Strange Yet Familiar — House VDV

At once familiar and strange, this single family home — House VDV by Graux & Baeyens Architects – is located just outside the town of Ghent, in Destelbergen, Belgium. The land is part of a site where once stood a castle destroyed in WWII. Part of the surrounding wall remains standing and is a silent reminder of this history.

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Are American Christian Conservative Bible-Toting Gun-Slinging Jihadists Any Different Than The Muslim Kind? Hobby Lobby Reaction Puts It To The Test

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Holly Fisher is a right-wing online agitator who posted a Twitter photo on the left above last week as an in-your-face image in support of the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision.

Her pose was soon compared to the image at right of Reem Riyashi, a mother of two from Gaza who killed four people and herself with a suicide bomb in 2004.

As was so correctly posited by online news editor Ben Mathis-Lilley… Holly Fisher isn’t a suicide bomber, but even so, after an American holiday in which we use huge explosions to celebrate a country that has and still does regularly kill people abroad with drones, missiles, and bombs, perhaps even the non-extremist patriots among us might see the aesthetic overlap between the two images above and engage in some self-reflection about the potential consequences of aggressive conservative nationalist pride.

I know, I know. It’s only a photo of an enthusiastic youngster (uh, “Millennial”). She is a cliché come to life: gun, bible, and flag. All that’s missing is the apple pie.

But each “cute” and thoughtlessly acceptable step forward in extremism is another step toward the dangerous extremism.

Someday, someone will cross the line and stand draped in the flag and embrace the bible to righteously justify using the rifle on innocent citizen lives who just happen to disagree, or live a life just a bit differently, or look just a little less white christian, or maybe just were some minimum wage workers riding public transit to work one tragic day.

We already have had Tea Partiers wanting the US to default on its debt obligations. We already have had Tea Partiers gather in protest groups fully armed with exposed automatic weaponry just outside Washington DC. We see American Conservatives wanting to impose a Christian version of Sharia Law on US Citizens.

How long until our radicals become activated like “their” radicals? I hope, never.

Chills…


Boehner Issues Op Ed Justifying Suing President; Rational Voice Says “Boehner: Do Your Job Instead”

I get that Republicans are frustrated with President Obama.

Hey, I’m frustrated with him, too, and I voted for him! Unlike Reps, though, I find he’s not liberal enough (on the Political Spectrum charts, Obama is nearly identical to Romney). More importantly, I find Obama doesn’t lead “from the front” enough, hasn’t built a relationship with even his supporters amongst the citizenry, and has remained too stoic and isolated.

I get that Boehner is stunned by the primary election defeat of his lieutenant, Majority Whip Eric Cantor, and needs to build up his “bona fides.”

Hey, I’m stunned, too — Cantor is a conservative through and through… he simply tried to govern, which was his job. But I shouldn’t have been. I know Tea Party members who have shut out non-conforming family members. I know Tea Party parents who have disinherited their adult children who refused thought allegiance. My little fraternity brother from college has ostracized me for my differing views. Tea Partiers are the most cruel and ruthless people, as a group — though I have some good friends who are nominal Tea Party advocates (I say they are “nominal;” they say “adherent”) that are more than accepting of me and supportive of me, though I am a liberal gay man partnered to a man-of-mixed race for a couple decades and who is non-religious if nominally anti-religious establishment… everything Tea Party folk loathe. Yet, they remain my friends, so exceptions wonderfully prevail at times.

So, now we have Boehner attempting to build his bona fides, or rather attempting to show Tea Partiers he has balls made for obstructionism. We all know this is a show, a sham. Still, Boehner makes the effort to add a semblance of credence at every turn, recently by issuing an Op Ed in CNN, where he assails the “utterly beneath the dignity of the office” President Obama. Really? You guys who wanted to have the nation default on its financial debt obligations talk about being beneath the dignity of one’s office? Get real. Such a sad lot.

After reading Boehner’s Op Ed, I felt the urge to write, but before I could get there, I read the most perfect rebuttal completely bathed in revealing truth. I could do no better. So with that I offer a word to Boehner expressed by Sally Kohn.

Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator.

Dear Speaker Boehner,

President Theodore Roosevelt enacted 1,081 executive orders during his presidency. President Dwight Eisenhower had 484. President Ronald Reagan had 381. And President George W. Bush had 291.

President Barack Obama has enacted 182 executive orders — yet the GOP accuses him of being an “imperial president,” and Republican members of the House of Representatives are preparing to sue him for violating the Constitution.

With all due respect, Speaker Boehner, it’s as though the fog of extreme partisanship that has colored your dealings with President Obama since day one has suddenly turned into a full-on fever of irrationality.

Think about this for just a second: House Republicans are using taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit against a President who has literally done not only what every president before him has done but has done it less often and is doing so now only because House Republicans repeatedly refuse to even vote on legislation, let alone pass anything.

And you have the gall to accuse the President of being the one in violation of the Constitution?

Even more frustrating is how your repeated attacks on the President fall factually flat. In your essay for CNN, you write: “After years of slow economic growth and high unemployment under President Obama, they are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’”

This is a particularly laughable assertion given last week’s jobs report, which noted our economy added 288,000 jobs in June, marking 52 straight months of continuous job growth. Overall, under President Obama’s leadership, the private sector has added 9.7 million jobs and an economy that was in free fall when he was elected is now in a steady recovery.

Don’t think that recovery is fast enough, Speaker Boehner? Then pass laws to help rather than jeering from the sidelines and rooting for America to fail so you can blame it on President Obama.

You assert that you have passed jobs bills that President Obama and the Democratic Senate are ignoring, but frankly the word “jobs” as you use it there is questionable. Your “jobs” bills include legislation to repeal Obamacare, through which 20 million Americans now have health insurance, cut food stamps for poor Americans and reduce government regulations on fracking.

Meanwhile, President Obama proposed an actual jobs bill that would have created construction jobs to modernize our deteriorating roads and airports, provided tax credits for employers that hired returning veterans, extended unemployment benefits, which also spurs spending, and cut payroll taxes for 98% of American businesses. But that jobs bill was killed by Republican opposition in Congress.

You also accuse President Obama of ignoring the law, of acting like “a monarch or king.” Yet the same article of the Constitution that vests power and authority in Congress vests executive power in the President. Since the founding of our country, that power has been interpreted to allow presidents to enact executive orders and determine how the duly passed laws of Congress should be prioritized and deployed.

If you’re looking for an example of stretching that authority to the point of breaking it, perhaps you shouldn’t scrutinize a former Constitutional law professor but instead his predecessors. “I believe in a strong, robust executive authority,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in 2005. “The president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired.”

Cheney, for instance, described the War Powers Act — in which a president must gain the approval of Congress before launching armed conflict — as an unconstitutional “infringement on the authority of the presidency.” In both number and scope, President Obama’s use of executive actions simply pales against this and other actions one could compare.

Franklin Roosevelt, the last president faced with a massive economic recession, ultimately enacted 3,522 executive orders. Even though his own party controlled both houses of Congress, FDR wasn’t sued. He was elected to a third term. And his policies, including his executive orders, helped rescue America from the recession.

In the face of obstructionist Republicans in Congress, President Obama’s executive actions also enjoy broad public support.

Some 57% of Americans supported his administrative relief for young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States when they were children. And according to a poll conducted by the LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, 73% of Americans support an executive order to ban discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

If House Republicans don’t like these executive orders, then pass immigration reform and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Don’t sue the President. Passing laws that our nation wants and needs is doing your job. Suing the President just because you don’t like him is irresponsible partisan petulance.

Speaker Boehner, you write: “If you look back over American history, there has always been a tension between the inherent powers of the executive branch versus the inherent powers of the legislative branch.”

Yes, that’s true, and President Obama is simply exercising those inherent executive powers. Now please exercise yours and pass some laws to help America instead of wasting taxpayer money on a frivolous lawsuit that is nothing more than a flagrant partisan stunt.obama-boehner


U.S. Employment: Back To The Start… Finally!

The United States economy has finally recovered all the jobs lost during the Great Recession!

The feat took 51 months from the depth of job loses to do so… but finally.

The Great Recession was characterized by the most massive job losses and the longest time to recover those jobs since the Depression.

Let’s all be thankful (even those who don’t recognize that they should be thankful) that “Tea Partier” economics did not prevail during the recovery, or we would be suffering through Europe’s current fate, where a reliance upon conservative-austerity financial and monetary policies still mire the great EU in misery and stagnation plus 10-26% unemployment rates.

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The economy has added 9.4 million private sector jobs since employment bottomed in February 2010 (8.8 million total jobs added when including all the public sector layoffs).

There are 617 thousand more private sector jobs now than when the recession started in 2007, and total employment is now 98 thousand above the pre-recession peak.

Raise your glass in a toast to stimulus spending and expansionary monetary policy! Keynes, where ya’ at, buddy?


Sculptor’s Outstanding Mid-Century-Modern Exemplar Awaits in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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Mid-Century architectural exemplar in Beverly Hills recently came on the market and was designed by sculptor Morris Levine as his personal residence in 1964. According to a 2006 LA Times article, Levine received no formal architectural training, yet designed “at least half a dozen apartment buildings in Southern California,” as well as two churches on an island in the South Pacific where he was stationed during World War II.

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The artist lived for forty years in his custom-built Beverly Hills home and passed away in 2004 at age 90. Set on a large, private lot, this hidden 3,480-square-foot retreat lists many original details including terrazzo floors, milled cedar ceilings and walls, custom storage, an open family room, 4 Bedrooms, 4 baths, plus a home office (or 5th bedroom) with a separate entrance, with a large, solar-heated swimmer’s pool, and a landscaped back yard. Great location convenient to downtown Beverly Hills and the Valley. It’s a museum-quality home for the architectural enthusiast.

Want it? $3.25 million.

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Environmental Regulations — Breath Easier

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American Middle-Class Now Second Class — Take Two

It’s nice to have successful friends of diverse opinion. When a couple of them are capitalists in the truest sense of the word — i.e., they increase their wealth and incomes by moving their funds around the globe chasing rates of return and potential asset value — are sought after for their investment advise, and have their own financial and economic publications, they also get to disagree with you in the open. In response to “American Middle-Class Now Second-Class To Canada — It Didn’t Have To Be This Way,” I was treated to two alternate views of why I am wrong on specific points.

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BENEFITS “RE-COUPLE” THE DECOUPLED PAY & PRODUCTIVITY

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First, one such individual referenced a couple of British economic analysts who had addressed the observation I pointed out in my article when writing:

They show that when you add in benefits to pay and use the same measure of inflation for both pay and productivity, the disconnect between worker pay and productivity goes away, both in the US and Britain.

Their conclusion? “Middle-class stagnation and the ‘decoupling’ of pay and productivity are illusions. Yes, the U.S. economy is in the doldrums, thanks to a variety of factors… But by any sensible measure, most Americans are today better paid and more prosperous than in the past.”

Yes, but this is only a sleight-of-hand trick that these partisans pontificate to advance their own agenda, not because it is meaningfully accurate — it is just technically accurate.

Notably, using the “same measure of inflation for both pay and productivity” is a non-starter as that is not how productivity increases over time, nor is this how it’s measured in real terms. It’s just a mathematical trick to reduce or deflate actual productivity growth to bring it closer in line with stagnant incomes. Monetary inflation and production productivity are not connected in this fashion and doing so is disingenuous.

Truth is that what used to not show up on workers’ ledgers now shows up on their ledgers, and truth is that the component now has less value in real terms than it did prior to reassignment to the workers’ ledgers. The analysts also conflate wealth and incomes inappropriately.

What we are both referencing is the change from defined benefits for workers to defined contributions.

For example, as average life spans increased, the financial pressures exerted on organizational pension systems grew overwhelming and a shift occurred across the private and public sectors from traditional pension programs where one received a defined amount per year after retirement for the balance of their lives to one predicated upon 401k and IRA programs and the like where one received a defined contribution from their organization with no guarantee of what that looked like at retirement.

Several things occurred in this transition. What used to show up as an asset of the organizational pension now was moved to the ledger of the worker as an asset in the form of 401k’s etc. But, that move did not make the worker wealthier in reality nor improve their incomes — both are simply mechanisms through which retirement incomes derived. It just changed where things resided accounting-wise and controlled organizations’ costs.

All things equal, the worker is no better off and no worse… as long as the final retirement income remains unchanged. But all things are not equal, and final incomes are not guaranteed, thus we see today retirees not having the same incomes as those previously based upon traditional retirement pensions. So, there is a net loss of income to the worker overall, even while it appears their wealth increased.

Moreover, these 401k programs require more significant worker contributions to obtain the largest matching employer contributions. This reduces the net-net income of a worker and is not reflected in the aggregate numbers used by these analysts. So their view assigns an asset value to workers that is just an accounting move and inappropriately shows increased wealth while also not including the decreased net-net incomes from the move.

Finally, the “benefits” to which they refer are inclusive of health benefits. As we all know, these costs have increased dramatically over the decades. This alone adds an illusory increased benefit to workers when, in fact, they, too, are paying larger premiums for that health benefit, and worker costs are up dramatically more in deductibles, co-pays, and out-of-pocket maximums… Thus, all contributing to reduced net-net incomes — not the improved financial standing these analysts would have us believe.

The “benefit” appears more significant because of cost inflation yet the worker is no better off and receives the same basic benefit of health care provision they received when the “benefit” appeared at lower cost. Now the worker is made poorer on a net basis by the increased direct costs from the benefit’s cost-sharing mechanism. Moreover, just because the benefit cost grew larger on the employer’s ledger does not mean the income of the worker increased accordingly or that the benefit had more “income value.”

Oy vey!

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“TIME COSTS” OF APPLIANCES HEALS ALL WOUNDS

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Second, another individual posited that my position ignores the relative increase in incomes and wealth of workers because improved productivity and globalized production have reduced the “time costs” of attaining and maintaining a middle-class lifestyle. The writer maintains that costs of clothing, major appliances, cars etc. (the lifestyle asset cost of middle-class life) cost less today in terms of how many hours one must work to attain them… and the middle-class person is better off today.

Therefore, if it cost 3000 hours to purchase a standard car back in the 1960’s and now costs 1200 hours to purchase today’s standard car, then the real incomes of average middle-class persons have increased relative to the past. His point is that while this situation may not show up on balance sheets cost-adjusted for inflation, it is a very real phenomenon that means the middle-class is larger and more robust than we believe it to be.

Thus was written:

Bottom Line: The comparison of the “time cost” of appliances over time above confirms what Aparna finds in her analysis – average (and low-income) Americans are much better off today than they were 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago, thanks in large part to the significant reductions in the cost of common household appliances like refrigerators, washers and dryers, and TVs. The reasons for the significant reductions in the cost of appliances include innovation, technology improvements, supply chain efficiencies, increases in productivity and other market-driven efficiencies that drive prices lower and lower year by year, measured in what is most important: our time, and the amount of labor it takes to earn the money to purchase household appliances and other goods and services. As much as we hear about declines in median income, economic stagnation, the disappearance of the middle class, falling real wages, increasing income inequality, the data tell a much different story: The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting richer.

“The poor are getting richer” — Argh!

To be certain, technology has improved such that the “standard” has shifted and provided a lifestyle unimaginable or unattainable in the past; i.e., today, nearly all persons of age have a personal cell phone and internet access (hence access to instant communications); access to music proliferates on numerous mobile devises (not just families able to afford large stereo systems, or further back, their own music chambers); and the list goes on.

As they say, though, all things are relative. And, thus, to say that one has access to “absolutely” more of something now, or to something that never previously existed, or to say that it takes less working time to purchase a particular staple item of the middle-class lifestyle is not to say that they have access to more or better… relative to what their predecessors had relative to their own time. Standards change.

The average middle-class lifestyle requires more and different inputs than that same lifestyle from 1940. It’s not just a car, a refrigerator, and a radio. It is also a middle-class lifestyle relative to itself over time and those levels above it and below in any given year. As society evolves one would hope that the absolute standard improves (i.e., having only 1940 middle-class assets or household items today may mean you are “poor” today and not [or no longer] middle-class), and that is reality.

The middle-class standard and what it costs to maintain that standard have moved upward. This is called progress and something that we should desire for society. The lifestyle of today’s middle-class may appear to have obtained things impossible for the middle-class in times past, but that same cultural standard is relative to its position of the other classes.

If the death rate from cancer devolved back to that from 1960, would it be correct to say that’s acceptable because even then it was better than the survival rate from the 18th century? Of course not. Standards improve, and if the average person in a period can’t maintain their relative position over time in that moving standard, then we have declined as a society. Here is where America rests today. Fewer American families are able to stay in the current standard of the “middle-class.” Moreover, they are not able to stay in the same income percentile on a global basis — reference again this table of percentiles.

Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, it requires well more than two earners working to equal the wages of a one-income household of 40 years ago. In fact, wages have plummeted so low that a two-income household is now (on average) 15% poorer than a one-income household of 40 years ago.

With the year 2000 as a base, real wages peaked in 1970 at around $20/hour. The average worker today earns $8.50/hour — more than 57% less than real earnings in 1970. Moreover, as the average wage directly determines society’s standard of living, it may accurately be said that the average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by more than half over the last 40 years.

Inflation for the last 40 years has hidden the 57% collapse in the standard of living for the average person. Nonetheless, if you’re fortunate enough to be at or successful enough to have earned a place at the top of the income charts, the situation is significantly reversed in your favor. While average American workers have seen their real wages plummet by 57% over the past 40 years, in just 15 years (1992-2007) the 400 wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise by 700%.

Now we have the complete picture: real wages crumbling steadily lower year after year, decade after decade for “The 99%,” while earnings skyrocket for “The One Percent.” Is that acceptable? I don’t know… is going back to the cancer death rates of 1960 acceptable to you because that’s still better than it was in 1700?

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