August 7, 2018 in 2,906 words

Robert Reich: Why wages are going nowhere

America doesn’t have a jobs crisis. It has a good jobs crisis.

The official rate of unemployment in America has plunged to a remarkably low 3.8%. The Federal Reserve forecasts that the unemployment rate will reach 3.5% by the end of the year.

But the official rate hides more troubling realities: legions of college grads overqualified for their jobs, a growing number of contract workers with no job security, and an army of part-time workers desperate for full-time jobs. Almost 80% of Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck, many not knowing how big their next one will be.

Blanketing all of this are stagnant wages and vanishing job benefits. The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.

America doesn’t have a jobs crisis. It has a good jobs crisis.

Not even the current low rate of unemployment is forcing employers to raise wages. Contrast this with the late 1990s, the last time unemployment dipped close to where it is today, when the portion of national income going into wages was 3% points higher than it is today.

The Dangerous Myth The U.S. Is Winning The Trade War With China

Members of the Chinese military march at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China.

In recent days there’s been a spate of high-profile press headlines and news stories pointing to seeming evidence that the U.S. is winning the trade war with China. Two examples on the economic side suffice: “China Loses Status as World’s Second-Largest Stock Market Amid Trade War with U.S.,” which focused on the fall of the total value of Chinese equity shares being traded compared to those on Japan’s stock market, and “The Chinese Economy Starts to Feel Impact of U.S. Tariffs,” which, in part, pointed to slowing growth of China’s economy.

And in the political realm there was this headline: “As China’s Woes Mount, Xi Jinping Faces Rare Rebuke at Home,” which reported on an unprecedented strikingly transparent paper published by the noted Chinese constitutional scholar, Xu Zhangrun of Tsinghua University, openly expressing his concerns about the “totalitarian” tendencies of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

As any decent economist will tell you, it’s critical to distinguish between correlation and causation. Much of the current news stories on the impact on China of its trade war with the U.S. score a very low grade in this regard.

China has registered tremendous rates of GDP growth for years, which do reflect genuine economic successes spurred on by truly innovative reforms—although these data are taken with large grains of salt by any serious observer of China in light of the questionable precision of the government’s official statistics.

But there’s a dirty little secret: deep-seated economic troubles have abounded within China for some time, indeed for decades—or at least they were evident as far back as the early 1990s, when I began working there.

John Oliver explains how prosecutors remove justice from the system on Last Week Tonight

Last Week Tonight continued host John Oliver’s Emmy-winning formula last night. You know the one, where Oliver attempts to make the week’s unendingly grim and terrible events go down easier with intermittent asides of humorously exaggerated reactions that only make you feel worse when he gets back to the awful stuff. Well, we see what you’re doing, Oliver and stop it! How does it feel, Oliver, to have your legs kicked out from under you when you’re already feeling wobbly from processing the latest indignantly satirical rundown of human misery, injustice, and venality? Does it feel good, Oliver? Because this is what you do to us!

THANKS to HBO and Last Week Tonight for making this program available on YouTube.

Anyway, the justice system is broken. That’s Oliver’s contention in last night’s typically whiplash-inducing report on the power—and abuses of power—inherent in the prosecutorial side of the whole Law & Order equation. You just heard the chun-chung sound and that’s what was intended to happen because things are going to get very depressing indeed, so laugh it up while you can! Ahem. As Oliver notes, the fact that 95 percent of all defendants plead guilty without going to trial isn’t indicative of a well-oiled legal machine working as it should, but, instead, pretty much the the complete opposite. Noting that prosecutors, as a matter of course, stack charges and terrify defendants with the specter of longer prison sentences in order to secure a guilty plea, Oliver compared the current system to the “unforgivably dogshit customer service hotline” of new HBO owner (and therefore Oliver’s boss) AT&T, in being “an inadequate system that only functions if people constantly give up.”

Illustrating that point, Oliver spent much of his segment pointing out horror stories where people who pled guilty or were convicted thanks to prosecutorial misconduct were later exonerated—but only after spending decades in prison, including on death row. In addition to scaring people into pleading guilty to things they did not do, Oliver frightened viewers with other judicial inequities. You know, like the practice of “trial by ambush,” where prosecutors hold back crucial evidence from defense attorneys until the day of the trial. Or the widely employed tactic of excluding black jurors from cases featuring black defendants with laughably obvious coded objections that thumb noses at the supposed safeguards against such biased bullshit.

7 Stories So Ridiculous They Got Left Out Of The Bible

Every good Cracked reader obviously knows their Bible, but what about the entire genre of early Christian literature that never made it into the Good Book? We’re talking about the Acts of the Apostles, which features Christ’s 12 superpowered sidekicks having insane comic-book-style adventures across the ancient world. Tragically, all of them (except Luke’s) were left on the cutting room floor when the official canon was compiled. And it’s a damn shame, because some of them are pretty amazing. Like …

7. Andrew And Matthias In … The City Of The Man-Eaters!

The Acts Of Andrew And Matthias Among The Man-Eaters is possibly the best pulp title of the Biblical era. It all starts when the apostles draw lots to decide which countries they’ll go preach in. Andrew gets central Greece, Thomas gets India, and Matthias gets Cannibal City, which must have been kind of a bummer.

And it isn’t just a name. As soon as Matthias steps through the gate, the cannibals grab him and gouge out his eyes. They also give him a special drug that makes their captives act like cows, because you really have to up your twist game if you want to compete in the Biblical genre. Fortunately, Jesus immediately gives him his eyes back (though Matthias has to keep them closed so the cannibals, a naturally untrusting people, don’t get suspicious). He then orders Andrew to come to Matthias’ rescue, giving him a special boat so he can make the journey in a mere three days. Presumably still longer than Matthias would prefer, but he’s hardly in a position to be choosy.

“I can’t even kill time going sightseeing …”

After Jesus and Andrew zoom up in their speedboat to save Matthias from cowboy cannibals, Andrew makes the sign of the cross and the guards all drop dead, allowing him to heal the minds of the cow-men. After teleporting everyone else to one of Peter’s sermons, Andrew turns himself invisible and really starts to kick ass, rampaging around the city turning cannibal hands to stone and having the earth swallow them whole.

With his henchmen getting wrecked, it’s clearly time for the supervillain to reveal himself. Yes, Satan materializes in the form of an old man and takes control of the cannibals, commanding them to drag Andrew through the streets until “his flesh stuck to the ground, and his blood flowed.” Don’t worry, Andrew finally wins by enclosing the city in a wall of fire and having a pagan statue spew acid from its mouth, which is “eating them up exceedingly.” Unsurprisingly, they quickly promise to stop being cannibals and become Christians if Andrew simply agrees to leave within the week. Hell, the most we’ve ever gotten out of that deal is some motel money.

A neuroscientist who studies rage says we’re all capable of doing something terrible


Stress makes us more susceptible to rage.

James Holmes, the 24-year-old who in 2012 killed 12 people at a screening of Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, was always a “super-nice kid,” according to a high school acquaintance. Ed Gein, also known as “The Butcher of Plainfield,” killed two women in the 1950s, adding them to a collection of corpses he’d collected from graveyards. He was described by a neighbor as “just the guy to call in to sit with the kiddies when me and the old lady want to go to the show.”

These and similar comments about other violent criminals suggesting the normality of mass murderers are now a standard, almost clichéd, feature of the reporting on atrocious crimes. And those confused neighbors and childhood friends aren’t simply naive, they’re accurate. There is no credible way of predicting whether someone is capable of committing murder: science has not revealed any tell-tale signs that a seemingly normal person is on the path to violent criminality. As neurologist Robert Burton recently wrote in Aeon, even after 30 years of attempting to study and track patterns, psychiatrists and psychologists are terrible at predicting violence. People who do terrible things seem to be just like everyone else until the day they cross into the realm of criminal violence and, all of a sudden, they’re not like us at all.

This raises the question: If we’re incapable of knowing what others are capable of, do we know what we could potentially do? Most of us, after all, have thought about committing murder. David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin, surveyed 5,000 people for his book, The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill, and found that 91% of men and 84% of women had thought about killing someone, often with very specific hypothetical victims and methods in mind.

The terrifying reality is that we’re biologically predisposed to violence in certain situations. Douglas Fields, neuroscientist and author of the book Why We Snap, says our brains have evolved to monitor for danger and spark aggression in response to any perceived danger as a defense mechanism. “We all have the capacity for violence because in certain situations it’s necessary for our survival,” he says. “You don’t need to be taught defensive aggression, because it’s a life-saving behavior that’s unfortunately sometimes required.”

On climate change, it’s time to start panicking

The crisis over global warming warrants an unparalleled response.

It is time for us to panic about global warming. Indeed, a proper state of panic is long overdue.

Global warming has made the news for a number of reasons this week: The Supreme Court rejected a request by President Donald Trump to halt a lawsuit by children and teenagers to force the federal government to address man-made climate change; Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation took new steps to reverse President Barack Obama’s rules requiring car manufacturers to steadily reduce greenhouse gas pollution from their vehicles; former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denounced those same Trump policies as “stupid”; and The New York Times ran a brilliant piece documenting how, between 1979 and 1989, the world had the opportunity to effectively address man-made climate change… and squandered it.

Yet this is one of those issues in which — because there are so many twists and turns and overwhelming details — it is easy to lose sight of a crucial fact: If we do not resolve the problem of man-made climate change, it could quite literally spell the end of human civilization.

“There will be and already is major consequences and they grow over time. It does not look good,” Kevin Trenberth, a Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, told Salon by email. “The effects are always local but there are more and more of them and the consequences are major. These includes floods and drought, heat waves and wild fires.” He also pointed Salon in the direction of a paper he co-authored that elaborated on how Hurricane Harvey in particular could be linked to climate change.

Indeed, the California wildfires that ravaged America’s most populous state last month provide a major example of the dangers of man-made climate change discussed by Trenberth. A number of scientists have come out to argue that the devastating blazes were at the very least exacerbated by climate change, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. As Jennifer Francis, a professor at Rutgers University who studies atmospheric circulation, told the newspaper regarding the searing heat weave and weaker wind patterns, “We’re seeing this mix of conditions across North America and Europe, but they’re all connected. The weather patterns are just stuck. They’re trapped.”

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

There are roughly 3,000 immigrants from Mauritania in Columbus, Ohio. They came to America fleeing persecution and slavery in the West African country. For years, ICE allowed even those with failed asylum claims to remain in the country. “Since Donald Trump has become president, more than 50 people I know have been detained and deported,” says a local Mauritanian community leader. A new documentary from The Atlantic visits an undocumented immigrant who says he would rather flee to Canada than risk deportation. Read the full story by Franklin Foer on The Atlantic:…

Donald Trump’s lawyer, the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has made several gaffes while serving his client, ranging from spilling the beans on how Michael Cohen bought Stormy Daniels’s silence to confusing tales about the alleged meeting with Russian operatives in Trump Tower. So far, Giuliani has managed to keep his job. But how much longer will the president tolerate the slip-ups?

Apple gets a $1 trillion valuation, Pope Francis declares his opposition to the death penalty, and parents are apparently hiring “Fortnite” coaches for their kids.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me commentary on animals helping each other out and being top notch mates.

During the Salem Witch Trials, Giles Corey is convicted and sentenced to a gruesome death.

About Drunk History:
Based on the popular web series, Drunk History is the liquored-up narration of our nation’s history. Host Derek Waters, along with an ever-changing cast of actors and comedians, travels across the country to present the rich tales that every city in this land has to offer. Booze helps bring out the truth. It’s just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent.

THANKS to Comedy Central and Drunk History for making this program available on YouTube.


Scientists Have Uncovered a Disturbing Climate Change Precedent

During the rise of mammals, Earth’s temperatures spiked in a scary way that the planet may experience again soon.

They were strange days at the beginning of the age of mammals. The planet was still hungover from the astonishing disappearance of its marquee superstars, the dinosaurs. Earth’s newest crater was still a smoldering system of hydrothermal vents, roiling under the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of Armageddon our shell-shocked ancestors meekly negotiated new roles on a planet they inherited quite by accident. Before long, life settled into new rhythms: Earth hosted 50-foot-long boas sliding through steam-bath jungles, birds grew gigantic in imitation of their dearly departed cousins, and mildly modern mammals we might squint to recognize appeared. Within a few million years, loosed from under the iron heel of the vanished giants, they began to experiment. Early whales pranced across a Pakistani archipelago on all fours, testing out life in the water. The first lemur-like primates leapt from the treetops, and hoofed things of all varieties dashed through the forest.

But the most striking feature of this early age of mammals is that it was almost unbelievably hot, so hot that around 50 million years ago there were crocodiles, palm trees, and sand tiger sharks in the Arctic Circle. On the other side of the blue-green orb, in waters that today would surround Antarctica, sea-surface temperatures might have topped an unthinkable 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with near-tropical forests on Antarctica itself. There were perhaps even sprawling, febrile dead zones spanning the tropics, too hot even for animal or plant life of any sort.

This is what you get in an ancient atmosphere with around 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. If this number sounds familiar, 1,000 ppm of CO2 is around what humanity is on pace to reach by the end of this century. That should be mildly concerning.

“You put more CO2 in the atmosphere and you get more warming, that’s just super-simple physics that we figured out in the 19th century,” says David Naafs, an organic geochemist at the University of Bristol. “But exactly how much it will warm by the end of the century, we don’t know. Based on our research of these ancient climates, though, it’s probably more than we thought.”

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?