The Disposable American:
Layoffs and Their Consequences
by Louis Uchitelle
Devoting a book to the necessity of preserving jobs is perhaps a futile endeavor in this age of deregulation and outsourcing, but veteran New York Times business reporter Uchitelle manages to make the case that corporate responsibility should entail more than good accounting and that six (going on seven) successive administrations have failed miserably in protecting the American people from greedy executives, manipulative pension fund managers, leveraged buyouts and plain old bad business practices. In the process, he says, we've gone from a world where job security, benevolent interventionism and management/worker loyalty were taken for granted to a dysfunctional, narcissistic and callous incarnation of pre-Keynesian capitalism. The resulting "anxious class" now suffers from a host of frightening ills: downward mobility, loss of self-esteem, transgenerational trauma and income volatility, to name a few. Uchitelle animates his arguments through careful reporting on the plight of laid-off Stanley Works toolmakers and United Airlines mechanics. Descriptions of their difficulties are touching and even tragic; they are also, alas, laborious and repetitive. And Uchitelle's solutions are not entirely convincing: neither forcing companies to abide by a "just cause" clause when they fire someone, for instance, nor doubling the minimum wage are likely to increase employment. Yet Uchitelle's basic argument—that no American government has taken significant steps to curb "the unwinding of social value" caused by corporate greed— is all too accurate.
Uchitelle describes the problem well. Unfortunately, he tries to offer solutions. The only solution is to completely redo the relationship between business and labor. Not going to happen soon. At least until labor has more clout in Congress than business.
Disposable Workers: Layoffs and Their Consequences
An interview with Louis Uchitelle
Louis Uchitelle: Who Moved My Cheese? is a best-selling book that is often distributed to people who have been laid off. The idea is to encourage them to go out and look for work. The book is the story of two mice and two men who are always supplied with cheese. One day the cheese disappeared. The mice went out and looked for another supply of cheese and found it. The two humans held back, but eventually they went out, found the cheese and got back to meaningful lives. The message is to take responsibility for yourself. Layoffs are your problem, mister, not society’s. You can solve it on your own and save yourself.
Here are three from that [irony alert] eternal optomist James Kunstler.
Back to School
Terrible shocks are going to rip through the socioeconomic fabric of the USA as we turn the corner past these late summer doldrums. The fiasco of bad debt won't be contained. The choices for those who find themselves financially underwater in the fall of 07 will be 1.) liquidation, 2.) bankruptcy, or 3.) destroy whatever remains of confidence in the US dollar in order to erase debt by hyperinflation. People holding power don't like the first two, which translate into Depression (let's make it capital "D.") When a nation turns into a fire sale from sea to shining sea, and bankrupt citizens don't even have enough cash-on-hand to buy things desperately cheap -- well, that's a Depression. Everybody from Fed officials to news editors have favored the softer term "recession" the past half century because it implies a mere pause in the inexorable march of progress toward economic nirvana. That's not what we're heading into.
There will be so many assets up for sale across the USA in the months and years ahead that the very sun in the heavens will take on a K-Mart blue-light-special glow. Houses with miles of granite countertops, Maybach automobiles, cabin cruisers that burn thirty gallons of diesel an hour, and much much more. There will be so much slightly used (or barely "pre-owned") stuff for sale that manufacturing another unit of anything (or importing it) will seem like a sick joke. Alas, there may be very few buyers, at least here among the current natives of North America. And so you get "new pricing," and a deadly downward spiral.
The Federal Reserve seems to be manufacturing an impressive supply of "greater fools" to go along with the dribs'n'drabs of credit that it is dropping into the sucking chest wound that the economy has become for the body politic. The Fed's idea, I suppose, is that if they lend a little money to the geniuses who engineered the latest (and probably last) bubble of the cheap oil age to cover their present losses, then the US economy will "right itself." What I think they don't get is that finance has virtually become the US economy -- if you subtract it, there is nothing left besides hair-styling, fried chicken, and colonoscopies. By "righting the economy" do people mean the ability to keep running a transparently fraudulent set of rackets that have nothing whatever to do with financing real productive activity?
By "greater fools" I mean, of course, buyers willing to step up and purchase securities that other people are shedding as if they were smallpox blankets. But even the Fed's supply of greater fools may prove insufficient when it becomes evident how much bad paper really is out there, and how it has been allowed to contaminate every tradable niche in the banking and investment house of horrors. I don't think we've begun to hear the disclosures.
What you're seeing now is a simple matter of financial sector players trying desperately to evade the consequences of their own actions. The fake wealth generated by the synthetic securities they created is now being recognized for what it is: a swindle. The hallucination is over. The collective denial that supported that hallucination is dissolving. The losses are become manifest. Even worse, the losses are growing exponentially because the synthetic securities were used as collateral to leverage far greater multiples of "positions," bets, and plays in a casino-like global electronic trading arena.
This is what happens when investment gets de-coupled from real productive activity and becomes an end in itself. It has been terrifically enhanced by computer programming. But no amount of digital legerdemain --with the "sugar-on-top" of accounting trickery -- can now hide the fact that there is no "value" there. What's more, the losses are going to have to show up somewhere. If you try to suppress them in one area, they'll pop up in another. If the Federal Reserve tries to cover the losses racked up by the Big Fund Boyz by giving "cash" away, they'll only succeed in destroying the value of the cash itself, i.e. the US dollar.
Tectonic Shifts and Awareness
The past 20 years have quietly hosted a series of financial revolutions and a radical redistribution of wealth, income and opportunity. While we all know that things have changed, few really factor just how different the new America really is. To the extent that we confront these changes at all, it generally comes in the form of leading voices cherry picking the most positive new developments and heaping on exaggerated praise. There is plenty to be glad of. There is much to lament. The housing downturn may foster re-assessment. The debt debacle could be a catalyst for change and realization of past changes. There is no longer significant doubt that housing will continue down and drag the economy with it.1 Housing quakes are produced by larger tectonic shift. This blog attempts a whirlwind tour.
China is not the Problem
Offshoring and Free Market Ideology
The pressure put on China is misdirected. The exchange rate is not the main cause of the US trade deficit with China. The costs of labor, regulation and harassment are far lower in China, and US corporations have offshored their production to China in order to benefit from these lower costs. When a company shifts its production from the US to a foreign country, it transforms US Fross Domestic Product (GDP) into imports. Every time a US company offshores goods and services, it adds to the US trade deficit.
Clearly, it is a mistake for the US government and economists to think of the imbalance as if it were produced by Chinese companies underselling goods produced by US companies in America. The imbalance is the result of US companies producing their goods in China and selling them in America.
The Third Rail War
When you look at the demographics, economics and budget of the US, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the great political battle of the next generation can be summed up very simply - it’s going to be about “who pays, who wins… and who takes it on the chin.”
Yes, the shooting environment must be controlled and kept consistent. The lighting is clear and direct, head on. My background is neutral, but bright enough so that the shattering object completely stands out. I drop the figurine from the same height in complete darkness while the lens of the camera is open. When the figurine hits the ground, the sound triggers the lights to go off for a fraction of a second. I do this procedure many times or until I find the one frame that is just right. I keep just one such picture for every figurine. Every attempt yields a unique outcome, so I need to look for the one that best expresses a transformation of the figurine into a new form.
A nation of outlaws
A century ago, that wasn't China -- it was us
If recent headlines are any indication, China's rap sheet of capitalist crimes is growing as fast as its economy. Having exported poison pet food and toothpaste laced with antifreeze earlier this year, the world's emerging economic powerhouse has diversified into other, equally dubious product lines: scallops coated with putrefying bacteria, counterfeit diabetes tests, pirated Harry Potter books, and baby bibs coated with lead, to name but a few.
Politicians are belatedly putting China on notice. Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia delivered one of the more stinging counterattacks last month, warning that the United States "must be vigilant about protecting the values we hold dear" in the face of China's depredations.
His anger reflects the mounting disgust with how recklessly China plies its trade, apparently without regard for the things that make commerce not only dependable but possible: respect for intellectual property, food and drug purity, and basic product safety. With each tawdry revelation, China's brand of capitalism looks increasingly menacing and foreign to our own sensibilities.
That's a tempting way to see things, but wrong. What's happening halfway around the world may be disturbing, even disgraceful, but it's hardly foreign. A century and a half ago, another fast-growing nation had a reputation for sacrificing standards to its pursuit of profit, and it was the United States.
thanks to dangerousmeta!
O.C. Garza took classes from Garry Winogrand. These are his recollections. (PDF file.)
Class Time with Garry Winogrand
By O.C. Garza
I stumbled across a fascinating videotaped interview of Garry Winogrand by Bill Moyers on Jim Arnold’s Web site (see the video here). I had no idea this tape existed and when I saw the interview it brought back some fascinating memories about Garry Winogrand. I mailed Jim Arnold to let him know how much I appreciated him putting that interview with one of my photography instructors on the internet. He emailed back that I should post stories about my class time with Garry on the Internet. So here goes…
My intent is to lend my small bit of insight and a few photographs of the Garry Winogrand I knew back in the mid 70s. During my time at UT I had the opportunity to take four semesters of classes with Garry Winogrand. I found the two “disciplines” (photojournalism and art photography) within the great context of photography in general, to be quite eye-opening.
thanks to Joe Reifer - Words
Maliki’s Fate and America’s
There’s no surprise in the rising chorus of demands in Washington that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be replaced. After all, the U.S. public discussion of Iraq has been fixated on the notion of a troop surge providing cover for Iraq’s political leaders to meet “benchmarks” of progress towards national reconciliation — and it’s long been obvious that Maliki has no intention of doing what Washington wants him to do (a fact that hardly makes him unique among Iraqi politicians). Every time Maliki is pressed on the matter, he snarls that he answers to those who elected him, not to the U.S. The extent to which Maliki rules at all, of course, is questionable, in the sense that there’s precious little acreage in Iraq that could be accurately deemed to be under his control control — as Stalin retorted when it was suggested that the Pope be invited to the Yalta talks on the shape of postwar Europe, “How many divisions does he command?” And in Maliki’s case, the answer is none.
As Nir Rosen makes clear in an interview with Amy Goodman, the Iraqi state has already essentially collapsed, and prospects for putting it back together are grim.
The problem is not Maliki, of course — things were no different under his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and there’s every reason to believe that any politician chosen to replace Maliki from within Iraq’s democratically-elected legislature will represent more continuity than change. Peter Galbraith recently offered an eloquent explanation for why the Iraqi political leadership is unwilling to compromise to accomodate the Sunnis, which is the cornerstone of the U.S. plan for national reconciliation.
Unlike the politicians in Washington who seem blithely oblivious in their campaign-trail debates, the Iraqis — like everyone else in the Middle East — are well aware of the limits of American power, and the fact that it is on the wane. The signs are everywhere now, nowhere more so than in the fact that even the regimes most dependent on direct U.S. military support — Iraq and Afghanistan — are simply ignoring the Bush Administration’s injunctions against consorting with Iran.
The Great Iraq Swindle
How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury
How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.
thanks to firedoglake
Challenging the Generals
On Aug. 1, Gen. Richard Cody, the United States Army’s vice chief of staff, flew to the sprawling base at Fort Knox, Ky., to talk with the officers enrolled in the Captains Career Course. These are the Army’s elite junior officers. Of the 127 captains taking the five-week course, 119 had served one or two tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly as lieutenants. Nearly all would soon be going back as company commanders. A captain named Matt Wignall, who recently spent 16 months in Iraq with a Stryker brigade combat team, asked Cody, the Army’s second-highest-ranking general, what he thought of a recent article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled “A Failure in Generalship.” The article, a scathing indictment that circulated far and wide, including in Iraq, accused the Army’s generals of lacking “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage.”
Yingling’s article — published in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal — noted that a key role of generals is to advise policy makers and the public on the means necessary to win wars. “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means,” he wrote, “he shares culpability for the results.” Today’s generals “failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly,” and they failed to advise policy makers on how much force would be necessary to win and stabilize Iraq. These failures, he insisted, stemmed not just from the civilian leaders but also from a military culture that “does little to reward creativity and moral courage.” He concluded, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
thanks to firedoglake
A tree is a lot more than what we can see. There is a whole lot of the tree under ground. The same with cities. When it rains the water disapears into grates in the road. It hasn't gone away. There has been an indredible amount of effort to deal with this water as well as all fluids and solids that get flushed in a toilet. There is an amazing architecture underground.
Drains of Canada: An Interview with Michael Cook
In the following conversation with BLDGBLOG, Cook discusses how and where these drains are found; what they sound like; the injuries and infections associated with such explorations; myths of secret systems in other cities; and even a few brief tips for getting inside these hyper-functionalist examples of urban infrastructure. We talk about ecology, hydrology, and industrial archaeology; and we come back more than once to the actual architecture of these spaces.
thanks to wood s lot
Michael Cook's site is well worth investigating.
The Vanishing Point
The built environment of the city has always been incomplete, by omission and necessity, and will remain so. Despite the visions of futurists, the work of our planners and cement-layers thankfully remains a fractured and discontinuous whole, an urban field riven with internal margins, pockmarked by decay, underlaid with secret waterways. Stepping outside our prearranged traffic patterns and established destinations, we find a city laced with liminality, with borderlands cutting across its heart and reaching into its sky. We find a thousand vanishing points, each unique, each alive, each pregnant with riches and wonders and time.
This is a website about exploring some of those spaces, about immersing oneself in stormwater sewers and utility tunnels and abandoned industry, about tapping into the worlds that are embedded in our urban environment yet are decidedly removed from the collective experience of civilized life. This is a website about spaces that exist at the boundaries of modern control, as concessions to the landscape, as the debris left by economic transition, as evidence of the transient nature of our place upon this earth.
And the blog Michael Cook's interview was in merits investigation.
Architectural Conjecture, Urban Speculation, Landscape Futures
The Epson 3800 has been ordered and I should have it by the end the week. Now I'm deciding what paper to order. My head hurts.