Are any of you surprised?

Man Takes A Dive, Jumps Off Third Mainland Bridge and Drowns

I didn’t think so. H/T Ron K.:

Around 45,000 suicides each year are attributable to unemployment, according to a survey of 63 countries published in The Lancet Psychiatry on Wednesday.

Health watchdogs should regard unemployment as a continuous suicide risk, and not just at times of economic crisis, its authors said.

University of Zurich researchers in Switzerland pored over mortality data from 63 economies between 2000 and 2011.

The period spanned prosperity and stability as well as the global financial blowup and its aftermath.

During this period, around 233,000 suicides were recorded each year, of which about 45,000 could be attributed to unemployment.
Continue reading “Are any of you surprised?”

It takes a village of ‘experts’ to craft Hillary’s spiel

Swamp Rabbit explains Hillary's quandary regarding income inequality
Swamp Rabbit ponders Hillary’s income inequality quandary

The headline — “Economic plan is a quandary for Clinton ’16” — was provocative. The lede was downright bizarre:

With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.

“She’s betwixt a rock and a hard place,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Ain’t gonna be easy to solve that there quandary.”

“The poor are being cheated because of laws that are too favorable to the wealthy,” I said. “At this point, the wealthy should understand this. It doesn’t take 200 experts to state the obvious.”

I wondered why I felt so worked up about Hillary’s campaign strategy. Then I remembered I’m one of the poors, living in a shack in the Tinicum swamp with an alcoholic rabbit. It galls me that she is trying to successfully mimic Elizabeth Warren’s call to correct income inequality, but without endorsing any of Warren’s remedies for the problem.

“She’s just another Democrat trying to win without changing the status quo,” I said. “She’d rather alienate millions of poors than risk alienating her hard core of wealthy campaign contributors.”

The rabbit shoved some twigs in the wood stove and looked at me funny. “What’s so odd about that, Odd Man? If wealthy people quit givin’ her money, how’s she gonna afford all them experts that tell her how not to piss off the wealthy?”

‘Deflategate’ a bigger story than SOTU


I was on the porch at the shack with Swamp Rabbit, critiquing Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union address. Obama turned out to be the embodiment of magical thinking on the part of American liberals, I told the rabbit. It long ago became clear he is the consummate insider, good buddies with Jamie Dimon and other elite fraudsters, but put him onstage and he still sounds like a crusader against income inequality:

It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come. Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?

I noted that the questions Obama posed have been answered many times since the Reagan years, when the income gap between the rich and poor began to widen. But our silver-tongued leader obviously enjoys re-asking it, especially now that both the Senate and House are in Republican hands and his opportunity to fight income inequality has come and gone.

“The man is a lame duck,” the rabbit said. “Don’t matter what he says or what you say. How ’bout you git down off that soapbox? There’s real news goin’ on out there.”

I pointed out to him that I was standing on his case of Wild Turkey, not on a soapbox. “What’s the real news?” I said.

It was “Deflategate.” Someone from the New England Patriots, prior to the team’s game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, may have let some of the air out of the footballs the Patriots would use. Slightly deflated balls are easier to throw and catch, so the balls may have been a factor in the Patriots’ lopsided victory. In other words, the Patriots have been accused of cheating. Stop the presses!

“That’s crazy,” I said. “Everybody knew the Patriots were going to win that game. You’re just angry because you didn’t have the money to bet on them, and because you lost money on them the week before. How come the Patriots are news but Obama isn’t?”

The rabbit twitched his nose and spat in the swamp. “Because nobody knows yet how the Patriots story is gonna turn out. That’s more than you can say for the Obama story.”

Sickness and foreclosure

Waiting for demolition in Detroit  These houses are on one of the streets known for beautiful homes - West Grand Blvd. Many have dreamed of moving into a house here in the past. Each house has a yellow tax foreclosure bag in it.

Not really a serious question, is it? This happens all the time:

Piles of research link foreclosure to depression, increased emergency room visits and even suicide among people who have lost their homes or are close to it. But just as foreclosures can contribute to health problems, new research shows that health problems can contribute to foreclosure, as well.

Middle-aged adults with chronic conditions that got worse as they grew older are nearly twice as likely to default on their mortgages and 2.6 times as likely to lapse into foreclosure than those whose chronic conditions remained stable, according to a recent study that tracked people as they hit their 40th and 50th birthdays during the foreclosure crisis.

The study concluded that those who got sicker from 2007 through 2010 were more likely to lose their jobs, and therefore their income and health insurance, which heightened their chances of foreclosure. But even people who weren’t grappling with job loss and its consequences were more likely to default, possibly because they struggled with high medical costs, the study said.

In other words, even with the foreclosure crisis behind us, the economy improving and a new health care law in effect that provides expanded coverage for millions of Americans, it’s still extremely expensive to get sick in this country. And one of the consequences may be losing your house.

“The bigger theme remains: Can we break the link between becoming ill and becoming financially devastated?” said Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College. “The recession was a good case study to explore this larger question.”

Unemployment is falling but wages aren’t rising

Robert Reich

Robert Reich on why rages won’t rise:

Yet there’s reason to believe the link between falling unemployment and rising wages has been severed.

For one thing, it’s easier than ever for American employers to get the workers they need at low cost by outsourcing jobs abroad rather than hiking wages at home. Outsourcing can now be done at the click of a computer keyboard.

Besides, many workers in developing nations now have access to both the education and the advanced technologies to be as productive as American workers. So CEOs ask, why pay more?

Meanwhile here at home, a whole new generation of smart technologies is taking over jobs that used to be done only by people. Rather than pay higher wages, it’s cheaper for employers to install more robots.

Not even professional work is safe. The combination of advanced sensors, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, big data, text-mining, and pattern-recognition algorithms is even generating smart robots capable of quickly learning human actions.

In addition, millions of Americans who dropped out of the labor market in the Great Recession are still jobless. They’re not even counted as unemployment because they’ve stopped looking for work.

But they haven’t disappeared entirely. Employers know they can fill whatever job openings emerge with this “reserve army” of the hidden unemployed – again, without raising wages.

Add to this that today’s workers are less economically secure than workers have been since World War II. Nearly one out of every five is in a part-time job.

Insecure workers don’t demand higher wages when unemployment drops. They’re grateful simply to have a job.

To make things worse, a majority of Americans have no savings to draw upon if they lose their job. Two-thirds of all workers are living paycheck to paycheck. They won’t risk losing a job by asking for higher pay.

Insecurity is now baked into every aspect of the employment relationship. Workers can be fired for any reason, or no reason. And benefits are disappearing. The portion of workers with any pension connected to their job has fallen from over half in 1979 to under 35 percent in today.

Wingnut hocus pocus

The Heritage Foundation

Gov. Sam Brownback, the man who’s absolutely destroyed his state’s economy with wingnut austerity and crazy trickledown policies, is still trying to make 0 + 0 = 10. Silly man!

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) will propose tax revenue increases in order to address the state’s budget shortfall, the Wichita Eagle reported on Saturday.

Brownback announced last month that he would initiate budget cuts to help fill the large budget deficit projected to reach $279 million by June 2015. Jon Hummel, the governor’s chief of staff, told the Eagle that the governor would specifically target the state’s education budget.

Brownback implemented steep income tax cuts during his first term in office, which prompted some state Republicans to back the Democratic candidate in the 2014 election.

Hummel said that the governor is still focused on limiting spending despite the proposal to increase tax revenue.

“Revenue didn’t come in quite as was projected,” he told the Eagle. “If we can do some things on the tax side and do some things on the budget side and still maintain that overall philosophy, then he’s always been open to that.”

Ivan Klima covers the NFL playoffs


Swamp Rabbit and I were hungry, so we took a two-day job — strictly commission, unfortunately — peddling magical electricity in a suburban mall. There were flat-screen TVs and football fans all over the place. We caught some of the New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens playoff game as we worked. The rabbit had bet on the Patriots to win by seven points, but they only won by four, so he lost his bet and was in no mood to join the Patriots fans as they cheered.

But the fans quickly shut up and went back to gawking at the shiny toys in the mall. Tom Brady is a great QB, I told the rabbit, but who really cares about the Patriots where we live, in Philadelphia Eagles country? In fact, who cares about the Eagles? They’re done. Show me the next distraction, please.

“In the end, it’s all garbage,” I added.

No one was looking to consume magical electricity, so I pulled from my backpack a dog-eared copy of Czech novelist Ivan Klima’s Love and Garbage and read to the rabbit a relevant passage about consumers:

They fill the streets, the squares, the stadiums and the department stores. When they burst into cheers over a winning goal, a successful pop song or a revolution, it seems as if that roar would go on forever, but it is followed at once by the deathly silence of emptiness and oblivion.

“Don’t give me no high-falutin’ lectures, I ain’t in the mood,” the rabbit replied. “I just lost fifty bucks on them freakin’ Patriots. Now I gotta stand here and watch these here consumers consume all them toys I can’t afford.”

I told him all is good, the toys won’t make the consumers any happier than he is, not for more than a few minutes. “What these people need, they can’t buy at the mall,” I said.

I added. “You’re just looking to fill the void inside you where your soul should be.”

“You got that right, Odd Man. Any liquor stores in this dump?”

We folded up our table and left the mall, still hungry. On the way back to the swamp I stole some wieners at the SuperFridge and a liter of Wild Turkey at Tinicum Beer & Spirits.

“Here you go, rabbit,” I said, handing him the Wild Turkey back at the shack. “But this garbage won’t fill the void.”

He guzzled straight from the bottle and said, “Maybe not, but at least it’ll stop the shakes.”

‘Abundance with attachment’ is right-wing doubletalk


Swamp Rabbit and I huddled next to the wood stove and pored over a cheery Christmas article by economist Arthur C. Brooks, who wants people to make an attitude adjustment regarding possessions. He urges readers to “collect experiences, not things,” and to “steer clear of excessive usefulness” meaning don’t make it a rule to do only those those that are a means to some practical end. And to “get to the center of the wheel” — to belief in something that transcends wealth and fame and other temporal joys.

“Who’s this here article for?” the rabbit said. “I ain’t got nothin’ in the world but a head of lettuce and that bottle of Wild Turkey you give me for collectin’ this here firewood.”

“He wrote it for the one percenters who feel guilty about their piggishness and want to be absolved,” I said. “He takes it for granted that all of his readers are wealthy, or close to it.”

I pointed to the one instance in the New York Times article where Brooks mentions Americans who don’t fit his target demographic: “For those living paycheck to paycheck, a focus on money is understandable. But for those of us blessed to be above poverty, attachment to money is a means-ends confusion.”

“I don’t know anybody ain’t livin’ paycheck to paycheck, or without no paychecks at all,” the rabbit said. “What planet is this guy on?”

“It’s not so much a planet as an alternate universe,” I said. “The other 99 percent of us don’t exist in his universe, unless there’s a need for babysitters or someone to clean the windows.”

I told the rabbit that Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank whose boosters include Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney. This helps explain why he writes things like “Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide” instead of mentioning that income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing since the 1970s. It’s why he focuses on the angst of the affluent rather than on the millions in the world who can’t make ends meet, despite their so-called bounty.

His message is that the well-off should embrace their possessions without becoming “attached” to them, because all things must pass. It’s a contemporary version of Billy Graham-style Protestantism, with the same underlying message: Enjoy your wealth but praise the Lord. Throw a bone to the poor to confirm you are unselfish and worthy of heaven. Fight big government efforts to feed the poor, that’s socialism.

“He’s part right,” the rabbit said. “You can’t take it with you. Ain’t it obvious?”

“What’s not obvious is his agenda,” I said. “He pretends to be turned off by the commercialization of Christmas but he’s a crusader for the free-market capitalism that has made Christmas so ugly. He pretends he has transcended materialism in order to advance it. ‘Abundance without attachment’ is a bullshit expression, a contradiction in terms. I’d like to punch him in the face. His editor, too.”

“Get a grip, Odd Man,” the rabbit said, reaching for his bottle. “A couple of hits of this will take the edge off.’

I could smell the bourbon as soon as he broke the seal. “I might take you up on that,” I said. “But I’m afraid I might become too attached to the stuff.”

Our jobs are killing us

If you’re still lucky enough to have a job, that is:

American workers do work longer hours than we did a generation ago, according to some analyses, and hundreds more per year than our counterparts in France or Germany—the equivalent of six to eight extra weeks a year. We top the Eurozone nations in productivity by 18 percentage points. “Every month the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] releases its worker-productivity numbers, which measure output per labor hour worked,” says Celeste Monforton, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) staffer. Montforton, now at the George Washington University School of Public Health, points out that the numbers “go up every month. And that’s because businesses are not hiring new workers; they’re just expecting the old workers to work more, and spitting them out after they get injured.” Some of these gains come from the adoption of new technologies, but others just come from pushing workers harder.

A 2013 survey of its own union reps by the United Steelworkers, which represents such blue-collar industries as oil and steel, found that production pressures, the increased pace of work and increased workloads topped workplace health concerns—outstripping more obvious risks such as poorly maintained equipment. When the reps were asked to give an example of a health or safety problem that had
gotten worse over the past year, understaffing led the list. The jobless recovery, in other words, is sustained in part by aggressively overworking those with jobs.

Take the meatpacking industry. By age 39, Juan Martinez, who worked at a Cargill beef processing plant near Omaha, had hands so disfigured from making repetitive cuts that he could no longer work; he is now surviving on disability. He still experiences pain so intense it feels like nails are being hammered into his fingers. His crew had to slice up 4,600 twenty- to thirty-pound pieces per shift. In the four years he was at the plant, from 2003 to 2006, the number of people at his station dropped from eight to six or seven, while the parts kept coming. Since they couldn’t keep up with the line when someone took a bathroom break, supervisors responded by simply denying break requests. “There are people who would pee in their pants,” he told me, “because they didn’t give them permission to go.”

Another meatpacking worker, whom I’ll call Porfirio, worked on the kill line at XL Four Star Beef (now JBS) in Omaha for twenty-seven years. When he started, he says, they killed 1,000 cattle in a ten-hour shift; now they kill 1,100 in eight and a half hours. At night, when he goes to bed, his hands hurt so much that he has trouble falling asleep; when he wakes up in the morning, he can’t move them at all. Everyone talked about popping enormous doses of Tylenol; some talked about pressure so intense it left them depressed. “The Speed Kills You,” a 2009 report from the nonprofit organization Nebraska Appleseed, was based on a survey of 455 meatpacking workers; it cataloged a range of injuries, from cuts, falls and fractures to musculoskeletal and repetitive-strain injuries, attributed mainly to “uninterrupted line speed.” Three-quarters of respondents said line speed had increased in their plant over the past year.

Line speeds in meatpacking and poultry are federally regulated for food safety only, not worker safety. Last year, the USDA proposed to raise the cap on poultry line speeds from 140 to an almost unimaginable 175 birds a minute, even though hand and wrist injuries were already rampant in the industry. A government study of one poultry plant in March of this year found that 41 percent of the workers already exceed safe limits for hand activity, and 42 percent showed evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome.

H/t Terry Eaton.