there is a democratic political awakening.

An account of how the rules have been shaped must begin with antitrust laws, first enacted 128 years ago in the U.S. to prevent the agglomeration of market power. Their enforcement has weakened - at a time when, if anything, the laws themselves should have been strengthened. Technological changes have concentrated market power in the hands of a few global players, in part because of so-called network effects: you are far more likely to join a particular social network or use a certain word processor if everyone you know is already using it. Once established, a firm such as Facebook or Microsoft is hard to dislodge. Moreover, fixed costs, such as that of developing a piece of software, have increased as compared with marginal costs - that of duplicating the software. A new entrant has to bear all these fixed costs up front, and if it does enter, the rich incumbent can respond by lowering prices drastically. The cost of making an additional e-book or photo-editing program is essentially zero.

In short, entry is hard and risky, which gives established firms with deep war chests enormous power to crush competitors and ultimately raise prices. Making matters worse, U.S. firms have been innovative not only in the products they make but in thinking of ways to extend and amplify their market power. The European Commission has imposed fines of billions of dollars on Microsoft and Google and ordered them to stop their anticompetitive practices (such as Google privileging its own comparison shopping service). In the U.S., we have done too little to control concentrations of market power, so it is not a surprise that it has increased in many sectors.

global inequality trends

Rigged rules also explain why the impact of globalization may have been worse in the U.S. A concerted attack on unions has almost halved the fraction of unionized workers in the nation, to about 11 percent. (In Scandinavia, it is roughly 70 percent.) Weaker unions provide workers less protection against the efforts of firms to drive down wages or worsen working conditions. Moreover, U.S. investment treaties such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement - treaties that were sold as a way of preventing foreign countries from discriminating against American firms - also protect investors against a tightening of environmental and health regulations abroad. For instance, they enable corporations to sue nations in private international arbitration panels for passing laws that protect citizens and the environment but threaten the multinational company’s bottom line. Firms like these provisions, which enhance the credibility of a company’s threat to move abroad if workers do not temper their demands. In short, these investment agreements weaken U.S. workers’ bargaining power even further.

Liberated Finance

Many other changes to our norms, laws, rules and regulations have contributed to inequality. Weak corporate governance laws have allowed chief executives in the U.S. to compensate themselves 361 times more than the average worker, far more than in other developed countries. Financial liberalizationחthe stripping away of regulations designed to prevent the financial sector from imposing harms, such as the 2008 economic crisis, on the rest of societyhas enabled the finance industry to grow in size and profitability and has increased its opportunities to exploit everyone else. Banks routinely indulge in practices that are legal but should not be, such as imposing usurious interest rates on borrowers or exorbitant fees on merchants for credit and debit cards and creating securities that are designed to fail. They also frequently do things that are illegal, including market manipulation and insider trading. In all of this, the financial sector has moved money away from ordinary Americans to rich bankers and the banks’ shareholders. This redistribution of wealth is an important contributor to American inequality.

Other means of so-called rent extraction - the withdrawal of income from the national pie that is incommensurate with societal contribution abound. For example, a legal provision enacted in 2003 prohibited the government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare - a gift of some $50 billion a year or more to the pharmaceutical industry. Special favors, such as extractive industries’ obtaining public resources such as oil at below fair-market value or banks’ getting funds from the Federal Reserve at near-zero interest rates (which they relend at high interest rates), also amount to rent extraction. Further exacerbating inequality is favorable tax treatment for the rich. In the U.S., those at the top pay a smaller fraction of their income in taxes than those who are much poorer - a form of largesse that the Trump administration has just worsened with the 2017 tax bill.

Some economists have argued that we can lessen inequality only by giving up on growth and efficiency. But recent research, such as work done by Jonathan Ostry and others at the International Monetary Fund, suggests that economies with greater equality perform better, with higher growth, better average standards of living and greater stability. Inequality in the extremes observed in the U.S. and in the manner generated there actually damages the economy. The exploitation of market power and the variety of other distortions I have described, for instance, makes markets less efficient, leading to underproduction of valuable goods such as basic research and overproduction of others, such as exploitative financial products.

image: global inequlaity 2018

Moreover, because the rich typically spend a smaller fraction of their income on consumption than the poor, total or “aggregate demand” in countries with higher inequality is weaker. Societies could make up for this gap by increasing government spending = on infrastructure, education and health, for instance, all of which are investments necessary for long-term growth. But the politics of unequal societies typically puts the burden on monetary policy: interest rates are lowered to stimulate spending. Artificially low interest rates, especially if coupled with inadequate financial market regulation, often give rise to bubbles, which is what happened with the 2008 housing crisis.

It is no surprise that, on average, people living in unequal societies have less equality of opportunity: those at the bottom never get the education that would enable them to live up to their potential. This fact, in turn, exacerbates inequality while wasting the country’s most valuable resource: Americans themselves.

Restoring Justice

Morale is lower in unequal societies, especially when inequality is seen as unjust, and the feeling of being used or cheated leads to lower productivity. When those who run gambling casinos or bankers suffering from moral turpitude make a zillion times more than the scientists and inventors who brought us lasers, transistors and an understanding of DNA, it is clear that something is wrong. Then again, the children of the rich come to think of themselves as a class apart, entitled to their good fortune, and accordingly more likely to break the rules necessary for making society function. All of this contributes to a breakdown of trust, with its attendant impact on social cohesion and economic performance.

There is no magic bullet to remedy a problem as deep-rooted as America’s inequality. Its origins are largely political, so it is hard to imagine meaningful change without a concerted effort to take money out of politics - through, for instance, campaign finance reform. Blocking the revolving doors by which regulators and other government officials come from and return to the same industries they regulate and work with is also essential.

image: widening wage gap

Beyond that, we need more progressive taxation and high-quality federally funded public education, including affordable access to universities for all, no ruinous loans required. We need modern competition laws to deal with the problems posed by 21st-century market power and stronger enforcement of the laws we do have. We need labor laws that protect workers and their rights to unionize. We need corporate governance laws that curb exorbitant salaries bestowed on chief executives, and we need stronger financial regulations that will prevent banks from engaging in the exploitative practices that have become their hallmark. We need better enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: it is unconscionable that women and minorities get paid a mere fraction of what their white male counterparts receive. We also need more sensible inheritance laws that will reduce the intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage.

The basic perquisites of a middle-class life, including a secure old age, are no longer attainable for most Americans. We need to guarantee access to health care. We need to strengthen and reform retirement programs, which have put an increasing burden of risk management on workers (who are expected to manage their portfolios to guard simultaneously against the risks of inflation and market collapse) and opened them up to exploitation by our financial sector (which sells them products designed to maximize bank fees rather than retirement security). Our mortgage system was our Achilles’ heel, and we have not really fixed it. With such a large fraction of Americans living in cities, we have to have urban housing policies that ensure affordable housing for all.

It is a long agenda - but a doable one. When skeptics say it is nice but not affordable, I reply: We cannot afford to not do these things. We are already paying a high price for inequality, but it is just a down payment on what we will have to pay if we do not do something - and quickly. It is not just our economy that is at stake; we are risking our democracy.

As more of our citizens come to understand why the fruits of economic progress have been so unequally shared, there is a real danger that they will become open to a demagogue blaming the country’s problems on others and making false promises of rectifying “a rigged system.” We are already experiencing a foretaste of what might happen. It could get much worse.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/18/18 •
Section Dying America
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Monday, October 15, 2018

Democracy Hollowed Out Part 35 - Censorship

An internal company BRIEFING produced by Google and leaked exclusively to Breitbart News argues that due to a variety of factors, including the election of President Trump, the “American tradition: of free speech on the internet is no longer viable.

Despite leaked video footage showing top executives declaring their intention to ensure that the rise of Trump and the populist movement is just a :blip” in history, Google has repeatedly denied that the political bias of its employees filter into its products.

But the 85-page briefing, titled THE GOOD CENSOR admits that Google and other tech platforms now control the majority of “online conversations” and have undertaken a shift towards “censorship” in response to unwelcome political events around the world.

Examples cited in the documentinclude the 2016 election and the rise of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany.

Responding to the leak, an official Google source said the documentshould be considered internal research, and not an official company position.

The briefing labels the ideal of unfettered free speech on the internet a “utopian narrative” that has been “undermined” by recent global events as well as “bad behavior” on the part of users. It can be read in full below.

It acknowledges that major tech platforms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter initially promised free speech to consumers. This free speech ideal was instilled in the DNA of the Silicon Valley startups that now control the majority of our online conversations,Ӕ says the document.

image: social media censorship

The briefing argues that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are caught between two incompatible positions, the unmediated “marketplace of ideas” vs. “well-ordered spaces for safety and civility.”

image: social media censorship2

The first approach is described as a product of the “American tradition” which prioritizes free speech for democracy, not “civility.” The second is described as a product of the “European tradition,” which favors “dignity over liberty and civility over freedom.” The briefing claims that all tech platforms are now moving toward the European tradition.

The briefing associates Googles new role as the guarantor of “civility” with the categories of “editor” and “publisher.” This is significant, given that Google, YouTube, and other tech giants publicly claim they are not publishers but rather neutral platforms ԗ a categorization that grants them special legal immunities under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Elsewhere in the document, Google admits that Section 230 was designed to ensure they can remain neutral platforms for free expression.

Trump, Conspiracy Theorist

One of the reasons Google identifies for allegedly widespread public disillusionment with internet free speech is that it breeds “conspiracy theories.” The example Google uses? A 2016 tweet from then-candidate Donald Trump, alleging that Google search suppressed negative results about Hillary Clinton.

image: social media censorship3

t the time, Google said that it suppressed negative autocomplete suggestions about everybody, not just Clinton. But it was comparatively easy to find such autocomplete results when searching for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Independent research from psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein also shows that Google search results (if not autocomplete results) did indeed favor Clinton in 2016.

Twice in the document, Google juxtaposes a factoid about “Russian interference” in American elections with pictures of Donald Trump. At one point, the documentadmits that tech platforms are changing their policies to pre-empt congressional action on foreign interference.

The documentdid not address the fact that, according to leading psychologists, the impact of “foreign bots” and propaganda on social media has a negligible impact on voters.

From Suggestions to Company Policy

It is unclear for whom the Good CensorӔ was intended. What is clear, however, is that Google spent (or paid someone to spend) significant time and effort to produce it.

image: social media censorship4

According to the briefing itself, it was the product of an extensive process involving several layers of research,Ӕ including expert interviews with MIT Tech Review editor-in-chief Jason Pontin, Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer, and academic Kalev Leetaru. 35 cultural observers and 7 cultural leaders from seven countries on five continents were also consulted to produce it.

What is also clear is that many of the briefings recommendations are now reflected in the policy of Google and its sibling companies.

For example, the briefing argues that tech companies will have to censor their platforms if they want to ғexpand globally. Google is now constructing a censored search engine to gain access to the Chinese market.

The documentalso bemoans that the internet allows ԓhave a go commenters (in other words, ordinary people) to compete on a level playing field with ԓauthoritative sources like the New York Times. Google-owned YouTube now promotes so-called ԓauthoritative sources in its algorithm. The company did not specifically name which sources it would promote.

Key points in the briefing can be found at the following page numbers:

P2 Ԗ The briefing states that users are asking if the openness of the internet should be celebrated after allӔ and that free speech has become a social, economic, and political weapon.Ӕ
P11 The briefing identifies Breitbart News as the media publication most interested in the topic of free speech.
P12 ֖ The briefing says the early free-speech ideals of the internet were utopian.Ӕ
P14 The briefing admits that Google, along with Twitter and Facebook, now ֓control the majority of online conversations.
P15 Ԗ Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is linked to Googles position as a platform for free expression. Elsewhere in the document(p68), Google and other platformsҒ move towards moderation and censorship is associated with the role of publisherӔ which would not be subject to Section 230֒s legal protections.
PP19-21 The briefing identifies several factors that allegedly eroded faith in free speech. The election of Donald Trump and alleged Russian involvement is identified as one such factor. The rise of the populist Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party in Germany ֖ which the briefing falsely smears as alt-rightӔ is another.
PP26-34 ֖ The briefing explains how users behaving badlyӔ undermines free speech on the internet and allows crummy politicians to expand their influence.Ӕ The briefing bemoans that racists, misogynists, and oppressorsӔ are allowed a voice alongside revolutionaries, whistleblowers, and campaigners.Ӕ It warns that users are keener to transgress moral normsӔ behind the protection of anonymity.
P37 The briefing acknowledges that China ֖ for which Google has developed a censored search engine has the worst track record on internet freedom.
P45 ֖ After warning about the rise of online hate speech, the briefing approvingly cites Sarah Jeong, infamous for her hate speech against white males (Google is currently facing a lawsuit alleging it discriminates against white males, among other categories).
P45 The briefing bemoans the fact that the internet has until recently been a level playing field, warning that ֓rational debate is damaged when authoritative voices and have a goђ commentators receive equal weighting.
P49 Ԗ The documentaccuses President Trump of spreading the conspiracy theoryӔ that Google autocomplete suggestions unfairly favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Trumps suspicions were actually correct Җ independent research has shown that Google did favor Clinton in 2016).
P53 Free speech platform Gab is identified as a major destination for users who are dissatisfied with censorship on other platforms.
P54 ֖ After warning about harassmentӔ earlier in the document, the briefing approvingly describes a 27,000-strong left-wing social media campaign as a digital flash mobӔ engaged in friendly counter-commenting.Ӕ
P57 - The documentjuxtaposes a factoid about Russian election interference with a picture of Donald Trump.
P63 - The briefing admits that when Google, GoDaddy and CloudFlare simultaneously withdrew service from website The Daily Stormer, they were effectively booting it off the internet, a point also made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the FCC in their subsequent warnings about online censorship.
P66-68 = The briefing argues that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are caught between two incompatible positions, the “unmediated marketplace” of ideas vs. “well-ordered” spaces for safety and civility. The first is described as a product of the ԓAmerican tradition which ԓprioritizes free speech for democracy, not civility. The second is described as a product of the “European tradition,” which ԓfavors dignity over liberty and civility over freedom. The briefing claims that all tech platforms are now moving toward the European tradition.
P70 - The briefing sums up the reasons for big techs ғshift towards censorship, including the need to respond to regulatory demands and ԓexpand globally, to ԓmonetize content through its organization, and to “protect advertisers from controversial content, [and] increase revenues.”
P74-76 - The briefing warns that concerns about censorship from major tech platforms have spread beyond the right-wing media into the mainstream.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/15/18 •
Section Dying America
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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

National (In)Security

image: dying america

Economic recovery is now treated as consistent with declining standards of living. Lowered expectations and acquiescence in long term working-class hardship are now built into what we are told to regard as recovery.
- Still Trapped in Unemployment

The United States Has a National-Security Problemand It’s Not What You Think
Conflict abroad is not the biggest threat to most Americans lives.

By Rajan Menon
Tom Dispatch
July 16, 2018

So effectively has the Beltway establishment captured the concept of national security that, for most of us, it automatically conjures up images of terrorist groups, cyber warriors, or “rogue states.” To ward off such foes, the United States maintains a historically unprecedented CONSTELLATION of military bases abroad and, since 9/11, has waged wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere that have gobbled up nearly $4.8 trillion. The 2018 Pentagon budget already totals $647 billionfour times what China, second in global military spending, shells out and more than the next 12 countries combined, seven of them American allies. For good measure, Donald Trump has added an additional $200 billion to projected defense expenditures through 2019.

Yet to hear the hawks tell it, the United States has never been less secure. So much for bang for the buck.

For millions of Americans, however, the greatest threat to their day-to-day security isn’t terrorism or North Korea, Iran, Russia, or China. It’s internal - and economic. Tha’ts particularly true for the 12.7 percent of Americans (43.1 million of them) classified as poor by the government’s criteria: an income below $12,140 for a one-person household, $16,460 for a family of two, and so on until you get to the princely sum of $42,380 for a family of eight.

Savings aren’t much help either: A third of Americans have no savings at all and another third have less than $1,000 in the bank. Little wonder that families struggling to cover the cost of food alone increased from 11 percent (36 million) in 2007 to 14 percent (48 million) in 2014.

The Working Poor

Unemployment can certainly contribute to being poor, but millions of Americans endure poverty when they have full-time jobs or even hold down more than one job. The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are 8.6 million “working poor,” defined by the government as people who live below the poverty line despite being employed at least 27 weeks a year. Their economic insecurity doesn’t register in our society, partly because working and being poor don’t seem to go together in the minds of many Americansand unemployment has fallen reasonably steadily. After approaching 10 percent in 2009, it’s now at ONLY 4 PERCENT.

Help from the government? Bill Clinton’s 1996 “welfare reform” program, concocted in partnership with congressional Republicans, imposed time limits on government assistance, while tightening eligibility criteria for it. So, as Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer show in their disturbing book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, many who desperately need help don’t even bother to apply. And things will only get worse in the age of Trump. His 2019 budget includes deep cuts in a raft of anti-poverty programs.

Anyone seeking a visceral sense of the hardships such Americans endure should read Barbara Ehrenreichs 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. ItҒs a gripping account of what she learned when, posing as a homemakerғ with no special skills, she worked for two years in various low-wage jobs, relying solely on her earnings to support herself. The book brims with stories about people who had jobs but, out of necessity, slept in rent-by-the-week fleabag motels, flophouses, or even in their cars, subsisting on vending machine snacks for lunch, hot dogs and instant noodles for dinner, and forgoing basic dental care or health checkups. Those who managed to get permanent housing would choose poor, low-rent neighborhoods close to work because they often couldnt afford a car. To maintain even such a barebones lifestyle, many worked more than one job.

Though politicians prattle on about how times have changed for the better, EhrenreichԒs book still provides a remarkably accurate picture of Americas working poor. Over the past decade the proportion of people who exhausted their monthly paychecks just to pay for life’s essentials actually increased from 31 percent to 38 percent. In 2013, 71 percent of the families that had children and used food pantries run by Feeding America, the largest private organization helping the hungry, included at least one person who had worked during the previous year. And in Americas big cities, chiefly because of a widening gap between rent and wages, thousands of working poor remain homeless, sleeping in shelters, on the streets, or in their vehicles, sometimes along with their families. In New York City, no outlier when it comes to homelessness among the working poor, in a third of the families with children that use homeless shelters at least one adult held a job.

The Wages of Poverty

The working poor cluster in certain occupations. They are salespeople in retail stores, servers or preparers of fast food, custodial staff, hotel workers, and caregivers for children or the elderly. Many make less than $10 an hour and lack any leverage, union or otherwise, to press for raises. In fact, the percentage of unionized workers in such jobs remains in the single digits - and in retail and food preparation, its under 4.5 percent. That;s hardly surprising, given that private sector union membership has fallen by 50 percent since 1983 to only 6.7 percent of the workforce.

Low-wage employers like it that way and Walmart being the poster child for this - work diligently to make it ever harder for employees to join unions. As a result, they rarely find themselves under any real pressure to increase wages, which, adjusted for inflation, have stood still or even decreased since the late 1970s. When employment is “at-will,” workers may be fired or the terms of their work amended on the whim of a company and without the slightest explanation. Walmart announced this year that it would hike its hourly wage to $11 and that’s welcome news. But this had nothing to do with collective bargaining; it was a response to the drop in the unemployment rate, cash flows from the Trump tax cut for corporations (which saved Walmart as much as $2 billion), an increase in minimum wages in a number of states, and pay increases by an arch competitor, Target. It was also accompanied by the shutdown of 63 of Walmart’s Sams Club stores, which meant layoffs for 10,000 workers. In short, the balance of power almost always favors the employer, seldom the employee.

As a result, though the United States has a per-capita income of $59,500 and is among the wealthiest countries in the world, 12.7 percent of Americans (thatҒs 43.1 million people), officially are impoverished. And that’s generally considered a significant undercount. The Census Bureau establishes the poverty rate by figuring out an annual no-frills family food budget, multiplying it by three, adjusting it for household size, and pegging it to the Consumer Price Index. That, many economists believe, is a woefully inadequate way of estimating poverty. Food prices havenҒt risen dramatically over the past 20 years, but the cost of other necessities like medical care (especially if you lack insurance) and housing have: 10.5 percent and 11.8 percent respectively between 2013 and 2017 compared to an only 5.5 percent increase for food.

Include housing and medical expenses in the equation and you get the Supplementary Poverty Measure (SPM), published by the Census Bureau since 2011. It reveals that a larger number of Americans are poor: 14 percent or 45 million in 2016.
Dismal Data

For a fuller picture of American (in)security, however, its necessary to delve deeper into the relevant data, starting with hourly wages, which are the way more than 58 percent of adult workers are paid. The good news: Only 1.8 million, or 2.3 percent of them, subsist at or below minimum wage. The not-so-good news: One-third of all workers earn less than $12 an hour and 42 percent earn less than $15. That’s $24,960 and $31,200 a year. Imagine raising a family on such incomes, figuring in the cost of food, rent, childcare, car payments (since a car is often a necessity simply to get to a job in a country with inadequate public transportation), and medical costs.

The problem facing the working poor isnt just low wages, but the widening gap between wages and rising prices. The government has increased the hourly federal minimum wage more than 20 times since it was set at 25 cents under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Between 2007 and 2009 it rose to $7.25, but over the past decade that sum lost nearly 10 percent of its purchasing power to inflation, which means that, in 2018, someone would have to work 41 additional days to make the equivalent of the 2009 minimum wage.

Workers in the lowest 20 percent have lost the most ground, their inflation-adjusted wages falling by nearly 1 percent between 1979 and 2016, compared to a 24.7 percent increase for the top 20 percent. This can’t be explained by lackluster productivity since, between 1985 and 2015, it outstripped pay raises, often substantially, in every economic sector except mining.

Yes, states can mandate higher minimum wages and 29 have, but 21 have not, leaving many low-wage workers struggling to cover the costs of two essentials in particular: health care and housing.

Even when it comes to jobs that offer health insurance, employers have been shifting ever more of its cost onto their workers through higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as by requiring them to cover more of the premiums. The percentage of workers who paid at least 10 percent of their earnings to cover such costs - not counting premiums - doubled between 2003 and 2014.

This helps explain why, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 percent of workers in the bottom 10 percent of wage earners even enrolled in workplace healthcare plans in 2016 (compared to 72 percent in the top 10 percent). As a restaurant server who makes $2.13 an hour before tipsand whose husband earns $9 an hour at Walmartחput it, after paying the rent, it’s either put food in the house or buy insurance.

The Affordable Care Act, or ACA (aka Obamacare), provided subsidies to help people with low incomes cover the cost of insurance premiums, but workers with employer-supplied healthcare, no matter how low their wages, weren’t covered by it. Now, of course, President Trump, congressional Republicans, and a Supreme Court in which right-wing justices are going to be even more influential will be intent on poleaxing the ACA.

Its housing, though, that takes the biggest bite out of the paychecks of low-wage workers. The majority of them are renters. Ownership remains for many a pipe dream. According to a Harvard study, between 2001 and 2016, renters who made $30,000-$50,000 a year and paid more than a third of their earnings to landlords (the threshold for qualifying as rent burdened) increased from 37 percent to 50 percent. For those making only $15,000, that figure rose to 83 percent.

In other words, in an ever more unequal America, the number of low-income workers struggling to pay their rent has surged. As the Harvard analysis shows, this is, in part, because the number of affluent renters (with incomes of $100,000 or more) has leapt and, in city after city, they’re driving the demand for, and building of, new rental units. As a result, the high-end share of new rental construction soared from a third to nearly two-thirds of all units between 2001 and 2016. Not surprisingly, new low-income rental units dropped from two-fifths to one-fifth of the total and, as the pressure on renters rose, so did rents for even those modest dwellings. On top of that, in places like New York City, where demand from the wealthy shapes the housing market, landlords have found ways - some within the law, others not - to get rid of low-income tenants.

Public housing and housing vouchers are supposed to make housing affordable to low-income households, but the supply of public housing hasnt remotely matched demand. Consequently, waiting lists are long and people in need languish for years before getting a shot - if they ever do. Only a quarter of those who qualify for such assistance receive it. As for those vouchers, getting them is hard to begin with because of the massive mismatch between available funding for the program and the demand for the help it provides. And then come the other challenges: finding landlords willing to accept vouchers or rentals that are reasonably close to work and not in neighborhoods euphemistically labelled “distressed.”

The bottom line: More than 75 percent of “at-risk” renters (those for whom the cost of rent exceeds 30 percent or more of their earnings) do not receive assistance from the government. The real risk for them is becoming homeless, which means relying on shelters or family and friends willing to take them in.

President Trumps proposed budget cuts will make life even harder for low-income workers seeking affordable housing. His 2019 budget proposal slashes $6.8 billion (14.2 percent) from the resources of the Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentԒs (HUD) by, among other things, scrapping housing vouchers and assistance to low-income families struggling to pay heating bills. The president also seeks to slash funds for the upkeep of public housing by nearly 50 percent. In addition, the deficits that his rich-come-first tax reformғ bill is virtually guaranteed to produce will undoubtedly set the stage for yet more cuts in the future. In other words, in whats becoming the United States of Inequality, the very phrases “low-income” workers and “affordable housing” have ceased to go together.

None of this seems to have troubled HUD Secretary Ben Carson who happily ordered a $31,000 dining room set for his office suite at the taxpayers’ expense, even as he visited new public housing units to make sure that they weren’t too comfortable (lest the poor settle in for long stays). Carson has declared that itҒs time to stop believing the problems of this society can be fixed merely by having the government throw extra money at themunless, apparently, the dining room accoutrements of super bureaucrats aren’t up to snuff.

Money Talks

The levels of poverty and economic inequality that prevail in America are not intrinsic to either capitalism or globalization. Most other wealthy market economies in the 36-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have done far better than the United States in reducing them without sacrificing innovation or creating government-run economies.

Take the poverty gap, which the OECD defines as the difference between a countrys official poverty line and the average income of those who fall below it. The United States has the second-largest poverty gap among wealthy countries; only Italy does worse.

Child poverty? In the World Economic ForumҒs ranking of 41 countriesfrom best to worstҗthe United States placed 35th. Child poverty has declined in the United States since 2010, but a Columbia University report estimates that 19 percent of American kids (13.7 million) nevertheless lived in families with incomes below the official poverty line in 2016. If you add in the number of kids in low-income households, that number increases to 41 percent.

As for infant mortality, according to the governments own Centers for Disease Control, the United States, with 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, has the absolute worst record among wealthy countries. (Finland and Japan do best, with 2.3.)

And when it comes to the distribution of wealth, among the OECD countries only Turkey, Chile, and Mexico do worse than the United States.

It’s time to rethink the American national security state with its annual trillion-dollar budget. For tens of millions of Americans, the source of deep workaday insecurity isnt the standard roster of foreign enemies, but an ever-more entrenched system of inequality, still growing, that stacks the political deck against the least well-off Americans. They lack the bucks to hire big-time lobbyists. They can’t writelavish checks to candidates running for public office or fund PACs. They have no way of manipulating the myriad influence-generating networks that the elite uses to shape taxation and spending policies. They are up against a system in which money truly does talk - and that’s the voice they don’t have. Welcome to the United States of Inequality.

SOURCE - SOURCE 2

Posted by Elvis on 10/09/18 •
Section Dying America
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