We kid you not

August 5, 2011

United States: Land of the 1%

“The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent …

“One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided.

“While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous — 12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades — and more — has gone to those at the top.”

— Joseph E. Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist, in the May Vanity Fair

Of the 1%, by the 1% for the 1%

“Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s — a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint — the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. 'I certainly hope so,' he replied.”

— Stiglitz

Profits grow at wages' expense

“If you’re wondering why American consumers are still flat on their backs, rendering the economy similarly supine, the answer is both fundamental and simple: It’s not just that so many of them are unemployed. The ones who are employed are also underpaid.

“Don’t take my word for it — take that of Michael Cembalest, the chief investment officer of J.P. Morgan Chase. He asserted in the July 11 edition of 'Eye on the Market,' the bank’s regular report to its private banking clients, that 'US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP.'

“The primary subject of Cembalest’s report isn’t wages. It’s profits — specifically, the fact that profit margins (the share of a company’s revenue that goes to profits) of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies are at their highest levels since the mid-1960s, despite the burdens of health-care costs, environmental compliance and other regulations that are presumably weighing down these large companies …

“'There are a lot of moving parts in the margin equation,' Cembalest writes, but 'reductions in wages and benefits explain the majority of the net improvement in margins.'

“This decline in wages and benefits, Cembalest calculates, is responsible for about 75 percent of the increase in our major corporations’ profit margins.

“Or, to state this more simply, profits are up because wages are down.”

— July 20 Washington Post

Afghanistan: Winning hearts and minds

“Civilians are bearing the brunt of the international forces' onslaught against the Taliban as the coalition rushes to pacify Afghanistan before pulling out its troops, it was claimed last night.

“Human rights groups warned that civilians are paying an increasingly high price for 'reckless' coalition attacks, particularly aerial ones. The [British] Ministry of Defence confirmed last week that five Afghan children were injured in an air strike carried out by a British Apache attack helicopter.

“The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) has found that the rate of civilian casualties has reached a record high, with 1,462 killed in January to June this year …

“Internal documents from the MoD's steering group on combat identification, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, show that efforts to limit the death toll have been relegated to a 'secondary consideration', behind work to reduce the number of troops killed by 'friendly fire'.”

— July 31 Independent

Afghanistan: Winning hearts and minds II

“The number of IED attacks in Afghanistan has spiked to all-time high, U.S. military officials said … Senior military officials said there were more than 1,600 strikes involving so-called 'improvised explosive devices' in June, setting a new record for the long Afghan war ...

“The number of IED strikes in June 2011 is nearly 25 percent higher than the monthly average for the conflict. In May, for instance, there were 1,250 IED attacks.

“IEDs, crude bombs fashioned out of homemade explosives and simple triggering devices, are the primary cause of coalition fatalities in Afghanistan. So far this year, they have accounted for at least 158 of the U.S.-led coalition’s 283 battlefield fatalities in Afghanistan. And they are exacting a steadily climbing human toll: the bombs caused 1,248 coalition casualties between April and June, a 15 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.”

— August 3 National Journal

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