HomeUncategorized10.31-11.3 Halloween and All Souls’ Day, etc. Open Threads

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jcitybone

Thanks orl. Happy Halloween!

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jcitybone

jcitybone

For decades, the right wing has been warning that Social Security is on the verge of going broke and that old people are taking too large a share of the national income and wealth at the expense of the young. The grand old man of this fable was Peter G. Peterson, an investment-banker billionaire and former Nixon Cabinet official, who spent more than half a billion dollars of his fortune to create the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to propagate the myth.

One of Peterson’s most insidious tactics was to try to persuade the young that Social Security would not be there for them when they retired. Therefore, Congress should make it possible for younger people to take the money and run, by moving their Social Security taxes to fund private accounts (that would profit Peterson’s investment-banker chums).

Bill Clinton was on the verge of opening the door to this caper when the Lewinsky scandal intruded. House Democrats, who held their noses and stood by their randy president, warned Clinton not to mess with Social Security. Clinton backed off. (Thank you, Monica.)

By focusing on trumped-up generational conflict, Peterson and his billionaire allies could divert attention from the true divisions in America—divisions of class.

Lately, with Social Security heading for a deficit, we have been getting echoes of the same claims about the old doing too well at the expense of the young. The New York Times recently published a piece by Eugene Steuerle and co-author Glenn Kramon explaining how much richer the old are than the young (on average) and arguing that the remedy is for old people to work longer and to take less from Social Security.

Steuerle’s ID says that he co-founded the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. That’s true as far as it goes, but he was the longtime vice president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and one of its prime propagandists.

The Times then doubled down on these arguments with a piece by regular columnist Peter Coy, praising the Steuerle article and adding some misleading data of his own. Coy provides charts from a number of sources, showing that consumption increases with age. He concludes that “postwar policy has taken from the young and given to the old.”

This is nonsense, but it is influential nonsense at a time when Congress will have to decide how to address the projected shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare, and House Speaker Mike Johnson wants to destroy both. For starters, one needs to look beneath the averages.

Coy’s two biggest categories showing excess consumption by the old are health care and owner-occupied housing. And yes, on average, the old have more housing wealth than the young; and not surprisingly, they consume a lot more medical care. (This is not exactly consumption in the usual pleasant sense. It is “consumption” that most people would prefer to avoid.)

But the core fallacy in these arguments is the use of averages. On average, the elderly are richer, but that average includes Warren Buffett and the guy bagging groceries at your local supermarket because he can’t afford to retire.

On average, older homeowners have benefited from the run-up in housing values, but older renters spend more and more of their incomes on housing.

On average, older Americans are living longer and working longer. But affluent Americans tend to live longer than poorer ones. And well-off professionals tend to work well past retirement age because they love their work, while poorer Americans work at crappy jobs because they need the income.

On average, older Americans have more savings, but with the eclipse of traditional retirement plans in favor of grossly inadequate 401(k)s, most people have saved far too little for decent retirement.

It should be clear that the averages miss the point. The real divisions among Americans are not between young and old, but between the rich and everyone else. If we raised taxes on the rich, there would be plenty of money to keep Social Security solvent indefinitely, without means-testing it, pushing back the retirement age, or otherwise fragmenting a universal system.

The postwar cohort of older Americans did get a windfall from the unearned increase in housing values. But the cure for that is to get serious about underwriting affordable housing for the young—and reforming the tax code so that we have more than token estate taxes to tax back some of that windfall to help the young get their foot in the door.

As for Medicare, and the “overconsumption” of health care by old folks, this is mainly the result of the world’s most inefficient health care system. Get rid of corporate medicine in favor of socialized medicine and the fiscal problem is solved.

Rich people have plenty of retirement savings, but most Americans don’t. As the indispensable Teresa Ghilarducci keeps pointing out, ever fewer people have adequate savings for retirement and 401(k)s are a miserable substitute for traditional pensions that are now getting ever rarer. Ghilarducci’s most recent column, in Forbes, no less, notes that the median retirement savings of Americans aged 55 to 64 is $185,000, enough for only a few years of retirement. That figure is just 2.3 times median income. By age 67, they need 11.1 times income in retirement savings to maintain decent living standards. And the poverty rate among the elderly has risen to 23 percent.

All this means that most elderly rely on Social Security for most of their income. But the average Social Security benefit is just $21,384, and for a low-earner it’s just $14,824. Try living on that.

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, another essential critic of the generational-warfare propaganda, calculates that about one-third of 1 percent of all Social Security payouts go to millionaires. If this seems a problem, it’s far better to tax that money back via the progressive income tax than by fragmenting Social Security or turning it into a means-tested system.

The political logic of Social Security is simple. Everyone pays in, and everyone gets a retirement benefit back. In fact, the system is highly redistributive. Lower-income earners get a better “return” on their payroll taxes than affluent ones. But complicate it with explicit means testing, and the middle-class support for the system evaporates.

Social Security is our most universal, most socialistic, and most popularly loved government program. That doesn’t mean it is secure from attack, both from the corporate right and from well-meaning fiscal scolds who just don’t grasp its logic. It requires unrelenting defense and shoring up from its supporters.

jcitybone

Michigan is the state that would be most affected by this.

Benny

Biden will have lean on his Dem governors on this but at the same time, I hope they are pushing back quietly. Biden has already declared that Palestinian lives are not important in the scheme of war.

jcitybone

jcitybone

wi65

IDF full of

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wi65

One for Halloween

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wi65

Poor MAGA -no one to hang now

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jcitybone

jcitybone

Benny

Dave Dayen

Electric Vehicles Labor Uphill

The UAW’s tentative agreements with the Big Three automakers, which eliminate the two-tier wage scale under which the union has labored for more than a decade and provide significant benefits to lower-wage and temp workers, have been hailed as a turning point in the fight for a prosperous working class. Of course, the auto industry is simultaneously going through a separate turning point: the transition from the internal combustion engine to electric batteries.

The goal of UAW leadership was to manage these shifts in tandem, so that upgraded electric vehicles would not create a de facto lower-wage tier. Ultimately, the success of this effort will be determined by the success in organizing EV plants outside the Big Three; already, the union is reinvigorating the existing Tesla organizing committee. But the UAW has now made significant advances in the Big Three’s electric-vehicle sites, which they are poised to take across the country as a new model for what EV manufacturing can look like.

“They told us for years that the EV transition was a death sentence for good auto jobs in this country,” said UAW president Shawn Fain in a recent Facebook Live event. “We stood up and said no.”

That’s a big win for the transition to EVs, amid questions on whether the auto industry will be able to overcome its short-term struggles. Over the past month, General Motors has abandoned its target of 400,000 EV assemblies by the middle of 2024; Honda canceled a co-development with GM for an affordable compact electric SUV; Ford pushed back its EV targets and delayed $12 billion in investments; Hertz killed an ambitious proposal to add EVs to its fleet of rental cars; and even Tesla’s Elon Musk is sounding dour after falling profits.

Just when autoworkers have notched their biggest victory in decades, auto executives now appear unsure of the road ahead. And while certainty on the labor picture will help, the ultimate assistance may have to come from staid central bankers in Washington.

HERE’S WHAT WE KNOW about the Big Three contracts as they relate to EVs. GM went the furthest by allowing workers at its Ultium Cells battery plants, a joint venture with South Korean firm LG Energy Solution, to decide, with no opposition from management, whether to unionize and join up with the GM master agreement. That will apply to the existing Ultium plant at Lordstown, Ohio, and future plants in Michigan and Tennessee, as well as GM’s proposed Indiana battery facility that’s a joint venture with Samsung SDI, also from South Korea.

At Stellantis, which actually doesn’t yet make a domestic electric vehicle but has a handful of hybrids, Fain has said that the Belvidere, Illinois, plant, which was previously shuttered, would reopen and expand to include EV production and a new battery facility. Sources have indicated to the Prospect that those workers would fall under the master agreement. Stellantis has proposed joint-venture battery plants with Samsung and StarPlus Energy; those have not gone forward yet, but could fall under the master agreement as well.

The situation at Ford is a little more complex. Ford has plans for a wholly owned battery site in Marshall, Michigan, known as BlueOval Battery Park (which uses technology licensed from Chinese firm CATL), and a wholly owned EV manufacturing campus in Spring Hill, Tennessee, called BlueOval City. In its contract, the UAW received “transfer rights” into those facilities, meaning that its members can transfer in to work there. Once workers transfer in, and a majority of them sign cards indicating their desire to unionize the facilities, then they get brought into the master agreement.

Just when autoworkers have notched their biggest victory in decades, auto executives now appear unsure of the road ahead.

But Ford also has a joint venture for batteries called BlueOval SK, with three proposed plants in Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s unclear when those plants, managed in conjunction with South Korea’s SK On, would have the opportunity to get into the master agreement.

Of course, many of these battery plants are hypothetical at this point, and maybe well into the future. Ford’s postponements of EV spending included the Marshall, Michigan, battery park, though Tennessee’s BlueOval City is proceeding as planned. There has been controversy surrounding the use of a Chinese partner for the battery technology at the Michigan plant. But Ford executives have cited weakening sales for delaying investments, claiming that customers won’t pay elevated prices for new EV models.

This is a reference to the burgeoning competition in the EV space. Among the car-buying public, the early EV enthusiasts are all drained out, so lower prices are what’s left to lure in buyers. A company like Tesla, with its production long since scaled-up, can slash costs, while startups still must spend on building capacity, as do established auto companies needing to retool. That means incumbent automakers lose more and more on each EV sale, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Their gas-powered products are effectively subsidizing the transition, as Robinson Meyer has explained.

Earlier, Ford fretted about staying competitive if it had to increase labor costs at EV facilities. But the parallel agreements at GM and Stellantis mitigate that to an extent, especially if the UAW builds on the momentum and organizes non-union EV facilities like Volkswagen’s in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the new Hyundai plants in Georgia, or Tesla facilities in California and Texas.

Many of these plants are in the South, where the UAW has failed many times before. But the Big Three deals establish a beachhead in Tennessee, at least, at Ford’s BlueOval City and at GM’s future battery joint venture in the state. Winning a union election in the South has had to overcome the political establishment’s fight to keep unions out. But now, the UAW can hold the Tennessee Ford and GM plants up to other companies’ workers as a model that benefits Southern workers, too, without bringing down the plague of calamities that Southern pols say invariably come with unions.

An early proof of the power of the Big Three deals can be seen at U.S. Toyota plants, where non-union workers will see immediate wage hikes.

WHAT THE UAW CANNOT CONTROL is interest rates, which have now become the counterweight to federal government subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act. For EVs, interest rates affect the financing costs for the consumer in a big-ticket purchase, and the financing costs for the manufacturer, which must build and retool component and assembly plants. When Musk lamented the “enormous challenges” in bringing his DeLorean-as-designed-by-a-child Cybertruck to market, he mainly focused on interest rates.

Automakers haven’t been alone in this squeeze. Offshore wind companies, clean-energy manufacturers, and, really, green firms of any kind have slumped. There’s a real time mismatch here: The subsidies for production are prized, but the factories have to be built to obtain them. The high costs of capital are preventing manufacturers from spending at the level needed for the energy transition. Indeed, oil companies are merging, in a manner that suggests confidence in their continued presence for many decades to come.

Overall, the news isn’t all bad. U.S. electric-vehicle sales project almost 50 percent higher in 2023 than in 2022. And the UAW deals, if anything, brighten the picture. The Big Three, now armed with four and a half years of labor peace, can plan their investments more confidently, with their non-union competitors feeling the pressure from the union’s battle-worn activists. In addition, “there’s intrinsic value having the UAW on board with the EV transition,” said Corey Cantor, an analyst with BloombergNEF. “Automakers probably don’t see it that way, but having these balances will in some ways make their lives easier.”

Cantor has pointed out that several automakers, like Hyundai and Volvo, continue to lead with their EV offerings. Toyota, which has stayed out of the EV game, just added $8 billion in investment to a North Carolina battery plant. Stellantis just bought a 20 percent stake in a Chinese EV startup. And a $5 billion Canadian subsidy for a new battery factory in Quebec shows that the Biden administration’s “race to the top” theory on green subsidies can still work to lure in more public investment, even with high interest rates.

But there may be a lid on that success. Analysts have marveled that high interest rates haven’t stopped the economy’s stupendous growth. But the investment-heavy green transition is a prime area where those high rates can have an impact. Congress and the White House made converting off fossil fuels a priority with their actions, but the Federal Reserve is offsetting it. And until that changes or the government uses federal credit programs to ensure lower investment costs, the EV industry’s struggles are sure to continue.

Benny

Should have posted this last night, but was elsewhere engaged:

Benny

Juan Cole, Informed Comment

Israel in Search of its Hiroshima: Massive Bomb Wipes out 20 Apt. Buildings, Kills, Wounds 400 Civilians

In one of the biggest massacres it has so far committed, the Israeli Air Force on Tuesday bombed the Jabaliyaa refugee camp in Gaza, killing or wounding at least 400 persons and destroying the Block Six residential complex, felling 20 buildings. More victims are believed to be under the rubble.

Al Jazeera English: “Block 6 of Jabalia refugee camp ‘completely destroyed’: Gaza’s interior ministry.” Click here to play on YouTube.

An Israeli military spokesman said that the strike was directed at Hamas leader Ibrahim Biari, a mastermind of the October 7 attack on Israel. Although Israeli authorities proclaimed that they had succeeded in killing Biari, Hamas announced that he was still very much alive.

It should be noted that the Palestinians, now dead or wounded, living in Jabaliyaa are refugees because Zionist forces ethnically cleansed them from what is now southern Israel in 1948 and expelled them as refugees to Gaza. Some 70% of the families in Gaza are such refugees. Israeli state concerns for the security of towns in southern Israel is concern to protect squatter-settlements where these Palestinians used to live.

Killing and wounding 400 noncombatants and destroying 20 residential buildings to get at one target, even if the target is a wanted terrorist, is strictly forbidden under the post-World War II laws of war and International Humanitarian law. These laws are codified in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute that underpins the International Criminal Court.

For instance, Rome Statute:

Art. 8 (2) (b) (iv) Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated. (4th Geneva Convention Art. 85 (3) (b) of AP I.)

Art. 8 (2) (a) (iv) Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly (mirrored from Geneva Conventions Art. 50/51/147 of GC I, II and IV).

Art. 8 (2) (b) (i) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities (4th Geneva Convention Art. 85 (3) (a), plus Art. 51(2) AP I).

Art. 8 (2) (b) (v) Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives. (4th Geneva Convention, Art. 85 (3) (d) of AP I).

The presence of one senior Hamas commander, or even a platoon of them, among hundreds of noncombatants clearly would not justify recklessly endangering innocent civilians on the scale of Jabaliyaa. This is a war crime pure and simple.

In a CNN interview by Wolf Blitzer of an Israeli military spokesman, Blitzer is clearly astonished that he straightforwardly admitted that the Israelis knew that the strike would kill the refugees in the camp, but did it anyway.

(From The Young Turks)

The complete disregard of Israeli authorities for the laws of war and International Humanitarian Law enacted after World War II — intended to prevent atrocities of the sort committed during that war — was manifest in remarks to the New York Times, reported Monday:

“It became evident to US officials that Israeli leaders believed mass civilian casualties were an acceptable price in the military campaign. In private conversations with American counterparts, Israeli officials referred to how the United States and other allied powers resorted to devastating bombings in Germany and Japan during World War II – including the dropping of the two atomic warheads in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – to try to defeat those countries.”

Although the Israeli planners of war crimes conveniently said they were emulating the Americans and British, intensive aerial bombardment of civilians was also a tactic of the Axis. Thus, The Britannica tells us that in May 1942 in the Philippines “after an intensive aerial and artillery bombardment of Corregidor, the Japanese landed on that island in the night of May 5–6.”

It is important to consider Japanese war crimes in the Philippines because their punishment became precedents in international law. Britannica again: “After the war, the atrocities committed during the Japanese conquest of the Philippines were judged to be war crimes, and Japanese commander Homma Masaharu was executed for his role in perpetuating them.”

Or consider Nazi Germany’s bombing of London, which took 30,000 lives.

Matthew Lippman reminds us that on September 17, 1939, the German air force (Luftwaffe) reduced Warsaw to rubble, a precursor to the German invasion and occupation of Poland, during which they attempted to ethnically cleanse the Poles and replace them with German settlers.

The Germans also bombarded Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Of course, the Germans also committed war crimes on land, as Lippman writes: “The Einsatzgruppen, or killing squads, shadowed Nazi troops as the German army swept through Russia. These units were responsible for as many as two million murders. Those detained in the dock were not safely sequestered behind desks during the war; they were in the field, actively supervising, controlling and directing this ‘bloody harvest.’ The defendants [in later war crimes trials] contended that their actions were motivated by self-defense, a claim which the [Nuremberg] Tribunal noted would permit a State to abrogate the legal protections afforded noncombatants under the humanitarian law of war based on the unilateral claim that the civilians were deemed dangerous. Men, women and children were summarily executed; it was feared that adolescents who were permitted to survive would seek revenge in adulthood for the killing of their parents.”

But this claim, of killing noncombatants in self-defense, to which the German officers resorted, is precisely the claim some Israeli officials are making today, that all Palestinians in Gaza are terrorists, all are dangerous to the survival of Israel, and therefore slaughtering them en masse is permissible. These arguments were rejected by the war crimes tribunal after WW II, and they should be rejected today. Of course, extremist Israelis really mind being compared to Nazis. But there is an easy way to avoid that: don’t act like Nazis.

The flaw in the Israeli government stance is that we are not living in 1943. After World War II, the United Nations, the Geneva Conventions and other international instruments were enacted by the nations of the world to prevent the atrocities of WW II from being repeated. It was to this “rules-based international order” that the Biden administration appealed when it tried to rally the world to oppose Russian war crimes in Ukraine. In a gob-smacking act of supreme hypocrisy, the Biden administration has decided to throw the same rules-based international order on the garbage heap of special pleading when it comes to Israel.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration is letting the fascist government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu get away with mass murder. As a result, no one in the global South will ever listen to Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken say the words “rules-based international order” again without falling down laughing. The US attempt to cut Russia off from the world economy will now completely fail.

jcitybone

jcitybone

jcitybone

jcitybone

Benny
Benny

That is why unions are important. A rising tide lifts all boats.