More weekend reading; information you want to have!

More news.  Some not so good, some depends on your viewpoint, and demographics.  All improtant.

  1. Have we fallen behind our parents?“, Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon, 14 may 2008 — “Author Nan Mooney argues that the middle class is slipping, and fixing it is going to take more than cutting out lattes.”
  2. A comedy of areas“, Spengler, Asia Times, 10 September 2008 — There will not be any Georgians or Ukrainians in the not-so-distant-future.
  3. Civil-Rights Election“, Peter Kirsanow, National Review Online, 9 July 2008 — Civil rights legislation on the fast-track under President Obama.  These bills might re-shape America.

Update:  I recommend watching this news report:  “The Buccaneer Stops Here“, a review of the week’s top pirate headlines.  “Who knew that President Obama would be tested not just by 21st century threats, but also those from the 18th C?”   (hat tip to Calculated Risk):

  • *Somali pirates apply to become bank in order to access TARP”
  • *Paulson:  TARP priate equity is an ‘investment’, will pay off”
  • *Kaskkari says Somali pirates are ‘fundamentally sound'”
  • *Moody’s upgrade Somali Pirates to AAA”
  • *Somali pirates in discussion to acquire Citibank”
  • *Fed officials:  aggressive easing would cut Somali pirate risk”

For a less amusing look at the Somali pirates, see the War Nerd.

Excerpts

1.  “Have we fallen behind our parents?“, Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon, 14 may 2008 — In an interview with author Nan Mooney, “she argues that the middle class is slipping, and fixing it is going to take more than cutting out lattes.”

It’s a good time to be rich. Not since the Roaring Twenties has there been a period of such extreme income inequality in the United States, with just the top 1 percent of earners now hogging more than 20 percent of the nation’s annual income. Should this grossly unjust state of affairs ever make the filthy rich feel dirty, well, they can now wash that feeling away in a $100,000 shower.

But while the rich clean up, Nan Mooney, a 38-year-old journalist, wonders why so many people like her — college-educated professionals, members of the storied American middle class — still struggle to make it financially, well into their 30s and 40s and beyond, unable to pay off their student loans while trying to cover healthcare costs, save for their children’s education and plan for their own retirement. In her new book, (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class, Mooney argues that what it really means to be middle-class in America is suffering a rude downgrade, as college costs rise and wages stagnate at the same time that individuals must shoulder more healthcare and retirement expenses.

2.  A comedy of areas“, Spengler, Asia Times, 10 September 2008 —  Nice graphics!  Excerpt:

The fact is that there won’t be any Georgians or Ukrainians in the not-too-distant future. By coincidence, Washington’s two favorite beacons of liberty happen to be the two countries with the world’s fastest rate of population decline. By mid-century they will have barely half as many inhabitants as they do today, and half of those who remain will be elderly. Hardly men of military age and women of child-bearing age will remain. Their economies will implode long before the mid-century mark, as soaring retirement costs crush state budgets, and young people emigrate to escape the burden of supporting the elderly.

… It’s also the case that by 2050, there will be fewer than 100,000 Georgian women of child-bearing years (between the ages of 18 and 35). The number of potential mothers who speak Georgian will have fallen so far that Georgian will be in danger of extinction as a cradle-tongue later in the century. Ukraine presently has a population of 46 million, which will fall to about 25 million by 2050. But only 2.4 million of that 25 million will consist of women of child-bearing age.

… Over the long term, Russia’s own survival is at risk, as I have argued elsewhere (Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess and Russia’s hudna with the Muslim world). Whether Russia survives or not, it still will be a power in 2050 when the Ukraine and Georgia will exist only as obscure PhD topics in linguistics.

To say that Russia is brutal is a pleonasm, for Russia is not so much a noun as a gerund: what is Russian, is the result of Russification, a brutal business by definition. I hope that Russia will become a liberal democracy resembling the United States and that it will dispense with men like Vladimir Putin in the future. For it to become a liberal democracy, however, first it must survive, and most Russians today believe that they must be led by hard men to survive. This is not only unpleasant, but tragic.

To influence Russia for the better would take subtlety, skill, as well as good faith; sadly, America has displayed none of these.

3.  Civil-Rights Election“, Peter Kirsanow (member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), National Review Online, 9 July 2008 — “The fast-track under President Obama.”  Excerpt:

Should Barack Obama win this fall, 2009 will a busy year for enacting civil-rights legislation – perhaps the busiest since 1964.

Numerous civil-rights bills have either passed the House or are pending in various committees, just waiting for a Democrat to be elected to the White House. Traditional civil-rights groups anticipate that without the threat of veto, expanded Democratic majorities in Congress will pass a number of these bills in the first few months of 2009. Here are just a few of the bills likely to be signed by a President Obama within the next year.

  • The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (“Akaka Bill”)
  • The Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act
  • Comparable Worth Fair Pay Act of 2007
  • The Paycheck Fairness Act
  • Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African-Americans Act
  • Employment Non- Discrimination Act
  • Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Protection Act of 2007
  • Housing Fairness Act of 2007
  • Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act of 2007

Even considering the trade-offs and compromises that even a party in complete control of the executive and legislative branches must make, there’s a very good probability that most, if not all, of the foregoing bills will be signed into law if Sen. Obama wins. And it wouldn’t be surprising if even more bills join the list. The interest groups supporting the proposed legislation have been laboring in the wilderness for some time waiting for the harmonic convergence of large majorities in Congress and a Democrat in the White House. They won’t let the moment pass quietly.

Afterword

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5 thoughts on “More weekend reading; information you want to have!

  1. Spengler strips the mask away from the pretensions of American foreign policy. Not only is “spreading democracy” a sham, “humanitarian interventions”, like Yugoslavia, are also illusory, if not entirely concocted.

    Now, if he could just apply the same critical eye to the shibboleths of economic policy, like trickle down economics, free trade, responsible government, etc., we’d be getting somewhere.

    There’s truth in the proposition that we should “take life as it comes”, however we can’t stop there (conceptually or morally) because that would mean we can’t improve life. Spengler usually strikes me as having a sort of dyspetic attitude toward the world. Maybe it’s just his namesake that makes me think so.

  2. Mieszkowski’s interview with Mooney is leftist, feather-headed fluff. Examples:

    […”personal responsibility” has been the watchwords they’ve used to push all this down our throats, all this stuff about having to pay for our own healthcare, having to pay for our own retirement, having no job security; now we are personally free, and we are personally responsible, and aren’t we lucky?”

    OK, and the alternative is…oh, I know, somebody else pays for MY healthcare and retirement! Preferably, “the Rich.” Yes, that’s a much better deal than having personal responsibility “pushed down our throats.”

    Here’s a tip-off: “Did you find among the people you interviewed that their shame about their problems kept them from being more politicized about them…?” Well, of course, that’s the answer–not to live within our means, but to become more “politicized”–like, lobby the government to refinance my mortgage at a lower rate if I’m more than 90 days behind. Gee, can I get that deal, too? What do you mean I can’t because I borrowed responsibly?

    Too many people riding the wagon, not enough pulling it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I will take a stand on this: Yes, agree. And no, I don’t.

    I understand and agree with everything you say. But there is a backstory here of rising inequality and falling social mobility — while the society as a whole grows richer. That suggests a structural problem — one that not only will not go away but will probably grow worse during a downturn. Perhaps far worse.

    See this post for more information: A sad picture of America, but important for us to understand.

  3. FM: Good point, and I did read your Sad Picture post with interest. I agree that there are structural problems, in my view chief among them being the abandonment of professionalism in public education, and a massive, uncontrolled influx of low-skilled workers driving down wages. (Not to mention the national epidemic of borrowing above our means, which you have pointed to repeatedly as a source of difficulty.)

    Public education, at least here in my home state, has failed to provide students with basic numeracy skills, producing few students who are interested in going into technical fields.

    Flunked the movie” — a story of failure, a formula for hope. Press release here. From an interview With Executive Producer Steven Maggi:

    Up through 4th grade, American students are above-average when tested against students of other nations. After that, they begin a steady decline to the point where, by the 12th grade, American students are down near the bottom.

    That open borders have created a low-skill glut leading to low wages should be self-evident, but here’s a link: George J. Borjas, “Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration: Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers,” Center for Immigration Studies, May 2004.

    Anyone with technical skills (health care, IT, engineering) can still get a good middle-class job in America. Demand is still huge: Drew Liming and Michael Wolf, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Job outlook by education, 2006–16“, Fall 2008.

    The fallacy is that everyone needs or should have a college education, or that an education in journalism or “communications” is the same as job skill training. Charles Murray, “For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time“, Wall Street Jounal, 13 August 2008.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree on all points. Great links!

  4. A closer examination turns Spengler’s argument on its head ; both of these countries have remarkable regional (in effect ethnic) disparities in demographics. The depopulation of Ukraine has occurred mostly in the mainly ethnic Russian east, the ethnic Ukrainian western districts are far closer to break even or actually increasing. Georgia is growing, except for the crash depopulation of Abhazia and South Ossetia that skews the net figure.

    This kind of stratified depopulation is true across the former USSR, most importantly in Russia itself – various minorities are increasing in absolute numbers and even more in proportion, against a backdrop of net national population decline.

    Eurasia is changing, and the big change is the continuing disproportionate freefall of the ethnic Russian population. All bets are risky, but contrary Spengler, betting on the continuation of Russia in something resembling its current form is a fairly sure loser. Better to consider how to hedge in case Russia fragments much as the USSR did…

    (source disclosure : wikipedia, reasonably solid since in this case they mainly rely on the CIA factbook figures and national census data)

  5. Update: an additional policy measure we can expect from the Obama Administration

    Lose-Lose on Abortion“, Slate, 24 November 2008 — “Obama’s threat to Catholic hospitals and their very serious counterthreat.” Excerpt:

    What in the world were these bishops talking about, claiming that religious freedom in America was under attack? … And the most ludicrous line out of them, surely, was about how, under Obama, Catholic hospitals that provide obstetric and gynecological services might soon be forced to perform abortions or close their doors. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago warned of “devastating consequences” to the health care system, insisting Obama could force the closure of all Catholic hospitals in the country. That’s a third of all hospitals, providing care in many neighborhoods that are not exactly otherwise overprovided for. It couldn’t happen, could it?

    You wouldn’t think so. Only, I am increasingly convinced that it could. If the Freedom of Choice Act passes Congress, and that’s a big if, Obama has promised to sign it the second it hits his desk. (Here he is at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event in 2007, vowing, “The first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”)

    Though it’s often referred to as a mere codification of Roe, FOCA, as currently drafted, actually goes well beyond that: According to the Senate sponsor of the bill, Barbara Boxer, in a statement on her Web site:
    * FOCA would nullify all existing laws and regulations that limit abortion in any way, up to the time of fetal viability.
    * Laws requiring parental notification and informed consent would be tossed out.
    * While there is strenuous debate among legal experts on the matter, many believe the act would invalidate the freedom-of-conscience laws on the books in 46 states.

    These are the laws that allow Catholic hospitals and health providers that receive public funds through Medicaid and Medicare to opt out of performing abortions. Without public funds, these health centers couldn’t stay open; if forced to do abortions, they would sooner close their doors. Even the prospect of selling the institutions to other providers wouldn’t be an option, the bishops have said, because that would constitute “material cooperation with an intrinsic evil.”

    The bishops are not bluffing when they say they’d turn out the lights rather than comply. Nor is Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann of St. Louis exaggerating, I don’t think, in vowing that “any one of us would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow—to die tomorrow—to bring about the end of abortion.”

    Whatever your view on the legality and morality of abortion, there is another important question to be considered here: Could we even begin to reform our already overburdened health care system without these Catholic institutions? I don’t see how.

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