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      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 19, 2023 by Tony Wikrent   Global power shift China Leads A Successful Middle East Summit Ian Welsh, March 16, 2023 Something which has slipped past most people’s radar is that China recently acted as the intermediary for peace talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two countries have been at each other’s throats f […]
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Oh, brother, here it comes. Competitiveness

going to work, work, work!

It looks like Obama got a head start on his “competitiveness” meme.  Note: whenever you see a buzzword like this, the first thing you need to ask is “what *exactly* do you mean?” and the second thing is “how are you going to screw up my life with it?”.  Julian Assange got it wrong when he thought that releasing secret documents would lead to greater honesty and transparency.  To reach that goal, what you really need to do is figure out what the executives are hiding beneath all that bizspeak.

From the NYTimes, we get this:

President Obama, declaring that the United States can “outcompete any other nation on earth,” called on Saturday for a new era of American innovation and competition, using his weekly address to deliver a pro-growth, pro-trade message that is likely to be at the heart of the State of the Union speech he gives to Congress on Tuesday.

Picking up on themes from a Friday appearance in Schenectady, N.Y., and last week’s state visit with President Hu Jintao of China, Mr. Obama said that one of the most important things he could do in his presidency was to “open up more markets to American goods around the world.” He struck an optimistic tone, even as he described the challenges the nation still faces in a difficult economy with unemployment above 9 percent.

“We’re living in a new and challenging time, in which technology has made competition easier and fiercer than ever before,” Mr. Obama said. “Countries around the world are upping their game and giving their workers and companies every advantage possible.”

“But that shouldn’t discourage us,” he continued. “Because I know we can win that competition. I know we can outcompete any other nation on earth. We just have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to unlock the productivity of American workers, unleash the ingenuity of American businesses and harness the dynamism of America’s economy.”

Is this a SOTU address or the annual CEO Town Hall meeting speech given at every large company in the nation?  I can just picture it now.  The professional consultant industry brands a several new bizspeak words and phrases and the top executives roll them out and the next level down executives parrot them so they look knowledgeable and with it and so they can flatter the higher ups and then those bizspeak words trickle down to the midlevel managers who use them to kiss up until they reach the rank and file who just roll their eyes and fume in frustration.  Doesn’t anyone know how to actually *manage* anymore without resorting to fricking slogans???

Here’s some more slogans from the above to watch out for:

“unlock the productivity”  I don’t know what Obama has been up to but everyone I know is on overdrive right now.  There aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done.  How much more productive are we supposed to get?  And why hasn’t all this excess productivity been unlocked already?  What are the executives doing with it?  Keeping it in a jar?

“Unleash the ingenuity”  I just spend a grueling week in California learning about the ingenuity of the American worker.  We are incredibly ingenious.  But as soon as the ingenuity is automated, it’s off to Chindia!  WHAT, Mr. President, are you going to do about that?  Please note that getting Jeffrey Immelt onboard as an advisor on labor is not part of the answer.  Wah-wah-wahhhhh.

“harness the dynamism of  America’s economy”  Hmmm, if dynamism of the American economy was the desired goal, then the first stimulus package should have been about twice the size that it actually was.  Horse, barn door and all that.  Too late for dynamism.

So, what we have here is a man who does not know what American workers are already doing and does not understand how many American workers used to be ingenious and innovative and dynamic and are now out of work because people like Immelt come from companies that see workers in terms of quotas on some kind of vitality curve.  How about we get rid of those damn quotas that encourage office politics and demotivate people who work their asses off all year but who can’t get into the blessed realm because there are an insufficient number of spaces for them- according to the fricking curve?

Somewhere, there is a an article about how companies whose managers indulge in bizspeak are the most poorly run.  Sooo, I don’t have a lot of hope for this White House.  But more than that, I doubt there are many of us who want to sit through another meaningless Town Hall meeting where the guy in charge says things he doesn’t mean and means things he doesn’t say.  “Blah-blah-blah, workers! Blah-blah-blah-Compete!”


Krugman is sounding a similar theme:

It’s OK to talk about competitiveness when you’re specifically asking whether a country’s exports and import-competing industries have low enough costs to sell stuff in competition with rivals in other countries; measures of relative costs and prices are, in fact, commonly — and unobjectionably — referred to as competitiveness indicators.

But the idea that broader economic performance is about being better than other countries at something or other — that a companycountry is like a corporation –is just wrong. I wrote about this at length a long time ago, and everything I said then still holds true.*

The hopeful interpretation of Obama’s embrace of the idea that he’s the CEO of America Inc. is that it might help fend off right-wing attacks on government action as a whole, helping him sell the need for public investment of various kinds. On the other hand, as Robert Reich says, this could all too easily turn into a validation of the claim that what’s good for corporations is good for America, which is even less true now than it used to be.

All in all, it’s kind of sad. And the less said about Jeffrey Immelt’s vacuous op-ed, the better.

Yep, pretty much.  The more I hear Obama, the more validated I am in my initial impression of him as the biggest executive office, good old boy schmoozer and ass kisser that ever was.  I know everything there is to know about the guy and that’s why I didn’t want for him for president.

And here’s another thing to think about:  So much manufacturing went to Asia and now it’s hard to find  appliances made in the USA.  Theoretically, this was done because the costs of production and labor were so much lower in Asia that the goods would be cheaper.  But the last time I compared one of the few American made appliances with an Asian competitor, the price wasn’t a whole lot lower.  I expected to see a dramatic difference in price to reflect the lower cost of labor and no medical bennies or pensions or, you know, stuff that working people actually care about.  But the price difference wasn’t there.

Where is the money going?  Oh, sure, it could mean that American brands have finally reached a plateau in price because the workers are seeing their benefits and lifestyles erode.  But I’m guessing that a big chunk o’change goes into some deep pockets.  And the inside of those pockets, I’m guessing, never sees a tax bill.

So, before I hear anything more about competitiveness, which has been unlocked and unleashed for a couple decades now, I want to hear how Obama is going to make sure that the fruits of our labor come back to US and not some wealthy person who has enough Swarovski crystal cases for their iphones and $60,000/night hotel rooms.

Saturday: Setting the Record Straight

I’m a big believer in natural selection in the blogosphere.  Blogs will come and go according to their characteristics.  The ones that fit the zeitgeist will succeed.  In this respect, the successful blogs change the nature of the blogosphere itself over time until new environmental pressures present themselves.

The key to surviving a stress is not changing, but to possess the characteristics that allow the blog to survive in a new environment. Evolution doesn’t mean changing with the system.  It means the SYSTEM chooses YOU. This blog is reaching a inflection point of sorts.  Does it have the characteristics to survive going forward?  Or will it latch on to some current trend, flame up with it and die away?  If history is any guide, it will survive.  This blog came into being 3 years ago, give or take a few days.  This is The Confluence’s 3rd anniversary.  We survived the primaries and we survived the PUMA movement.  PUMA was a moment in time.  It flamed up in response to stress and died away.  Oh sure, there are remnants and we spawned a lot of descendents but they will be an artifact, an echo in the left blogosphere’s DNA.  Whether it ever gets activated again or activated under a different name through recombination with something else remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, survival of this blog relies on it having a radically reduced form.

In the past, I have invited others to blog here as well.  There are two reasons for this.  First, I believe there are others on the left who resonate with the idea of a working class liberal.  These people were Clintonistas and identify themselves as FDR style Democrats and Democrats in Exile.  They have clear ideas about what has worked for this country in the past and they have a vision of what it will take to move forward.  Secondly, I work for a living.  For most of the day, the blog is inaccessible to me.  I can’t post and the only way I can read what goes on here during the day is if I go out to the parking lot during a break to catch a signal on my iPhone.  (AT&T is nonexistent in my building)

But keeping a blog together, focused on what you believe and pointing in  a specific direction is harder than it seems.  My management style is very flexible.  Front pagers will tell you, if they’re being honest, that I very, very rarely exert any editorial direction on them.  They were free to post pretty much anything they pleased at any hour of the day.  I especially liked the flexibility of responding to breaking news events as they happened and not on a timetable.  Blogs need to refresh content to retain their relevance.

I also think it’s important to keep relations open with those former Clintonistas who have defected from their Democratic principles to join the Tea Party.  I understand that they are motivated by anger and frustration.  Who among us here doesn’t understand anger and frustration?  18000000 of us were cheated out of electing the person who we thought was the right candidate for the job at a time when the right person was crucial.  And we were right about everything that was happening during the primaries and everything that happened afterwards.

But my big mistake was in taking the “Mi casa es su casa” approach to communal blogging.  My aim is true when I say I don’t want to hog the spotlight and I don’t want to tell people what to do and when to do it (Jeez,  don’t EVER put me on a schedule.  I *HATE* that).  What I envisioned my role as was a sort of heavy who would make the final call in any blog disputes with outside forces.  But what happens when the disputes are internal?  I never figured that part out.

Imagine this scenario.  You have to leave your house and you give the keys to people who you think you can trust to keep the place in shape and not break the furniture.  Sure, you can have guests over, do what you please.  No big deal to me.  Everything is ticketyboo for months and things get hectic at work, requiring a lot more time in the lab and a lot less time at the blog.  One day, you catch a break and head on home for some extended time at the house.  But when you walk in, you find that the place is chock full of people you don’t know and some Klown is throwing a rave in your living room with lots of Tea Partyesque types bumping and grinding in some trancelike frenzy to the sound of the TV tuned to a red-faced, furious left or right wing gasbag.  There you are with the takeout bag of sushi grasped in your hand, staring at this mess and when you tell someone to shut off the TV and leave, the Klown starts to protest.

What would YOU do?

For the record, there has only ever been one person who was specifically asked to leave this blog.  That was Shtuey.  The others took their dishes and left when I began to make noise about the tone of the blog deviating from its founding sensibility.  I hate to say it but in many cases, it’s a matter of ego.  Some frontpagers get it into their heads that their contributions are so valuable and they aren’t getting enough credit and deference and they need to take a stand and try to divide and conquer.  Some of them want to impose more structure on the blog.  A LOT more.  So much that I would have to check in with them to get a time slot to post- on my own blog.  Many, many of them complained over and over again about the Klown.  Some of that complaining was instigated by outside forces who never blogged here but were around in the comment section.  No matter how many times I tell people that this is not an exclusively feminist or female blog, some commenters seem determined to throw the Klown off come hell or high water.  And with the Klown, I can truly say, he *can* be taught, so, if he’s not spewing insensitive sexist crap all over the place, what’s the big deal?  I liked the way he thought and wrote and his appreciation of country music and the fact that he wasn’t a fricking snob like some other frontpagers I’ve had to deal with when it came to average working class people and those of us who don’t have time to edit our posts and our grammar in the morning because we WORK for a living, instead of taking time away from teaching our classes in order to pontificate on atheism or the incivility of the comment section at The Confluence {{sniff!}} (not that I’m mentioning any names)

In the past several months, I can say honestly that it was me.  All me.  A chunk of people left a few months ago who I thought were buying into the left memes too much.  I’m not into the left’s buzzwords about corporatism and triangulation and gratuitous bashing of big pharma.  That last one is significant because I work for big pharma and I know that the left is cutting its own throat with its relentless attacks on the industry without a true understanding of what pharma is going through right now.  My industry has shed over 100,000 jobs in the past couple of years.  That’s not an exaggeration.  But I have had frontpagers tell me that it’s not as bad as I make it out to be.  How would they know that?  Have they worked for big pharma?  Ever spent time in a lab?  Watched the devastation wrecked on the lives of their friends and family whose prestigious PhDs in the hard sciences can no longer get them jobs?  No, of course not. And their ignorance of the industry and how it works shows in what they write about it.  As long as you don’t understand an issue, you’re going to get swayed by the opinions of people who you identify with most closely.  If that is the left, well, they have a history of puritanism when it comes to a whole host of issues from genetically modified crops to nuclear energy to pharmaceuticals.  And you know what?  I’m just not into that.  I want to think for myself and not let the members of my tribe to do my thinking for me.  I especially don’t want to adopt wrong attitudes and assumptions just so I can stay on their good side, make some money off of the tribe rank and file or get linked to memeorandum on a regular basis.

I also don’t want to be dragged to the right.  My protest vote for McCain in 2008 was just that- a protest.  It wasn’t a racist statement.  It wasn’t a rejection of my Democratic principles.  If anything, it was a reaffirmation of those principles.  I was not going to reward the Democratic party for throwing away my vote and substituting Obama for the more qualified candidate who was overwhelmingly selected by the biggest, most Democratic states in the nation.  Nope.  Nah-gah-happen.  It will be a cold day in Hell before I ever let someone steal my vote and get away with it.  The Democrats are going to pay for that until the last dog dies and I’m not the only one who will never forget.  This recession and how Obama dealt with it in spite of all of the experience he had to draw on, will live with this country for generations.  The Democrats helped to that to us.  But just because I despise the Democrats for their stupidity and fraudulent behavior does not in any way mean I endorse the Republicans.  In fact, I have no respect for the Republican party.  It is an extremist and dangerous organization.  Its goals are to win at all costs and impose a neo-feudalist system on the rest of us.  And anyone who is going to Tea Party meetings, thinking, “Oh, but they’re different”, should get their heads out of their asses.  The Tea Party is a front group for the Republicans and I want nothing to do with the Tea Party or its leaders.  If you lean to the conservative side, do not expect me to “feel your pain” or give you a pass on any nonsensical idea you get from the Tea Party or Glenn Beck or right wing pundit of your choice who somehow “speaks” to you on an emotional level.  I completely reject movement conservatism in all of its guises.

I also don’t much care for media gasbags.  You can’t trust the news.  You can’t trust people who talk about the news.  You can’t trust the idiots who are on cable news channels.  That means people like O’Reilly and Olbermann and Glenn Beck and any other spokesperson from either party that goes on talking head shows on Sunday mornings.  I’ll make an exception for Krugman who doesn’t seem to have a policeman between his brain and his mouth and who tends to say things that are impolitic.  Like telling George Will that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  But to listen to Krugman on TV means putting up with the other guests and I’ve got better things to do with my time than listen to the bunch of them repeat finely crafted memes like “politicizing” and “competitiveness” and “cut and run”.  Since there is nothing useful to be gathered from TV and radio punditry except psychological manipulation, I don’t watch it anymore.  And I don’t like it when commenters bring that propaganda to the blog.  If I see commenters discuss the latest outrage in the comments or see it posted about way too often, I’m likely to say to knock it off.  Buzzwords get put into the moderated list and commenters will be forced to discuss issues without access to words that serve only to identify their tribal affiliation and stop their thoughts.

So, I’ve gone on way too long and I have a power steering system that needs my immediate attention.  I will end here.  The bottom line is this: the integrity of this blog was being compromised.  It was no longer representing a coherent point of view.  There was too much degeneracy, and by that I mean too many voices taking the blog in directions away from its original sensibility.  If I wanted this blog to become more puritanically left, a direction I don’t want to go in, what would make it unique from other lefty blogs who reflexively repeat lefty beliefs?  If I wanted this blog to become more Tea Party friendly, I would be violating my most cherished principles to do it.  That’s not me and I don’t want to become another manifestation of Balloon Juice.

I see this blog as being a place where the technologically savvy, smart, FDR Democrat can keep in touch with his or her working class roots because that is where I think America’s strength is.  We’re not better than our blue collar parents.  We ARE the working class.  We’re also the creative class but we’re not looking down our noses.  We’re grounded.  We live in the real world.  We see the past and the future at the same time.    The blog will rise or fall on its principles, which we will never deviate from.  If that’s what the blogosphere wants to read, good for us.  If not, we fade away.  But there is a reason why my tag line when I was Goldberry at DailyKos came from my favorite poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost.  Here it is in its entirety:

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud —
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I won’t let this blog be pushed and pulled about by the mob.  I intend to stay focussed.

Right now, *we* are me and Katiebird.  That doesn’t mean we’ve fired anyone or told anyone to leave permanently.  But before I turn over the keys of my house to anyone again, they are going to have to earn my trust and prove to me that they are willing to exercise control over themselves and the people they bring to the party.

Party on.  This is an open thread.