Friedman: Where American Politics Can Still Work: From the Bottom Up

Thomas Friedman — The New York Times:

We asked people: ‘What is the most important thing for a successful community?’

“The answers that came up over and over again,” Bressi said, “were a community that creates respect and unity, respect and unity. People want to be heard and want to be respected. And they want unity, no divides. They see the national trends, they feel the division and they don’t want it.”

A blueprint for civil and cultural renewal in communities spiraling downward; at its core this is about pragmatic politics, devoid of posturing and labeling. Well worth a read.

#AmericanRenewal #communityOrganization #grassRoots

∴ NYT: The Market Isn’t Bullish for Everyone

Steven Rattner — The New York Times:

To be sure, rising stock markets help many Americans in other ways. Perhaps most importantly, they secure pension benefits for those fortunate enough to participate in corporate or municipal plans.

However, the percentage of workers covered by these programs has been declining, from 62 percent in 1983 to 17 percent in 2016. Only about 22 percent of Americans below the median even have an individual retirement account.

These numbers will come back to haunt us not long into the future.

Corporate America did away with the defined benefit plan, aka a pension, years ago in favor of a market-based system including IRAs, 401(k)s, and the like. The effect transferred the financial, intellectual, and moral burden of securing retirement income to the employee. It was around this time that cooperate America relabeled their personnel departments “human resources,” marking their labor pool as akin to raw industrial materials and electricity to run their machinery. All became resources to use until expended. The last vestige of humanity fell away from capitalism.

These investment products require workers to become part-time money managers – a skill the eludes even some in the investment industry – to their detriment. Many don’t know where to begin, or simply don’t give it any thought. In times past these skills weren’t a worker’s concern. Payroll withholding into a pension plan happened without direct employee involvement. At the end of a career, retirement income was secured.

There were many, too, who were invested, but who walked away from their investments during the last recession. A lot of paper wealth evaporated between 2008 and 2013, as many amateur investors didn’t have the stomach to ride out the crash. They sold into the decline, or worse, near the bottom. Most of them haven’t returned to the markets.

We can’t blame these workers for turning their backs. It’s a rational short-term response to a problem they could not get a handle on. I do fear for their (and our) long-term financial future, though.

We all get to the point in our working years when it’d be nice to throttle back, leave the full-time rat race and go do something else, perhaps a labor of love that doesn’t pay much or a volunteer gig serving others. That’s not going to happen for workers who could have secured their retirement years, but who walked away from the markets. This problem will spread and worsen as more Americans reach what used to be considered “retirement age.” And with a live birth rate below the replacement rate there will be fewer young workers to fund increased need.

The plight of impoverished seniors who cannot work, and yet who cannot afford to stop working is going to have a ripple effect on the greater economy. There’s no safety net for them, no guaranteed income beyond Social Security, which will itself be strained. There’s no protection for the greater economy when their impoverishment raises the need for federal and state social benefit programs, and lowers our GDP. The markets will respond accordingly, lowering investment value here as money moves to foreign markets where labor and retiree stability is stronger. The greater financial benefit of the European-style social safety net will finally become evident to even the most fiscally conservative Americans.

And this doesn’t begin to address American workers whose income isn’t sufficient to cover their family living expenses, let alone make deposits to a retirement account they won’t be able to use for decades. Nor does it address the changed nature of employment itself, where a lifelong career has given way to the gig economy.

There will be a reckoning when uninvested workers are of a ripe age, health and age issues intervene, but they cannot afford to stop or slow working. That day isn’t so far off.

#economics #retirement #markets #equities #investing

The Market Shock No One is Ready For

Josh Brown – The Reformed Broker:

A large portion of the country has lost its mind. If you told these people three years ago that they would be rooting for the KGB to defeat the FBI, for a millionaires’ tax cut subsidized by the middle class, and for a child molester to win a seat in the US Senate, they’d have laughed in your face. But here we are.

Brown is my go-to wiser financial head in a storm. His assessment of our current political situation and his prognostication for the short-term future is a bracing wake-up for a Saturday morning.

#JoshBrown #ReformedBroker #Trump #authoritarianism #powerGrab #Mueller #Moore

∴ Martin Luther King’s Hate Mail Eerily Resembles Criticism of the Black Lives Matter Movement

David Matthews – Splinter:

In the last year or so, as the Black Lives Matter movement has taken off, the cause has been criticized by (mostly) white people asking, “Yeah, but what about this?”

It turns out that this argument has been in style for at least half a century.

Indeed, this type of discourse is nothing new, as we can see when we examine the hate mail that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Surprising virtually no-one. Yeah, but what about … is joined by we’re all equal before the law as a dodge, a means of distracting attention and changing the subject away from simple facts.

How recently after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 have lenders charge predatory interest rates to people of color? 2010, 2009, 2014. By paying exorbitant interest rates for purchase of depressed properties in segregated neighborhoods, black borrowers are denied the common practice of forming wealth by home equity – the rate and time to foreclosure on black-owned properties is both high and short – and therefore the transfer of generational wealth does not happen in these communities. Each successive generation struggles, but does little better than the one before.

Ask about that, and the common wisdom among white Americans will point you to successful, accomplished black Americans. What about Colin Powell, or Robert Johnson, or all those millionaire football/basketball/baseball players?

Ask the wrong questions, get useless answers, continue living in the dream of whiteness. A better question is, why do you know about those successful black individuals? Because they’re an exception to what’s common. Why is that? The black middle class is a smaller fraction of the greater black community than is the white middle class in white America. Meanwhile, the working poor and those in poverty make up a much greater fraction of the black community that do those in the white community. Why is that? This has something to do with it.

Now we’re getting somewhere, and we haven’t even addressed police violence in black neighborhoods, the very cause that called Black Lives Matter into being.

Read. Learn. Open your mind.

#whiteness #BlackLivesMatter #predatoryLending #unequalJustice #willfullyBlind #redLining

GE Misses on Earnings and Pares Back Lives

Charisse Jones – USA Today:

General Electric’s earnings tumbled in the third quarter, missing Wall Street’s expectations as the company said that it will pare $20 billion in businesses within the next two years to make its operations more efficient.

Miss a quarter, shed $20 billion in subsidiary businesses. What do you suppose happens to the people working in those subsidiaries? Do you believe anyone trading GE shares cares?

Shit like this is what got Trump elected.

(Yeah, I changed the headline. More to the point.)

#American #greed #GE #financial

Wind and Solar in March Accounted for 10% of U.S. Electricity Generation for First Time

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA):

For the first time, monthly electricity generation from wind and solar (including utility-scale plants and small-scale systems) exceeded 10% of total electricity generation in the United States, based on March data in EIA’s Electric Power Monthly. Electricity generation from both of these energy sources has grown with increases in wind and solar generating capacity. On an annual basis, wind and solar made up 7% of total U.S. electric generation in 2016.

Seems a big deal.

#electricity #energy #alternative #fuels

Merkel, After Discordant G-7 Meeting, Is Looking Past Trump

So’s the rest of Europe, Vladimir Putin must hope.

Alison Smale and Steven Erlanger – The New York Times:

Clearly disappointed with Mr. Trump’s positions on NATO, Russia, climate change and trade, Ms. Merkel said in Munich on Sunday that traditional alliances were no longer as steadfast as they once were and that Europe should pay more attention to its own interests “and really take our fate into our own hands.”

“The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over,” Ms. Merkel added, speaking on the campaign trail after a contentious NATO summit meeting in Brussels and a Group of 7 meeting in Italy. “This is what I experienced in the last few days.”

Ms. Merkel’s strong comments were a potentially seismic shift in trans-Atlantic relations. With the United States less willing to intervene overseas, Germany is becoming an increasingly dominant power in a partnership with France.

One early verdict in what we had in President Obama, and what will become part of his legacy, was the last act of Pax Americana – the final act of the 20th century superpower. Mr. Trump will preside over the tipping point into a long, international US decline for his ignorance of America’s rightful place in the world.

Europe has awakened to not only its own strengths, but the necessity of them. In Donald Trump’s America they can no longer trust. This is a good thing in one sense: we as a nation may no longer see the need or the desire by others for our “world’s policeman” role. On the other hand, American influence will wane. That’s a clear danger not only to our own interests, but those of other liberal democracies, as well.

#Trump #long #term #consequences