Archive for August, 2014

People Should Be Paying Attention

August 21, 2014

Troubling report appeared with the online AP news in an article entitled “California drought stings bees, honey supplies” by Terence Chea (8-21-14). Some lines of note:
“The historic drought, now in its third year, is reducing supplies of California honey, raising prices for consumers and making it harder for beekeepers to earn a living.”
“Since the drought began, California’s honey crop has fallen sharply from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And this year’s crop is expected to be even worse. California was the country’s leading honey producer as recently as 2003, but it has since been surpassed by North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Florida. In 2013, California produced less than 10 percent of the country’s $317 million honey crop.”
“Besides selling honey, beekeepers earn their living from pollinating crops such as almonds, cotton, alfalfa and melons. But farmers are renting fewer hives because the lack of irrigation water has forced them to tear out orchards and leave fields unplanted. Like many beekeepers, Brandi is feeding his bees a lot more sugar syrup than usual to compensate for the lack of nectar. The supplemental feed keeps the bees alive, but it’s expensive and doesn’t produce honey. “Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income.” said Brandi’s son Mike, who’s also a beekeeper. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.””
“Spencer Marshall, who maintains hives throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, said this is by far the worst year for honey production he’s seen in five decades of beekeeping. When the drought ends, “the bees may come back, but the beekeepers may not,” Marshall said.”
The article ends with Napa Valley restaurant and floral business owner Amelia Barad-Humphries: “”We need honeybees for everything,” she said. “People should be paying attention.””

Analysis reads this while also bearing in mind the drumbeat of current economic news. The FED, soon to meet in tony Jackson Hole Wyoming, is concerned that wages in the past year have not risen at all. Keep interest rates at zero (a move originally meant to spur job growth)? The latest jobless report shows fewer unemployed last month. People are going back to work? All three segments of the American stock market (DOW, NASDAQ, S&P) have more than doubled in the five years since the recession officially ended, and continue to rise. The economy is good? One in seven people in the US rely on some kind of food assistance to get by. A lot of working people can’t afford to eat since the unemployment rate is at around 6% while that of those needing food assistance is over 14%? So, let’s reconsider this. Working people can’t afford to work and eat. Wages are not rising. Food prices will be going up. The economy is good and looking to be better.

People should be paying attention



August 17, 2014

In a 12-1-13 post (Can We Talk – Income Disparity?) this blog quoted world economist Branko Milanovic: ““Inequality studies are not particularly appreciated by the rich.” Indeed, Milanovic says he was “once told by the head of a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., that the institution’s board was very unlikely to fund any work that had income or wealth inequality in its title. Yes, they would finance anything to do with poverty alleviation, but inequality was an altogether different matter. Why? Because ‘my’ concern with the poverty of some people actually projects me in a very nice, warm glow: I am ready to use my money to help them… But inequality is different. Every mention of it raises in fact the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income.”” A recent post (Limited Time Blue Light Special On Aisle 5, 7-30-14) appears to anecdotally confirm Milanovic’s experience. Seattle billionaire Nick Hanauer says: “You have to remember people like me care a lot about status. That’s why we are where we are.” Webster’s defines status as “the position of an individual in relation to another or others, social or professional standing.” Such a relationship implicates a hierarchy – an up to a down, an over to an under, with all the intermediate designations (a little above you but below them, etc.). Some refer to this as “vertical thinking”. Equality/inequality is not found within “vertical thinking”. Rather, equality can only be found within what is referred to as “horizontal thinking”. A historic example of the distinct difference within these two approaches to “thinking” could be the following (some describe thought as the human evolution of animal “problem solving”, but this digresses). 1968 (the year MLK and RFK were assassinated) found Europe (as well as much of the world) in the throes of social upheaval. In France, a series of worker/student strikes threatened to topple the government. At this time, it was considered appropriate for artists, intellectuals to give “voice to the voiceless”, the disenfranchised, the factory workers, etc. (pre you tube, smartphone, social(ist) media). Two film makers of the time did exactly that through their involvement with workers on strike in various factories. Chris Marker, who assumed his activity as filmmaker was on a par (horizontal) with that of the workers, emphasized giving workers themselves the cameras and editing equipment while taking the time to show them how these “professionally” technical marvels worked. He then facilitated their own film production, “Classe de lutte” (roughly “lesson of struggle”, a play on “lutte de classe” – class struggle). Jean-Luc Godard likewise deployed his professional skill to give “voice to the voiceless” but insisted on retaining control. ”Godard identifies a “gap” between the forms of expression proper to the filmmaker and to the working class. The highly specialized language of the cinema is profoundly alien to that of the factory, and a film on the strike would risk reifying or distorting the class struggle. Conversely, those who speak the “language of strikes” lack the training and fluency to translate the pressing issues of a labor dispute onto celluloid, and were they to try, they would risk falsifying their own experience in the process.” (“Cinema in the Hands of the People” by Trevor Stark, pg. 141, October 139) Godard’s reasoning and motivation may have been pragmatic, but it likewise implicates the maintenance and reproduction of vertical hierarchy.

Poverty/income inequality is always in the language of hierarchy, of vertical thinking, for one cannot consider it without at the same time considering wealth, expressed or unexpressed (“Every mention of it raises in fact the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income.”). Some would say that all labor, all work is dignified, necessary, and worthwhile. That those who labor all equally contribute to the benefit, quality, and value of the community and their fellows; be they the professionals who lead or organize vast projects and enterprises, or those who sew buttons or clean up afterward. Within the horizontal language of equality, lack of viable employment, housing, education, nutrition, etc. is suffered as an affront. It is a violence employed to maintain and reproduce the hierarchical “gap’ between those with, and those without. This violence enforces compliance with and adherence to the inequality of vertical thinking.

Trending Today

August 10, 2014

Quick rundown of Newark Advocate news (where the Advocate IS the news): The Advocate laid off a large percentage of its employees to vacate its printing operation and contracted with The Columbus Dispatch for those services. Well, not wanting to putter around in a big old empty building, quick announcement was that it was being put up for sale (though not quite totally vacant yet…). Then we learned that to contribute to the revitalization of downtown Newark, the new lean and mean Advocate would be relocating the remains of the operational staff downtown. All this revealed in abbreviated news flashes. The national news within the past two weeks was that Gannett (owner of the Newark Advocate) was separating (“spinning off”) its print division (what traditionally was always referred to as a newspaper, the emphasis being on paper) from its new, “everything’s up to date in Kansas City”, online “publication” (no, we’re not back in Kansas!). The two would still be Gannett, only occupying more shelf space for greater consumer choice and convenience. Besides, online revenue from advertising, data tracking sales, etc. are much more lucrative than yesterday’s paper which is today’s cage liner (“There is right now a huge, huge, commercial push or corporate push to collect as much data as possible.” Charles Duhigg, Author, The Power of Habit). Concurrent with that change, the Newark Advocate’s online webpage magically was transformed to a new format at almost the exact same time, one where viewer viewing habits can be more easily tracked, and the data collected sold (mere coincidence you say?). One needs to click on the brightly colored photo icons with their short teaser “headlines”. Gone are the community bulletin board where the viewer could appraise what is happening in Newark on any given day /week without having to click on anything, the short synopsis story under local, national, sport, etc. headings (again, requiring no separate click). Ditto for comments or most commented. In addition, there seems to be a virtual absence of (virtual) letters to the editor within this virtual space. Clicking such a heading might prove to be messy with regard to data mining (so lets leave it out). But one still can click on the print edition for the day, in totality (e newspaper), and get all of this and more. The more being the local in terms of events, calendars, advertising, etc. “You can see a lot by looking.” (Yogi Berra) One suspects that with the “franchise” separating the two aspects, the e newspaper online feature will likewise join the likes of the printing operation in Newark. To learn about the local will necessitate accessing a paper copy.

Analysis told you all that to tell you this. Perusing Sunday’s (8-10-14) e newspaper yields a rather quirky (and trendy) ad on the bottom of page 10. There, next to the internationally recognized logo of the Mickey D arches is “Thanks Mortellaro employees”. Followed by family portrait type photos entitled with location addresses (though all were taken within the same upscale draperied setting). And again “Thank you to all employees”. Ending with the McDonald’s logo, “I’m Lovin’ It,” and a conflated Mortellaro/Mickey D’s logo. This is indeed very quirky (and newsworthy) considering that Mickey D’s is second only to Monsanto in its aggressive litigious enforcement of compliance with marketing, performance and pricing of product line being uniform and homogenous, even extending to Ronald’s shoelaces being the correct color. So none of this is outside the purview of the franchise. Something coded you say? The ad quite specifically does NOT say “Thanks McDonald employees”. Nor is it apparent that the addresses given are those of Mickey D franchise locations. Curiouser and curiouser! Analysis thinks maybe some of overseas culture that America has encountered in the last 13 years has rubbed off on our current domestic one. It was not at all uncommon to read news accounts of “al Libby” as well as another long complete name, both of which were used by one and the same individual, like “Jimmy – the Greek.” Say “the Greek” and you’re talking about Jimmy. Say “Jimmy” and you’re referencing the Greek. But is saying “Eric Mason’s employee” the same as saying “an employee of the Grill’s whatever”? That’s new, and points to the introduction of the local connection to what otherwise is a monolithic (by design) corporate inviolability (the identity of a franchisee is normally treated as discretionary information, like who the landlord of a rental property really is). Which brings out the trending embodied in this page 10 “not the news” news. Covered only obliquely by this blog, the national movement IS for a minimum wage increase, especially at franchises like Mickey D’s. In the news, USA Today style (a Gannett publication), this always comes across as some kind of event taking place “out there” against that mean Mr. international corporation. This is never found under “local.” Here we have the nascent appearance of corporate PR successfully deployed in the reactionary disruption of the unionization of auto workers earlier this year at the VW plant in Nashville Tennessee. It was reported widely at the time that the vote turned out as it did because the various anti-union PACs targeted the employees’ families (as opposed to the employees themselves). Don’t let mommy, brother or son vote that way or the economy of the region (their future) might be in jeopardy. It worked. Now we have McDonald employees, not referred to as McDonald employees, appearing sans work uniforms in family reunion style pictures, being thanked as “Mortellaro” employees; just like part of the family, in family portraits! Why, there’s even a child in one of the “employee” portraits. Analysis has difficulty comprehending that either of the two M’s has figured out a way to get around child labor laws. So what else could it be but an appeal to just being one, big happy family? It is all quirky, definitely news, and very revealing of what is currently trending (“to tend to take a particular direction; extend in some direction indicated” Webster’s).

I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore

August 7, 2014

As can be expected, serendipity finds an article by Matt Phillips, appearing with the online Quartz, exemplifying what was presented rather abstractly in the previous post (Are We There Yet?). From the article, “America’s tax-cut obsession is colliding with reality in Kansas” (8-6-14):
“Kansas may be foremost among them. Its governor Sam Brownback, a former US congressman and senator, led an aggressive effort to cut taxes soon after winning office. The idea is that tax cuts would reinvigorate job growth and bolster the state’s economy, replenishing state coffers along the way. It hasn’t worked out all that well. Kansas’s job picture has improved since 2011 when Brownback took office. But rates of job growth have been slower than the country as a whole and compared with nearby states like Nebraska and Missouri. Meanwhile, and predictably, revenues have fallen faster than spending, forcing the state to dip into reserves. Moody’s downgraded its debt rating on Kansas in April, citing “sluggish economic recovery and a structurally imbalanced budget.” S&P followed, axing Kansas’s debt rating today. S&P analysts say that “substantial shortfalls in individual income taxes” will likely eat into the state’s cash cushion at a very low 0.6% of expenditures, far too thin for a period of economic expansion.”
Of particular note is the use of “rate” rather than any substantial indicator of increase or growth. Although there has been real, actual growth or increase in Kansas in the last three years, the “economy”, recognizing only “rates” of growth, determines otherwise. This is reinforced by Moody’s and S&P’s “ratings”. The folks residing in that state, who get up in the morning and look out their window wondering how things are doing this fine day, don’t realize they aren’t in Kansas anymore. They are now in some statistic rated state of the “economy” where the sun never shines. Toward the end of the short article, Phillips writes:
“But from a political tactician’s standpoint, undermining state finances probably isn’t a bad thing. After all, the backdrop of declining state finances makes it much easier to argue that the time for steep spending cuts has come.”

The article is, of course, about governance (“governor Sam Brownback” “time for steep spending cuts has come”). Those being governed live in a state of the “economy”. Those governing (residing in whatever state they desire – Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Oz) utilize the currency of the “economy” (such as financial “ratings”, the promise of jobs creation or growth, “expansion”) to meet expectations attainable only within the “economy” itself (and not found elsewhere). Cool! In light of the Licking County commissioner’s recently stated preference for a public system over a private one, the residents of Newark get up daily to find the “public system” transit service being cut, the “public system” of roads, bridges, sewer and other infrastructure being ever more minimally maintained, the “public system” of fire, EMS, police and health workers continuously understaffed, the “public system” of pre-school programs, of community centers, of housing, of accessible education/training eroding. Etc. But that’s OK. The state of the “economy”, where the citizens reside, is rated up there with the likes of Emerald City.

Are We There Yet?

August 3, 2014

In the last post (Limited Time Blue Light Special On Aisle 5) news reports of current local business occurrences were analyzed. These (both the news making as well as the reporting) occurred, ostensibly, because they were good for the economy. Analysis also glimpsed Nick Hanauer’s use of “the economy” which differs from that of Paul Ryan’s, or Rand Paul’s, or Donald Trump’s. All of which begs the question, what is “the economy”? An essay by Timothy Mitchell (“Economentality: How the Future Entered Government”) from the Summer 2014 Critical Inquiry is insightful:

“Around 1948, it became common in American political debate to talk about the economy. References to this object in government and newspapers were starting to appear in a routine, repetitive way that made the economy appear for the first time as a matter of fact. It was no longer always necessary to explain what the term meant or to qualify it in some way.
The idea of the economy itself had been around for at least a dozen years. But in the period before the Second World War the word still often carried echoes of an older sense when economy described a process, not a thing. In everyday usage, the term referred to the act of economizing, of making prudent use of limited resources.” (pg. 481)
“By around 1948, a decade after the introduction of national income accounting into the calculations of the federal budget, it was becoming more commonplace to refer to the economy. How should we understand the emergence of this new way of referring to collective life? Was the economy a new object or just an old name for things that already existed? Ultimately, neither option is satisfactory.” (pg. 483)
“It is easier to talk about the economy as an effect.”
“The effect of the economy provided not just a new object of government policy, in the way that governments had also become concerned with, for example, public health, or urban renewal, or social welfare. The economy provided a more pervasive effect, one that has since then escaped attention: a way to bring the future into government.” (pg. 484)
“First, the CEA [Council of Economic Advisers] was set up [1946] not to allow economists into government but to keep them out.”
“Congress created the CEA in reaction against postwar proposals for a Full Employment Act, which would have established full employment as a collective right. Opponents of the right to employment inserted the plan for the council into the employment bill in order to weaken the influence of wartime economists in government and the mechanisms they had developed during the war for maximizing employment and controlling prices.” (pg. 490)
“The CEA was to be a device for this making things public, for an “economic education” (starting with the education of the president). Its regular reports would help bring the economy into effect.
Second, economic expertise had often been concerned with problems of growth: the increase in population, the expansion of trade, a surfeit or shortage of natural resources, or inflation in the money supply. What was new in 1947-48 was not growthmanship but the object that would grow – not population, trade, resources, or wealth, but something less material and therefore more effective: the economy. The growth of the economy was not a question of the governance over resources or the management of national finance. It was a means of bringing the future into government – of governing populations through their futures.” (pg. 491)
“Through such material inscriptions [representations not of actual increases/decreases but of the rates of increase/decrease], the economy emerged as a nonmaterial object, a set of calculations that converted the accelerating growth of modernity into an apparently stable future. In ways like this and many others, the economy, perhaps just for two or three decades, made the future an instrument of government.” (pg. 497)
“Governing people through their future also became a device for managing populations in the formerly colonized world.” (pg. 498)
“One of the most significant of these possibilities [political possibilities] was that industrialized states could attempt to govern not only their own populations but also relations with the rest of the world through their futures.” (pg. 499)
“The economy worked effectively as a mode of government-through-the-future for only a couple of decades. By the late 1960s, the forms of productive growth, energy use, cheap oil, and Middle Eastern politics on which it depended were all under pressure.” (pg. 507)

Analysis finds that projections on “the future” (as found with “the economy”) are something in which if you follow the directives or “governance” (of the future), then certain expectations will be met. It is not necessarily material expectations for then it would be a “plan”, something Mitchell’s essay clearly shows “the economy” not to be. A plan is something limited within an envelope of a beginning (projected outcome), middle (execution), and end (verifiable achievement or failure). Today the use and meaning of “the economy” is more like that of “technology” – continuously evolving, in flux, with built in anticipation as well as obsolescence, all not contained within a definable certainty, much like a short or long term weather forecast. In 1948 President Truman deployed the army to run the railroads while less than 15 years later President Kennedy muscled the steel producing corporations, both for the sake of governance. After the 2008 financial meltdown no criminal indictments of the individuals involved within the culpable “too big to fail” financial institutions were pursued. The ostensible reason given by the chief prosecutor of the justice department was that such action would be detrimental to “the economy”. When “the economy” is used by political or corporate leaders, the press or political groups, one should automatically question who is being governed? By whom? For what kind of future? For whom? Mitchell’s description of how “the economy” came to be used and what its meaning has become creates an imaginary Looney Tunes cartoon image of a carrot dangling in front of an overworked donkey pulling an overloaded cart asking “Are we there yet?”