So Step Away With Your Fist Fight Ways

This ain’t back in the day:

Many Americans can’t remember anything other than an economy with skyrocketing inequality, in which living standards for most Americans are stagnating and the rich are pulling away. It feels inevitable.

But it’s not.

A well-known team of inequality researchers — Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman — has been getting some attention recently for a chart it produced. It shows the change in income between 1980 and 2014 for every point on the distribution, and it neatly summarizes the recent soaring of inequality.

It’s been 40 years since the right wing long game to destroy the middle class and the poor began, and they are winning. Unprecedented propaganda efforts have coal miners slapping “Friends of Coal” bumper stickers on their cars, broken workers are chanting “right to work” as they struggle to crush the unions that would and once did protect them, and the courts have been stocked with corporate friendly judges. In my state, literally. There are things we can do about it (if we band together and chip away at the GOP stranglehold in Washington):

The problem is that wealth and capital income are not distributed evenly. In 2014, the average wealth of the bottom half was $349. For the top one percent, it was over $16 million.

Rich people in our society don’t just have high capital income levels. They also have high capital income shares. That is, a large portion of the income collected at the top of our society comes from capital rather than from labor. In 2014, just 5.1 percent of the bottom half’s income came from capital. For the top one percent, around 58.9 percent of income came from capital.

It is worth emphasizing just how much income at the top of society comes from passive ownership of investments rather than from working. The top 0.01 percent of individuals in society have an average income of $28 million. Three-fourths of that income, or $21 million, came from capital in 2014.

If we want to get serious about creating a fair and egalitarian society, we must confront capital directly. Wage levels are important. Benefit levels are important. But getting those things right will not be enough so long as nearly one-third of the national income flows out passively to a handful of people at the top of society.

Current liberal efforts to tackle wealth inequality are woefully inadequate. Policies aimed at building the assets of low-income families, the typical approach to this issue, rarely succeed on their own terms and, even if they did succeed, would only be an insignificant drop in the bucket. For wealth and capital income to become more fairly distributed throughout society, the ownership of existing assets must be reordered towards that end.

But, as we know, the perfect was the enemy of the good in the last election, and we have this:

Different policies could produce a different outcome. My list would start with a tax code that does less to favor the affluent, a better-functioning education system, more bargaining power for workers and less tolerance for corporate consolidation.

Remarkably, President Trump and the Republican leaders in Congress are trying to go in the other direction. They spent months trying to take away health insurance from millions of middle-class and poor families. Their initial tax-reform plans would reduce taxes for the rich much more than for everyone else. And they want to cut spending on schools, even though education is the single best way to improve middle-class living standards over the long term.

Most Americans would look at these charts and conclude that inequality is out of control. The president, on the other hand, seems to think that inequality isn’t big enough.

I don’t know what it is going to take to unite “the left”- whatever that means anymore. Hell, I don’t even know what to call myself anymore because I support single payer, higher tax rates, higher capital gains, decriminalization, demilitarization, reinstatement of the draft, am pro-choice, etc., ad nauseum, but because I voted for Hillary I’m apparently a neoliberal. At any rate, I thought the election of Trump would unify “the left,” but it has apparently made us more fractious than ever. But we need to get our shit together, because things done changed.



Could A London-Tower-Style Fire Happen Here?

Count on Megan McArglebargle to act as point-person for the Worst Glibertarian Hot Take. For those of us who aren’t being paid to prioritize money over humanity, here’s Justin Davidson, in NYMag, “Could the Grenfell Tower Disaster Happen in New York?”

There is no such thing as an accident when a high-rise building fails. If gas leaks, wires spark, or a wall crumbles, those are not acts of fate, but the preventable consequence of people not doing their jobs. Terminology matters; if it turned out that the fire that consumed Grenfell Tower in London, killing at least 30 people (and probably many more), had been set by a radicalized Muslim immigrant or an anti-Muslim white supremacist, those facts would shape the U.K.’s foreign and security policies. If it’s just an instance of faulty construction, politicians can wring their hands on television, appropriate some emergency funds, and then move on.

It’s too soon to be sure exactly what caused the Grenfell Tower to burn. A thick plume of accusations suggests a lot of possible culprits: a faulty refrigerator; the recently installed cladding of cheap aluminum panels with a flammable core; the gap between the wall and the rain screen, which could have created a chimney effect and sped flames and smoke up the building’s exterior; ineffectual fire alarms; a lack of sprinklers; the presence of just a single fire stair. Behind the technical factors is another layer of social issues. Residents have accused building management and authorities of ignoring their chillingly specific complaints, perhaps because of a generalized disinterest in the building’s poor and largely Muslim population, or because of the pressures of gentrification from the neighborhood all around…

New Yorkers might be tempted to react complacently to some items on this list. Aluminum panels are common, but the slightly less expensive version with the flammable polyethylene core is not legal here. All buildings higher than 50 feet must have automatic sprinklers and two fire stairs, not one. And yet to argue those points is to miss the larger awfulness of the situation. Whether the proximate causes turn out to be corruption, venality, racism, or some combination of all three, the underlying sin is contempt for the people who must live in conditions they cannot control…
Read more



Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Investing in What’s Important

(Drew Sheneman via GoComics.com)

I was doing a little backstage clean-up, and just found this excerpt from before Paul Ryan managed to grin-and-BS his version of Trumpcare through the House. Still seems relevant: Adam Davidson, at the New Yorker, “What the GOP Doesn’t Get About Who Pays for Health Care”:

A few years ago, a relative of mine, an electrician who made a good living laying cable alongside highways, told me that his economic future depended on one thing: his back. He saw what happened to older guys—he meant men in their late thirties—when the pain became unbearable. They either became supervisors or they had to quit. At the time, my relative was about to turn thirty himself, and I remember him saying, “My back is killing me.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation this week, as President Trump has cajoled and muscled House Republicans in an attempt to get the votes to pass the American Health Care Act, the Paul Ryan-produced bill that was meant to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The vote on the bill was postponed on Thursday, in part because the most conservative members of the House, known as the Freedom Caucus, believe that the bill shouldn’t mandate that insurance cover essential benefits, such as preventative and prenatal care, emergency-room visits, pharmaceuticals, and other elements that most Americans consider, well, essential. The idea, they argue, is that the government shouldn’t force citizens to pay for the health care of other citizens through mandatory insurance or other penalties…

When gross domestic product was first defined, in the nineteen-forties, by the economist Simon Kuznets, the goal was to find one simple measure that could serve as a thermometer for the economy: when the number rose, things were probably going better than when the number fell. Kuznets, of course, knew that this was an oversimplification, but a helpful one. Of all the countless ways people make and spend money, Kuznets identified three categories that he believed could cover everything: consumption, investment, and government spending. When he devised the number, health-care expenditure was minuscule, making up about 0.4 per cent of the over-all G.D.P. There seemed no reason to carve it out as its own category. Today, health spending makes up more than seventeen per cent of G.D.P. That spending is divided into the major categories. You “consume” cancer treatments or a checkup or a week in the hospital. A hospital might invest in a new M.R.I. machine or a cardiac-treatment wing. And the government spends money through Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration, among other ways. Health care is the single largest government expenditure by quite a lot, typically nearly double the defense budget. However, dividing health expenditures into these categories misses an important economic reality: health-care spending has a substantial impact on every other sort of economic activity.

As my relative’s situation makes clear, much health-care consumption is perhaps better classified as an investment. As it happens, my relative didn’t get his back properly treated. He took medicine, and then illegal drugs, to treat his pain. That led to an addiction, which led to crime; he is in prison now, and costing the government tens of thousands of dollars a year. When he gets out, it seems unlikely that he will ever earn as much as he would have had he received basic preventative care when his pain first began. It would be wrong to blame all his troubles on health care, but failing to invest in proper treatment when it was needed helped transform one citizen from a hard-working taxpayer into a possible lifelong recipient of government largesse…

Apart from the neverending #Resistance, what’s on the agenda for the day?



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Fly the “Friendly” Skies!


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Stuff like this is why I make it a policy to leave home as seldom as possible. But, hey, I hear Orbitz is making it easy for users to filter all searches by “Never ever United”…

Apart from fighting back as best we can, what’s on the agenda for the day?



Newsworthy Items That Have Slipped Through the Cracks: We’re Doomed

I don’t mean to panic anyone, but the US breached the debt ceiling on March 16th and the current extension on the Fiscal Year 2017 continuing budget resolution runs out on April 28th. Given the dysfunction within the majority caucuses in the House and the Senate, the fact that the new Administration’s skinny budget has been declared DOA upon its arrival in Congress, and the fact that NO ONE ANYWHERE – INCLUDING THE WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS, MOST OF THE NEWS MEDIA, AND APPARENTLY MOST AMERICANS!!!!!!! – seems to be paying any attention or talking about this, perhaps we should be just a wee bit concerned.

Have a nice evening!



Lazy Fucking Moocher Fetuses

Party of life, my ass:

WHEN REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN John Shimkus expressed outrage during a House committee hearing Wednesday “about men having to purchase prenatal care” in their health insurance — the video clip of which caught fire on social media as an example of misogyny and cluelessness — he wasn’t going rogue. He was just getting ahead of party leaders, who haven’t publicly announced their next steps quite yet.

In a conference call with GOP allies on Thursday, however, House Republican Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers outlined the party’s “three-phase approach” to repealing the Affordable Care Act and suggested that the Essential Benefits Package, a provision of the law with sweeping consumer protections, could soon be on the chopping block. The benefits package, a core provision of the ACA, requires qualifying health insurance plans to cover a set of medical treatments, including pregnancy-related medical care.

The conference call was for other Republican House members and state leaders from the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative advocacy group that brings lawmakers and lobbyists together to form policy solutions. It was obtained by The Intercept and the Center for Media and Democracy.

***

The insurance industry aggressively fought against the required coverage rules. Insurance giants UnitedHealth Group, Anthem Inc., and Aetna have lobbied policymakers for years on the Essential Benefits Package, records show. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade group representing much of the industry, has also bitterly complained about the consumer mandate.

This happened Friday:

America’s second-largest health insurer voiced its support for the ObamaCare repeal and replacement bill proposed by GOP House leaders in a letter to lawmakers this week.

Anthem is urging lawmakers to launch the ObamaCare repeal process “as quickly as possible,” Politico reported Friday.

“[It] addresses the challenges immediately facing the individual market and will ensure more affordable health plan choices for consumers in the short term,” Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish wrote to the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees Thursday, the same day both panels advanced the repeal legislation.

“These provisions are essential and must be finalized quickly to have the intended impact on products and prices to benefit consumers,” he added, citing the bill’s repeal of ObamaCare’s health insurance tax, tax credits for customers off the ObamaCare exchanges and temporarily keeping the law’s cost-sharing subsidies.

Anthem, which is the largest insurer in the ObamaCare exchanges, said it was formulating rates and making decisions for 2018.

It’s all about the benjamins:

Health insurer Anthem Inc. on Wednesday posted a decrease in profits amid a rise in medical costs.

The company said it now expects revenue for 2016 to be about $83.5 billion, compared with its earlier estimate of between $82.5 billion and $83.5 billion. It expects adjusted earnings per share to be about $10.80 per share; it previously forecast earnings of “greater than” $10.80 per share.

Shares of Anthem slid 0.6% to $116.78 in premarket trading.

In the latest quarter, total medical enrollment grew 3.1% from to 39.9 million. Enrollment in its commercial and specialty business increased 2.2% from a year earlier to 30.5 million members, while members in its government business grew 6.2% to 9.4 million.

In all, the company posted a profit of $617.8 million, or $2.30 a share, down from $654.8 million, or $2.43 a share, a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, earnings fell to $2.45 from $2.73. Revenue climbed 7.5% to $21.4 billion.

A half a billion in profits just ain’t enough, especially when you got mouths to feed:

As Chair, President and Chief Executive Officer at ANTHEM INC, Joseph R. Swedish made $13,604,681 in total compensation. Of this total $1,298,077 was received as a salary, $1,668,678 was received as a bonus, $2,599,957 was received in stock options, $7,800,073 was awarded as stock and $237,896 came from other types of compensation. This information is according to proxy statements filed for the 2015 fiscal year.

Those lazy fucking fetuses should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.



Open Thread: Happily Engorging the Vampire Squid

…[W]hat’s the best-performing stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.18% since the election?

Goldman Sachs. GS, -0.12%

Yes, really. Shares are up 24%, to $225 from $182 when the market closed on November 8. The next biggest gainer: Wall Street powerhouse JP Morgan Chase JPM, +0.52%

Half of the Dow’s gain since the election, in fact, is due to just those two Wall Street stocks. By contrast, shares of “Main Street” companies Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.11% Procter & Gamble PG, -0.10% and Coca-Cola KO, -0.12% are down.

According to company documents, the partners at Goldman own 30.65 million shares. Which means that the partners at Goldman Sachs, in total, are $1.3 billion richer than they were on November 8, thanks to Trump’s election…

Trumpkins are learning the hard way what happens when you buy an investment scheme from a con-artist. I’ve been writing about scam artists for more than 20 years. They always promise you the moon — that is, until your check clears.

When will these voters get it? Maybe never. Author Maria Konnivoka notes in her book The Confidence Game that many victims refuse to admit they’ve been scammed — no matter what the evidence. Indeed, she says, many just keep coming back for more…

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Apart from checking out Wall Street history during the Calvin Coolidge era, what’s on the agenda for the evening?