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Sunday, March 27, 2022

UK living standards to fall at fastest rate since mid-1950s

image: middle class squeeze

UK living standards to fall at fastest rate since mid-1950s

“Like US, UK economy very bad shape: inflation outruns wages, workers’ living standards drop fast and far, Brexit’s disastrous results, a botched Covid response, etc. Some major UK papers, politicians say so. Not US where Biden’s media chorus says ‘great economic recovery.’
- Richard Wolff

By Richard Partington
The Guardian
March 23, 3022

Living standards in Britain are expected to fall at the fastest annual rate since the mid-1950s and will take until at least 2024 to return to pre-Covid levels, according to the governments independent economic forecaster.

Despite the measures announced by Rishi Sunak at his spring statement, the OFFICE FOR BUDGET RESPONSIBILITY (OBR) said real household disposable incomes per person would fall by 2.2% in 2022-23 as earnings from work fail to keep pace with soaring inflation.

It said the fall would be the biggest in a single financial year since modern records began in 1956-57, and that it would take until 2024-25 for inflation-adjusted living standards to return to their pre-pandemic level.

Highlighting an unprecedented squeeze on households as inflation soared after the Covid pandemic, made worse by the further rise in global energy prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OBR said the damage for families would mean lower levels of consumer spending in the UK economy.

With households expected to tighten their belts as wage growth fails to match high rates of inflation, the tax and spending watchdog issued a sharp growth downgrade for this year to 3.8%, down from a previous estimate for growth of 6%.

Inflation is forecast to peak at 9% later this year, its highest rate in four decades, the OBR said. The figure was calculated a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine - meaning the estimate takes into account the large increases in global energy prices triggered by the conflict and retaliatory sanctions.

Oil and gas prices have fallen back on international markets in recent days amid hopes for a breakthrough in peace talks, although they remain at historically high levels.

In his update to the Commons, Sunak said he would ‘stand by’ households by launching an immediate cut in fuel duty and raising the threshold at which workers begin to pay national insurance contributions.

With households expected to tighten their belts as wage growth fails to match high rates of inflation, the tax and spending watchdog issued a sharp growth downgrade for this year to 3.8%, down from a previous estimate for growth of 6%.

Inflation is forecast to peak at 9% later this year, its highest rate in four decades, the OBR said. The figure was calculated a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine - meaning the estimate takes into account the large increases in global energy prices triggered by the conflict and retaliatory sanctions.

Oil and gas prices have fallen back on international markets in recent days amid hopes for a breakthrough in peace talks, although they remain at historically high levels.

However, the OBR said the support measures worth a combined L17.6bn - would only cushion about a third of the hit to living standards, while the chancellors tax cuts would only undo about one-sixth of the total tax increases he had previously announced.

Despite a stronger than expected performance in the public finances over recent months, analysts suggested Sunak had banked much of the gains for future, potentially for a pre-election giveaway.

Government borrowing in the current financial year would come in about L55.2bn lower than it estimated in October, the OBR said, suggesting Sunak would still have about L30bn of headroom within his self-imposed tax and spending limits.

However, it warned borrowing was expected to rise next year as high inflation pushes up the cost of servicing the UKҒs national debt to L83bn, double its previous estimate and the highest level on record.

Although Sunak sought to position himself to the nation as a tax-cutting chancellor by promising a 1p reduction in income tax from 2024, the OBR said that other changes would more than offset the giveaway by lifting the UK tax burden to the highest level since the 1940s.

The watchdog warned the inflation risk from Ukraine meant there was a high degree of uncertainty about its forecasts.

However, it suggested the squeeze on living standards would ease in future as global energy prices eventually drop back.

“Although low rates of unemployment after the end of furlough are likely to persist as companies struggle to find workers p fuelling growth in wages this year of about 5.3% - a wage-price spiral was unlikely to take hold,” the OBR said, “with inflation forecast to fall back below 2% in late 2023.”

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Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Bradykinin Hypothesis

image: coronavirus

A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged
A closer look at the Bradykinin hypothesis

By Thomas Smith
Elemental
September 1, 2020

arlier this summer, the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee set about CRUNCHING DATA on more than 40,000 genes from 17,000 genetic samples in an effort to better understand COVID-19. Summit is the SECOND-FASTEST computer in the world, but the process which involved analyzing 2.5 billion genetic combinations - still took more than a week.

When Summit was done, researchers analyzed the results. It was, in the words of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, lead researcher and chief scientist for computational systems biology at Oak Ridge, a ”EUREKA MOMENT.” The computer had revealed a new theory about how Covid-19 impacts the body: THE BRADYKINKIN HYPOTHESIS. The hypothesis provides a model that explains many aspects of Covid-19, including some of its most BIZARRE SYSPTOMS. It also suggests 10-plus potential treatments, many of which are already FDA approved. Jacobsons group PUBLISHED THEIR RESULTS in a paper in the journal eLife in early July.

According to the team’s findings, a Covid-19 infection generally begins when the virus enters the body through ACE2 receptors in the nose, (The receptors, which the virus IS KNOWS TO TARGET, are abundant there.) The virus then proceeds through the body, entering cells in other places where ACE2 is also present: the intestines, kidneys, and heart. This likely accounts for at least some of the diseases cardiac and GI symptoms.

But once Covid-19 has established itself in the body, things start to get really interesting. According to Jacobson’s group, the data Summit analyzed shows that Covid-19 isn’t content to simply infect cells that already express lots of ACE2 receptors. Instead, it actively hijacks the bodyҒs own systems, tricking it into upregulating ACE2 receptors in places where they’re usually expressed at LOW OR MEDIUM LEVELS, including the lungs.

In this sense, Covid-19 is like a burglar who slips in your unlocked second-floor windowand starts to ransack your house. Once inside, though, they donҒt just take your stuff they also throw open all your doors and windows so their accomplices can rush in and help pillage more efficiently.

The renin-angiotensin system (RAS) controls many aspects of the circulatory system, including the body’s levels of a chemical called bradykinin, which normally helps to regulate blood pressure. According to the team’s analysis, when the virus tweaks the RAS, it causes the body’s mechanisms for regulating bradykinin to go haywire. Bradykinin receptors are resensitized, and the body also stops effectively breaking down bradykinin. (ACE normally degrades bradykinin, but when the virus downregulates it, it can’t do this as effectively.)

The end result, the researchers say, is to release a bradykinin storm a massive, runaway buildup of bradykinin in the body. According to the bradykinin hypothesis, it’s this storm that is ultimately responsible for many of Covid-19s deadly effects. Jacobson’s team says in their paper that the pathology of Covid-19 is likely the result of “Bradykinin Storms rather than cytokine storms,” which HAD BEEN PREVIOUSLY IDENTIFIED in Covid-19 patients, but that the two may be intricately linked. OTHER PAPERS had previously identified bradykinin storms as a possible cause of Covid-19s pathologies.

As bradykinin builds up in the body, it dramatically increases vascular permeability. In short, it makes your blood vessels leaky. This aligns with recent clinical data, WHICH INCREASINGLY VIEWS COVID-19 PRIMARILY AS A VASCULAR DISEASE, rather than a respiratory one. But Covid-19 still has a massive effect on the lungs. As blood vessels start to leak due to a bradykinin storm, the researchers say, the lungs can fill with fluid. Immune cells also leak out into the lungs, Jacobson’s team found, causing inflammation.

And Covid-19 has another especially insidious trick. Through another pathway, the teams data shows, it increases production of hyaluronic acid (HLA) in the lungs. HLA is OFTEN USED IN SOAPS AND LOTIONS for its ability to absorb more than 1,000 times its weight in fluid. When it combines with fluid leaking into the lungs, the results are disastrous: It forms a hydrogel, which can FILL THE LUNGS IN SOME PATIENTS. According to Jacobson, once this happens, “its like TRYING TO BREATHE THROUGH JELL-O.”

This may explain why ventilators PROVEN LESS EFFECTIVE in treating advanced Covid-19 than doctors originally expected, based on experiences with other viruses. It reaches a point where regardless of how much oxygen you pump in, it doesn’t matter, because the alveoli in the lungs are filled with this hydrogel, Jacobson says. “The lungs become like a water balloon. Patients can suffocate even while receiving full breathing support.”

The bradykinin hypothesis also extends to many of Covid-19’s effects on the heart. About ONE IN FIVE HOSPITALIZED COVID-19 PATIENTS have damage to their hearts, even if they never had cardiac issues before. Some of this is likely due to the virus infecting the heart directly through its ACE2 receptors. But the RAS also controls aspects of cardiac contractions and blood pressure. According to the researchers, bradykinin storms could create arrhythmias and low blood pressure, which are often seen in Covid-19 patients.

The bradykinin hypothesis also accounts for COVID-19’S NEUROLOGICAL EFFECTS, which are some of the most surprising and concerning elements of the disease. THESE SYMPTOMS (which include dizziness, seizures, delirium, and stroke) are present in AS MANY AS HALF OF HOSPITALIZED COVID-19 PATIENTS. According to Jacobson and his team, MRI studies in France revealed that many Covid-19 patients have evidence of leaky blood vessels in their brains.

Bradykinin - especially at high doses - can also lead to a ;." rel="nofollow"]BREAKDOWN OF THE BLOOD-BRAIN BARRIER. Under normal circumstances, this barrier acts as a filter between your brain and the rest of your circulatory system. It lets in the nutrients and small molecules that the brain needs to function, while keeping out toxins and pathogens and keeping the brain’s internal environment tightly regulated.

If bradykinin storms cause the blood-brain barrier to break down, this could allow harmful cells and compounds into the brain, leading to inflammation, potential brain damage, and many of the neurological symptoms Covid-19 patients experience. Jacobson told me, “It is a reasonable hypothesis that many of the neurological symptoms in Covid-19 could be due to an excess of bradykinin. It has been reported that bradykinin would indeed be likely to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. In addition, similar neurological symptoms have been observed in other diseases that result from an excess of bradykinin.”

Increased bradykinin levels could also account for other common Covid-19 symptoms. ACE inhibitors - a class of drugs USED TO TREAT HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE - have a similar effect on the RAS system as Covid-19, INCREASING BRADYKINKIN LEVELS. In fact, Jacobson and his team note in their paper that “the virus - acts pharmacologically as an ACE inhibitor… almost directly mirroring the actions of these drugs.

By acting like a natural ACE inhibitor, Covid-19 MAY BE CAUSING the same effects that hypertensive patients sometimes get when they take blood pressure lowering drugs. ACE inhibitors are known to CAUSE a dry cough and fatigue, two textbook symptoms of Covid-19. And they can potentially increase blood potassium levels, which has also been OBSERVED IN COVID_19 PATIENTS. The similarities between ACE inhibitor side effects and Covid-19 symptoms strengthen the bradykinin hypothesis, the researchers say.

ACE inhibitors are also known to cause a LOSS OF TASTE AND SMELL. Jacobson stresses, though, that this symptom is more likely due to the virus “affecting the cells surrounding olfactory nerve cells than the direct effects of bradykinin.”

Though still an emerging theory, the bradykinin hypothesis explains several other of Covid-19;s seemingly bizarre symptoms. Jacobson and his team speculate that leaky vasculature caused by bradykinin storms could be responsible for COVID-TOES, a condition involving swollen, bruised toes that some Covid-19 patients experience. Bradykinin can also MESS WITH THE THYROID GLAND, which could produce the THYROID SYMPTOMS recently observed in some patients.

The bradykinin hypothesis could also explain some of the broader demographic patterns of the diseases spread. The researchers note that some aspects of the RAS system are sex-linked, with proteins for several receptors (such as one called TMSB4X) located on the X chromosome. This means that “women would have twice the levels of this protein than men,” a result borne out by the researchers data. In their paper, Jacobson’s team concludes that this could explain the lower incidence of Covid-19 induced mortality in women.Ғ A genetic quirk of the RAS could be GIVING WOMEN EXTRA PROTECTION against the disease.

The bradykinin hypothesis provides a model that contributes to “a better understanding of Covid-19” and “adds novelty to the existing literature,” according to scientists Frank van de Veerdonk, Jos WM van der Meer, and Roger Little, who PEER-REVIEWED THE TEAMS’ PAPER. It predicts nearly all the disease’s symptoms, even ones (like bruises on the toes) that at first appear random, and further suggests new treatments for the disease.

As Jacobson and team point out, several drugs target aspects of the RAS and are already FDA approved to treat other conditions. They could arguably be applied to treating Covid-19 as well. Several, like danazol, stanozolol, and ecallantide, reduce bradykinin production and could potentially stop a deadly bradykinin storm. Others, like icatibant, reduce bradykinin signaling and could blunt its effects once its already in the body.

Interestingly, Jacobson’s team also suggests VITAMIN D as a potentially useful Covid-19 drug. The vitamin is involved in the RAS system and could prove helpful by reducing levels of another compound, known as REN. Again, this could stop potentially deadly bradykinin storms from forming. The researchers note that vitamin D has already BEEM SHOWN TO HELP THOSE WITH COVID-19. The vitamin is readily available over the counter, and AROUND 20% OF THE POPULATION IS DEFICIENT. If indeed the vitamin proves effective at reducing the severity of bradykinin storms, it could be an easy, relatively safe way to reduce the severity of the virus.

Other compounds could treat symptoms associated with bradykinin storms. Hymecromone, for example, could reduce hyaluronic acid levels, potentially stopping deadly hydrogels from forming in the lungs. And timbetasin could mimic the mechanism that the researchers believe protects women from more severe Covid-19 infections. All of these potential treatments are speculative, of course, and would need to be studied in a rigorous, controlled environment before their effectiveness could be determined and they could be used more broadly.

Covid-19 stands out for both the scale of its global impact and the apparent randomness of ITS MANY SYMPTONS. Physicians have STRUGGLES TO UNDERSTAND the disease and come up with a unified theory for how it works. Though as of yet unproven, the bradykinin hypothesis provides such a theory. And like all good hypotheses, it also provides specific, testable predictions in this case, actual drugs that could provide relief to real patients.

The researchers are quick to point out that the testing of any of these pharmaceutical interventions should be done in well-designed clinical trials. As to the next step in the process, Jacobson is clear: “We have to get this message out.” His team’s finding wont cure Covid-19. But if the treatments it points to pan out in the clinic, interventions guided by the bradykinin hypothesis could greatly reduce patients’ suffering and potentially save lives.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Marvel At The Beast - Part 10

saint-obama.jpg

“Obama’s biggest blemish remains the ongoing tragedy of mass unemployment. Not only does this have a human element - the countless lives harmed or destroyed by poverty and desperation - but it is a huge drag on our economy. Mass unemployment reduces spending - the engine of our economy - which in turn, reduces growth. And without meaningful growth, there’s no way to reduce long-term debt without inflicting a large dose of harmful austerity. That, in my view, is unacceptable.”
- Obamas Biggest Blemish, Jamelle Bouie, American Prospect, January 3, 2013

The central problem is not an inadequate supply of educated workers; it is inadequate demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics now projects that of the ten occupational groups that will add the most jobs between 2010 and 2020, five do not even require a high-school education.
Who Will Save The Middle Class, Prospect, May 2012

I can tell you tell you one thing I like about The President - his speeches are GREAT.
I only wish this time THERE IS SOME REAL SUBSTANCE behind his EMPTY words.

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Obama speech reveals a different leader

By Dan Balz
January 21, 2013

President Obama has never lacked for confidence, but rarely has that attribute been on display as clearly as on Monday in an inaugural address that underscored the distance he has traveled after four contentious years in office.

This was not the politician who campaigned in 2008 on themes of transcending the divisive politics of the past, though there were ritual calls for the country and its political leaders to seize this moment together. Instead, it was a president who has accepted the reality of those divisions and is determined to prevail on his terms.

Obamas first campaign was aspirational, and he came to office believing, or at least hoping, that through force of personality he could gently guide the opposing sides to consensus on issues that had long resisted resolution. Monday’s speech conveyed the ambitions of a president looking at his next four years with a sense of frustration and impatience, and who now believes that a different style of leadership is required.

In his speech, Obama set out his priorities for a second term, goals that will cheer the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and probably alarm many on the right. He challenged Republicans to meet him partway, though not exactly in the middle. If there was an underlying message Monday, it was not “Come, let us reason together.” It was “Follow me.” The question is whether he will be any more successful in his second term than he was in his first.

Pressure on Republicans

There are reasons for the president setting a different tone in his second inaugural than in his first. Two years after he and his party took a beating in the midterm elections, he now holds the strongest hand in Washington. His approval ratings have climbed above 50 percent, while his Republican opponents in Congress remain mired in disapproval ratings almost three times as high as their approval ratings.

Obama once hoped that he could overcome the united opposition of congressional Republicans, whose militant House members set the partys tone during the battles of the past two years, through negotiation with GOP leaders. Now he is looking to the country to pressure his opponents to compromise in ways that they would not during his first term.

Republicans have already tested the reelected president and discovered the limits of their power. Their decision not to pick a fight - for now - over the debt ceiling signaled their recognition of that reality. It was an acknowledgment that the tactic of opposing Obama at almost every turn may be self-defeating.

Obama appears ready to try to split the Republican coalition by setting pragmatists against ideologues. On Monday, he rebuked those who have been most aggressive in their opposition when he said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

REPUBLICANS will have to choose their battles more carefully, and they may prevail in some cases. Obama knows that he won’t get all he wants, but the balance of power at the start of his second term is far different from what it was 24 months ago.

The year ahead promises more debates over the size and scope of government, issues that dominated the past two years in Washington. Obama acknowledged the need to deal with spending and the deficit, but he also set out terms for the coming fight over federal entitlements.

During the campaign, Obama talked about the philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats on these issues, as he condemned the broken politics of Washington. He said the American people could break the tie with the election.

But the election returned a majority of Republicans to the House, and on Monday the president seemed to suggest that there were grounds for compromise. “Progress,” he said, “does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”

Addressing his coalition

Obama’s second inaugural address also reflected a changing America and the coalition that reelected him to office. The nation’s first African American president leads an ever-more diverse population and a country in which attitudes and mores continue to change, particularly among the youngest segment of society.

The policy agenda he put forth, and the values he enunciated, spoke directly to that coalition. Never before has a president used an inaugural address to speak so openly about the cause of gay rights, linking the 1969 Stonewall uprising that led to the gay rights movement with Selma and civil rights and the 1839 Seneca Falls Convention and womens’ rights.

Not all Americans agree with these changes, and as president, Obama must attempt to speak for them and to them. But his remarks Monday suggest that he believes history is on his side on these issues.

The president’s second inaugural address was notable also for what he talked about only in brief. Four years ago, he stood on the Capitols West Front with the country facing an economic crisis. Output was falling, the stock market had plunged, many Americans were threatened with housing foreclosures, and unemployment was rising rapidly. He talked about “a sapping of confidence across our land.”

On Monday, he touched only lightly on that crisis and spoke of the economy in positive terms. “An economic recovery has begun,” he said. At a time when jobs remain a top priority for most Americans, he chose neither to highlight that problem nor to offer any new solutions - though, ultimately, he will be judged on his effectiveness in restoring the economy to its full strength.

Opponents will find much to dislike about what Obama said Monday, for this was not a speech aimed at mollifying those who lost the election. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost the presidential race four years ago, expressed disappointment that Obama was not more explicit about bringing the two sides together. “I would have liked to have seen more on outreach and working together,” McCain said. But the senator added, “It’s his privilege to say what he wants.”

Obama risks overreaching or over-interpreting his mandate, which can be an affliction of newly reelected presidents. His victory in November was decisive but not overwhelming. Self-confidence can slip over the line to arrogance or hubris. Second terms often disappoint. So there are dangers ahead for the president.

On Monday, he set out his ambitions for a second term in clear language. What follows will define how history judges both those priorities and his ability to turn them into action.

SOURCE

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Politico has a sad because it doesn’t think Obama has done enough to cut Medicare or Social Security

By Jed Lewison
Daily Kos
January 22, 2013

WOE IS POLITICO:

The President has never precisely defined what hard choices he would be willing to make on Medicare and Social Security. Its not even clear what he would do if he had the power to remake the programs on his own, without worrying about opposition from Republicans or Democrats.

How incredibly sad. President Barack Obama just isn’t willing to make hard choices on Medicare and Social Security. And, as everybody knows, with an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, America’s top priority is making “hard choices” to cut not just those programs, but Medicaid as well.

If only the president had done something courageous, like passing landmark health care reform legislation that will achieve $716 billion in Medicare savings over the next decade. If only he had been willing to take such a step despite the virtual guarantee that the Republican presidential nominee would run ads ATTACKING HIM FOR IT. If only he’d been willing to do something bold, like taking the risk of having Republicans claim that he had created death panels when what he really did was create an Independent Payment Advisory Board aimed at reducing Medicare costs.

But no, our lousy president hasn’t been willing to make any TOUGH CHOICES at all. In fact, as Politico “reports” in the very same article that I quoted above:

Obama infuriated Democrats by proposing controversial changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security during his failed 2011 grand-bargain talks with Boehner. The president was ready to make some entitlement concessions in the fiscal cliff negotiations last month, but that effort fizzled, too.

Wait. Hold on. You mean Obama has proposed additional cuts to Medicare and Social Security?

Now at this point you might be a bit confused, because on the one hand Politico is ripping Obama for being unwilling to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, but on the other hand, they are pointing out that he angered his own party when he proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Fortunately, your confusion will be short-lived, because Politico explains why Obama STILL SUCKS. The short version: the tax cliff deal made it impossible for him to get entitlement cuts because Republicans aren’t willing to raise taxes again.

The FISCAL CLIFF DEAL, which raised $600 billion in new revenue, may have actually made it more difficult to strike a grand bargain. That’s because Republicans aren’t willing to consider further tax hikes a White House prerequisite to weighing any controversial cuts to entitlements.

Well, I guess that settles that. As we all know, if Republicans say no to something, then it’s off the table. It should never be considered. Why? Because Republicans said no, that’s why. And when they say no, they mean it. EXCEPT:

A senior Republican tax aide confirmed that Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the Ways and Means chairman, planned to push forward this year with “revenue-neutral” tax reform, with the revenue target adjusted upward to the amount raised by the higher tax rates on the wealthy approved this month to resolve most of the so-called fiscal cliff.

The Republican aide said if the Senate can approve tax changes that raise revenues, it is possible that difficult negotiations between the two chambers could produce a final deal that would produce more tax revenue - but not as much as the Senate wants.

Huh. Maybe assuming Republicans say what they mean and mean what they say isn’t really the best assumption to make. Maybe it’s time to realize that Republicans like to bluff. And as long as Politico is going to perpetuate its misguided obsession with 20-year budget projections for Social Security, maybe they should give President Obama some credit for having done what they say he refuses to do.

Of course, what would really be nice would be to see the same level obsession on an issue like unemployment and economic growth, or maybe even climate change. After all, the fanciest projection in the world doesn’t mean a damn thing without economic growth. And if we don’t do anything to confront climate change, the only thing we can say for sure about the demographic forecasts for the future of Social Security and Medicare is that they are going to be wrong.

SOURCE

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Americas Vanishing Economic Freedom

By Michael D. Tanner
National Review
September 19, 2012

The 2012 Economic Freedom of the World report was RELEASED this week by the Cato Institute and CanadaҒs Fraser Institute, and it showed that the United States has plummeted to 18th place in the ranked list, trailing such countries as Estonia, Taiwan, and Qatar. Even such notorious welfare states as Finland and Denmark, not to mention Canada, have freer economies than we do.

Actually, the decline began under President George W. Bush. For 20 years the U.S. had consistently ranked as one of the worlds three freest economies, along with Hong Kong and Singapore. By the end of the Bush presidency, we were barely in the top ten.

And, as with so many disastrous legacies of the Bush era, Barack Obama took a bad thing and made it worse.

During the past four years, the U.S. saw significant declines in nearly all categories of the economic-liberty index. Most significant - and this should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention - is that the size of government grew substantially, particularly when measured by size of government subsidies and transfers and by government consumption as a share of national consumption.

As recently as 2005, the U.S. ranked 45th in size of government among the 144 nations surveyed. That was bad enough, but it still had us in the top third of the 144 countries surveyed. Today, government has grown dramatically, and our ranking has fallen to 61st place. By the metrics used, the U.S. now has a bigger government than Ukraine or Syria.

The United States has also seen a substantial increase in business regulations, labor-market restrictions, and barriers to trade. Our standing fell in all those categories, and we have undergone a long-term deterioration in ranking on property rights as well.

To anyone wondering why the U.S. is having such a hard time recovering from this recession, the 2012 report provides a pretty devastating diagnosis. We are clearly headed in the wrong direction.

Yet discussion of economic freedom seems curiously missing from the presidential campaign. President Obama, in fact, would further restrict economic liberty. He proposes a host of new subsidies and regulations. And donגt forget that the largest parts of Dodd-Frank kick in next year.

Meanwhile, when it comes to defending economic liberty, Mitt Romney has spent most of his time in a defensive crouch. He occasionally breaks form to promise he wont really reduce taxes on the wealthy, wonҒt cut Medicare, and wants to keep some parts of Obamacare. Hes actually running ads attacking the president for not confronting China over trade.

Americans instinctively know the importance of economic freedom. They know that it is their ability to invest, start businesses, and hire workers that builds a prosperous country. They know that millions have come to this country and prospered because they had freedom to pursue their economic aspirations as well as their personal ones. And they find this freedom now slipping away.

They need a candidate to speak for them҅ and for freedom.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

American Express Lays Off 5,400

layoff.jpg

American Express to cut 5,400 jobs

By Mr Z.
Banoosh
January 11, 2013

American Express Co. will eliminate 5,400 jobs this year, mostly in travel services, amid a huge decrease in fourth-quarter profit.

The lender posted a 47 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit and recorded after-tax charges totaling $594 million, including costs tied to severance and changes in how the firm estimates future redemptions of credit-card rewards, New York- based AmEx said Thursday in a statement.

“Travel has gone through a great deal of change,” Chief Executive Officer Kenneth I. Chenault said in a conference call with analysts. T"he economics of corporate travel has changed more dramatically over the years than any part of the business.”

American Express, the biggest U.S. credit-card issuer by purchases, also provides clients worldwide with travel-booking and advisory services. Competitors include Internet firms Priceline.com, the most valuable online-travel agency, and Expedia Inc.

The lender reported preliminary results ahead of its formal earnings announcement scheduled for Jan. 17. In the third quarter, travel commissions and fees declined 3.1 percent to $465 million from a year earlier, according to an Oct. 31 regulatory filing.

Fourth-quarter net income declined to $637 million from $1.19 billion a year earlier, according to the company. Adjusted profit, which excludes one-time items, was $1.09 a share, 3 cents more than the average estimate of 27 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The after-tax charges include $287 million in severance costs and $212 million tied to changes in how the firm calculates redemptions. Bloomberg

FACTS & FIGURES

There are over 20 million people who are either unemployed or have stopped looking for work in the United States.

While the economy, in fact, is growing again the recession officially ended in June 2009 - just a third of Americans see it that way. They’re outnumbered by the 44% who say it’s in a recession or a depression. USA Today

The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits was 372,000 in the week ending Dec. 29, up 10,000 from the previous weeks revised figure. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average, which helps smooth out week-to-week volatility, also edged up to 360,000. Xinhua

Due to the “dysfunction and polarization in Washington, the U.S. economy faces a prolonged weak outlook,” according to Mohamed El-Erian, Chair of the president Obama’s Global Development Council. “The new normal is sluggish growth and persistently high unemployment and concerns about debt and deficits,” El-Erian said. CNBC.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Minimum Wage 2013

Nearly 1 million U.S. workers will be getting a New Years Day gift: a small raise after 10 states boost their minimum wages.

By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Pew - Stateline
December 20, 2012

Nine states will adjust the wages to accommodate the rising costs of living, as required by state laws, while Rhode Island will implement a law signed by the governor in June that raises its minimum wage to $7.75 per hour. The wage hikes range between 10 cents and 35 cents per hour, adding between $190 and $510 to the average affected workers annual pay.

min-wage-2013.png border=0

With those changes, 19 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25, which translates to about $15,000 per year for a full-time worker. That rate has been in place since 2009 and has not been adjusted for inflation.

The National Employment Law Project, an advocate for workers’ rights, is among several groups calling for lawmakers to boost the federal rate.

“We need policies that make sure workers earn wages that will at the very least support their basic needs,” Christine Owens, the labor groups executive director, said in a statement Wednesday (December 19). “But earning an income that meets basic needs shouldn’t depend on the state where a working family lives.”

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, of Iowa, introduced a bill last July that would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014 and adjust it each year. But the legislation has little chance to pass in a divided Congress still wrangling over budget issues.

Meanwhile, New Jerseys Democrat-controlled legislature passed a bill early this month that would raise wages, currently at the federal minimum, by a dollar. Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, will likely veto the measure, saying it would burden businesses still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. Anticipating a veto, leaders of both houses have said they will push a constitutional amendment. That would require both chambers to pass the legislation next year. Voters would then weigh in during the 2013 election.

A battle is also brewing in California, where the state’s $8-per-hour minimum wage has remained the same for five years. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat, is pushing a bill that would gradually raise the wage to $9.25 by 2016. The last attempt to adjust the states minimum wage in 2011 met strong pushback from the business community and ultimately failed.

Questions about the minimum wage have long sparked debate among lawmakers. Supporters say wage hikes help workers keep pace with inflation, spurring more spending that boosts the economy at large. Opponents argue the higher wages increase employers’ costs, forcing them to cut workers.

In 2010, a study of restaurant worker salaries, published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, “found no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/02/13 •
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