Thanksgiving December 1, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, US Politics.
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Seeing as we were talking about pay ratios… November 26, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, US Politics.
…in the wake of the failed Swiss referendum to introduce a statutory cap on CEO pay, this from Bloomberg outlining US pay ratios is instructive in pointing to how bad things can get.
This too is important:
Most companies don’t disclose median worker pay, so Bloomberg calculated ratios based on the U.S. government’s industry-specific averages for pay and benefits of rank-and-file workers.
Let’s also note how there’s almost a taboo on discussing one’s level of pay with others in a workplace (I’ve heard of workplaces where it’s actually forbidden). A situation which is highly convenient for employers. To put it mildly.
And let’s consider how:
…almost three years since Congress directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public companies to disclose the ratio of their chief executive officers’ compensation to the median of the rest of their employees’. The agency has yet to produce a rule.
BTW, the above chart doesn’t give a full outline of executive remuneration IIRC. For example, consider this in relation to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook.
They spy… October 29, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, US Politics.
Niall Stanage in the Sunday Business Post this weekend was writing about the US phone tapping scandal. Apparently it is a scandal when political leaders of foreign states are tapped, not so much when it’s just ordinary folk. Interesting that.
It is assumed, though not proven, that information Snowden provided was also the basis for an investigation by the German magazine Der Spiegel which led to allegations that the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel was among those targeted by the United States.
The accusation was all but confirmed by the evasive response of Obama’s White House spokesman, Jay Carney.
Carney stressed that Merkel’s phone was not being tapped now and would not be in the future. But he determinedly avoided making any such declaration about the past. In doing so, he was seen to be tacitly admitting the surveillance.
”What I can’t do and won’t do is answer every allegation that appears in print about intelligence activities that may or may not have been engaged in by the United States, because the path that leads us down is not one that we can travel,” Carney said during one press briefing.
There is no mistaking the outrage that the disclosure about Merkel caused in Germany, just as somewhat similar allegations caused a furore in France.
Stanage, understandably, positions this as a problem for Obama. And no doubt it is. And he notes that:
Now, even some former Bush advisors are coming to his aid over the most recent revelations.
Stewart Baker, who was an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under Bush, argued that Germany and France should not be seen as entirely dependable allies of the United States.
In an article for the website of the New York Times last week, Baker contended that the two nations in question ”were not our allies” in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
No doubt they – the Bush advisors – would on foot of the latest reports that the phone-tapping of Angela Merkel was taking place from at least 2002.
The reported surveillance of Angela Merkel apparently began under the George W Bush administration and continued into the Obama administration, and required explicit presidential approval.
This last is interesting because:
Chancellery officials say Mr Obama reportedly told Dr Merkel he knew nothing of the surveillance and apologised.
The unnamed NSA official contradicts this version of events in Bild am Sonntag, claiming Mr Obama was informed of the action by NSA chief Keith Alexander in 2010.
“Obama didn’t stop the action then, rather left it run on,” said an unnamed NSA official to the newspaper, allegeding the intelligence gathered went straight to the White House.
What’s fascinating, and I mentioned this last week, is that there’s so much contention about it. I’d have thought it was sensible to assume that the US spied on anyone and everything that took its interest, as indeed would other states. That is simply standard operating procedure I would imagine in such instances.
Baker makes a point along similar lines:
”He and his administration are targets for the intelligence services of practically every nation on earth, including some of those complaining loudest,” Baker wrote. ”That’s not because he set a bad example; he could abolish the NSA, the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community tomorrow, and the US would still be the world’s biggest target.”
That may be true but it does not lessen the difficulties caused by the disclosures that have been made.
Again, as I was writing last week, that’s in no sense to deny US culpability, but it is to suggest that information and intelligence surveillance could and should be subject to much more rigorous controls at international level, in much the same way as different but no less noxious substances and materials are. But how likely is that? It’s expedient for many, if not everyone, that such practices continue and will continue into the future.
But it’s also instructive and educative, and it points up more clearly just how important it is to allow for areas of privacy for those of us in more banal areas.
Cooler heads prevail… October 16, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
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So, as was almost inevitable, the US Republicans have conceded defeat in the bid of some of them to repeal the ACA. One line from one Republican Senator caught my eye.
Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, said this had “been the best two weeks for the Democratic party in recent times”.
“Every member of Congress gets hit by groups like this right and left. I am not mad at a group for wanting their way; I am focusing on trying to get the Republican party to chart a better way. The way we are behaving and the path we have taken the last couple of weeks leads to a marginalised party in the eyes of the American people. A form of conservatism that is probably beyond what the market would bear. “
He’s no doubt talking about the political rather than the economic market, though it works in both senses. But an interesting way to put it.
Back in the DPRK, again. This time they mean business! September 4, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, US Politics.
Here from NPR’s Planet Money economics podcast one about:
U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters.
…we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.
You can also see the letters in the original at the web address above.
The podcast mentions, North Korea Economy Watch, an economy blog on that very topic, and has a fascinating interview with the guy behind it. He argues that far from the DPRK being unaware of the ‘kitsch’ or ‘novelty’ aspect of products being produced there, is very very aware and modifies its message according to the recipients.
Hey! Look, they skew the benefit/work debate in the US too! August 27, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left, US Politics.
Interesting piece on Slate.com, taken from Business Insider, on a Cato Institute report which seeks to prove that being on welfare in the US is financially more beneficial than working.
And how do they come to this conclusion?
They add up benefits available through eight programs to a low-income woman with two children, and find total benefit values well in excess of full-time minimum wage work, or even, in some states, middle-skill work. The study is called “The Welfare-Versus-Work Tradeoff,” and it’s meant to show why people don’t get off welfare.
Now isn’t that just a bit familiar? For as Josh Barro writes, this is incorrect because firstly, ‘very few people actually qualify for all eight of the programmes Cato looks at’, ‘welfare benefits for single adults are much less than those for women with children [and I presume men with children - wbs] and finally, ‘not all benefits are lost when a welfare recipient starts working’. We’ve seen that approach of rolling all potential benefits (and in particular non-cash benefits) into a single pool to try to justify similar claims here too.
Barro isn’t coy about one aspect of welfare:
That said, poverty traps are real. This is the phenomenon of people losing benefits as they earn more income of their own.
But he notes two basic truths:
It’s a problem that welfare programs need to be designed around, and there are two ways of mitigating it. One is to make benefits more generous by extending their phaseout ranges, so people don’t lose as many benefits as they earn more income. That costs money. The other is to reduce benefits. That reduces the standard of living for the most vulnerable people in America.
And the same is obviously true here as well.
And he goes further:
It’s easier to make an argument for the latter approach when you have an economy that creates broad prosperity and makes it easy for people to find living-wage jobs if they are willing to work. We don’t have that economy. This is the problem that conservatives and libertarians refuse to grapple with: If you’re unwilling to support policies that promote macroeconomic stability, such as counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policies, you’re only making a more generous welfare state more morally necessary.
Perhaps worth remembering all this when we are next subjected to rhetoric from the government and Troika on ‘redesigning’ welfare or ‘labour activation measures’.
It’s All Politics… August 10, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
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…the NPR political podcast has been cancelled. The last episode was last week. The more I think about it the more I’m irritated by this news.
Hosted by Ron Elving and Ken Rudin it was – perhaps – an odd show, deep in terms of knowledge of political contests – senatorial, gubernatorial, whatever, and personalities, but light in terms of presentation (and perhaps ideology). That lack of focus on ideology – though I don’t want to do it a disservice, it was never afraid to outline candidates and politicians ideological positioning and it had some interesting thoughts about the nature of US politics in the contemporary era as well as differences with previous eras – in some respects, made it a perfect representation of US politics. And interestingly it was difficult to ascertain the protagonists political leanings. I kind of liked that, as well as a level of banter that was as informative as it was entertaining.
I certainly liked it well enough to continue listening to it when other podcasts have fallen by the wayside, I think of Left, Right & Centre or To the Point from KCRW. There was and is nothing wrong with them at all, and I’m pretty sure when the next elections roll around I’ll be back listening to them. But there was something snappy about IAP, and its presentation, that – for all the kicking jokes and puns about – that depth of knowledge gave it a certain authority, and that this was able to be tied up in a neat half hour or so each week.
Elving is, as far as I can tell, well ensconced in NPR. Rudin is talking about his own show. I hope that comes to fruition and soon.
We’re moving towards the mid-term elections and after that it is but a hop and a skip to the 2016 Presidential election, and now they decided to cancel a podcast that was genuinely useful about the process of US politics. Strange. And a real loss.
Does this sound familiar… August 1, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left, US Politics.
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The book, It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States,
was written by Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks. Important to note that Lipset had started out as a leftist but moved sharply towards the political centre. Perhaps even further.
It’s just the first chapter or so, but it’s an interesting read if you’ve got the time. In terms of predictive power Marx et al were almost entirely incorrect about the part the US would play in relation to the future of the working class.
But what struck me reading it was not merely US exceptionalism, in terms of lacking social democratic, let alone further left parties, in any functional sense, but also that there was something very very familiar about aspects of it. Not least a quote part the way through that goes as follows:
The American community, one cannot too clearly insist, does not correspond to an entire European community at all, but only to the middle masses of it…. This community was, as it were, taken off its roots, clipped of its branches and brought hither…. Essentially America is a middle-class become a community and so its essential problems are the problems of a modern individualistic society, stark and clear, unhampered and unilluminated by any feudal traditions either at its crest or at its base.
I don’t much like the ‘middle’ or ‘middle-class’ terms in this context, because I think it would be easier to see those categories shifted towards the working class, but there does seem to me to be something in the concept, and that it can be mapped onto this island where a not entirely dissimilar situation developed where what indigenous aristocracy there was was limited (in part by religious, national and cultural differentiation) and also by the rupture of independence. And likewise although a Catholic middle class most certainly developed its allegiance to same was limited allowing for pan-nationalist sentiment to exist, to a degree, and thereby altering the nature of the post-independent dispensation.
It certainly would explain the remarkable lack of strength of the left here, not least in that Americanism and nationalism in Ireland operated in not dissimilar ways seeking to bypass class differentiation and conflict.
Now the trick is to work this into a broader approach that can explain divergences with newly independent states in Eastern and Northern Europe which came into being around the same time as the Free State.
Given the day that’s in it… July 4, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
(Their) Prism Planet June 19, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, US Politics.
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Just to add to Gé Bruite’s thoughts here, and particularly this conclusion:
Taking into account there are no visible, transparent or democratic oversights preventing the framing of an arbitrary individuals or groups as ‘terrorist’, and at the very least subjecting them to comprehensive surveillance.
…it seems to me that the news about the NSA ‘Prism’ operation is in a way uniquely depressing, if hardly entirely unexpected. I imagine most of us have the standard operating procedure when it comes to the internet that it is a fairly transparent medium and that little of what we do is not open to scrutiny if the will is there. Indeed it is as well to recall that records of ordinary internet activity are retained by this state for a year after they occur. How fine detailed that is I can’t recall.
Still, hardly unexpected or not, as Gé Bruite notes this was an extensive program encompassing pretty much all social and other media. A very very extensive program.
It will be interesting to see where this story goes and what – if any – effects it has. If it points up one thing it is the remarkable predominance of the United States globally and the very real fact that it remains beyond serious censure in this as in many other respects. This is quite literally what the term superpower actually means. Worth keeping that in mind.
Slate had some useful pieces on this too over the last week, but another depressing aspect to this was the sense that many would trade privacy and lack of intrusion for a nebulous security. Indeed Farhad Manjoo, their technology correspondent, made the point that time and again users of Facebook, Google and so on, quite deliberately allow corporations to do so with their (the users) information. And Manjoo made the point that
Because Snowden is now in Hong Kong, it’s unclear what the United States can do to him. But watch for officials to tar Snowden—he’ll be called unpatriotic, unprofessional, treasonous, a liar, grandiose, and worse. As in the Bradley Manning case, though, the more badly Snowden is depicted, the more rickety the government’s case for surveillance becomes. After all, they hired him. They gave him unrestricted access to their systems, from court orders to PowerPoint presentations depicting the crown jewels of their surveillance infrastructure. (Also of note: They made a hideous PowerPoint presentation depicting the crown jewels of their surveillance infrastructure—who does that? I’ve been reading a lot of Le Carré lately, and when I saw the PRISM presentation, I remembered how Le Carré’s veteran spy George Smiley endeavored to never write down his big secrets. Now our spies aren’t just writing things down—they’re trying to make their secrets easily presentable to large audiences.)
Actually, there’s a number of ways to consider that PowerPoint presentation. It’s entirely cosmetic. It doesn’t matter a damn if it looks like the most finished piece of work ever, or something run off on someone’s computer at home.
But there’s something about its mundane aspect that is, in its own way, as troubling about the rest of it. Its sheer utilitarianism speaks of utter confidence. For the people who produced it the program it describes was business as usual, mundane, everyday, beyond question.
Which brings to mind another thought, that states retain remarkable power, even now in our supposedly globalised, almost post-nation state, world. Of course the US functions in defence of capitalism, but here is an example of what can be done when the will is there – essentially an wholesale intrusion into international corporations. And the confidence behind it to use that power on behalf of a certain form of the status quo.
It’s a good thing this has been revealed. Where though from here is a different matter entirely.