Capitalism: The Loyal Opposition

February 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm (By Amba)

Interesting interview with economist Richard Wolff in The Sun magazine. His prescriptions are predictable, but his diagnosis is startling. Even if you do not favor direct government employment of the unemployed, or taxing the rich and corporations at 1960 rates, as Wolff seems to — ain’t gonna happen, so forget about it — he makes some strong points that are hard to answer about the particular ways wealth has been transferred upward.

He talks about how for the first time, after about 1970, there was no labor shortage (because of automation, offshoring, and women in the workplace), so employers no longer had to raise wages to retain workers, while workers had to work longer and harder—and yes, go deep into debt—to maintain or increase their standard of living. Result: productivity and profits increased, but the ones who were doing the producing didn’t share in the proceeds.

it’s been the best thirty years that employers in this country have ever had. More product was being produced, but employers didn’t have to pay workers more.

[The interviewer points out that we in the U.S. equate capitalism with freedom]

Yes, employers are free, in this system, to stop raising workers’ wages. But their exercise of that freedom has deprived the mass of Americans of a rising standard of living to accompany their rising productivity. Employers have kept all the benefits of the productivity increase in the form of profits [which were attributed to the genius of executives]. So one sector of our free economy has deprived another sector of its due.

This too was interesting, on deficits:

Then the government turns around and borrows money. It borrows from foreign governments, but also from banks, insurance companies, large corporations, and rich individuals who purchase Treasury bills, notes, bonds, and securities. In effect corporations and the rich can not only keep more tax dollars; they can then turn around and loan the money they kept to the government and earn interest on it. The interest that must be paid to them comes either from taxes levied upon the mass of Americans or from the savings the government achieves by cutting its payrolls and programs.

I’d love it if you would read and discuss this.  I’d love it even more if you did not assume I’m endorsing most of what Wolff says.  I don’t favor his prescription, but I did find these two points of diagnosis startling.  You know I am economically naïve, and these points may have been obvious to most of you.  But go ahead, try to explain them away.

You will say that entrepreneurs are rewarded with profit for risking capital and providing products, services, and work opportunities for others. I’m with you so far.  But squeezing ever more work out of fewer employees for the same or less real pay, stressing workers and families to the breaking point?  Mind you, Wolff is also critical of the overconsumption and overindebtedness of the average American family — yet that, too, has been one of the engines driving profits until recently.  Moral disapproval of that behavior from those who’ve encouraged it and profited from it . . . well, it smells a little.

Can we conceive of a system that would encourage and reward productivity, not just extort and exploit it? And how could that come about (could it?) without empowering the government as enforcer?

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One Single Distilled Drop of Oscar Snark

February 27, 2012 at 1:16 am (By Amba)

Billy Crystal has started looking like Kim Jong Il.

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Terminal Agitation

February 26, 2012 at 3:52 am (By Rodjean)

Months have passed since I posted here. Now I have something to share.

Two weeks ago my father died. He was a professional violinist, an avid sports fan, a strong man and a strong personality. He put down his worn tuxedo at 90, after playing professionally for78 years. Congestive heart failure eroded him till he could not walk ten steps without stopping to catch his breath. He declined aggressive treatment, deciding instead on hospice care.

He was chipper on the morning of his last day on Earth. The about Noon he took a turn for the worse. His passing would be brief, but not easy. He started groaning and gasping for air, complaining that he could not get comfortable as the nurse and I rolled him onto one side, then another. I held his hand and recited a couple of prayers with him. I looked into his eyes, my face a foot away from his, and told him that I loved him. I talked about the good old days and how he had performed for Presidents and played with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Sammy Davis Jr., and other stars. He listened and spoke occasionally, but he was still uncomfortable. He looked at me with anxiety in his eyes and grabbed my arm with a strength he had not shown in years.

The nurses gave him a combination of Ativan, Morphine, and Haldol. His speech started to slur, but he restlessness and discomfort continued. He cried out for Jesus. At times he was unintelligible. At one point, after about four hours, he lifted his arms towards the ceiling, gazed upwards, and in a breathy voice, he whispered, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” as if it had just occurred to him. The nurses gave him more Ativan. At five hours, a new pattern appeared. He started to doze, not breathing for about 30 or 40 seconds, then he suddenly awoke with a start and with a wild look in his eyes, he started gasping for breath. This lasted for about two minutes, then he stopped breathing and appeared to doze again for another 30 or 40 seconds, followed by more gasping. (I have since looked it up and learned that this has a name. It is “Cheyne-Stokes” breathing. The literature claims the dying look more uncomfortable that they are, but who knows?) I just held him and talked to him. At six hours he wasn’t saying much, but he gestured and said he had pain in his throat. I looked at the nurse and said, “Isn’t there anything you can do to make him comfortable?” She gave him more morphine. Finally, a few minutes later he fell asleep and began to snore. I stepped out of the room and asked for a drink of water. I returned two or three minutes later, and he had stopped breathing.

Some of you may have been present through a “hard passing” death. I had never been with someone in the hour of death before. It was harrowing and disturbing. It left me spent and a bit numb. The nurse told me it was quite common. If you Google “death – agitation” you will see that this is how many people die. I had no idea. The movies portray the dying as very collected, saying things like asking Knute Rockne to tell the team to “win one for the Gipper” some day, or trying to give a cop a description of a criminal. That may be true for a few, but not for most of us. We are never quite in harmony with this world. Rudely shoved out, we enter this world, and many of us will be rudely shoved into eternity.

PS There was one funny moment. After switching my dad every few minutes onto one side or the other, at one point he was on his back, with his head elevated. He mumbled that he wanted to be moved again. I said, “Dad, which way do you want to go?” He just pointed up.

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A bit of color…

February 16, 2012 at 2:13 am (By Ron)

Normally, I do my Fred and Ginger posts over at my blog, Fluffy Stuffin, but I thought I’d share this one with the Ambiance readership.

Color Fred and Ginger from 1939! (there is no sound) This is from the film The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, the last film they made for RKO in the 1930’s.  They did a color film 10 years later for MGM, The Barkleys of Broadway, but alas, no color for them in the RKO days except for little snippets like this.  They were going to have a color sequence in 1938’s Carefree for the song “I used to be color blind”, but RKO cheapened out when Fred’s solo film in 1937, A Damsel in Distress, failed badly.  This sequence is quite odd; it’s a fantasy dream sequence, mostly shot in slo-mo…and having it in color would have been cool!  Hollywood experimented with color in small sections of black and white films, (The Women comes to mind) but they pulled out all the stops for the big blockbusters like Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind.  I believe this bit we see here was shot with Ginger’s own camera, which she would take to sets:

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Love in the Middle Ages

February 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm (By Amba)

The god of love has one year to prove he’s still relevant. The lovers he’s been assigned as his final exam–two yearning, prickly, battle-scarred, independent middle-aged people, Evan and Eve–aren’t exactly making it easy.

Set in Vermont maple syrup country, NYC, and SF, A Godsend, my buddy Dalma Heyn’s “love story for grownups”—wry, hopeful, sexy—is available today in all e-book formats for only 99 cents — the price of a song. Literally*. What have you got to lose? And if you know somebody else who might like it, please pass it on.

A love story for all of us who are no longer kids; who are hopeful even in changing times, and who know that love can happen in an instant . . . at any age.

*Don’t you love it? When someone says, “You can have it for a song,” now we can put a number to that!

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Why Was That Last Post Password-Protected?

February 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm (By Amba)

It’s a one-time thing. I wanted to share a subscribers-only article with the Feldenkrais mailing list; it was too long to copy into an e-mail. So I did it this way. It’s an interesting enough interview in its own right, but it was highly pertinent to a discussion going on on that mailing list; I couldn’t have directed you to the link, and I couldn’t have posted the whole thing publicly without possibly getting into trouble.  (YouTube silenced my video of J’s life, because there were clips from copyrighted songs on the soundtrack.) Anybody who wants the password, just ask.

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Protected: Jesse Prinz on the Plasticity of Human Nature

February 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm (Uncategorized)

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