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Where to shop? Where to eat?

by: DocJess

Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 06:00:00 AM EST

We all know that 70% of the economy is dictated by consumer spending. This means shopping, and often eating out. Some people shop at Wal-Mart. A LOT of people. The numbers below are from 2010.

  • Every week, more than 176 million customers shop at Wal-Mart's 5,300 stores.
  • With $401 billion in revenue, the company is bigger than 160 nations.
  • Wal-Mart is China's eighth-largest trading partner, ahead of most countries.

Do they have low prices? Kinda-sorta. The shelf prices are low, as is the quality. There are issues with additives, like cadmium and other deadly substances showing up in their baby, pet and grooming products imported from China. So if your toothpaste is really cheap but it kills you....

Wal-Mart has been successfully sued for the maltreatment of workers. The Pennsylvania settlement was $187 million, and Wal-Mart lost again on appeal. Their warehouse employees (hired via jobbers) have struck this year over working conditions, and a series of walkouts by Wal-Mart employees is planned for Black Friday.

I hope you will consider spending some of your holiday money at Small Business Saturday - being held this coming Saturday, 24 November. This is a way to support your local businesses. Incongruously, it's sponsored by Amex, which has a site that helps you find small businesses in your area. Nonetheless, it's still a good idea. 

So you're out shopping and you're hungry and want something to eat. Choices abound, from those same small, local restaurants to the big chains. And here's where we get to the politics of it. Let's start with this list:

  • Red Lobster
  • Olive Garden
  • Longhorn Steakhouse
  • Bahama Breeze
  • Seasons 52
  • The Capital Grille
  • Eddie V's
  • Yard House

What they all have in common is that they're owned by the Darden Restaurants, Inc., which employs about 185,000 people, of whom approximately 45,000 are full time. They used to provide health insurance for their employees. For the part-timers, it was that crappy insurance where there are annual limits of $10,000 - $25,000, but it was better for full-time employees. No more - now it's a defined contribution program in lieu of a defined benefit program. This is always a situation good for management and bad for workers. They are doing this to "prepare" for Obamacare, after having acquired a waiver for the past couple years to enable them to continue the crappy insurance programs. Their other program to cut wage costs and increase return to investors? Cutting hours: from full-time to part-time. Source. They also steal wages from employees: yes, there's a suit, and it's expanding. This suit involves stealing money from waiters and waitresses, who earn in the neighborhood of $3.00/hour before tips. Think about it - stealing from the low-paid.

But it doesn't stop there. Darden has no franchisees, so their actions affect about 2,000 restaurants across the US. Other chains have both company stores and franchisees, and the latter can make their own decisions. The NYC Applebee's group has announced cuts from full-time to part-time, although this is not a company-wide undertaking. Other franchisees who will be cutting hours belong to the groups of IHOP, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's....you know the list.

You've certainly heard the Papa John's plan to cut hours AND raise the price of pizza. I truly do not understand the Papa John's thing. I really don't. I get the cut hours and raise prices thing: John Schnatter is a greedy Republican. What I do not understand is why anyone would ever eat pizza from Papa John's. Several years ago, I was at someone's house, and they'd ordered Papa John's pizza. The crust tasted to me like a cross between matzoh and cardboard. As a Native New Yorker, I can tell you, that stuff was NOT pizza. If you want to argue Chicago-style vs. NY-style with me, that's fine, there are points to be made on both sides. But Papa John's isn't pizza. 

So my question is this: why would you spend your money at these places? Now, I've spent my share of dollars at a lot of Darden's restaurants, and years ago, I'd been to the Wal-Mart. But not now. In point of fact, I had dinner at Bahama Breeze last Friday night. Some friends had wanted to take me to dinner to celebrate the election, and I'd picked Bahama Breeze. One of the managers came to sit with us for a while (he's new in town, and will need to register to vote -- I swear it never stops.) We talked hours and insurance, and he assured me that everyone at Bahama Breeze had insurance, and that Darden was committed to its employees. That was what made me come home and research. Liar, liar, pants on fire. So no more Peruvian corn cakes for me. 

It's an ever-expanding list of people who put profits in front of people. It's actually hard to keep up. A company with no employees has lost its greatest asset. We, as progressives, fight to make sure the government does right by all Americans. It's a belief system. As this whole bad-restaurant thing joins the bad-Wal-Mart thing, it becomes imperative for us, as individuals, to keep our money local, and keep our dollars away from people who do EXACTLY what the GOP wants their minions to do, which is create a huge chasm between the haves and the have nots. We need to stand together.

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

Statement on the Employment Situation in September

by: Oreo

Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 10:08:07 AM EDT

The Employment Situation in September
Posted by Alan B. Krueger on October 5, 2012 at 9:30AM

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007. 

Most pressing, Congress should pass an extension of middle class tax cuts that President Obama proposed, and the Senate passed.  This extension would prevent the typical middle class family from facing a $2,200 tax increase at the beginning of next year. In addition, the President has proposed a plan that will enable responsible homeowners to refinance their mortgage and take advantage of today’s historically low interest rates. To create more jobs in particularly hard-hit sectors, President Obama continues to urge Congress to pass elements of the American Jobs Act, including further investment in infrastructure to rebuild our Nation’s ports, roads and highways, and assistance to State and local governments to prevent layoffs and to enable them to rehire hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders.

Today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that private sector establishments added 104,000 jobs last month, and overall non-farm payroll employment rose by 114,000. Revisions to the previous two months added another 86,000 jobs.  The economy has now added private sector jobs for 31 straight months. Taking account of the preliminary benchmark revision (+453,000) released last week, the economy has added a total of 5.2 million private sector jobs during that period.

The household survey showed that the unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest rate since January 2009.  Labor force participation rose by 418,000 people in September, and the labor force participation rate rose by 0.1 percentage point. Over the last 12 months, the unemployment rate has decreased by 1.2 percentage points, the largest drop since February 1995.

Employment rose notably in health care and social assistance (+44,500), transportation and warehousing (+17,100), restaurants and bars (+15,700) financial activities (+13,000), and professional and business services (+13,000). Manufacturing lost 16,000 jobs, primarily in durable goods (-13,000).

As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available.


Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Religion, Facebook and Employment

by: DocJess

Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 06:44:32 AM EDT

You might think it would be difficult to merge the three topics in the title but really, not so hard. This is a religious weekend for many people (Happy Passover! Happy Easter!) and like many people, I have seen both friends and family. One of the topics that came up was Facebook. I  have friends and family who are not on Facebook, and it turns out one of the reasons that some people either avoid Facebook, or use a fake name, is because employers might ask to see their feed. That issue of turning over one's Facebook ID and password to potential employers made it to the House last week, and all the Republicans voted against banning the practice. Really.

Facebook is supposed to be a place where you can chat amoungst your friends and family, share pieces of your life, and promote your beliefs. I have some Facebook friends who are incredibly religious and post all sorts of things with which I personally don't agree, but I know these folks, and know that their beliefs do not in any way preclude them from being able to work, and work hard, in their chosen professions. While there are all sorts of protests about the amount of personal information Facebook shares with advertisers, even Facebook is opposed to sharing your information with your employer, or potential employer. I look at my own page: any employer would note that I'm crazy for my puppy, I play Words with Friends (not during working hours), and oh yeah, I have some political beliefs. Silly me, I thought that was protected by that freedom of speech thing. On my personal feed, there are no naked pictures, no porn, nothing involving drinking or drugs, no gang activity. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING untoward. 

However, I have young cousins, g-children and children of friends who cannot say the same. In college and at a party and OMG! holding a drink, even though said "kids" are 21 and are allowed to hoist a beer on a Saturday night. I actually do not know anyone who has never had an alcoholic beverage. If I were an employer (and I have, at times in my life been one) I wonder what I would think of what some people post on their feeds....and then I stop that thought, because I know it's not my business as a potential employer to care what any potential employee of mine does in his off-hours. The issue should be how well he would do the job. But I'm not everyone.

I'm worried about young people and their employment: they're the future, and they are getting truly slammed in this economy, you know, the one without an industrial policy. I posted a few months back:

From 1960 to 2009, the number of working-age men with full-time jobs fell from 83 percent to 66 percent. In Philadelphia, half of all young adults are unemployed, but three in 10 young men ages 25 to 34 had stopped looking for work before the recession hit.  

And now we honestly know why: something called mal-employment, when an entry level job goes to someone with far too much education and experience for that position, freezing out people who honestly are entry level. There is a fascinating article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer on the topic, replete with anecdotes and lots of statistics. Turns out that people really DO want to work, it's not that they're lazy, or not looking. 

"When a job is repetitious or rule-based, some smart engineer can devise some kind of algorithm to handle the work, sharply reducing the need for people with high school diplomas or less," said Drexel's Harrington. [...]

Why should Ken Dubin, owner of the Dubin Group, a Bala Cynwyd recruiting company, hire a high school grad to be a receptionist when he is able to employ a young woman with a master's degree in organizational development who is educated, articulate, intelligent, personable?

When someone with a master's degree works in admin, where does that leave the articulate, intelligent, personable high school graduate, who might also be capable of handling the job?

A Rutgers survey of college graduates from 2006 to 2010 found that just over half of recent college graduates were working full time, and half of them work in jobs that don't require a college degree.

And so there you have it. 

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

What if your government told you to leave to find a job?

by: DocJess

Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 05:54:54 AM EST

Pretend for a moment you live in a country where the unemployment rate is 14%, hasn't fallen below 10% for several years, and shows no signs of improving. Because of the structure of the economy, things are especially hard for the young, and for teachers. Imagine now that your government tells you that your only real chance of having a future is if you leave the country and travel to another continent for the possibility of work.

Welcome to Portugal.

"Recent graduates should lead a new type of emigration, different from the 1960s, when Europe was the destination," Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Miguel Relvas said recently. "In the past 20 years, Portugal has invested in a generation of people, and now we can't give them what they need: employment." [...]

What seemed at first to be a public relations gaffe soon received the governmental seal of approval when Conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho advised unemployed teachers to search for jobs in Brazil and Angola. Source.

Some of the "blame" here falls at the feet of the austerity measures required by the IMF, the EU and the Central Bank as conditions for a bailout. In another year, it will be equally bad in Greece.

Here in the United States, most people (or their ancestors) came here for economic opportunity, to escape religious persecution, or just plain for a better life for them and their children. Still, it seems somehow disquieting that a government is saying, effectually, that their economy is in ruins and it's time to go. This isn't a migration due to natural events, like a dust bowl, a potato famine (yes, I know, political overtones), or something similar. This is a government watching over a country where the economy is contracting, and having young people and teachers leaving will only serve to hasten that decline. Here's what gets me:

Portugal has always had large-scale emigration – around three million live abroad and ten million at home – but in the past it was the working class and villagers who left for a better life, not the skilled and well-educated.

Lack of competitiveness is at the heart of Portugal's economic problems, bemoaned by everybody from heads of industry to café owners. Unlike Greece, the nation's finances have been fairly well run. Unlike the Irish, the Portuguese are not in a mess because of the bursting of an unsustainable boom. Source.

The are both similarities and differences between the problems in Europe and here at home. Trying to have a single currency while maintaining different governments was always dicey. It may well be that Greece is the first to leave the euro behind. And if Portugal's problems cross the border into Spain, the whole EU could dissolve economically. 

Here in the US, our currency is not interdependent, and it is "the" currency that people worldwide set things to. But we, too, are plagued with a lack of opportunity at all levels of the 99%. Our kids, too, coming out of college and grad school don't have the opportunities available even 5 years ago. Will our government be telling them, too, to go to South America and Africa for opportunities they cannot find here? Perhaps to Asia? A lot of the emigrating Portuguese are moving to previous Portuguese colonies. We have no colonies. Protectorates, sure, but I don't see a mass of people moving to the Northern Marianas. Or American Samoa. 

To me, this is a loud siren that we should heed. While the entire Republican party is getting the fiddles ready, we should be talking about spending money to make money. Obama's proposed budget is a good start: punish those corporations who offshore jobs, give breaks to manufacturers, improve the infrastructure, invest in education. What do you think?

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

The Employment Situation in December (from The White House Blog)

by: Oreo

Fri Jan 06, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM EST

By Alan Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the recession that began at the end of 2007.  Most importantly, we need to extend the payroll tax cut and continue to provide emergency unemployment benefits through the end of this year, and take other steps the President has proposed in the American Jobs Act.

Private sector payrolls increased by 212,000 jobs and overall payroll employment rose by 200,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage point to 8.5 percent, the lowest level since February 2009. The drop in unemployment over the month was mostly due to employment growth, not lower labor force participation. The unemployment rate has fallen by 0.9 percentage point in the last 12 months. Despite adverse shocks that have created headwinds for economic growth, the economy has added private sector jobs for 22 straight months, for a total of 3.2 million payroll jobs over that period. In the last 12 months, 1.9 million private sector jobs were added on net, more than in any year since 2005. Nonetheless, we need faster growth to put even more Americans back to work.

Sectors with net job increases in December included transportation and warehousing (+50,200), health care and social assistance (+28,700), retail trade (+27,900), manufacturing (+23,000), leisure and hospitality (+21,000), and construction (+17,000).  Local governments lost 14,000 jobs and state government employment was unchanged.

The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, as the Administration always stresses, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report.



Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Republican Idiocy on Parade

by: DocJess

Tue Dec 20, 2011 at 06:13:07 AM EST

Let's try to understand. 160 MILLION American taxpayers are looking at their taxes going up 2% on gross earned income. Another 2 MILLION Americans are looking at losing their unemployment benefits. More than 50 MILLION Americans are in danger of losing access to doctors if the doc fix doesn't go through. So, unable to come to a deal, 89 Senators say "let's extend this 2 months, and then argue it out again." The deal was agreed to by Reid, McConnell and Boehner prior to the Senate vote.

And now we see Boehner, surprisingly not crying, saying that the House won't even vote on the measure. HHMMMNN.

We, as in "we who read and follow these things" know that Boehner's problem is that the 2 month extension WOULD pass in the House, albeit not with a majority of Republicans. He would rather cost Americans dearly, then win with the Democrats. There are some words I'd like to say, but we're a family publication and all my words are curse words, in seven languages. 

So I'll just say: REALLY!?!?!?!?!?!?

For me, and for most Americans who work for a living, this isn't so much a tax hike as a pay cut. Personally, I'd expected that this was the one-year thing they said it was last year, so I didn't take the raise last year, I put the 2% in my 401(k), so I could pull it out. But most people didn't do that, most people need that 2%. (Not to mention the unemployment benefits and the doctors.)

Boehner wants a conference. That has worked SO WELL this year....think Catfood Commission II. Actually, they don't want a conference, they just don't want to go home and face the voters. Voters with heating bills. "Less money" is worse in winter then the rest of the time. 

It's amazing that Boehner is still speaker, that Eric Cantor and the rest of Teabag Nation hasn't voted him out. It's happened to other speakers...think Newt Gingrich....and while we're talking Newt, please click this link. It will take you to a game where you can guess whether the action was proposed by Newt or a supervillain. I'm not joking, it's a fun 10 minutes. If you guess wrong, guess the other one for the details, you'll see what I mean when you play. 

Well kids, it's two weeks to Iowa in a very fluid situation. While we wait to see what happens with the tax hike, please remember to write your reps about SOPA

Discuss :: (6 Comments)

Still Shopping at Wal-Mart?

by: DocJess

Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 06:58:55 AM EST

Without comment: the infographic says it all.

Walmart Infographic

Source: http://frugaldad.com

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

So Where Are We?

by: DocJess

Mon Dec 05, 2011 at 04:24:06 AM EST

It's 35 days, or one short holiday month, to the Iowa caucuses. The Cain Train is now in the Smithsonian, next to the Harold Stassen exhibit. If you think Herman's done with public life, you don't understand the extent of his arrogance and ego. He can certainly use Newt as a role model for ego, arrogance, and misstatements of fact, along with being a serial cheater.

But it's all an interesting set up: from the poll numbers, it appears that Herman's support has virtually all gone over to Newt. A little mentioned point in all this is the reason that Iowa and New Hampshire are the lead offs in the presidential contest every four years is that they're considered the retail politics states. The place where one wins by going door to door, talking ethanol in Iowa and milk issues in New Hampshire. The place where boots on the ground organization is road tested. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have virtually lived in Iowa for the past year, and are gaining no traction. Now, that might all pay off on caucus night, but if not, it heralds a change to national presidential primaries, that is, where it's all about the televised debates. If so, it means that all of politics could change for the better in another cycle or two. If retail politics are no longer necessary all of a sudden we could actually have a shortened cycle, a cheaper cycle, and national primaries. Potentially jungle primaries (okay, that's a step to far, but keep your eye on California in 2012 and see what you think about the jungle system.)

Another factor in the disinterest in retail politics this year is that the issues in the presidential race are national: jobs, jobs, jobs, along with a sprinkling of immigration, climate change and overall economics.

So maybe we'll run against Newt, which will just plain be fun, or Mittens, or even, it's been suggested, Jon Huntsman. The guy who can't seem to even get into double digits in polling may be the candidate we run against, and that would be interesting. Not as easy as either Newt or Mittens. 

But before we get to Iowa, we've got to get through the end of the year. As always, it means the appropriations bills as the last to go, and to get there, we've got to deal with the 2% tax cut last year, that would be a tax raise if it ends, unless you're a Republican. (My head spins.) Also, there is the extension to unemployment benefits and the doc fix. If you think that it's not possible that tragic inaction could occur, look no further than the Post Office.

Later today, the Postal Service will announce that first class mail is no longer going to be delivered all that quickly as they're planning on shutting half the processing plant along with the hundreds of post offices. Doesn't mean much to most of us, but this is necessary because it's the only option set left to them since Congress has refused to act (thanks John Boehner) on the things that would be helpful to keeping the postal service out of bankruptcy.

The Postal Service is a good example of what could happen if the Republicans aren't ousted as this IS what often happens with large private-public partnerships. You know, like when someone wants to outsource the Department of Education...anyway...Congress has not acted to allow the Postal Service to get overpaid monies out of their retirement program, haven't allowed them to restructure retirement programs, haven't allowed them any of the other tools that would have been helpful so the choice now is to cut service or go bankrupt because there will not be, by sometime next year, enough dollars in their checking account to pay employees or creditors. The rub is that one of the major reasons the Postal Service is in trouble is because fewer and fewer people use the mail service. Cutting service will hurt those people, BADLY, and will funnel them into other options. Most of us who use the internet on a daily basis receive and pay our bills online. We send eCards in lieu of paper ones, write emails instead of letters. But what about the people who receive their medical prescriptions by mail? Normally, those are delivered in a day. (The stat is that 51% of all first class mail is delivered nationwide overnight.) Most insurance companies only let you order once a quarter for mail prescriptions. If the medicine is a few days late it can be fatal for certain patients. What about the late fees to people who still pay their bills (which will also come later) via snail mail? Cutting service won't help the post office in the long run, it will hasten its death. 

But Congress isn't doing anything, NOR is it doing the kind of nothing where it would just get out of the way of what would better serve the options to keep the Postal Service viable. 

Let's bring all of this together, at the dog park, of course. I ran into my favourite tea bagger yesterday. I asked him what he was going to do now that his favourite candidate Herman had dropped out. He said he didn't know, since watching the Republicans was like waiting for the commercial to end and the real candidates to show up. I asked what he knew about Newt, and he said only that he'd been Speaker of the House. I asked if he knew that Newt had been ousted from the speakership by his own party, the ruling elite of which still hated him, if he knew he left one of his wives after she was diagnosed with MS, for a woman with whom he was having an affair while leading the charge against Bubba the Big Dog, and that he'd paid a $300,000 ethics fine (largest in history.) Other people chimed in with comments on the GOP field, equally as dismissive as mine. My tea bag friend said that it didn't matter for a while since he was a registered Democrat and couldn't vote in the primary anyway. 

We all stopped. 

In explaining, he said he just couldn't afford things anymore, and he blamed taxes. 

We all stopped again.

A chorus of "no, it's the wages, not the taxes...." -- and that explains the problems with getting through the end of the year, trying to save what's left of the Post Office extended unemployment benefits....a lot of people think it's the taxes, and not anything else. The messaging (I'm talking to you Koch brothers and Grover) has overcome the reality. And if we can fix that, we can bring reality and action back to DC. That will take smart people and a lot of boots on the ground spreading the message. Sometimes it really is that simple.

I leave you with this thought for today, blatantly stolen from FB..." Newt Gingrich is the intellectual of the Republican field the way Moe was the intellectual of the Stooges."

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 42 words in story)

The Politics of Feeding the Hungry

by: DocJess

Fri Nov 25, 2011 at 06:55:10 AM EST

Still stuffed from yesterday? Lucky you, she said with no hint of sarcasm.

I bought yesterday's Inquirer to peruse the Black Friday ads. As an aside, I'm not doing Black Friday this year, I'm keeping my pennies and spending them on Small Business Saturday. Anyway, there were a number of articles on hunger. One of the local food banks gave out 40,000 turkeys this year, but needed 65,000. Too many hungry people. From the Times:

[E]veryone needs to recognize a chilling reality: One in three Americans — 100 million people — is either poor or perilously close to it.

And there was an interesting Inky article on how giving food to food drives is nowhere near as effective as giving cash. I read the straight financial information and it made sense, but the thing that tightened my throat was the part about how people receive food and don't know what to do with it, or can't use it for some other reason. 

I've been giving food to food drives for decades. And suddenly I'm thinking: wow, they're right - most people don't like the food I like. They might not know how to cook. I'm not talking here about obscure yuppie produce: I'm thinking about more basic things. Allergies. Allergies don't discriminate based on economic standing. Peanut butter, for example, is a good thing to donate to a food drive, I always thought: good on bread, crackers or a spoon. Can be baked into cookies. Shelf stable. But what if a little kid has an allergy: if he/she is too young to read, the consequences could be deadly. Soup mix: what if someone doesn't have a stove? You can't make soup in a microwave. Plus this from the article:

The bottom line is that for the money they would spend on food, donors can feed 20 times more families by providing cash, not cans.

I'll be dropping off a check. Sheer guilt. 

But there's also a political issue here. I have written a lot on health care: how it is a basic necessity, a right. How we're the only first world nation with no coverage-for-all program. How our numbers for things like lifespan, infant mortality and all sorts of other stats just plain suck. But one of the most basic necessities of good health is eating well. And a third of Americans cannot. Their health suffers because potato chips and soda are much cheaper than fruits and vegetables. The sad reality is that our current government will not help them. 

Politics used to be so much simpler. Now, so many daily choices have something political behind them. Whether to shop at Wal-Mart on Black Friday, or the local pet store and hardware store on Small Business Saturday. Whether to buy cheap or buy American. Whether to take mass transit or drive. This list goes on and on. It's not just campaigning for politicians and causes. 

So what to do? I think the answer lies in voting out every Republican in office across America. There are some who say that the Democrats are no better, but they're wrong. I've heard lately that there are no more elected moderates, only teabaggers and liberals. Well, that's an easy choice. Remove the anchor and let the left float further left. 

And in the interim, if you can afford $100, or even $5 - give it to a food bank. 100 million of your fellow Americans are hungry. 

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Did the Super Committee Really Fail?

by: DocJess

Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 05:29:00 AM EST

No. The committee didn't fail: it did EXACTLY what it was supposed to do. There's an old expression which says "doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different outcome is the definition of stupidity." Sometimes "stupidity" is replaced with "insanity." And it's the case we have here: the same players who couldn't agree before, met in the same committee structure as always, negotiated the same things, and reached the same outcome: dead stop in the water.

I was very proud of our President last night when he said that he would veto any legislation which endeavored to circumvent the automatic-trigger cuts. Trust me, the military-industrial complex heard that loud and clear. While Obama has been known to negotiate away all sorts of things that snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, this is truly an ace in his hole. He'll need a bit more to win the poker game, but it's a start. 

The frame for all of this goes back to the Bush tax cuts, occurring simultaneously with the undertaking of two wars. War is expensive, and Bush is the first president in American history (possibly world history, but don't quote me) to cut taxes while going to war. Since lots of people like to make the incorrect comparison that the Federal budget is like a family budget, it would be like going from two incomes to one and simultaneously buying a house with twice the mortgage.

It's important to note that the analogy is inaccurate because the Federal government is NOT like a household. One of the lies Republicans like to tell is that the Feds need to take in as much as it spends "just like a family." But government works by borrowing: certainly not at the levels at which it needs to borrow now (look at Greece, Italy, and Spain for some reasons why not) but borrowing makes sense to get large projects accomplished, put people to work, and even to pay the bondholders. It's part of a contribution to the overall economy.

But let's go back to our family: if they went from two incomes to three, they could certainly afford that higher mortgage. HHHMMMNNN....if the Federal government took in more money, it could borrow less.  Go figure.

And that's the beauty of the "fail". We now have something concrete to run on. Obama will certainly run on it, the big question now is whether or not he can get other Democrats to run with him on it. Think about it: Obama does not have the most enmeshed relationship with elected Democrats. Imagine if Democratic leaders started standing up and saying "President Obama is right: no changes to the cuts. We Democrats could change the make-up of the cuts if you put us back in charge of Congress. We'd bring the troops home, allow the military cuts, and then make smart entitlement cuts by increasing taxes on the rich back to the level they were at when Bush became president. Don't ask yourself if you're better off now compared to 2008, ask yourself if you're better off now compared to 1999, when jobs were plentiful, your 401(k) was making money, and the future held promise. 1999? Look what the Republicans have done to America. Let's take our democracy back."


So you know what to do: write those emails, make those calls. Let YOUR reps know that if they're standing with the Republicans, you won't vote for them, and if they're standing with the President, you will. 

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

What if the U.S. was Greece?

by: DocJess

Thu Nov 03, 2011 at 06:00:00 AM EDT

As you may have heard, the Greek government is looking to hold a referendum on the bailout package offered by the European Union. A lot of rank-and-file Greeks like the idea of keeping the Euro as their currency, and remaining a member of the Union. However, that's only part of the deal, they also need to accept lower wages, higher taxes, and fewer services. An interesting concept: letting the people directly vote on the future of their country?

If it happened here, we know from polling data, a majority of people would support higher taxes on the rich, a slight rise in the Social Security age (likely over 20 years to age 70), limited cuts (if any) to social programs, a definite on legitimate jobs programs, the financial transactions tax (half a cent on $100), getting completely out of Afghanistan, and would balk at things like an increased Federal gas tax, lessening of the mortgage deduction, and expiration of all the Bush and Obama tax cuts. (Yes, you can name others, this is not an inclusive list.)

What if America had to choose? Would we, as a people, do a better job than the partisans in DC? Would people even vote? Would we take the sacrifice along with what we want? Perspiring minds want to know....please use the comments.  

Maybe it wouldn't be necessary if DC took this advice:


Discuss :: (11 Comments)

Do you know where your restaurant dollar is going?

by: DocJess

Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 06:00:00 AM EDT

Think back to the last time you ate out at a restaurant with table service. Likely when the check came, you plopped a credit card in the little case. Maybe a debit card, but very unlikely that it was cash. And they ran your card, brought it back, you figured out the tip, added it up, signed, left and felt okay. You probably thought that if you left a tip of $5 or $10 or whatever, it went to the waitperson. Maybe a cut of that went to the busboy, but generally to the waitperson who makes a minimum cash wage, in most states, of $2.13/hour. Two dollars and thirteen cents. 

Since we like math, if a waitperson worked 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, that would be a full time job, and an annual wage of $4,260 a year. That's right, less than $5,000 a year. Oh wait, plus tips. You know, that money you left. Federal law requires (different in some states) that the waitperson (if he/she earns more than $30/month in tips) actually be compensated by the restaurant for $7.25/hour, or minimum wage. 

Here's the thing: it turns out that the restaurants SAY they're paying that and then deduct from the tips the credit card charge from Master Card, VISA, Amex, etc. 

Today in Philadelphia, the City Council rules committee voted to outlaw this practice, and insure that when you leave a tip in Philly, it goes to the waitperson. It will now go to the full council, which is expected to pass it. 

The Pennsylvania Restaurant Association said this will probably put some restaurants out of business. Really? My guess is that whoever owns the restaurant is pulling down an annual wage of above $2.13 an hour, even $7.25 an hour.

Personally, I'm taking no chances -- cash at the restaurant from here on out for me! 

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

We Can't Wait: Obama Administration Announces Two Steps to Help Businesses Create Jobs, Strengthen

by: Oreo

Fri Oct 28, 2011 at 11:36:06 AM EDT

President Obama takes more steps to help the economy since Republicans care more about winning in 2012 than making the Country stronger.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, the Obama Administration announced it is taking two important steps to help U.S businesses create jobs and strengthen their competitiveness in a global economy.  Through two Presidential Memoranda issued today, the Obama Administration will take steps to speed up the transfer of federal research and development from the laboratory to the marketplace, and it will create BusinessUSA, a one-stop, central online platform where small businesses and businesses of all sizes that want to begin or increase exporting can access information about available federal programs without having to waste time navigating the federal bureaucracy.  These announcements are part of a series of executive actions to put Americans back to work and strengthen the economy because we can’t wait for Congressional Republicans to act. 

“With too many families struggling and too many businesses fighting to keep their doors open, we can’t wait for Congress to take action,” President Obama said.  “Today, I am directing my Administration to take two important steps to help American businesses create new products, compete in a global economy, and create jobs here at home.”


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President Obama Working To Help Economy Even If Republicans in Congress Won't

by: Oreo

Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 16:55:53 PM EDT

The President arrived in Denver last night (a few hours before a snowstorm) to continue his "We Can't Wait" push to help the economy.

Obama held a fundraiser at the Pepsi Center shortly after Air Force One touched down at Buckley Air Force Base. The last time Obama was at the Pepsi Center was the night before he accepted the nomination during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. 

As you can probably  tell from the picture, it's good that his speech wasn't at Invesco Field (now Sports Authority Field).

He even gave a nod to the convention in August of 2008

I tend to have some pretty good memories about Denver. We had a little gathering here a few years ago, at Mile High. So coming here gets me fired up. 

If you haven't been following along recently, Obama has started doing everything he can to help the economy without congressional approval. In the past few weeks the Administration has ended the federal mandate for No Child Left Behind, helped veterans get jobs and made it easier to refinance your mortgage. Today's speech announced a plan to help people pay down their student loans which now surpass credit card debts.

Today, the Obama Administration announced it is taking steps to increase college affordability by making it easier to manage student loan debt. The announcement is part of a series of executive actions to put Americans back to work and strengthen the economy because we can’t wait for Congressional Republicans to act. 

The Administration is moving forward with a new “Pay As You Earn” proposal that will reduce monthly payments for more than one and a half million current college students and borrowers.  Starting in 2014, borrowers will be able to reduce their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their discretionary income. But President Obama realizes that many students need relief sooner than that.  The new “Pay As You Earn” proposal will allow about 1.6 million students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent starting next year, and the plan will forgive the balance of their debt after 20 years of payments.  Additionally, starting this January an estimated 6 million students and recent college graduates will be able to consolidate their loans and reduce their interest rates.

In Colorado, we estimate that more than 33000 current students would be able to lower their monthly payments through “Pay As You Earn” and more than 100000 borrowers would be able to reduce their interest rates and simplify their payments by consolidating their loans.

“In a global economy, putting a college education within reach for every American has never been more important,” President Obama said. “But it’s also never been more expensive.  That’s why today we’re taking steps to help nearly 1.6 million Americans lower their monthly student loan payments.  Steps like these won’t take the place of the bold action we need from Congress to boost our economy and create jobs, but they will make a difference.  And until Congress does act, I will continue to do everything in my power to act on behalf of the American people.”

“College graduates are entering one of the toughest job markets in recent memory, and we have a way to help them save money by consolidating their debt and capping their loan payments. And we can do it at no cost to the taxpayer,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Current law allows borrowers to limit their loan payments to 15 percent of their discretionary income and forgives all remaining debt after 25 years. However, few students know about this option.  Students can find out if they are currently eligible for IBR at www.studentaid.ed.gov/ibr. Last year, the President proposed, and Congress enacted, a plan to further ease student loan debt payment by lowering the IBR loan payment to 10 percent of income, and the forgiveness timeline to 20 years. This change is set to go into effect for all new borrowers after 2014—mostly impacting future college students.

More after the jump...

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Taxes: Flat, Progressive and Otherwise

by: DocJess

Mon Oct 24, 2011 at 05:52:55 AM EDT

I've been thinking a lot about tax plans lately. Cognizant as I am of the Catfood Commission's work, and the fact that their findings are due in a matter of weeks. No one who can read actually thinks that we, as a country, can save our economy without raising taxes. I stand with Krugman, Reich, Stiglitz and all the other smart people who know that flat taxes, and 9-9-9, or 9-0-9 or whatever pizza deal is up today, are a great way to increase taxes on everyone except the rich, who get to pay much less. 

A flat tax wouldn't be terrible if it were revenue neutral, had no exclusions for dividends and other unearned income except government payments like Social Security, and excluded the first $50,000 of individual income. But that's not how any of the programs are defined. And no matter how "good" a flat tax could ever be, it will never be better then a progressive structure, especially if that frame is legitimate, the way it used to be. 

It can't be said often enough: taxes fund society. The people who most benefit in terms of making money could never do so without the taxes that provide the raw materials for the businesses that fund their wealth. No matter what kind of business there is, to make it work requires employees and materials. They cannot GET to that place of business without roads (publicly funded), and they cannot run without things like water, power, safety and all the other parts of infrastructure built with public dollars. And of course, public dollars come from taxes. Not to mention that having a competitive workforce is 100% dependent on the employees having had enough education to do their jobs. Most jobs require reading, writing and basic computer skills. Even running a register at a fast food joint. Sure, there are still jobs that don't require the skills an education provides, but all the farm and poultry plant jobs won't yield enough employment to overcome the 14 million person job deficit. Point is: while education may not be the entry to a job it once was, a lack of education gives a great shot at a life of poverty.

So why are the Republicans so against taxes? I understand why elected Republicans are against them: they are wholly owned by the rich. But what about the rank and file? They can't all be rich. In fact, when you talk to them, many talk about paying too much in taxes, of not having enough income to fund their lives the way their salaries did a generation ago. I just plain don't get it. Do you?


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