DISCLAIMER: I do not attempt to be polite or partisan in my articles, merely truthful. If you are a partisan and believe that the letter after the name of a politician is more important then their policies, I suggest that you stop reading and leave this site immediately--there is nothing here for you.
Modern American politics are corrupt, hyper-partisan, and gridlocked, yet the mainstream media has failed to cover this as anything but politics as usual. This blog allows me to post my views, analysis and criticisms which are too confrontational for posting in mainstream outlets.
I am your host, Josh Sager--a progressive activist, political writer and occupier--and I welcome you to SarcasticLiberal.blogspot.com
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Saturday, October 27, 2012
This portion of my article focuses on my analysis of Romney and Obama’s involvement with Monsanto and is largely opinion: For the justifications behind these conclusion, please refer to one of the earlier articles.
When all things are taken into account, a Romney presidency is likely better for Monsanto than an Obama presidency: Obama has shown an unwillingness to confront Monsanto, but Romney appears to have a much deeper connections to Monsanto and be more willing to promote things that will actively benefit the company.
Here are a few areas of comparison between the Romney and Obama presidencies in regard to Monsanto:
DonationsWhile it is often difficult to unravel the massive web of political money, much of which has been filtered through SuperPACs, we know that Romney has taken significantly more money from agro-businesses than Obama. According to OpenSecrets.org, Mitt Romney has taken $4,075,531 in campaign contributions from America agribusinesses, while Barack Obama has only taken $1,377,503 from these interests. As you can see, both candidates are in bed with agribusiness corporations to some degree, but Romney has taken nearly 3X the money that Obama has from this particular industry. It is important to note that these numbers are likely far lower than the actual amounts donated because a majority of the money which is spent by SuperPACs is dark money, where there is no source disclosure. The massive disparity in agribusiness fundraising between the candidates points to the preference of these corporations that Romney get the presidency. As corporations donate money to politicians as an investment and to sway policy in their favor, it is clear that they prefer the Romney vision to the Obama vision.
PartisanshipThe president is important, but the legislature is where policy is made; as such, the party affiliations of the presidential candidates can be extremely determinative of the policy that will be passed. Romney is a Republican and Obama is a democrat, and the winner of the presidency will likely be able to sway the national agenda in favor of their party. In the last electoral cycle, the Republicans in the legislature have taken $226,000 from Monsanto Co., while Democrats have taken only $90,500 (for a full list, listed by candidate, follow this link). The Republican Party is based in the center of the country and the south, much of which is dependent upon farming for its primary industry—due to this dependency upon agricultural interest, the Republicans are far more politically friendly towards agribusiness than the Democrats and more likely to support companies like Monsanto.
In addition to the partisan funding disparity, it bears mention that the Republican Party is unified around the ideals of lowering taxes and reducing regulations. Reducing corporate taxes and removing regulations (ex. FDA rules), benefits large corporations and their owners, thus these corporations tend to support Republicans more than Democrats.
A Romney presidency will allow the Republicans to pass corporate friendly legislation without fear of veto. This streamlining of the legislative process reduces the difficulty of passing laws (and removing regulations) that benefit Monsanto, and will lead to more favorable outcomes for the corporation—It appears that Monsanto knows this, and has invested its political contributions accordingly.
RegulationNeither Obama nor Romney appears to be willing to take on agribusiness interests in order to increase regulations, but there is a key difference in their stances: Obama is largely neutral in his actions towards regulations on Monsanto, while Romney is actively invested on deregulating the industry.
AppointmentsBoth Obama and Romney have shown their willingness to appoint corporate agents to high level advising positions within the government—Obama appointed Michael Taylor to the FDA and Romney has named several Monsanto lobbyists as his agricultural advisory board. At this point, we don’t know who would be worse in regard to appointments, but neither choice is particularly encouraging.
Candidate Mitt Romney has a very long history with Monsanto and has shown a willingness to work with the agro-conglomerate if elected president. Throughout much of his business career, Romney was heavily involved with the internal operations of the Monsanto Corporation. During Romney’s private sector experience at Bain Capital, he worked for and had a significant amount of influence upon the activities of the Monsanto Corporation. In addition to the business connection between Romney and Monsanto, several officers of the Monsanto corporation have held private relationships with Romney and have contributed to his political aspirations.
Romney’s Business Connections with Monsanto
According to Dr. Earl Beaver, Monsanto’s Waste Director during much of the 1970s and 80s, Romney was one of the major proponents of Monsanto’s shift into the biotechnical and bioengineering industry. In response to the massive scandal surrounding Monsanto’s part in the creation of “Agent Orange” (a powerful chemical weapon that was used during the Vietnam
War), Romney suggested to Monsanto Administrators that they focus on businesses that had lower levels of controversy surrounding them then the creation of chemical weapons—this shift would reduce the negative press received by the company and would help improve the public perception of the company (thus helping them make more money). The creation of bioengineered organisms was a developing industry during the late 20th century and Monsanto—partly on Romney’s advice—began to invest in their GMO production divisions as a new industry.
Patrick Graham, a founding member of Bain Capital, said the following about Romney’s work with Monsanto: “The most important contribution Bain made to Monsanto was concluding that the biggest opportunity was to bring an entirely new value product, namely biotech and herbicides, to the whole farming industry in America, soybeans and stuff.”
If the officers who worked at Monsanto are to be believed, Romney had significant influence on the corporate decision-making for Monsanto and it is his advice that convinced the company’s leadership deciding to focus on GMO creation rather than simply pesticides. Romney saw a move into GMOs as a way to move away from the controversies of Agent Orange and DDT, thus improving the perception of the company.
While there are many ways that people could look at Romney’s history (those who dislike GMOs will blame him for helping create the largest GMO creator, while those who worked with Monsanto would likely thank him for the profitable business advice), there are two things that one can be reasonably certain about a Romney presidency and Monsanto:
- Romney suggested that Monsanto shift its industry to GMO creation, thus it is undeniable that he sees GMOs as a good investment; if he didn’t see GMO’s as a good way to make money he would never have suggested that Monsanto enter into GMO creation during his tenure as a consultant. Romney’s private sector support for GMOs will shade all of Romney’s policies in favor of GMOs and will make it very difficult to convince him to support any anti-GMO bills.
- Romney worked for Monsanto for years and has numerous contacts within the company. If Romney is elected, Monsanto will get unprecedented access to the president, if only due to the fact that Romney’s experience in agriculture was shaped by his work at Monsanto with Bain (his agriculture experience comes solely from Monsanto and not from working around other farming organizations). We see this access already, in the selection of several high-level Monsanto agents for advisory posts in the Romney campaign.
Monsanto Connections Within the Romney Campaign
Romney and his campaign have had significant contact with the Monsanto Corporation and have received support from Monsanto officers. While Romney has yet to hold a national office (his
governorship in MA didn’t expose him to lobbying by many agri-business groups), his campaign for president has shown high levels of cooperation with the agri-business industry as well as the corn lobby.
Arguably the most significant aspect of the Romney campaign’s involvement with Monsanto comes from his appointments to his “Agricultural Advisory” committee. This committee, which is tasked with advising Mitt Romney on all issues relating to agriculture and agri-business, is staffed by “experts” on the field. The experts who staff Romney’s advisory committee come directly from the agro-business industry and represent a huge level of cooperation between Romney and big agri-business.
Randy Russell, a top lobbyist for Monsanto Co., has been appointed to this committee and will likely remain on if Romney wins the election. Russell’s involvement in Romney’s agricultural advisory committee represents a direct line between the Romney campaign (and thus his presidency) and the Monsanto Corporation. The simple fact that the top lobbyist for Monsanto has been given an advisory job with the Romney campaign is not unprecedented, but it does pose the worrying question: Where does the Romney agricultural policy begin and the lobbying efforts of Monsanto end?
In addition to Russell, the Agricultural advisory Committee is staffed with numerous other agri-business supporters:
Chuck Connor - The former leader of the Corn Refiners Association; this is the largest interest group for ethanol and corn syrup producers within the United States.
Bill Even – The former head of the DuPont Chemical “high-tech seed” division, which manages DuPont’s GMO seed business.
Chris Policinski – The CEO of “Land O Lakes” and a party to the 2007 GMO alfalfa case in California.
Tom Nassif – The leader of the Western Growers Association who has been the recipient of thousands of dollars in donations from the Monsanto Fund.
Tom Johanns – A senator from Nebraska who has taken nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from Monsanto and who advocated in favor of blocking GMO labeling during the early 2000s push by the EU to mandate disclosure.
Partisanship and Money
The presidential election is important, but it does not exist in a vacuum—the views of a candidates’ party are extremely important to the eventual policy that they will push for in the legislature. The modern Republican Party has become focused upon the policies of reducing corporate taxes and reducing regulations on industry. Tax cuts and deregulation of industry standards are both immensely beneficial to large corporations, such as Monsanto. While it has significant control over regulators through its revolving-door appointees, Monsanto is still vulnerable to regulations on its business.
Of the two major American political parties, the Republicans promote deregulation, while the Democrats support regulatory increases (or sometimes simply retention of current regulations). If elected, it is virtually certain that Romney will sign off on his party’s platform of deregulation and tax cuts. Nothing in his history has indicated that Romney will buck his party on issues of legislation, and it appears that a Romney presidency would allow the Republican legislature to pass pro-corporate legislation without fear of veto.
In the last electoral cycle, the Republicans in the legislature have taken $226,000 from Monsanto Co., while Democrats have taken only $90,500 (for a full list, sorted by candidate, follow this link). It is clear that the Republicans, as a party, are friendlier to Monsanto’s interests than the Democrats and would likely have more favorable policy outcomes if the Republicans had control over policy.
When all things have been considered, it is undeniable that Monsanto has significant influence over both major parties in the United States—the only real difference between the candidates is how deep this influence goes. Regardless of whether it is Obama or Romney who becomes the next president, it appears that Monsanto will continue to have significant power in Washington politics and will retain a very high level of lobbying influence.
© Josh Sager – October 2012
In the 2012 presidential election, the American people will have to choose between incumbent President Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R). With this choice, the American public will determine who sets the tone for national policy and is given power over the executive branch of our government. There are many ways to look at the prospective presidential candidates, but one is to look at their past actions and affiliations in order to predict how they will act in the future; in this article, I will discuss the past actions of both current President Barack Obama and candidate Mitt Romney in relation to the agro-giant Monsanto Corporation.
As Obama has already served a term as president, there is little guessing required to predict what he will do in regard to Monsanto if he is given a second term—his actions speak louder than any speeches. A politician may rhetorically support one thing during speaking engagements, but what truly matters are their actual policy choices rather than scripted comments. Throughout his first term, President Obama has presided over the passage of several Monsanto-friendly legislative initiatives and has appointed numerous people associated with Monsanto to high-level positions.
During Obama’s four years as president, the federal government had several opportunities to pass legislation and executive initiatives which affect Monsanto. Of these federal initiatives, the 2010 African hunger plan and the 2012 Farm Bill present the most important examples of the Obama administration’s friendly attitude towards Monsanto.
In 2010, the Obama administration pushed a humanitarian initiative focused upon increasing the food supply of poor areas of Africa—while the ideals of this program are admirable, the execution presents an incredible opportunity to agro-business conglomerates like Monsanto. In order to solve the hunger problem in Africa, the Obama administration has partnered with large industrial farming and GMO operations, under the aegis that these organizations can produce large amounts of food quickly.
By giving several billion dollars to agro-businesses, one of which is Monsanto, the “Southern Africa FY 2010 Implementation Plan” intends to promote the expansion of these businesses into the provision of food for Africa. In focusing on promoting industrial, mono-crop farming and genetically modified goods rather than investing in local farms, the Obama administration created a situation where Monsanto is able to increase its profits. As a partner in the Obama administration’s Africa program, Monsanto will be given subsidies to expand into the African farming market. This expansion is aimed at increasing food supplies in Africa, but it will have the unintended consequence of promoting Monsanto’s takeover of the African food markets.
Once Monsanto gains a foothold in the African food market—which is likely given the level of subsidies offered by the US government—they will be able to crowd out local farmers and capture the truly massive African food market; Monsanto is able to supply far more crops than any local farmer and at a lower price, thus it will likely reduce the competitiveness of local farmers. This capturing of the African food market by Monsanto means that more food will be available, but it will be supplied by Monsanto rather than small African farms and the local farmers of Africa will gradually begin to go out of business. Put plainly, Monsanto will crowd local African farmers out of the market and will make a profit that would be more beneficial in the hands of local African farmers and in the local African economy.
It is clear that Monsanto sees the Africa hunger plan as beneficial to its business, as Hugh Grant—the current Monsanto CEO—said this in response to the Africa initiative: "I'm delighted to be here taking part in this conversation as I believe public and private sector commitment is necessary and able to support a transformation in African agriculture." The transformation that Grant envisions is one where large-scale industrial farming takes over from smaller, local farms,and provides mass-produced crops. In such a situation, hunger decreases, but it is multi-national corporations rather than local farmers which do this farming and garner most of the profits.
On the issue of GMO labeling, Obama is rhetorically supportive of mandating GMO products to be labeled, but his administration has been largely silent on the issue. During the creation of the 2012 Farm Bill, there was a fight over mandating that genetically modified foods be labeled. Despite Obama’s supposed support for such labeling, his administration was essentially silent on the issue during this fight and, as a result, no mandate was passed. Currently, there is no federal regulation that ensures that all GMOs are labeled, and there doesn’t appear to be any possibility that such regulation is going to be passed in the immediate future.
The aforementioned “Farm Bill” includes several policy changes which are immensely advantageous to Monsanto. While this is an issue that primarily involves the legislature rather than the Obama administration, it bears mentioning that the Obama Administration has been essentially silent on the proposed policy changes and appears unlikely to veto the bill if it passes the legislature. The Farm Bill would be an immense boon to Monsanto, as it would streamline the approval process of its GMO crops and would limit the ability of the federal government to regulate its commerce to the Department of Agriculture.
In totality, legislation passed under the Obama administration has been beneficial to large agro-businesses, one of which is Monsanto. Very little has been done to increase regulation on GMO producers and several laws have been passed that directly benefit such corporations.
Government Appointment of Monsanto Associates
Monsanto is a very large business and has control over a significant amount of the agro-business and genetically modified organism markets. Both the agricultural and GMO markets involve large public safety concerns (ex. food safety), thus Monsanto is heavily affected upon federal regulations (or potential regulations) on its business—the largest of which come from the United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] and the Food and Drug Administration. If regulations and labeling requirements are increased, Monsanto’s profits are directly impacted; conversely, if, such regulations are kept low, then corporations like Monsanto make a larger profit.
Due to the vested interest that Monsanto has in controlling regulation that affects its business, it has both donated to politicians and promoted the appointment of people who work for them to positions within the American government. As of yet, Monsanto has been successful in keeping its regulatory burdens low and getting its representatives into positions within the US government. The infiltration of regulatory agencies by corporate actors that is referred to here is called the “regulatory revolving door”. Individuals who work for industry go to work for the government, make public regulations, and then return to the private sector after leaving the public service. The following info-graphic gives a few examples of the revolving door between Monsanto and the United States government:
All Credit for this Venn diagram goes to Geke.us
While there are numerous points of overlap between Monsanto and the United States Government under the Obama administration, the three most important connections are that of Michael Taylor, Roger, Beachy, and Islam Siddiqui—all three of these Monsanto affiliates were appointed to high level positions within the government by the Obama administration.
The Obama administration appointed Michael Taylor, the previous vice president of Monsanto and a current Monsanto lobbyist, to a high level advisory role at the Food and Drug Administration [FDA]. It is virtually inarguable that this appointment constitutes a massive boon for Monsanto and an undeniable conflict of interest for Taylor. Given the fact that Taylor is a lobbyist for Monsanto and is being paid by the agro-giant, it is reasonable to assume that his advice to the FDA is focused upon helping his employer reduce its regulatory burden and improve its profitability. It isn’t a secret who Taylor worked for and we can assume that the Obama administration knew who they were appointing when they did it.
Roger Beachy, the Director of the Danforth Plant Science Center (a Monsanto organization), was appointed by the Obama administration as the Director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. NIFA is a department of the USDA which focuses on funding research and innovation in the field of agriculture as well developing more efficient ways to produce food. As the major grant-writing division of the USDA, the NIFA department has the ability to grant or reject agricultural research grants. By giving Beachy the Directorship of the NIFA, the Obama administration gave a Monsanto associate the most powerful position in the organization which allocates agricultural research grants. Needless to say, this appointment is a great boon for Monsanto and bad news for any group which disagrees with the agri-business giant.
Islam Siddiqui, a Monsanto lobbyist, was appointed to the post of Agriculture Trade Representative by the Obama administration. Trade representative are tasked with promoting trade of goods within their appointed field (ex. Agricultural trade reps promote the export of American crops). As Monsanto has a controlling interest in American corn production, the appointment of a Monsanto lobbyist to the position of trade representative is a large boon for the corporation. Siddiqui’s government job is to promote the export of American crops and his Monsanto job is to promote the sale of Monsanto crops—it is undeniable that these two jobs present a conflict of interest and will only lead to Siddiqui representing Monsanto’s interests as though they are the interests of the United States.
Appointment of Elena Kagen
The justices that a president appoints to the Supreme Court is one of their most enduring and important contributions to the United States that every president gives the country. During his first term, President Obama appointed two Justices, one of whom was Elena Kagan, the former Solicitor General of the United States. During her time as the Solicitor General, Kagan filed a brief in support of Monsanto.
In 2007, Monsanto was brought to court by growers of alfalfa in California—these growers alleged that their crops were being cross-pollinated with, and thus contaminated by, Monsanto’s GMO crops. After winning an initial legal victory and securing an injunction on Monsanto’s planting of its modified alfalfa, Monsanto appealed the ruling and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that the United States government had no interest in the Monsanto alfalfa case, Kagan, the solicitor general wrote an “amicus” brief in favor of Monsanto’s position.
Nobody knows why the Solicitor General’s office decided to get involved in the Monsanto alfalfa case, but it was an unusual act by a supposedly neutral body; there was no rational reason for the US government to get involved in this case. While we don’t know the reason for this brief, it does make many believe that Kagan may be sympathetic to Monsanto’s corporate interests.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Thursday, October 18, 2012
I am not stopping my work on the SarcasticLiberal, but I am starting up a second blog address. This shift is due to nothing more than the recent problems with my Blogger account, where my blog-stats reset, costing me tens of thousands of views.
I will continue to post on this blog in concert with my new blog, but I would greatly appreciate it if people would check out my new address: http://progressivecynic.wordpress.com/
On the left-hand column of my new blog (right underneath the picture), there is a "follow by email" service which is the best way to follow my writings--I keep all emails confidential and will never reveal my reader-list or use it for advertising.
I will continue to post on this blog in concert with my new blog, but I would greatly appreciate it if people would check out my new address: http://progressivecynic.wordpress.com/
On the left-hand column of my new blog (right underneath the picture), there is a "follow by email" service which is the best way to follow my writings--I keep all emails confidential and will never reveal my reader-list or use it for advertising.
Friday, October 12, 2012
©Josh Sager – October 2012
The United States is currently on a policy trajectory that is leading us towards becoming what I refer to as a “hollow fortress”. The term “hollow fortress” is one that I have coined to refer to a society which focuses so many resources on becoming impervious to an external threat that it causes its own decay from the inside out. By neglecting domestic needs in order to defend against external threats, a society can easily destroy itself and make the threats from external sources redundant—there is little point in defending against external threats when what you are supposed to be protecting has already disappeared.
Paranoia of an external enemy—whether it is fear of another country or terrorism—has been shown to be able to induce a massive military investment. We have seen such paranoia during the Cold War, in both the USSR and the USA, as well as in the USA during the “war on terror” in the post-9/11 United States. Citizens let their fear guide them and elect politicians who are willing to spend gigantic amounts of money on defense programs, regardless of whether these programs are actually useful. The massive increases in military spending in such a situation eat into funding for domestic programs and can be extremely harmful to the welfare of society as a whole. If an unrealistically over-funded military takes up all of a society’s resources, it results in the gradual, but inevitable, decay of the military’s society—the defense against the inflated threat takes up so many resources that it destroys the functionality of the society which it hopes to protect.
Every country must protect itself from external threats, but it is also vital to the health of a society for the government to focus upon domestic welfare. Every successful modern government understands that it must enact domestic programs in order to ensure that it has a functional national infrastructure and that its population receives a minimum level of care. Programs to sustain functional roads, reduce poverty and hunger, educate the population, and protect the rule of law (to give a few examples) are all vital to a functioning society; when a society disregards these programs, there is an inevitable decay of its economic situation, a decrease in the living standards of its population, and often, civil unrest.
If a government stops investing in domestic programs, it quickly starts to enter a stagnated state and eventually begins to stop functioning (like a machine that is running without repairs or oil).
- When the national infrastructure (ex. roads, bridges, ports, etc.) begins to wear out due to economic neglect, it becomes harder and more expensive to travel or transport goods—this increased difficulty of transport increases the prices of goods and is detrimental to both the economy and the welfare of the population.
- Neglecting education programs leads to an unskilled population, which is a serious problem because it decreases the ability of people to get higher-paying jobs and makes it difficult for companies to find skilled workers for specialized position.
- Neglecting programs which are aimed at fighting poverty and hunger leads to suffering among the poorer members of society and to increased crime. People become caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and neglect, which leads them to turn to criminal enterprises, simply in an attempt to survive.
Once a society has neglected its domestic policy to the point where it begins to stop functioning, both its citizens and its commerce suffers. Due to the high cost of modern defense technologies (ex. missiles and jets), an over-investment in defense is a very real way that a society can become unable to fund its domestic programs. As there is no enemy to fight in order to solve many domestic problems, no amount of military might is able to combat this type of societal damage.
The greatest real-life example of a modern hollow fortress society today is the country North Korea. The North Korean government has focused huge amounts of its resources and national effort into sustaining a powerful military but has given up virtually every program that benefits its populace domestically.
North Korea suffers from numerous, severe, social problems that are un-addressed due to its lack of domestic programs. Immense hunger and malnutrition problems have afflicted the population of North Korea and have led to thousands of deaths a year (exact statistics are difficult to obtain). The general population of North Korea has no access to education or any manner of social services. The national infrastructure (ex. roads/civil safety) of North Korea has decayed to the point where industry is essentially unsustainable. When taken as a whole, North Korea is a perfect example of a country where the leadership has disregarded the good of its population and has stopped virtually all domestic non-security programs.
In stark contrast with its lack of domestic programs, the North Korean military is disproportionately powerful. While the repressive North Korean regime makes it virtually impossible to determine the country’s real military power, it is estimated that they spend billions of dollars a year on defense investment; in addition to the standing military and the investment in military technology, North Korea has a nuclear program that has produced several weapons. For a country where millions are starving, industry is essentially dead, and poverty is the norm, the North Korean military demonstrates a massive redirection of resources to defense programs and gives a stark example of a hollow fortress society.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
By Josh Sager
On October 5th, the September 2012 jobs report—formally referred to as the “Employment Situation Survey”—was released. The September report indicates that September was a good month for those who have been searching for work and that the unemployment rate of the United States has fallen below 8% for the first time since January 2009.
The Employment Situation Survey is an economic survey program run by the Department of Labor, intended to act as a barometer for the employment situation in the United States. In order to measure employment numbers and wages, the Labor Department surveys a large sample of both employers and American households on the subject of their employment situation. Employers are surveyed on how many people they hired, while households are surveyed on how many of their members found jobs in any month as well as how many of their members are currently employed. As a public survey, the results of the monthly jobs numbers are available at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:
During the month of September, businesses across the country reported an increase in their payrolls of approximately 114,000 workers. To add upon the numbers reported by businesses, the household survey portion of the jobs report indicates that 873,000 Americans have found jobs in the past month; this number is larger than the business-payroll numbers because it includes part-time employment. With the new jobs numbers being taken into account, the unemployment rate of the United States has fallen from 8.1% to 7.8%
In addition to the good September numbers, the jobs reports of both July and August were revised upwards; the July jobs report employment numbers were updated from +141,000 new jobs to +181,000, while the August numbers were updated from +96,000 new jobs to +142,000. When combined with the positive September employment numbers, the revisions of the July and August employment numbers caused the unemployment rate to plummet a full .3% (a significant change in only a month).
Not only did the rate of employment increase, but this increase was not a function of individuals leaving the jobs market due to job unavailability. According the to the jobs report, the labor force grew by approximately 418,000 workers (which is more than the working-age population growth). The relative increase in the percentage of the population which is working when related to the percentage of the population which is working-age, indicates that the unemployment rate decrease is due to jobs being created, rather than people stopping their jobs searches.
The September jobs report not only indicates that many people have found employment, but also that wages are slowly increasing. As quoted from the report: “In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $23.58. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 1.8 percent.”. While a 7 cent increase in the average hourly wage isn’t a significant increase, it does indicate that the new September jobs are not solely found low-wage industries (ex. food service) and that wages have been relatively stable.
The September jobs report is undeniably good and a sign that our job market is slowly recovering from the economic crisis. According to Dean Maki, a chief economist at Barclays, “It’s [the US Labor Market] still not booming or extraordinarily robust, but it is a labor market that we expect to continue to be firm enough to push the unemployment rate lower.” While it doesn’t appear that the United Stated employment crisis will end any time soon, the September jobs report does indicate that the US employment situation is continuing to progress in the right direction.
Despite the good news contained in the September jobs report, there are a few aspects of the job report that aren’t as bright. First and foremost of these problems is the fact that part-time employment has dramatically increased during the recovery—in September alone, approximately 500,000 of those surveyed in the jobs report wish that they could increase their hours or move from part-time to full-time. Part-time jobs rarely pay a living wage, particularly in lower-skilled occupations, and often don’t come with benefits. If many Americans are being forced to take part time jobs in order to remain afloat, they are classified as “employed”, but they likely lack the level of employment which would allow them to sustain themselves and their families. For a full economic recovery, it isn’t just necessary for people to be employed, but also that they are in jobs that provide them survivable wages, hours, and benefits.
The second problem illustrated by the jobs report is in the area of which industries the jobs are being gained in. While jobs are being gained in some fields (ex. teachers), the unemployment rates in the fields of construction and manufacturing are still virtually unchanged. We see this disparity in the fact that despite the overall good job news of the September jobs report, the United States still lost approximately 16,000 manufacturing and factory jobs during September. As construction and manufacturing are vital components of the jobs base of the country, particularly to the lower-middle class, this disparity has the potential to isolate these people and remove them from the middle-class. Unless the United States finds a way to prevent manufacturing jobs from continuing to hemorrhage oversees and be eliminated through automation, it is likely that those who have lost their jobs at factories will continue to have a hard time trying to get new jobs.
The responses to the September jobs report have been widely varied based upon partisan affiliation. Both parties are in full campaign mode, and the September jobs report became a political football immediately after their release.
Democrats have trumpeted the good jobs numbers as indicative of the successes of Democratic policies and have used the report to support President Obama’s re-election campaign. In his speech at George Mason University, Obama said that "We're moving forward. This morning we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office". While it is undeniable that the jobs situation has been improving under Obama, it is inconclusive as to whether Obama’s policies have done the most that is possible to speed the recovery.
It is also important to note that many of Obama’s jobs policies have been blocked by the divided legislature—thus these jobs numbers are not actually indicative of the success of the full Obama jobs agenda. So the Democratic claim that their policies are causing this growth is true, but ultimately without any context (other policies may have increased the job growth further).
Many Republicans have rejected the validity of the jobs report and have made the claim that the Obama administration rigged the report in an attempt to sway the election. This claim is simply false and most economists experts agree that the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s jobs report is both non-partisan and virtually impossible to rig. Despite the unlikelihood of any fraud in these numbers, Rep. Daryl Issa (R-CA) has signaled that he will be investigating the numbers to determine if there was any interference by the executive branch on the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ultimately, the September jobs report bodes well for the recovery of the American jobs market as well as the economic recovery. As more people get jobs, their buying power increases and their demand for goods goes up. The increase in demand from the people who get jobs spurs employers to hire more people in order to meet the newly increased demand. Gradually, this cycle drives an economic recovery and eventually stabilizes at a “healthy” employment rate (between 4% and 6% for the USA). The United States jobs market still has a long way to go in order to be healthy, but the September jobs report is a solid step in the right direction.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
© Josh Sager – September 2012
In a post-Citizens United political landscape, those with large amounts of money are able to spend near-unlimited amounts in order to spread propaganda favorable to their interests. Corporations, unions, and rich individuals invest in political advertising and attempt to sway the public into supporting politicians who are friendly to their interests. With the weakening of campaign finance laws, modern elections have become billion dollar events and interest groups the new advertising sponsors. As most of the money in political races is spent in the production and distribution of political advertising campaigns, this increase in money in politics has led to the public being bombarded with political propaganda, much of it non-factual, and all of it focused at shaping public opinion.
Money may not directly buy an election, but it definitely buys a megaphone which can be used to influence voters—the more money which can be spent, the larger and louder the megaphone that can be bought to sway the election. Americans are currently being inundated with millions of dollars of political advertising and there is rarely any real fact-checking that would correct any falsehoods propagated by these ads; some fact checking may occur, but it is almost never propagated with the same frequency of the lie. By virtue of shear repetition and lack of a loud debunking voice, political advertising allows those with resources (ex. oil corporations) to convince wide swathes of the population to vote in a certain way, regardless of the real effects of such a vote. At this point in American politics, the megaphones that corporate interest groups are using to spread their propaganda are the size and power of air-raid sirens—even if the truth about an issue is spoken, it is drowned out by the much louder lies of those who wish to buy the election to serve their interests.
In the traditional political model, the media acts as an information source and a fact-checking organization. By reporting the facts and debunking lies, the media serves to keep both sides honest and confined within the facts. Unfortunately, due to both the sheer volume of political propaganda being thrown at the American public and an unwillingness by the media to risk being seen as biased if they debunk propaganda, the traditional media functionality is now failing. The American media has gone from the objective arbiters of the facts, to the neutral stenographers who report partisan lies on equal footing with factual arguments.
For the most part, the current mainstream media has become totally politically neutrality and has neglected much of the fact-checking that it should be doing. A neutral media, as opposed to the objective media, reports all sides on an issue equally, regardless of which side is factually correct. As most Americans lack a personal knowledge of the issues and rely on the media to tell them the facts, the equal portrayal of political propaganda and factual arguments often leads Americans to draw the wrong conclusions. When there are no fact checkers, it is far easier to construct a set of lies to prop up a false premise than to make a factual argument; reality has contradictions and exceptions, while an argument engineered to spread a lie simply forces all facts to conform to the selected outcome.
For more details on the Neutral/Objective media situation, read this article.
The combination of a neutral media and a deregulated campaign finance system has a truly toxic effect on American democracy. The massive advertising campaigns of special interest groups are flooding the American public with propaganda and are running virtually unopposed by the media. In the absence of an objective referee, the loudest (wealthiest) interest groups will be allowed to shape public opinion in their favor and will gradually indoctrinate the public to support their interest.
A democracy doesn't work if the people voting have been indoctrinated to the point where they are incapable of making rational choices when they step into the ballot box. Because of their exposure to a flood of misinformation, the low-information voter is increasingly likely to vote contrary to their interests, not because they don’t want to pursue a certain policy, but because they have been brainwashed. If we, as a society, want to retain our democracy and the integrity of our government, we must prevent private entities—all of which have an agenda, regardless of whether they are large aggregations of power or simply people with wealth—from being able to drown out all other voices. How are the poor and middle class expected to get their voices heard when millions of dollars of advertising is blaring propaganda across every media medium.
By equalizing the playing field through campaign finance laws, the strongest of which would be a constitutional amendment, we may create a system where the discussion is based around who has the best ideas rather than who shouts the loudest. To protect our democracy, it is imperative that every American recognize that limitless money in politics is a recipe for a government that only serves those who can afford a loud voice, and that campaign finance is an issue beyond partisanship—without sane rules on the money in our political process, there is no way to have an actual conversation about the issues.