• Job Totals Trail Pre-Recession Levels in 10 U.S. States

    April 7, 2016 // 5 Comments »

    depression-photo-jobless-library-of-congress


    Every candidate shouts about job creation, and some talk about the recovery from the last recession. Every month the Department of Labor releases new statistics about how many jobs have been created, improvements in the unemployment rate, and on and on.


    There are parts of the society and the country where some of that is even partly true. But for about 20% of our states, it is not even partly close. An awful lot of the good news is just a numbers game.

    Data compiled by the Associated Press shows ten U.S. states still have not regained all the jobs they lost in the Great Recession, even after six and a half years of “recovery,” while many more have seen only modest gains.

    The figures are one more sign of the economic inequality, the one field America remains the undisputed global leader. The on-the-ground reality of negative job growth is why many Americans feel the economy has passed them by, and fuels support for angry candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.



    Who Lost

    Wyoming has three percent fewer jobs it did when the recession began. Alabama’s job total post-recession is -2.7 percent, followed by New Mexico at -2.6. New Jersey (Chris Christie!) has one percent fewer jobs than it did at the end of 2007, and Missouri is just below its pre-recession level. The other five losers are Mississippi, Nevada, Maine, Connecticut, and West Virginia.

    Among the other states, several show only small gains past pre-recession job totals. Illinois, statewide with a population of over 12 million, has only 8,600 more jobs than it did in December 2007. Arizona’s job count is up just 9,200 with a population of six million (not counting illegal aliens.) And Ohio (Kasich!!!) has added just 58,100 jobs with its population of almost 12 million. Those gains are more or less (it’s less) statistically insignificant.

    Who Won

    The states that saw the highest rates of job growth tell the story of the last few years. Some of the biggest gainers include:

    Washington DC is a big, big winner, with significant growth from America’s largest employer, the federal government, all fueled significantly by the very profitable War of Terror.

    The oil and gas drilling boom lifted North Dakota’s job count by more than 20 percent, though falling energy prices have caused significant layoffs in the past year. Need to check back with North Dakota in a year or two.

    Texas has also benefited from the energy boom, as well as greater high-tech hiring in cities like Austin.

    Utah and Colorado have also benefited from fast-growing information technology companies. Colorado especially has a large aerospace (read: defense) industry, so good for them.




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    Are Trade Deals Like NAFTA and TPP Good, or Bad, for America?

    April 5, 2016 // 3 Comments »

    Detailed_Triangle_Trade

    Are international trade deals, such as NAFTA and the TPP, good for America, or bad for America?

    The answer is yes, depending on who you ask.

    What Are NAFTA and TPP?

    The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which went into force in 1994, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is still pending ratification in the U.S. and elsewhere, are examples of the type of broad-based, large-scale international trade agreements now discussed by American presidential candidates with the same tone of voice used to speak of that wet soup in street gutters. Indeed, even discussing the subject of whether they are good or bad for America may be little more than an academic argument at this point; Trump has sworn to make no new trade agreements and says he will not support the TPP. Hillary is a little cagier in her response, but, for the record, for now, says she too will not support TPP.

    But let’s slow things down a bit, and look into that key question, of how things like NAFTA and the TPP might affect Americans. After all, candidates do occasionally say one thing during the campaign, and another when actually in office, right?



    The Basics

    International trade deals are agreements between countries, often groups of countries, that are designed to promote more trade, more goods and services, and sometimes more workers, moving across borders. The deals typically reduce taxes and tariffs, change visa rules, and sometimes soften regulations that keep foreign products out. The phrase used most often is “lower the barriers.”

    So, if widgets made expensively in the U.S. can be made more cheaply in Vietnam and then imported into the U.S., something like TPP can facilitate that by lowering American tariffs on widgets. Meanwhile, Vietnam might be required to change its agricultural import system to allow American genetically modified fruit to flow into Hanoi’s supermarkets.



    NAFTA

    NAFTA is a good place to start in learning more, as it involves three countries — the U.S., Canada, and Mexico — that generally get along, play reasonably fair, and already had a robust cross-border trade. Lots of non-variables there. Plus, since NAFTA’s been around for over 20 years, there should be a decent consensus on how it worked. That will provide a real world example to weigh against a newcomer like the TPP.

    You wish.

    There are numbers. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says increased trade from NAFTA supports about five million U.S. jobs. Unemployment was 7.1% in the decade before NAFTA, and 5.1% from 1994 to 2007. But then again unemployment from 2008 to 2012 has been significantly higher.

    You can find similar ups and downs on imports and exports, value of goods, and the like. Some are clearer than others; since 1993, U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico have climbed 201 percent and 370 percent. The problem is trying to attribute them. Global economics is a complex business, and pointing to a singularity of cause and effect is tough.

    Want to see for yourself? Here, and here, and here, and here are articles from smart people who can’t figure out if NAFTA has been a good thing or a bad thing. It is not that simple. And NAFTA, remember, was just three countries. The TPP would draw in 12 nations.

    Cui Bono?

    The Latin phrase cui bono means “who benefits?,” and is used by detectives to imply that whoever appears to have the most to gain from a crime is probably the culprit. More generally, it’s used in English to question the advantage of carrying something out. In the case of things like NAFTA and TPP, the criminal context might be more applicable.

    Most everyone can agree that NAFTA made certain products cheaper for American consumers, as manufacturing costs are lower in Mexico than Idaho. American companies who found new export markets abroad also saw a rising tide of new money. The problem is that for many Americans, in the words of historian Morris Berman, that rising tide lifted all yachts, and not all boats.

    Allowing American firms to make things abroad and import them into the U.S. free or at low tariff cost moves manufacturing jobs out of the United States. No argument there among economists. The current celebrity case, cited by several candidates, is that of Carrier. Carrier just sent 1,400 jobs making furnaces and heating equipment to Mexico. Workers there typically earn about $19 a day, less than what many on Carrier’s Indiana assembly line used to make in an hour.

    Carrier will see higher profits due to lower costs. They may or may not pass on some portion of those savings to American consumers. They have put Americans out of work.

    The Losers

    Economists will often claim that such job losses are part of the invisible hand, how capitalism works, duh. The laid off workers need to learn to code and build web pages, migrate to employment hot spots such as California like modern day Tom Joads. But pay a visit to nearly anywhere in what we now blithely call America’s Rust Belt, and see how that’s working out.

    Retraining industrial workers just does not happen overnight, even if there was free, quality education (there’s not.) Indeed, since the beginnings of the hollowing out of America, it has not happened at all. The risk is also that retraining takes unemployed, unskilled people and turns them into unemployed, skilled people. Training is only of value when it is connected to a job. Remember, as all those unemployed Carrier people somehow learn to build web pages, America’s colleges are churning out new workers, digital natives, who already have the skills. Even Silicon Valley’s needs are finite.

    Patterns do emerge, and the American people know they’ve been had at the expense of corporations that do indeed benefit from international trade agreements. Many Americans see that average workers and thousands of communities have been screwed by trade agreements which put them in direct competition with low wage workers around the world.

    Everybody Wins, Except for Most of Us

    Economist Robert Scott says he knows. He claims over the last 20 years, trade and investment deals have increased U.S. trade deficits and cost Americans their jobs. For example, the agreement allowing China into the World Trade Organization led to trade deficits that eliminated 3.2 million jobs between 2001 and 2013. Meanwhile, the United States already faces a trade deficit with countries in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership that cost two million U.S. jobs in 2015.

    In his 2008 book, Everybody Wins, Except for Most of Us, Josh Bivens shows that while the most privileged Americans have benefited from cost-savings due to trade, increased global integration harms working Americans. Bivens estimated that the growth of trade with low-wage countries reduced the median wage for full-time workers without a college degree by about $1,800 per year in 2011.



    A Broader View

    Of course there are dissenting opinions; another economist cautions “to understand how dismantling trade barriers helps the country, we also need to take a broader view of the American economy, and not focus solely on disruptions and lost jobs in particular sectors.”

    And that makes sense, if you believe economics is about money.

    But if one is asking whether or not international trade agreements are good, or bad, for America, one needs to think bigger. On a whole-of-society level, economics is about people. We all want American companies to make money. It’s also great that Walmart is full of low-cost consumer electronics from Asia, or Carrier air conditioners fresh from Mexico, but you need money — a job — to buy them.

    Think broader, and you’ll see economics is about people. Let that answer the question for you about whether international trade agreements are good or bad for your part of America.




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    Got What it Takes to Join State Department Army?

    October 17, 2011 // Comments Off on Got What it Takes to Join State Department Army?

    With the State Department seeking to field its own army in Iraq, some 5100 mercenaries with their own armor and air wings, recruiting might be a problem. Yes, true, America has an abundance of armed nuts, but to join State in occupying Iraq after the US military pulls out, you have to be the best of the bestest.

    The plan calls for 3,650 mercenaries to guard the World’s Largest Embassy (c), with the remaining hired guns stationed throughout free Iraq: 600 in Irbil, 575 in Basra, 335 in Mosul, and 335 in Kirkuk.

    There is some irony here (actually this war is in irony-overload). The reason the US Army is hightailing/withdrawing/retreating out of Iraq by year’s end is that free Iraqi won’t give them immunity, meaning when a soldier kills, rapes or robs an Iraqi, s/he could be prosecuted in Iraqi courts. And after eight years of capacity building in the Iraqi justice system, we all know how fair the courts are– fair and balanced for certain.

    Now why won’t Iraq give American troops immunity?

    Many people believe the refusal dates back to State’s previous orc army, Blackwater. Past attempts by the State Department to control the mercenaries in its pay have proved to be disastrous. For example, a Blackwater USA convoy of State Department officials murdered 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in an unprovoked massacre on September 16, 2007. The use of mercenaries by the State Department undermines stability in Iraq and creates a conflict of interest when those being protected oversee their guards. This cozy relationship led to State Department officials blocking any “serious investigation” of the massacre. That really torqued the Iraqis off.

    We always like to end with some good news, so here it is. Think YOU have what it takes to be a mercenary killer for the State Department? Well, Fresh Meat, let’ see what you got.

    Blackwater is now endorsing its own X-Box game, sold under the slogan of “Have You Got What It Takes?” You buy the game with your Mom’s money, test yourself and if you make the cut, sign up with the State Department.

    They are hiring! Send an email to DSRecruitment@state.gov and tell ’em “We Meant Well” sent you.



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    Jobs: US Embassy Baghdad v. Brad and Angelina’s Nanny

    April 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Jobs: US Embassy Baghdad v. Brad and Angelina’s Nanny

    angelina jolieDetails

    US Embassy: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/iraq/jobs.html

    Brad and Angie: http://www.popeater.com/2011/04/19/brad-pitt-angelina-jolie-nanny/?a_dgi=aolshare_facebook

     

    Languages

    US Embassy: Mostly just English, Arabic always a plus.

    Brad and Angie: At least bilingual, child’s native language and English.

     

    Education

    US Embassy: Varies, Most positions require a certain amount of work experience.

    Brad and Angie: College degree in either education or child development.

     

    Location

    US Embassy: Iraq only.

    Brad and Angie: Must travel between Hollywood, New Orleans, France.

     

    Compensation

    US Embassy: Varies; sample: Budget Analyst, $29,900 plus 50% for Unique Work Conditions bonus.

    For Iraqis, note that salary can vary significantly based on whether you are ordinarily resident in Iraq or not. For example, for a Property Clerk, ordinarily resident salary is $18,782, while for an Iraqi who does not ordinarily reside in Iraq, it is $35,753.

    Brad and Angie: Between $50,000 and $150,000 on a sliding scale to start.

     

    Chance of Physical Encounter with Angie

    US Embassy: May visit some refugee project; Iraq, however, does not allow foreigners to adopt.

    Brad and Angie: Possible when Brad is out of town. Large chance of sympathy f*ck from visiting Jennifer Aniston.

     

    Special Conditions

    US Embassy: May be blown up. Possible PTSD.

    Brad and Angie: Possible PTSD seeing Angie without makeup.

     

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    Bureaucratic Chlamydia: What to Wear to a War?

    April 11, 2011 // Comments Off on Bureaucratic Chlamydia: What to Wear to a War?

    Vatican The first part of my book details the half-assed nature of preparing people like me to live and work in a war zone. State Department personnel are recruited for Iraq without much attention to their background, physical fitness or experience. This is not much of a problem for the majority who will serve at the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, a $1 billion dollar complex constantly referred to as “bigger than the Vatican,” a really odd comparison until you remember the Vatican burned people at the stake for believing the earth was round.

    The Department, however, never told us headed to the field what to bring along. Foreign Service Officers were expected to pass this info around by word-of-mouth, a kind of bureaucratic chlamydia.

    (more…)

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    What is a PRT?

    April 5, 2011 // Comments Off on What is a PRT?

    My year in Iraq, and our efforts to reach the hearts and minds of Iraqis, was focused on the work of the PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Some stood alone, with their own security and administrative staff, some were embedded and dependent on the military (ePRT).

    Here’s what Embassy Baghdad has to say about what a PRT is.

    But you better also read what former PRT staffer and now Adjunct Professor at the National Defense University Blake Stone has to say before you sign up.

    Fancy a turn on the Baghdad Embassy’s golf driving range? Read all about it.

    Don’t worry– there are still plenty of PRT jobs available in Afghanistan. Search USAJobs.gov for “PRT.”




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