RSS

Monthly Archives: February 2014

"Freedom" of the press.

Huh.  So first they made propaganda legal (again) in the US.  You may remember this story, or a similar version of it, from last year.

US Government-Funded Domestic Propaganda Has Officially Hit The Airwaves

by Michael Kelley, provided by Business Insider.

Published 6:54 am, Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The U.S. government’s mammoth broadcasting arm has begun the “unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption,” John Hudson of Foreign Policy reported on Sunday. 

The content arrives with the enactment of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R- Texas) and Rep. Adam Smith (D- Wash.), which was inserted into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The reform effectively nullifies the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was amended in 1985 specifically to prohibit U.S. organizations from using information “to influence public opinion in the United States.”  [Teri’s note: another confusing and misleading title for a Congressional Act.  The old Smith-Mundt Act prohibited propaganda.  The new “Smith-Mundt Modernization Act” does exactly the opposite, despite invoking the same names as the old one.  This is done deliberately to confuse the voters, very much like Elizabeth Warren’s disarmingly named “21st Century Glass-Steagal Act”.]

The new law enables U.S. government programming such as Voice of America (VoA) — an outlet created in 1942 to promote a positive understanding of the U.S. abroad — t0 broadcast directly to domestic audiences for the first time.

VoA and other programs are now produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which shares a “strategic communications budget” with the State Department and has an annual budget of more than $700 million. [Teri’s note: See more on the State Dept.’s cost of propaganda below.] 

Nevertheless, BBG spokeswoman Lynne Weil insisted to FP that the BBG presents “fair and accurate news” and is not a propaganda outlet.

A former U.S. government source explained that the BBG can now reach local radio stations in the U.S., meaning that the programming can target expat communities such as the significant Somali population in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Those people can get Al-Shabaab, they can get Russia Today, but they couldn’t get access to their taxpayer-funded news sources like VoA Somalia,” the source told FP. “It was silly.”

An alternative function was detailed last year by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a highly-respected officer who released a critical report regarding the distortion of truth by senior military officials in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Davis stated that the effective repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act is a strategic move in influencing U.S. public perception in regards to the Global War on Terror (GWOT). 

He cites Colonel Richard B. Leap, who recommends that lawmakers “specifically address all prior legislation beginning with the Smith-Mundt Act that is limiting the effectiveness of Information organizations in the GWOT environment.”

From Lt. Col. Davis:

In context, Colonel Leap is implying we ought to change the law to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will.” 

The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 appears to serve this purpose by allowing for the American public to be a target audience of U.S. government-funded information campaigns. 

Davis also quotes Brigadier General Ralph O. Baker — the Pentagon officer responsible for the Department of Defense’s Joint Force Development — who defines Information Operations (IO) as activities undertaken to “shape the essential narrative of a conflict or situation and thus affect the attitudes and behaviors of the targeted audience.” 

Brig. Gen. Baker goes on to equate descriptions of combat operations with the standard marketing strategy of repeating something until it is accepted: 

For years, commercial advertisers have based their advertisement strategies on the premise that there is a positive correlation between the number of times a consumer is exposed to product advertisement and that consumer’s inclination to sample the new product. The very same principle applies to how we influence our target audiences when we conduct COIN.

And those “thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs” appear to serve Baker’s strategy, which states: “Repetition is a key tenet of IO execution, and the failure to constantly drive home a consistent message dilutes the impact on the target audiences.” 

So it appears the new content stream is an outlet for “uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate,” as Weil told FP, as well as a vehicle for U.S. Information Operations.

http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article/US-Government-Funded-Domestic-Propaganda-Has-4668001.php

The State Dept. spends a lot of money on “diplomatic outreach”,  otherwise known as propaganda, in its desperate attempts to get people in foreign lands to like us.   That we might remove our military from their countries, simply stop bombing the hell out of them, or end such “diplomatic” practices as economic sanctioning, and that this might do more for our reputation abroad than overt propaganda is a concept that seems to elude both the State Dept. and the Pentagon.  Aside from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (mentioned in the above article) with its $751 mm budget (as of 2012), the State Department runs the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), which is a 276-person agency with a 2013 budget of $137 million.  The IIP publishes various booklets and licenses old PBS series to be broadcast in foreign countries.  State also has the Bureau of Public Affairs operating on a budget of $43.5 mm (2013 budget), whose main function seems to be the responsibility of handling State Dept. “tweets” and arranging all-expense-paid trips to the US for foreign journalists (the topics of the stories are pre-selected by the State Dept.).

The Pentagon has its own outreach program, of course, entirely separate from the State Dept. According to a February 2012 USA Today article, the Pentagon spent as much as $580 million annually in recent years on leaflets, billboards, radio and TV programming, and other forms of “information operations” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Excited and emboldened by the successful reinstatement of the Cold War-style propaganda pushed onto the sleepy, witless public and codified into law through the 2013 NDAA, the Obama administration now moves forward with the next step: it will tell the media what that propaganda should consist of,  “advise” the media on how to properly disseminate the approved “information” to the public, and “oversee” how well the media is fulfilling this “duty”.  Oh, and the “advisors” will be government contractors; i.e., your own taxpayer dollars will be used to direct the media on what it is allowed to tell you, via private companies hired by the government.  I am exaggerating the case somewhat, but as history has taught us, these things progress in an orderly and predictable fashion; it is only a matter of a relatively small period of time before full-on control of the press is achieved.  This latest move, combined with Obama’s overt war on journalists and whistleblowers (done with the blessings of most of Congress, I might add), clearly demonstrate where all this is headed.

New Obama initiative tramples First Amendment protections

BY BYRON YORK | FEBRUARY 20, 2014 AT 5:48 PM

The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” But under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to send government contractors into the nation’s newsrooms to determine whether journalists are producing articles, television reports, Internet content, and commentary that meets the public’s “critical information needs.” Those “needs” will be defined by the administration, and news outlets that do not comply with the government’s standards could face an uncertain future. It’s hard to imagine a project more at odds with the First Amendment. 

The initiative, known around the agency as “the CIN Study” (pronounced “sin”), is a bit of a mystery even to insiders. “This has never been put to an FCC vote, it was just announced,” says Ajit Pai, one of the FCC’s five commissioners (and one of its two Republicans). “I’ve never had any input into the process,” adds Pai, who brought the story to the public’s attention in a Wall Street Journal column last week.  [Teri’s note:  It is most peculiar that the commissioners themselves knew nothing of this initiative beforehand.  Where did it originate?  Perhaps it is the singular idea of the acting chair, Mignon Clyburn?  Maybe some sort of Presidential Order?  It’s a mystery.  In any case, please read Commissioner Pai’s WSJ editorial by clicking on the embedded link above.  His piece is articulate and rather alarming, especially in light of the fact that someone is making decisions about FCC policies without having the input from all its commissioners.]

Advocates promote the project with Obama-esque rhetoric. “This study begins the charting of a course to a more effective delivery of necessary information to all citizens,” said FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn in 2012. Clyburn, daughter of powerful House Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, was appointed to the FCC by President Obama and served as acting chair for part of last year. The FCC, Clyburn said, “must emphatically insist that we leave no American behind when it comes to meeting the needs of those in varied and vibrant communities of our nation — be they native born, immigrant, disabled, non-English speaking, low-income, or other.” (The FCC decided to test the program with a trial run in Ms. Clyburn’s home state, South Carolina.)

The FCC commissioned the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy to do a study defining what information is “critical” for citizens to have. The scholars decided that “critical information” is information that people need to “live safe and healthy lives” and to “have full access to educational, employment, and business opportunities,” among other things.

The study identified eight “critical needs”: information about emergencies and risks; health and welfare; education; transportation; economic opportunities; the environment; civic information; and political information.

It’s not difficult to see those topics quickly becoming vehicles for political intimidation. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine that they wouldn’t. For example, might the FCC standards that journalists must meet on the environment look something like the Obama administration’s environmental agenda? Might standards on economic opportunity resemble the president’s inequality agenda? The same could hold true for the categories of health and welfare and “civic information” — and pretty much everything else.

“An enterprising regulator could run wild with a lot of these topics,” says Pai. “The implicit message to the newsroom is they need to start covering these eight categories in a certain way or otherwise the FCC will go after them.” 

The FCC awarded a contract for the study to a Maryland-based company called Social Solutions International. In April 2013, Social Solutions presented a proposal outlining a process by which contractors hired by the FCC would interview news editors, reporters, executives and other journalists.

“The purpose of these interviews is to ascertain the process by which stories are selected,” the Social Solutions report said, adding that news organizations would be evaluated for “station priorities (for content, production quality, and populations served), perceived station bias, perceived percent of news dedicated to each of the eight CINs, and perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” 

There are a lot of scary words for journalists in that paragraph. And not just for broadcasters; the FCC also proposes to regulate newspapers, which it has no authority to do. (Its mission statement says the FCC “regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable…”)

Questioning about the CIN Study began last December, when the four top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the FCC to justify the project. “The Commission has no business probing the news media’s editorial judgment and expertise,” the GOP lawmakers wrote, “nor does it have any business in prescribing a set diet of ‘critical information.’ ” [Teri’s note:  Obama and the Democrats couldn’t give any more talking points to the GOP than they have lately if they had planned it intentionally.  I’d be amazed at this political ineptitude if I weren’t so convinced we actually have only one party in this country.]

If the FCC goes forward, it’s not clear what will happen to news organizations that fall short of the new government standards. Perhaps they will be disciplined. Or perhaps the very threat of investigating their methods will nudge them into compliance with the administration’s journalistic agenda. What is sure is that it will be a gross violation of constitutional rights. 

http://washingtonexaminer.com/new-obama-initiative-tramples-first-amendment-protections/article/2544363

On the Maryland contractor mentioned in the article, Social Solutions International:  these guys appear to survive as a company exclusively through governmental contracts.  In regards propaganda, here is one of their contracts as summarized on their home page, and you will note how well it fits with the new (and improved!) propaganda law in the 2013 NDAA, which is the subject of the first article I quoted:

International evaluation expertise promotes public diplomacy.

Social Solutions is entering the second year of a five year contract funded by the Department of State (DoS) to provide evaluation and performance measurement expertise and leadership to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The ECA serves both as a critical element and extension of the State Department’s traditional diplomacy function. The diversity of programming, activities, thematic emphases and content, participants, and program goals enables ECA to realize its overarching Public Diplomacy and Citizen Diplomacy goals: fostering mutual understanding and forging linkages between citizens and institutions in the U.S. and overseas. The Evaluation Division in ECA’s Office of Policy and Evaluation (ECA/P) serves as the locus of program evaluation and performance measurement functions for ECA’s programs and for the Bureau as a whole.  It provides critical performance measurement and evaluative data – both qualitative and quantitative – to Senior Managers in ECA and the DoS as part of annual or occasional USG mandated strategic planning and performance measurement exercises. It also provides performance data on highly visible initiatives and offers analysis and reports on the data collected.

http://www.socialsolutions.biz/cms/index.php

 

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Congress, security state, State Dept/diplomacy

 

The amazing invisible, jobless, benefits-less, low-wage, government assistance-less "recovery".

I dislike posting an article which is mostly quotes from elsewhere, but as the man in the movie said, I have much to do and less time to do it in.  (I think that was said by Cary Elwes in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”.)

At the beginning of January, the talk was all about whether or not Congress would extend long-term unemployment benefits, which had expired on 31 Dec.

3 Jan., ’14

Congress went home for Christmas without extending long-term unemployment insurance, leaving 1.3 million people in the lurch. The damage, however, extends far past these unemployed Americans. State economies lost $400 million in one week thanks to Congressional inaction on unemployment benefits, according to a new report from the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. […]

California lost about $65 million this week. Illinois, Florida, New York, and New Jersey also took eight-figure hits. Texas, which lost nearly $22 million, can thank its senior senator, John Cornyn (R-TX), for blocking a vote to extend benefits twice.

The long-term unemployed already struggle more than others to get back to work, as research suggests prospective employers won’t even look at resumes of people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Even after managing to get hired, the period of unemployment will suppress their earnings for the rest of their lives, as well as hurt their chances at future homeownership.

If unemployment benefits are not restored, the Congressional Budget Office estimates a loss of about 200,000 jobs this year due to reduced consumer spending.

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/01/03/3117251/unemployment-benefits-expire-state-economies-400-million-loss/

Congress brought the issue up for a vote yesterday and sure enough, once again  failed to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.  This was despite the Democrats offering to have everyone in the U.S. form a line and then let the Republicans shoot each fifth person.  Or whatever the hell the Democrat’s concessions were this time around.

The US Senate failed to move forward with a three-month extension of federal unemployment benefits yesterday, leaving 1.7 million long-term unemployed workers without any cash assistance.[…]

Including family members, some 5 million people have been affected already by the December 28 expiration of extended benefits, a number that is growing by close to 1 million every month. […]

The two parties are engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the jobless benefits, including discussions over other social cuts to pay for them and the introduction of changes that will further restrict access. Both parties are carrying out a strategy to use the unemployment crisis to blackmail workers into accepting poverty-level wages.

The proposal that failed in the Senate Thursday would have paid for the estimated $6 billion cost by reducing the amount of money corporations are required to pay into pension plans. This would have the effect of boosting corporate profits and increasing taxable income. The end result would be to short-change corporate pension funds, which would be used to justify pension benefit cuts in future years. This procedure is euphemistically called “pension smoothing.”

After initially putting on a show of opposing the Republican demand that any extension of jobless benefits be paid for elsewhere, the Democrats are now fully committed to balancing an increase in social spending with equal cuts targeting the working class elsewhere.  […]

Any extension will likely include further restrictions in eligibility and a reduction in the duration of benefits for those who qualify.

Also being discussed behind the scenes are proposals to “reform” the unemployment benefit system. In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama referred in passing to the need for “reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy,” without indicating what reforms he was talking about. Various measures are being discussed, including stricter rules to force workers to accept low-paying jobs.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/07/unem-f07.html

When people say that the jobless need to just go find a job, I would ask, “Where are these imaginary ‘opportunities’ available for the unemployed you speak of?” And by the way, these lay-offs are taking place to boost profits, which are already at all-time highs for the corporate sector.  These companies are making money; they just want to make more money.  Idiotically, the CEOs  don’t seem to be able to figure out that if the population has fewer jobs there will be less money being spent at their stores.

20 Jan., ’14

[…] JC Penney, the department store retailer that operates 1,107 stores across the United States, will eliminate 2,000 jobs and shut down 33 stores between now and May. Additionally the company will move 3,000 workers off a salary system and onto a commission pay system. […]

Penney, however, is just one of many retailers whose sales have been affected by the sharp fall in income and living standards for the majority of Americans. Best Buy, for instance, experienced a 2.6 percent drop in sales in the 2013 holiday season, the period defined by economists as the nine weeks between early November and early January. In this same period Sears experienced a 9.2 percent decline and Kmart a 5.7 percent fall from the previous year. In total, 2013 Thanksgiving weekend sales dropped relative to the year previous for retailers. This was the first time this has happened in seven years.

JC Penney is not alone in its cuts. Just the week before, Macy’s announced that it would be laying off 2,500 workers. Moody’s Investment Services actually suggests that, even though the company has been struggling, Penney might actually have had better sales than many of its competitors. […]

In 2008, 28.2 million people in the US received food stamps. At the beginning of 2013, 47.7 million people received food stamps, an increase of 70 percent. At the same time, there have been major cuts to the food stamps, pushing a sixth of the nation’s population deeper into poverty.

Meanwhile, Intel has announced a “trim” to its 107,600-strong workforce. By the end of the year it aims to rid itself of 5 percent of its workforce, or 5,380 workers. The company says that it does not plan to lay off people directly, instead relying on attrition and other methods. According to CNN, Intel’s spokesman “said the cuts will come as a result of people retiring, redeployments, or people leaving voluntarily.” That being said, Intel has put aside $200 million for restructuring charges, “a portion of which,” the Financial Post claims, “could be earmarked for severance pay.” […]

Intel’s 5 percent workforce reduction comes on top of a factory closure last September in Massachusetts, which led to the layoff of 700 workers. Additionally, Hewlett-Packard Company, another tech giant, will eliminate 34,000 jobs over the course of 2014, 11 percent of its workforce.

Outside of tech manufacturing, call center operator Teleperformance USA announced that it will lay off the entirety of its Ann Arbor, Michigan workforce, 430 employees. Additionally, this past week Citibank announced it would cut 650 positions in Maryland, and Flagstar Bancorp Inc. said it would lay off 600 workers. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/20/cuts-j20.html

 

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it is eliminating 2,300 workers at its Sam’s Club division as it reduces the ranks of middle managers in a bid to be more nimble.

The layoffs, which cut 2 per cent of the membership club’s US employee count of about 116,000, mark the largest since 2010 when the Sam’s Club unit laid off 10,000 workers as it moved to outsource food demonstrations at its stores.

The cuts come as Sam’s Club strives to compete better with Costco Wholesale Corp. and online players like Amazon.com’s Prime membership service.

They also follow layoffs announced by several other major retailers in recent weeks that include Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney and Target Corp.

Bill Durling, a spokesman at Sam’s Club, says that a little less than half of the cuts were aimed at salaried assistant managers.

The cuts are also eliminating some hourly workers. He says that each of the clubs had roughly the same number of workers regardless of how much revenue each store generated. […]

For the year ended January 31, 2013, Sam’s Club generated revenue of $56.4 billion or 12 per cent of Wal-Mart’s net sales of $466.1 billion.

http://m.thehindubusinessline.com/news/international/walmarts-sams-club-to-lay-off-2300-workers/article5620184.ece/

Big profits.  Fewer employees, so even bigger profits.  It only works until it doesn’t any more.   Companies consider this a “win/win” for themselves, the phrase “win/win” having changed its meaning over the years.   “Win/win” used to mean that both sides in an arbitration got something they wanted; i.e., both sides “win” something.  Now it means that one side won everything.   How many regular working stiffs had to lose/lose so these companies could win/win?  I mean, seriously, net/net, think about people losing/losing their only source of income and hopes for future employment so that the already absurdly wealthy CEOs and non-tax-paying corporations could increase their profits/profits.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Private-sector employers started 2014 with slower hiring, missing analysts’ expectations, with unseasonably harsh weather cutting job gains, according to data released Wednesday morning.

Last month the private sector added 175,000 jobs — the lowest result in five months — down from 227,000 in December, Automatic Data Processing Inc. reported. However, longer-term trends show some improvement: over the three months through January, private-sector employment rose by an average of 230,000 jobs per month, slightly up from 220,000 a year earlier.

“Underlying job growth, abstracting from the weather, remains sturdy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, which prepares the report with ADP data. “Gains are broad based across industries and company sizes, the biggest exception being manufacturing, which shed jobs, but that is not expected to continue.” […]

Strengthening employment is key to broader economic growth, including a continued rebound in the housing market. [Teri’s note: the “rebounding housing market” is a complete fiction.  The rebound is entirely driven by speculators investing in homes being converted to rental units, at rents that are, in many cases, higher than a mortgage would be.  This is a bubble that is going to burst pretty soon.  The “experts” will be at a loss as to how to explain it.  It will be “totally unforeseen”.]  Although nonfarm employment finished 2013 on a weak note, annual employment gains were steady, with the economy adding 2.19 million nonfarm jobs last year, just about matching 2012’s result, and slightly up from 2011. Despite those gains, the economy has almost 1.2 million fewer jobs than when the recession began at the end of 2007.

Looking at details of ADP’s private-employment report, small businesses added 75,000 jobs in January, medium businesses added 66,000 and large businesses added 34,000. By sector, service providers added 160,000 jobs, while goods producers added 16,000.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/private-sector-starts-2014-with-slower-hiring-2014-02-05?link=MW_latest_news

Look at that final paragraph again:

“Looking at details of ADP’s private-employment report, small businesses added 75,000 jobs in January, medium businesses added 66,000 and large businesses added 34,000. By sector, service providers added 160,000 jobs, while goods producers added 16,000. 

In other words, the jobs creators, you know, the big businesses who get all the subsidies and tax breaks because they need those incentives to provide jobs, only added half as many jobs as the Mom and Pop businesses.  Oh, and all these new jobs are in the services sector.  Janitorial, waitressing, hotel cleaning, and designing web sites to sell some homemade crafts or some such shit.  The big banks, on the other hand, who live on the largesse of the continuing trillions being poured in via the Fed QE4evah and other bailout programs, are slashing jobs right and left.  The big corporations are likewise cutting jobs each quarter.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who works at a bank, but here it is: Banks are still laying people off. A lot of people, actually.

Financial companies announced nearly 61,000 job cuts in 2013, up from 41,000 in 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. That was more than any other sector, accounting for 12% of all announced job cuts. […]

Banks like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. have been cutting jobs because they no longer need all the extra workers they hired to deal with foreclosures and troubled mortgages — which might be good news for society, but not for the employees getting pink slips. Banks are also cutting traditional mortgage jobs, as higher interest rates scare away some potential homebuyers. Morgan Stanley last year got rid of (expensive) senior managers, in a bid to raise its return on equity. […]

Going by third-quarter numbers, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley cut a combined 40,000-plus jobs compared to a year ago, or nearly 5% of combined workforces. The bulk was from Bank of America, which cut nearly 25,000 jobs, or 9% of its roster.

Even Wells Fargo & Co., which added jobs year-over-year in the third quarter, won’t keep adding forever. The bank has recently announced that it will cut thousands of mortgage jobs.

http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2014/01/09/help-not-wanted-banks-continue-to-cut-jobs/

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. stepped up the pace of bank cost cutting, setting plans to eliminate 17,000 jobs by the end of next year and reduce expenses by at least $1 billion annually.

The move announced Tuesday by the New York company, the nation’s most profitable bank in 2012 and the biggest U.S. lender by assets, will reduce its staff by 6.5% in one of the most aggressive reductions to date amid widespread financial-industry cutbacks. […]

For 2012, J.P. Morgan reported net income of $21.3 billion, up 12% from a year ago and a company record. […]

J.P. Morgan said it would reduce its global staff by a net 4,000 jobs this year and 13,000 next, primarily in the consumer bank and the unit that handles home loans. The majority of J.P. Morgan’s cuts in 2013 and 2014 will come from its 45,000-person mortgage group. […]  [Teri’s note: how’s that rebound in home sales going again?]

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324338604578327983190210680

[…]  More than one in six men ages 25 to 54, prime working years, don’t have jobs—a total of 10.4 million. Some are looking for jobs; many aren’t. Some had jobs that went overseas or were lost to technology. Some refuse to uproot for work because they are tied down by family needs or tethered to homes worth less than the mortgage. Some rely on government benefits. Others depend on working spouses….

The trend has been building for decades, according to government data. In the early 1970s, just 6% of American men ages 25 to 54 were without jobs. By late 2007, it was 13%. In 2009, during the worst of the recession, nearly 20% didn’t have jobs.

Although the economy is improving and the unemployment rate is falling, 17% of working-age men weren’t working in December. More than two-thirds said they weren’t looking for work, so the government doesn’t label them unemployed….

Economists who had expected the fraction of men working or at least looking for work to be approaching prerecession levels by now are dumbfounded. “It’s looking worse and worse,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Robert Moffett, who has researched the subject. “It’s unexpected.” […]

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/02/1-6-men-prime-working-years-dont-job.html

Mass layoffs hit North America, Europe and Japan

Deep-going job cuts are hitting the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, technology and retail sectors across North America, Europe and Japan.

Despite stagnant revenues, reflecting sluggish economic growth, companies are reporting booming profits. These profit gains are almost entirely due to a relentless assault on jobs, wages and working conditions being carried out by the ruling class.

The layoff of tens of thousands of workers comes amid news of unprecedented compensation packages for the heads of major US corporations. It is combined with ruthless austerity measures in the US and across Europe. As the chasm between rich and poor continues to grow, social programs and benefits upon which millions rely are being gutted.

  • Weatherford International plans to cut its global workforce by 7,000 by mid-2014. The oilfield services company, which currently employs more than 65,000 people, hopes to generate annual cost savings of $500 million with the job cuts.
  • Vehicle maker Volvo announced Thursday that it will lay off 4,400 employees in 2014, including a previously announced reduction of 2,000 jobs. CEO Olof Persson said the layoffs would affect workers worldwide.
  • Chemical maker Ashland Inc. will cut up to 1,000 jobs as part of a restructuring program being carried out under pressure from investors to boost “shareholder value,” i.e., share prices. With revenue remaining flat at $1.9 billion for the quarter ended December 31, Ashland aims to save $150 million to $200 million annually from the restructuring.
  • Swiss drug maker Novartis plans to eliminate or transfer up to 4,000 jobs. The plan will affect up to 6 percent of the company’s workforce and is part of a larger plan to cut costs, including the closure of production sites. Pharmaceuticals are under increasing pressure from investors to restructure in response to expiring drug patents and government efforts to cut health care costs.
  • British-Swedish multinational drug maker AstraZeneca has increased its job-cutting toll to 5,600, raising by 550 last year’s announced layoff of 5,050. The company expects the job cuts, to be completed by 2016, to bring annual savings of $2.5 billion.
  • Japanese tech giant Sony confirmed that it will sell its struggling PC unit to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners and cut some 5,000 jobs in its TV, PC, marketing and other departments.
  • A mass layoff program began this week at Dell Inc., the multinational computer technology company, with over 15,000 people expected to lose their jobs. A source speaking to the Register described the impending job cuts as “a bloodbath.”
  • US tech companies have also announced layoffs. Massachusetts-based EMC Corp. has approved a restructuring plan that will result in layoffs “similar in size” to job cuts of more than 1,000 last year.
  • Several hundred people will be laid off as early as this week at Disney’s Interactive group. The job cuts will come mostly from Disney’s Playdom unit, which produces games for social media platforms.
  • Time Inc., publishers of People, Time, Sports Illustrated and In Style, began job cuts on Tuesday expected to number about 500.
  • North American manufacturers are shedding workers as companies close plants and make across-the-board cuts. Five hundred workers will lose their jobs beginning next week as International Paper shuts down the remaining two paper machines at its plant in Courtland, Alabama and winds down production at the facility.
  • GenCorp announced Tuesday it is eliminating 225 jobs nationwide as it seeks to “eliminate redundancies and achieve efficiencies” following its $550 million acquisition of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.
  • Pittsburgh-based US Steel is laying off nearly a quarter of the non-unionized workforce at its operations in Nanticoke and Hamilton, Ontario—about 175 workers. The steelmaker’s operations in Hamilton, which once employed 15,000, will be trimmed to around 820 workers.
  • Michigan-based Kellogg Co. said Tuesday it will close its Charlotte, North Carolina snack factory by the end of 2014 at a cost of 195 jobs.
  • Retailers in the US and Canada announced major layoffs along with store closures. RadioShack will close 500 of its 4,300 stores.
  • Best Buy in Canada is laying off 950 workers at stores in British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario.
  • Sears Canada announced layoffs Wednesday for the second time this month, eliminating 634 jobs. Two weeks ago, the company said 1,600 positions would go as it moved ahead with plans to close its Canadian call centers and reduce warehouse staff.
  •  United Airlines said last Saturday it would drop its hub in Cleveland, slashing many of its daily flights and eliminating 470 jobs. The hub formerly served Continental Airlines, which merged with United in 2010.Even as they continue to attack jobs and wages, the corporations, with the full backing of the Obama administration and governments worldwide, are sitting on massive cash reserves.  US corporations are estimated to be holding a cash hoard of 1.5 trillion.Instead of using this money for productive investment and an expansion of employment, the corporate-financial elite is using it to finance speculative operations and stock buyback programs that drive up share prices and further enrich corporate CEOs and big investors—at the expense of the living standards of billions of people around the world.
  • http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/07/jobs-f07.html

No job.  No unemployment benefits.  And no food stamps.

7 February 2014

Today, President Obama will sign a bill to cut $8.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, slashing almost $100 per month in benefits for nearly a million households. […]

It is the second cut in three months to a program that provides minimal assistance for the most vulnerable sections of society. The lie that there is simply no money for basic social programs is repeated even as new reports document the unprecedented rise in the wealth of the financial elite.

The cuts in food stamps are part of a broader attack on social programs.

They follow the expiration of extended jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers in the US. The percentage of long-term unemployed receiving cash benefits has fallen from two-thirds in 2010 to one-third today. The new bipartisan budget keeps in place $1 trillion in across-the-board “sequester” cuts over the next decade. The Obama administration has reduced domestic discretionary spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product to its lowest level since the 1950s. […]

In the 1980s, 60 percent of full-time private-sector workers age 25 to 64 in the US had a defined-benefit retirement plan. Now, that number has dropped to about 10 percent.

[…]http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/07/pers-f07.html

If you have a job, fewer benefits.  Blame it on Obamacare.  Although one might notice that the CEO of AOL seems to be offering an odd and fraudulent choice here, considering that 2013 was their most profitable in a decade:  increases in the employees’ share of health insurance costs, or losing some of their 401k benefits.

AOL became the latest company to blame Obamacare for cutting back on employee benefits.

The tech firm will now pay its 401(k) company match only to employees who are active on Dec. 31 of that year, as opposed to in their paychecks throughout the year. So those who leave the company before the end of the year will forfeit the match.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong blamed $7.1 million in additional Obamacare costs the company is facing this year. Had the company not made the change in its 401(k) payments, employees would have seen their health insurance costs increase, he told CNN Thursday.

Armstrong did not provide a lot of specifics about what aspects of Obamacare were pushing up the company’s health care costs, but said it was one factor affecting the 401(k) restructuring.

“The Obamacare Act and some of the changes that happened there had increases in our health care costs,” Armstrong told CNN. “We had to make a choice whether we pass those on or whether we took other benefits and reduce them.”

Some employees will still see their premiums rise, depending on the plan they picked, though AOL “ate a huge piece of the increase.”

The news came on a day when AOL announced 2013 was “its most successful year in the last decade,” reporting revenues of $2.3 billion.

AOL’s move makes it the latest in a string of companies to change their benefits because of Obamacare. A few weeks ago, Target  said it will stop offering health insurance to part-timers and instead help them buy coverage on the state and federal exchanges. Last year, United Parcel Service  and University of Virginia said they are dropping coverage for employees’ spouses that have access to benefits elsewhere because of Obamacare. […]

http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/06/news/economy/aol-obamacare/index.html?iid=HP_LN&hpt=hp_t3

 
9 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Congress, economy, Wall St and banks

 

How to spend that extraneous billion.

Let’s say you are one of these guys and have about a bajillion bucks.

 Billionaire investor Warren Buffett saw his net worth soar by an eye-popping $37 million a day this year, according to a survey out Wednesday.

The Berkshire Hathaway boss benefitted from a bull market that saw shares of his conglomerate jump by more than 25 percent in 2013, boosting his net worth by $12.7 billion to $59.1 billion, according to the survey by Wealth-X. That works out to a $37 million-a-day bump in Buffett’s wealth — or an eye-popping $1.5 million an hour.

While Buffet had an outstanding year, the jump in his net worth only got him to second place on the list of the world’s Top 10 richest people.

Microsoft founder and Buffett bridge partner Bill Gates retained the title of world’s wealthiest person with a total net worth of $72.6 billion, up from $61.1 billion last year.

Buffett was followed by casino magnet Sheldon Adelson, who’s worth an estimated $35.3 billion this year.

Silicon Valley took the next three slots with Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos’ $34.4 billion net worth ranking fourth, followed by Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who are now worth $30 billion and $29.9 billion respectively.

New York’s own billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who has been agitating for change in Apple this year, ranked 8th with a net worth of $22.1 billion. His net worth is up 7.2 billion compared to 2012, according to Wealth-X.

Collectively, the top 10 billionaires saw gains of $101.8 billion in 2013, which averages out to an eye-popping $10.2 billion each.

Their combined wealth totals a whopping $347 billion, up from $245 billion last year. Portugal’s gross domestic product was just $212 billion last year. […]

http://nypost.com/2013/12/18/warren-buffett-made-37m-a-day-this-year/

So you are really rich.  And you have a spare billion or two laying around the gazebo and you think that it might be interesting to do something with it.  You know, just for shits and grins.  If you are Warren Buffett, you might pay your back taxes to the IRS [http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/buffett-irs-back-taxes/2011/09/01/id/409520], or then again, you might not.  Well, okay, not.  It would be much more amusing to make at least one little person wealthy through a sporting bet; that’s the American way.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans are partnering to award anyone who fills out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket with $1 billion.

Quicken is running the contest, and is paying Berkshire to serve as “insurer,” which means they’ll be the ones paying out if someone wins.

The prize will be paid out in 40 annual installments of $25 million. If there’s more than one winner they’ll have to share. The winner or winners can also take or split up an immediate $500 million lump sum payment.

“It is our mission to create amazing experiences for our clients. This contest, with the possibility of creating a billionaire, definitely fits that bill,” Jay Farner, President and Chief Marketing Officer of Quicken Loans said in a statement. He added: “We’ve seen a lot of contests offering a million dollars for putting together a good bracket, which got us thinking, what is the perfect bracket worth? We decided a billion dollars seems right for such an impressive feat.”

In addition to the grand prize, Quicken will award $100,000 each to the contest’s 20 most accurate ‘imperfect’ brackets submitted by qualified entrants in the contest to use toward buying, refinancing or remodeling a home. Quicken will also donate $1 million to inner-city Detroit and Cleveland non-profit organizations. Quicken is based in Detroit, but Gilbert owns the Cleveland Cavaliers and the city’s Horseshoe Casino.

The odds are not ideal — a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance.

But it costs nothing to fill out so you should probably do it. The contest starts March 3rd. “March Madness” kicks off March 18.

http://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffett-billion-dollar-bracket-2014-1

How fun for Buffett and Quicken Loans.  A one in 9.2 quintillion chance that they will have to pay out.  There is a different way Buffett, or any of the truly rich, could spend a billion, but it would involve actually coughing up the coin, as opposed to the brackets bet, a stunt unlikely to cost them anything in reality.  This other way would also mean helping a whole lot of icky poor people.  Much less campy, to be frank.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is cutting the size of its projects in a number of countries as it battles a $1bn (£609m, €741m) shortfall in funding and rising costs for several missions, its director said on 3 February.

WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin is in Australia as part of a tour to garner support for the WFP among donor nations and the private sector, to help feed the world’s hungry.

Cousin hopes to convince more individual and private-sector donors, a strategy successfully adopted by another UN agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund. UNICEF receives more than 60% of its funds through such channels as against five percent for the WFP.

Cousin also aims to broaden the agency’s funding base beyond traditional donors such as the UK or the US. She is trying to get emerging market economies such as China and Saudi Arabia to contribute on a regular basis.

Costs are rising for potentially unsafe operations in Syria, where the WFP wants to feed 4.25 million hungry people at a cost of $40m a week.

She said there were “hundreds of thousands of people (in Syria) that we can’t reach on an ongoing basis” but emphasised that where aid was getting through, “it means that we’re making a difference”.

Expensive aerial operations are being debated for the war-torn Central African Republic, where Cousin said more than 50 food trucks were held up at the border awaiting armed escort while about 800,000 internally displaced people needed food.

The WFP chief also said rations were being cut across programmes in nations such as Haiti, Niger, Mali and Kenya, where refugees in the sprawling Dadaab camp suffered a 10% cut in January, after a similar cut in December 2013, “because we lack enough money to feed everybody a full meal”.

“We have about $1bn more in identified need in 2014 than we have projected revenues,” the executive director told AFP.

“Donors target their funds and when donors target their funds it means that (to fund) Syria, those same donors — it’s the same pie, so they cut their funds in other places,” she said. […]

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/un-food-programme-faces-1bn-funding-shortfall-1434858

Again, from the first article I quoted:

“[…] Collectively, the top 10 billionaires saw gains of $101.8 billion in 2013, which averages out to an eye-popping $10.2 billion each. Their combined wealth totals a whopping $347 billion, up from $245 billion last year […]”

 
3 Comments

Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized