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Gender: Male
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
Number of posts: 70,338

Journal Archives

Why Our Lives Feel Squeezed: 400 Reasons

from Too Much: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality:

Why Our Lives Feel Squeezed: 400 Reasons
NOVEMBER 29, 2014

America’s 400 richest are collecting far more of the nation’s income than they did two generations ago — and paying Uncle Sam far less. To fudge these facts, pals of plutocrats are having to work overtime.

By Sam Pizzigati

We don’t know who exactly filed the tax returns with America’s 400 largest incomes in 2010. The IRS won’t reveal any of these 400 individually by name.

But a just-released new IRS annual report on America’s highest incomes has revealed just about everything else about these top 400, from how much they claim in deductions to how much their incomes have swelled over time.

And these top 400 incomes, the IRS data show, have done some significant swelling. Back in 1992, the 400 highest incomes reported on America’s tax returns averaged $46.8 million. In 2010, the top 400 averaged $265.1 million.

Inflation does explain some of that increase, but not most. Before taking inflation into account, top 400 incomes multiplied nearly six times over between 1992 and 2010. After inflation, top 400 incomes quadrupled — over the same years that incomes for typical American households barely increased at all. ................(more)

- See more at: http://toomuchonline.org/lives-feel-squeezed-400-reasons/#sthash.cJF88Fl0.dpuf

Why the decline of newspapers is a troubling sign for aspiring writers, especially novelists

The vanishing apprenticeship
Why the decline of newspapers is a troubling sign for aspiring writers, especially novelists.

A man I used to work with authored six books and spent five years as a leader writer at one of the more reputable newspapers in London. He joked that he had spent his life building an incredibly strong resume in two of the lowest-paying and fastest-dying industries. Sadly, he is right. Newspapers are struggling to survive, as is the publishing industry, and both are losing the battle to remain relevant and profitable in a world where terms like information, entertainment, and news, seem imprecise and dated. The slow demise of books and newspapers is part of a profound shift in the way people think and communicate — but it is much more than that. Writing, as an art and a craft, is changing rapidly as a direct result. As newspapers die, so too does an apprentice system for young writers from which sprang many of the great names in modern literature. Will we see good writers still emerge? In an era of hashtags and 140 characters, does it even matter? Yes it matters, and although some good writers will emerge, many undoubtedly will not. It may be hard to mourn what did not happen, but it gives an idea of what we may be in store for.

From Dickens to Hemingway, Twain to Orwell, the list of writers who were journalists is long and impressive. Some (Hemingway) took the journalistic style to heart more than others (Dickens), but each writer benefitted from their time as journalist; like any skill, writing is one that requires practice, dedication, and discipline — three qualities at the heart of good journalism. Hemingway, in his notoriously unpleasant interview with the Paris Review, spoke rather glowingly of journalism (considering some of his other answers):

“On the Star you were forced to learn to write a simple declarative sentence. This is useful to anyone. Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.”

There are, of course, many great authors without journalistic backgrounds too: Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 in the hours after he had finished work; Elmore Leonard woke early and wrote before his day job in advertising. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: https://medium.com/@eps/the-vanishing-apprenticeship-23e733468ed2

Mexico's Government is 'Dysfunctional and Corrupt', but the U.S. continues to support it

from Foreign Policy:

Mexican protesters are not burning American flags, but they may be soon if the United States doesn't change its approach to its southern neighbor. Whether they will admit it or not, President Barack Obama and the United States Congress are directly responsible for the tragedy of the 43 missing, and likely massacred, student activists in the Mexican state of Guerrero -- and for the political crisis that has followed.

Enormous protests since Sept. 26, the day the students disappeared, have already forced the arrest of the mayor of the city of Iguala, where the incident took place, as well as the resignation of the governor of the state of Guerrero. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans are now demanding the resignation of President Enrique Peña Nieto himself. On Nov. 20, the 104th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, tens of thousands of protesters burned an enormous effigy of the president in Mexico City's central Zócalo square while chanting "Peña out!"

The hashtag #YaMeCansé, which translates roughly as "I am sick and tired" and is directed towards Peña Nieto's government, has been tweeted over 146 million times over the last two weeks. The classmates of the missing students have issued an ultimatum for the president to step down on Dec. 1 if he is unable to find the students before then.

Obama's Nov. 20 executive order deferring the deportation of millions of immigrants may allow the president a brief honeymoon with some of the millions of Mexicans with families or relatives in the United States. But this limited gesture is by no means enough to compensate for the enormous damage that the present administration has done to Mexico and the Mexican people. The U.S. government's blind support for Peña Nieto has helped create the context of absolute impunity in which forced disappearances, or massacres, like the one in Iguala are possible. ....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/11/26/why_america_is_to_blame_for_mexico_carnage_and_corruption_pena_nieto_obama_ayotzinapa_disappeared?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Flashpoints&utm_campaign=2014_FlashPoints27%2F11RS

Juan Cole: Bush Admin. Spent Billions on an Iraqi Army with 50,000 “ghost” Soldiers

By Juan Cole | –

Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi announced to his parliament on Sunday that inspectors had uncovered 50,000 non-existent soldiers in four divisions of the Iraqi Army. Their pay was presumably being diverted to the officers in the division. This ziggurat of corruption was one reason the army collapsed on June 9, allowing Daesh (what Arabs derisively call ISIL) to take Mosul. The officers had many thousands fewer men than they claimed, and those they did actually have were damned if they were dying so the corrupt officers could go on with their double book keeping.

The Bush Administration spent something like $800 billion in direct costs on the Iraq War, including $20 billion for rebuilding the Iraqi Army after viceroy Paul Bremer abolished . . . the Iraqi Army in 2003. When health care for wounded veterans over their lifetimes is figured in, some suggest the war will have cost trillions of dollars. It is not clear what the US received from that investment. Not security. The Baghdad government is de facto allied with Iran. And the Obama administration has deemed Daesh so much a threat to US national security that President Obama felt it necessary to send the Air Force back in to bomb the country in 2014! The Bush senior administration bombed Iraq in 1991, and the Clinton administration bombed it in 1998. So, in other words, invading and occupying the country seems to have had very little impact on whether it represents a threat to US security in Washington’s eyes, or whether the US feels the need to bomb it..

The $800 bn was largely wasted or stolen. If you want to find it, get a shovel and dig around in back yards in Fairfax County, to which ex-US officials and contractors involved in looting both countries tend to retire.

Apparently no greater waste was incurred than in the $20 bn spent to build a new Iraqi Army. Al-Abadi said that the 50,000 ‘ghost’ soldiers were discovered with just a superficial inquiry, and that were a more thorough inspection to be done, it would find “wonders and marvels.” He lamented that grunts are fighting and dying, while officers were scooping up the military budget. Al-Abadi is said to have made a large number of high ranking officers resign over the scandal. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.juancole.com/2014/12/billions-iraqi-soldiers.html

Black Friday Fizzles With Consumers as Sales Tumble 11%

(Bloomberg) Even after doling out discounts on electronics and clothes, retailers struggled to entice shoppers to Black Friday sales events, putting pressure on the industry as it heads into the final weeks of the holiday season.

Spending tumbled an estimated 11 percent over the weekend from a year earlier, the Washington-based National Retail Federation said yesterday. And more than 6 million shoppers who had been expected to hit stores never showed up.

Consumers were unmoved by retailers’ aggressive discounts and longer Thanksgiving hours, raising concern that signs of recovery in recent months won’t endure. The NRF had predicted a 4.1 percent sales gain for November and December -- the best performance since 2011. Still, the trade group cast the latest numbers in a positive light, saying it showed shoppers were confident enough to skip the initial rush for discounts.

“The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon, not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. “This is going to continue to be a very competitive season.” ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-30/u-s-consumers-reduce-spending-by-11-over-thanksgiving-weekend.html

Chris Hedges: Alcatraz: A Prison as Disneyland

from truthdig:

by Chris Hedges

SAN FRANCISCO—I took the ferry from Pier 33 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero to Alcatraz. I stepped onto the island from the gangway, walked up the hill to the old prison entrance and was given a portable audio guide. I spent two hours going through the corridors and cells where horrific suffering and trauma crushed human beings. Alcatraz purportedly had the highest insanity rate of any federal penitentiary of its era.

I was regaled through the headset with stories about famous Alcatraz inmates including Al Capone, Robert “Birdman” Stroud and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, escape attempts, the 1946 armed uprising that was ruthlessly put down by the Marine Corps, and intrepid FBI agents who hunted down the nation’s most notorious criminals and brought them to justice. In this binary, cartoon narrative of good guys and bad guys, of cops and gangsters, even the repugnant J. Edgar Hoover was resurrected as a virtuous symbol of law and order.

At the end of the tour—5,000 people a day, some 1.4 million a year, visit the prison—we were funneled into the gift shop. It was possible to buy T-shirts, replica blue prisoner shirts, replica tin prison cups and other Alcatraz souvenirs. We were encouraged to take cards from a wooden rack and mail them to foreign governments on behalf of selected prisoners of conscience. The message was clear: In the United States those in prison deserve it; in foreign lands they are imprisoned unjustly. The Disneyfication of Alcatraz is the equivalent of turning one of Stalin’s gulags into a prison-themed amusement park. Prisons are institutionalized evil. And whitewashing evil is a moral monstrosity.

The Alcatraz narrative as presented by the National Park Service ignores the savagery and injustice of America’s system of mass incarceration, in which we today imprison 25 percent of all the world’s prisoners although Americans are only 5 percent of the global population. It ignores our decades-long use of torture, isolation and trauma to turn prisoners into psychological cripples. It ignores that most prisoners are poor and never had adequate legal defense. It ignores how people of color in our urban “internal colonies” are worth nothing on the streets but, in cages, each generates $40,000 to $50,000 a year for corporations. It ignores that prisoners are repeatedly punished and given longer sentences not for crimes they committed while free but for amorphous infractions such as “disrespect” and “agitation” done in prison. It ignores the prison system’s one-sided “justice” that denies prisoners a fair hearing. It ignores that a guard is God, that he or she can verbally and physically abuse a prisoner without repercussions. It ignores that prisons are despotic fiefdoms. It ignores the daily humiliation, despair and pain of those trapped inside. It ignores that prisoners who initially believe in the system, who think justice is possible, are usually the first to have psychological breakdowns or commit suicide. It ignores—and here is the greatest crime—the deep and profound humanity of many of the prisoners themselves, who are as caring, intelligent and loving as those outside the walls. It ignores, finally, who we are as a nation, how callous and brutal we are to the dispossessed and how we revel in stories of violence and human degradation. This excitement, and this fictitious narrative of good and evil, is possible only if we see prisoners as less than human. And this is a task perfected to an art at Alcatraz by the National Park Service, and by popular culture. Anyone who truly grasped what took place at Alcatraz, and what is taking place in prisons across the country, would weep. ..............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/alcatraz_a_prison_as_disneyworld_20141130

The reporting and spin on "Black Friday" sales stories is comical ........

Several of these stories identify the reason Black Friday sales are DOWN is the improving economy, because shoppers aren't looking for bargains as much.

No mention of the fact that incomes are not rising, and the jobs being created are largely of the low-wage variety. I don't know if these reporters are clueless, intellectually dishonest, lazy or serving up this buffet of bullsh*t on purpose. ..... Or all of the above.

Here is one of the reader comments re: the Yahoo story linked above:

You gotta love the spin.
Consumer spending is down due to an improving economy? Seriously? People are spending less because the economy is getting better?

According to an example in the article, online spending is down about 10%. That's more than the 6.4% decline in brick and mortar stores over last year. And the author thinks changed shopping habits are the other reason for the decline?
The author better live in one of the states where Marijuana is legal if he is going to keep smoking dope while writing news articles.

"Consumer spending during America's Thanksgiving weekend dropped compared to last year, but the decline can be attributed to an improving economy and changing shopping habits, a survey found Sunday."

Promoting Hillary, The New York Times Once Again Marginalizes the Left

via truthdig:

Harper’s Magazine Publisher Rick MacArthur bewailed the failure of The New York Times to run anything but the most establishment liberal view in its pages when the paper interpreted the Republican victory in the November midterm elections as an open opportunity for Hillary Clinton to “resurrect the Democratic Party.”

MacArthur wrote in his column in the Providence Journal on Nov. 20:

A typical media “analysis” was provided by The New York Times, which almost immediately started promoting the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the next Democratic candidate for president. “Midterms, for Clinton Team, Aren’t All Gloom” declared its front-page headline on Nov. 7. According to the paper’s reporter, Amy Chozick, the misfortune of President Obama and Senate Majority (soon-to-be-Minority) Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) equaled good news for Mrs. Clinton and her “advisers,” among whom “a consensus formed … that it is time to accelerate her schedule.” This move toward a more rapid coronation was due to “pressure” on the former First Lady “to resurrect the Democratic Party,” since Mrs. Clinton is “already being scrutinized as the party’s presumptive nominee.”

With a Democrat in the White House and Republicans holding only a slight majority in the Senate, MacArthur suggests that the word “resurrect” seems “hyperbolic.” And couldn’t low voter turnout in the midterms indicate dissatisfaction with Democrats as well as Republicans?

Two paragraphs after the excerpts quoted above, “the Times dropped any pretense of fair and balanced reporting by presenting the institutional voice of people who have very little interest in journalism, or, for that matter, democracy,” MacArthur wrote. According to Chozick and her editors, “In many ways, Tuesday’s election results clear a path for Mrs. Clinton. The lopsided outcome and conservative tilt makes it less likely she would face an insurgent challenger from the left.”

That opinion, says MacArthur, is based either on Chozick’s laziness or her editors’ preference for a Clinton candidacy. “But whatever the motivation, the assertion that Hillary’s path is clear was pulled out of the air. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/the_new_york_times_marginalizes_the_left_once_again_20141130

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