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The high cost of low wages

This time, 124 lives so far:

In an stunning cultural juxtaposition, Black Friday merchants counted their profits and victory-pumped shoppers celebrated their “scores” in malls throughout the U.S., while factory workers on the other side of the world who made many of the clothing items shoppers bought this weekend jumped from windows of a seven-story factory in the effort to save their lives in a late Saturday inferno. Many of them were not successful; as of the most recent count, 124 of those workers have died, with many more injured.


In the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka, a large garment run by Tazreen Fashions, one of the many factories in the area that provide product for American companies including Wal-mart, JC Penney’s, the Gap, Levi Strauss, Kohl’s, Zara, H & M, and others, burst into flames Saturday night in a fire (of currently unknown origin) that started on the bottom floor of the building and quickly rushed up the other floors, trapping workers with no way to descend from the building. As India Today reports:


By Sunday morning, firefighters had recovered 115 bodies, fire department Operations Director Maj. Mohammad Mahbub said. He said another 9 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died at hospitals.


Mahbub said firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor of the factory alone. He said most of the victims had been trapped inside the factory, located just outside of Dhaka, with no emergency exits leading outside the building.

Florida voter suppression

Republicans in Florida admit what they were really up to.

Sick days

Food service workers in Manhattan were docked for the time the city was in chaos.

Austerity for thee but not for me

As our friend at Scrutiny Hooligans points out, scratch a fervent austerian and find an opportunistic S.O.B.! How deliciously ironic that the Fix The Debt gang are pushing austerity policies that will translate into millions, even billions of dollars for themselves in tax breaks

Austerity. Just what you wanted for Christmas. From McClatchy:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A group co-founded by Charlottean Erskine Bowles brings its campaign to reduce the federal debt to North Carolina next week, making the state the latest front in the battle to avert the “fiscal cliff.”


Two former governors – Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Holshouser – will launch Fix the Debt’s N.C. chapter at a news conference Tuesday in Raleigh.

[...]


Fix the Debt was founded by Bowles and Alan Simpson, a former U.S. senator from Wyoming. They chaired the so-called Bowles-Simpson commission that two years ago proposed a package of spending cuts and tax hikes to begin reducing the federal debt, now estimated at over $16 trillion.

If you didn’t see Lloyd Blankfein’s CBS interview a few days ago, it gets better. From Huffington Post, “CEO Council Demands Cuts To Poor, Elderly While Reaping Billions In Government Contracts, Tax Breaks”:

WASHINGTON — The corporate CEOs who have made a high-profile foray into deficit negotiations have themselves been substantially responsible for the size of the deficit they now want closed.


The companies represented by executives working with the Campaign To Fix The Debt have received trillions in federal war contracts, subsidies and bailouts, as well as specialized tax breaks and loopholes that virtually eliminate the companies’ tax bills.


The CEOs are part of a campaign run by the Peter Peterson-backed Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, which plans to spend at least $30 million pushing for a deficit reduction deal in the lame-duck session and beyond.


During the past few days, CEOs belonging to what the campaign calls its CEO Fiscal Leadership Council — most visibly, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein and Honeywell’s David Cote — have barnstormed the media, making the case that the only way to cut the deficit is to severely scale back social safety-net programs — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — which would disproportionately impact the poor and the elderly.


But not them or their firms. The HuffPost’s Christina Wilkie and Ryan Grim point to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies that calls Fix the Debt “a Trojan horse for massive corporate tax breaks,” and provides these findings:

  • The 63 Fix the Debt companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals — a “territorial tax system.” Under this system, companies would not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on foreign earnings when they bring the profits back to the United States.
  • The CEOs backing Fix the Debt personally received a combined total of $41 million in savings last year thanks to the Bush-era tax cuts. The top CEO beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts in 2011, Leon Black of Apollo Global Management, saved $9.9 million on the Bush tax cuts. The private equity fund leader reaped $215 million in taxable income last year just from vested stock.
  • Of the 63 Fix the Debt CEOs at publicly held firms, 24 received more in compensation last year than their corporations paid in federal corporate income taxes. All but six of these firms reported U.S. profits last year.

So the one-time-only Bush repatriation tax holiday (2004) is back again, again. A year ago, NC Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan partnered with Sen. John McCain in an attempt to resurrect the one-time-only scheme one more time. It went nowhere. But their corporate sponsors are persistent little devils. So now repatriation is back re-branded as Fix the Debt’s “territorial tax system.” In addition to the profits mentioned above, the territorial tax system “give companies additional incentives to disguise U.S. profits as income earned in tax havens in order to avoid paying U.S. income taxes.”


Not to mention a permanent incentive for moving jobs offshore. Chuck Marr, Director of Federal Tax Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Jared Bernstein last year, “a dog could figure this out.” [timestamp 4:10]

Isn’t that nice. Show this to your relatives who still think this whole austerity “crisis” is real.

Up is down

Black is white, and slavery is freedom!

Republicans react to possible filibuster reform:

Senator Coburn, meanwhile, warns that reform would require Republicans to finally “fight back” (as if they’ve been a passive observer of Senate business for the last four years) because it will “take away minority rights.” So let’s be as clear as possible: The package of reforms most likely to be adopted would not take away the ability of the minority to block legislation supported by a majority of the Senate.


That’s right: While the reforms currently being considered would force filibustering into the open and end the ability to filibuster before proceeding to debate and in other situations, they would not — repeat, not — mean an end to the filibuster on ending debate and having a final vote on any bill. In other words, these reforms would simply remove ways of using the filibuster explicitly as a tactic to gum up the works by stalling legislation, without altering the underlying ability to block legislation with a minority of the Senate. It would fundamentally remain a 60-vote institution where majority rule doesn’t automatically prevail. Indeed, some liberals think this means the reforms aren’t good enough.


These GOP warnings remind us, as Mike Tomasky points out, that there is going to be a ferocious spin war over filibuster reform, and Dems need to be prepared. But the news media plays a role here, too. News outlets may well fall into a familiar pattern of false equivalence and fail to inform readers of the unadorned facts of the situation and the basic history of the last four years — essentially misleading their readers and viewers in the name of fake “balance.”

I love watching millionaire politicians divvy up our safety net, don’t you? So does George Stephanopoulos, since he brings it up Every. Single. Chance. He. Gets. The thought of some working class schmoe having a dignified retirement really, really gets to the Villagers, apparently:

Senators, welcome. And, Senator Durbin, let me begin with you. You see those markets going up in anticipation of a deal. Are they right to be optimistic?

DURBIN: Well, they should be optimistic, because we can solve this problem. Unfortunately, for the last 10 days, with the House and Congress gone for the Thanksgiving recess, there hasn’t much — much progress hasn’t been made. But tomorrow there’s no excuse. We’re back in town.

And, George, let me tell you, it gets down to the basics. The House of Representatives has a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate that will spare 98 percent of taxpayers across America from any income tax raises and 97 percent of businesses. It’s a bipartisan bill the House should pass to make sure that we go forward with these negotiations without this specter of tax increases for working families.

They also, I might add, have a bipartisan farm bill sent by the Senate that they’ve been unable to pass and a bipartisan bill for the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. It’s time for the House in the closing days of this session to at least take up those three measures and pass it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Senator Graham, you’ve signaled that you’re willing to raise revenues as part of an overall deal that also includes spending cuts, and that’s drawn the fire of Grover Norquist, you know, the author of that no-tax pledge that’s been in place among so many Republicans for 20 years right now. He thinks the best solution is actually not to negotiate a compromise right now, is to go over the cliff. He says the world won’t come to an end if this isn’t resolved before January. Take the sequester. The only thing worse than sequester cuts is to not cut spending at all. He’s saying don’t raise taxes, accept those spending cuts.

Grover, of course, using the old Brer Rabbit strategy: “Oh please, please throw us into that sequester patch!”

GRAHAM: Well, what I would say to Grover Norquist is that the sequester destroys the United States military. According to our own secretary of defense, it would be shooting ourselves in the head. You’d have the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, the smallest Air Force in the history of the country, so sequestration must be replaced.

I’m willing to generate revenue. It’s fair to ask my party to put revenue on the table. We’re below historic averages. I will not raise tax rates to do it. I will cap deductions. If you cap deductions around the $30,000, $40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue, and the people who lose their deductions are the upper-income Americans.

But to do this, I just don’t want to promise the spending cuts. I want entitlement reforms. Republicans always put revenue on the table. Democrats always promise to cut spending. Well, we never cut spending. What I’m looking for is more revenue for entitlement reform before the end of the year…

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to ask Senator Durbin about that, but let me press you one more time on Grover Norquist, because he’s had some tough words for you. In the end, he says, you’re not going to go through on this promise to raise revenues, because you, quote, “like being a senator.” Your response?

GRAHAM: I love being a senator, and I want to be a senator that matters for the state of South Carolina and the country. When you’re $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece, and Republicans — Republicans should put revenue on the table. We’re this far in debt. We don’t generate enough revenue. Capping deductions will help generate revenue. Raising tax rates will hurt job creation.

So I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates, but I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can’t cap deductions and buy down debt. What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

The game’s laid out for us. Republicans want to trade teeny, tiny deduction cuts for Big Bold CUTS in the national safety net. Will Obama let them?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about that entitlement reform, Senator Durbin, because you see your allies in the Democratic Party are already starting to mobilize with ads from labor unions, the AARP airing across the country right now. I want to show part of it right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): How do we move our country forward and reduce the deficit? By creating jobs and growing our economy, not by cutting progress that families rely on most. For working families, it’s all about putting Americans back to work, not cutting the things we rely on most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: They are signaling that they can’t accept the kinds of entitlement reforms, especially in Medicare and Social Security, that Senator Graham is saying are prerequisite to a deal.

DURBIN: Let me tell you, first, George — and you know this – Social Security does not add one penny to our debt — not a penny. It’s a separate funded operation, and we can do things that I believe we should now, smaller things, played out over the long term that gives it solvency.
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The fake skills shortage

You may wonder if it was always this way, that it was the job of the taxpayers to provide job-ready employees for the sainted job creators. Let me tell you a little story.

Way back during the reign of King Ronald, the king was giving speeches about how necessary it was for public schools to concentrate on delivering job-ready graduates instead of filling their heads with all that music and arts nonsense. And lo, it came to pass. Local school districts bought all kinds of business equipment so the king’s wish could be fulfilled.

Let me translate. There was a massive transfer of wealth at the taxpayers’ expense so the schools could provide the same training that businesses used to pay for, back when they still invested in their workers. I don’t remember anyone questioning this at the time. It was all: Go, team! America’s future!

But I was just old enough to remember when it was different, and I wondered why no one objected. When a company would interview you (to see if you were smart enough to do the job) and offer you a position, for which they would train you. Even for jobs like computer programming!

But during Reagan, it got twisted all around and turned into one big shell game. Not only were you supposed to present yourself as already trained, you had to guess which jobs would have openings! Now, every time there’s a recession, we’re told there’s a “skills mismatch” and that Americans have to train “for the jobs of the future.” (No one ever seems to accurately predict what those jobs might be.)

And here’s the other hole un this philosophy: Not everyone is smart enough to do a high-skilled job. So those people should curl up in the corner and die the slow death of starvation wages? Uh, I don’t think so.

Paul Krugman on the alleged skills shortage:

Kudos to Adam Davidson for some much-needed mythbusting about the supposed skills shortage holding the US economy back. Whenever you see some business person quoted complaining about how he or she can’t find workers with the necessary skills, ask what wage they’re offering. Almost always, it turns out that what said business person really wants is highly (and expensively) educated workers at a manual-labor wage. No wonder they come up short.


And this dovetails perfectly with one of the key arguments against the claim that much of our unemployment is “structural”, due to a mismatch between skills and labor demand.


If that were true, you should see soaring wages for those workers who do have the right skills; in fact, with rare exceptions you don’t.


So what you really want to ask is why American businesses don’t feel that it’s worth their while to pay enough to attract the workers they say they need.

Um, because our political system is so badly distorted that working people have no real champions? And that employers are so greedy, they’re cutting off their noses to spite their faces?

Missing you

Alison Krauss and John Waite:

Breaking up is hard to do

Neil Sedaka with the slow version:

Late November

Sandy Denny:

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