24 July 2010

The disappearing middle class

Twenty-two statistics showing how the middle class is being systematically wiped out in the U.S.:
  1. 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
  2. 61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
  3. 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
  4. 36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.
  5. A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
  6. 24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
  7. Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
  8. Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
  9. For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
  10. In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
  11. As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
  12. The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
  13. Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
  14. In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
  15. The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
  16. In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
  17. More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
  18. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
  19. This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
  20. Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 - the highest rate in 20 years.
  21. Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
  22. The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income.

21 July 2010

A real yaba daba doo time

Creationism is so much fun. I'll miss these people when they eventually go extinct or evolve into more intelligent life forms.

19 July 2010

Yarkoni's 2010 article

The lexicographers are going to throw down their tea leaves and tell all about our personalities:

Personality in 100,000 Words: A large-scale analysis of personality and word use among bloggers by Tal Yarkoni (Journal of Research in Personality, 2010)

Abstract: Previous studies have found systematic associations between personality and individual differences in word use. Such studies have typically focused on broad associations between major personality domains and aggregate word categories, potentially masking more specific associations. Here I report the results of a large-scale analysis of personality and word use in a large sample of blogs (N = 694). The size of the dataset enabled pervasive correlations with personality to be identified for a broad range of lexical variables, including both aggregate word categories and individual English words. The results replicated category-level findings from previous off-line studies, identified numerous novel associations at both a categorical and single-word level, and underscored the value of complementary approaches to the study of personality and word use.

WaPo article on the fourth branch

Nearly a million Americans have clearances?! I think it's time people in the U.S. rethink their priorities.

17 July 2010

David Harvey's take on the econopocalypse

Darwin, the great seer, predicts all

This is fun. In a spoof on all the biblical numerology hocus-pocus in bookshops, Stellar Alchemy produces a convincing series of future predictions all taken from Darwin's The Origin of Species. The idea that God would want to speak in codes has always made me ask Christians why God doesn't simply hover above the news reporters on Fox News (definitely not on CNN) and announce his presence each night as lightning bolts come forth from his head. (Or better yet, hover above each person on the planet 24/7--in which case even hard-nosed skeptics like myself might feel a need to revise our current model of reality.) Evidently, God is more of the crossword-puzzle nerdish sort of deity, constantly at pains to hide important messages in backward diagonals of the King James translation.

11 July 2010

So much for voting with one's wallet

Those on the right often tell us we should vote with our dollars rather than protest in the streets. If this is the case, what are we to make of the latest Israeli crackdown on its academic establishment:

A protest petition has been signed by 500 academics, including two former education ministers, following recent comments by Israel's education minister, Gideon Saar, that the government intends to take action against the boycott's supporters. A proposed bill introduced into the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – would outlaw boycotts and penalise their supporters. Individuals who initiated, encouraged or provided support or information for any boycott or divestment action would be made to pay damages to the companies affected. Foreign nationals involved in boycott activity would be banned from entering Israel for 10 years, and any "foreign state entity" engaged in such activity would be liable to pay damages.

Individuals would have to "pay damages to companies" because they simply advocate not doing business with those companies! That's an interesting interpretation of democracy.

Saar last week described the petition as hysterical and an attempt to silence contrary opinions. While the vast majority of the signatories do not support an academic boycott of Israel, they have joined forces over what they regard as the latest assault on freedom of expression in Israel. The petition states: "We have different and varied opinions about solving the difficult problems facing Israel, but there is one thing we are agreed on – freedom of expression and academic freedom are the very lifeblood of the academic system." Daniel Gutwein, a history professor at Haifa University who is one of the signatories, described the minister's intervention as an attempt "to make Israeli academia docile, frightened and silent".

Academia, as a collection of independent and often idealistic thinkers, is always a thorn in the side of any regime. Unlike the elites of the corporate world, most academics aren't compensated well enough to be enticed to sell their soul to the system. When academics can't be bought off or seduced with grants and lucrative contracts as consultants, governments resort to the threat of law suits or brute force.

Thumbs up for Knight and Day

Last night I watched Knight and Day and ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. The film is fairly witty; Cruise manages to play a much more low-key character than is his wont; and Cameron Diaz is stunning as always. Best of all, the movie--much like the old James Bond flicks--doesn't take itself too seriously and it doesn't even resort to constant expletives and gore that Hollywood typically dishes up. All the violence is very much of the Tom and Jerry type. The film won't be remembered, but it's definitely a good way to kill a Saturday evening.

10 July 2010

Germany Will Seek 100% of its Electricity from Rewables by 2050

As we pin our hopes on shale and coal, Germany steps forward with an "audacious" plan:

Germany, which generates 16% of its power from renewable sources such as hydro-electric, wind and solar, now plans to get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. It is an audacious plan, but German economists maintain it will actually improve the German economy and forestall the dislocations of the global warming that will otherwise occur. Wind turbines alone are expected to generate 25 percent of the electricity in the European Union of 27 states by the year 2030. By hooking a network of wind turbines into a common grid, some of the big problems with wind power, especially intermittency or the failure of the wind to blow all the time, can be overcome (with a networked grid, active wind farms can take up the slack for ones where the breeze has temporarily died down).

via Informed Content