Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aren't You Glad People Like This Bought Classic 99 FM?

The general manager of Briarwood Presbyterian Church's radio station faces charges of lewd and lascivious behavior after Florida authorities said he propositioned a teen girl and another woman in Seagrove Beach Wednesday, all while he was naked from the waist down.

James Ashley Hulgan, 40, of Leeds, exposed himself to a 15-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman, said Walton County sheriff's officials.

[See booking report from the Walton County, Fla., jail]

According to the arrest report, Hulgan was driving on County Road 30A about 12:30 p.m. when he called the females to his van and asked them if they knew where there was a nude beach. The victims, according to the report, saw his genitals. Sheriff's officials said he told the woman and the girl to get in the van with him. They did not.

Sheriff's deputies caught up with Hulgan about 2:15 p.m. at a nearby apartment. They asked him if he knew why they were there. "He stated he was driving around and decided to go to a nude beach," according to the sheriff's report. "He stated he loved being naked and had been to a nude beach before and loved it."

The report further said: "The defendant stated while he was in his vehicle he took his clothes off because he loved being naked. He stated he pulled up to a couple of girls and asked them where the nude beach was because he didn't know where it was."

Jail records show Hulgan is charged with one count of lewd and lascivious behavior, a second-degree felony, and one count of indecent exposure, a first-degree misdemeanor.

On jail records, Hulgan lists his occupation as manager of WLJR, which is located at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

Hulgan also is president of Best View productions, a video company that has shot footage of high school sports and cheerleading, local pageants and competitive cheer and dance competitions throughout the Jefferson and Shelby county areas, according to his website. Hulgan's website also said he is the manager of Briarwood Church Video Ministry.

Efforts to reach Hulgan for comment were unsuccessful. Briarwood officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

Hulgan was released this morning from the Walton County Jail.

Advertise on Atop TV Sets, a Power Drain That Runs Nonstop

The biggest challenge in reducing energy use is maintaining the rapid response time now expected of home entertainment systems, Mr. Turner said. “People are used to the idea that computers take some time to boot up,” he said, “but they expect the TV to turn on instantly.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Amends Served Up On A Sword

Went to a meeting, and two things stuck with me:

What if we got to interview our parents for the job?

A resentful apology from one who has harmed us, is like amends, being served up on a sword.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Many Cities Face a Long Wait for Jobs to Return

Two years into a fitful recovery, unemployed Americans are getting painfully accustomed to the notion that it will take years to bring back the jobs eviscerated by the financial crisis.

In some regions, those years are in danger of turning into a decade. According to a report to be released Monday, nearly 50 metropolitan regions — or more than one out of seven — are unlikely to bring back all the jobs lost in the recession until after 2020.

Among those areas are Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio; Detroit; Reno, Nev.; and Atlantic City, according to the report commissioned by the United States Conference of Mayors.

Detroit, which lost 323,400 jobs during the recession, and Reno, which lost 36,000 jobs, are not expected to regain all of those positions until after 2021.

With job creation having slowed to a crawl and the housing market depressed by foreclosures and falling prices, the economy is struggling to put 13.9 million unemployed Americans back to work.

According to the mayors’ report, which was compiled by IHS Global Insight, the nation’s 363 metropolitan statistical areas tracked by the Labor Department will generate enough jobs to get back to only the prerecession peak of employment in the first half of 2014, a dreary forecast that poses an increasing political challenge to the Obama administration. The areas lost 7.3 million total jobs during the recession from a peak of 118.3 million in the first quarter of 2008.

The report notes that metro regions account for about 86 percent of all jobs.

“It is striking, it’s sobering and it’s a call to action,” said Antonio R. Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles and the president of the Conference of Mayors. Mr. Villaraigosa suggested that the federal government invest in infrastructure as well as work force training. The mayors’ report projected that the Los Angeles region, which lost 537,100 jobs during the downturn, would not gain them back before 2018.

The forecasts do not account for the number of jobs that need to be created just to account for normal population growth. As a result, said James Diffley, senior director at IHS Global Insight, even when the economy adds back the jobs lost during the recession, the unemployment rate, now at 9.1 percent, is likely to be significantly higher than the 4.4 percent it was before the crisis.

Among the largest metropolitan regions that will have a long road to recovery are manufacturing centers in Ohio and Michigan, where huge waves of layoffs at car plants and other factories affected thousands of workers.

“The type of jobs lost are not easily replaced,” said Lucious Plant, work force development manager in Montgomery County, which includes Dayton and surrounding communities. The region was overwhelmed by thousands of job losses at plants operated by General Motors and the parts supplier Delphi Automotive.

Mr. Plant said that old-line factory workers did not necessarily have the skills for the jobs that are now being added by advanced manufacturers. Dayton, which lost 42,500 jobs — or more than 10 percent of its labor force — during the recession, has had some luck attracting new employers recently, landing a Caterpillar Logistics distribution center that is expected to eventually bring on 600 people. Also, the back-office operations of a law firm added about 200 jobs.

Since losing a job at Delphi in 2008, Josh Hamer has been taking odd jobs repairing computers and is attending community college on government grants to earn an associate’s degree in network management. In the meantime, he has filed hundreds of job applications.

“I want anything that will pay the bills,” said Mr. Hamer, 32. “But they see Delphi and they see me applying for an office job, and they say, ‘You can’t do this job because you’re not qualified for it.’ They see grunt work, and they see a grunt.”

Other regions were hammered by the housing collapse and are having difficulty climbing back. In Naples, Fla., which lost 25,200 jobs during the recession, local economic development officials are focusing on small businesses in the technology and medical device sectors, industries that may not help unemployed construction workers. The mayors’ report projects that the area will get back to its prerecession peak by 2017.

Tammie Nemecek, chief executive of the Economic Development Council of Collier County, Fla., said the region might not recapture all the jobs it lost. “There’s a lot of people saying I want a new economy so we can ensure that there’s sustainability in it,” she said.

The mayors’ report does project faster recovery in some regions, including several metropolitan areas in Texas, as well as Denver; Raleigh, N.C.; and Washington.

Global Insight forecasts that the New York metropolitan region, which lost 385,200 jobs during the recession, will get back to its prerecession peak by 2013, in part because the financial sector did not lose as many jobs as feared. That could change as Wall Street, facing falling markets and an uncertain regulatory climate, plans further cuts to its work force.

Some metropolitan regions disputed the forecasts. In Cleveland, where Global Insight projects a return to peak employment in 2021, Mayor Frank G. Jackson’s chief of staff, Ken Silliman, said that Cleveland’s unemployment rate, 7.6 percent, was the seventh lowest of the metropolitan areas with more than 1.5 million people.

He added that a newly built medical center was “staking out Cleveland as a national leader in medical technology” and that the area would recapture the jobs it lost within three to five years “without a doubt.”

Mr. Diffley of Global Insight said that many regions were trying to brand themselves as leaders in new sectors. “It’s not a zero sum game,” Mr. Diffley said. “But everybody can’t be a leader in the field they’d like to be, by definition.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cost of prom rises, leaving many kids left out

The reality is that those "midnight masquerades," "enchantments under the sea" and "midsummer night's dreams" have become the latest battleground between the haves and have-nots in this country.

Between tickets, attire, shoes, accessories, flowers, limousines, photographers and after-parties, the average family with a high school student attending the prom spent a whopping $807 this year, according to a recent survey by Visa.

But nearly a quarter of families spent nothing at all -- because they could not afford to let the kids go. "Some people are opting out entirely because times are tight and the social cost of admission is so high now," said Jason Alderman, director of Visa's financial education programs.

Poverty a problem for pay TV

For years, execs at pay TV companies and telcos boasted about their growth as subscribers continued to pay more for new cable services, next-generation smartphones and faster broadband. Amid the euphoria, however, those execs didn't address what might happen to their bottom lines when consumers could no longer swallow those increasingly larger bills.

They may be facing that reality soon. In a foreboding new report, one analyst concludes that a major risk facing companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T is not heated competition from each other, or a fast growing outlier like Netflix, but rather poverty. "The poverty problem provides a new and sobering lens for any serious analysis of the telecom and media sectors," concluded Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. "At the low end, customers aren't just choosing between one provider and another. They're often choosing between these services and a third meal." His 96-page report, "U.S. Telecommunications and Cable & Satellite: The Poverty Problem," was released Friday and was certain to have ruined the long Memorial Day weekend for at least a few media execs.

To underscore his premise, Moffett offered some data that would make any sales force out pushing subscriptions cringe.

• About two-thirds of American families subsist on less than the average after-tax income of $62,000 a year. "We are, sadly, a country where most Americans are below average," Moffett wrote.

• Fifty million Americans are on food stamps.

• Forty-nine million are considered "food insecure," with no confidence where the next meal is coming from.

• Forty-four million Americans now live below the poverty line.

"The picture of an America where 40% of households are essentially bereft of discretionary spending power has incredibly important implications for companies in our coverage," Moffett wrote.

Average price of a pay TV subscription has risen 29% in the past five years, while real income growth has declined. Cable and satellite providers now reap on average $77.43 a month from each subscriber. This, of course, includes gains from new services like high-def and DVRs.

As worrisome as Moffett's report may be, pay TV execs could be lulled in to a false sense of security after seeing TV subscriptions rebound through 2010, ending the year with gains of 250,000 after seeing subs fall earlier in the year for the first time ever. Still, some companies like Time Warner Cable began offering lower-priced economy tiers of services to capture and retain customers on tight budgets.

While media consumption has not been affected historically by bad economies, Moffett points out that "the media industry has not a faced a macro environment like this before" or so many alternatives. "No one would argue that the entertainment choices offered by Netflix are better than what's available on cable," he wrote, "and neither of those offered by Hulu, or YouTube. But when faced with a choice of pay TV or a third meal, will some customers choose to make do with a back catalog or off-the-run TV shows and movies? Of course they will."

Telcos faces similar challenges. Moffett said the bulk of telco spending gains are concentrated in the top 40% of households in terms of income. Forty percent of smartphone owners come from the top 20% of the economy. Meanwhile, lower-income users are trading down to less-expensive, pre-paid plans. "Notably, despite the fact that we are on what is perhaps the very steepest part of the wireless data adoption curve, total (average revenues per user) growth in the United States is negative today. The trade-down for the bottom end is faster than the trade-up for the top," he wrote. "Excluding the nontraditional subscriptions, penetration of post-paid wireless has been falling in America for more than a year."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

British fear 'American-style' healthcare system,0,1237142.story

Reporting from London—
Two years ago, Britons were outraged when U.S. politicians like Sarah Palin, in the debate over healthcare reform, turned this country's National Health Service into a public whipping boy, denouncing it as "evil," "Orwellian" and generally the enemy of everything good and true.

It's time for some payback.

Britain is now embroiled in a healthcare argument of its own, prompted by a proposed shake-up of the NHS. And the phrase on everyone's lips is "American-style," which may not be as catchy as the "death panels" that Palin attributed to socialized medicine but which, over here, inspires pretty much the same kind of terror.

Ask a Briton to describe "American-style" healthcare, and you'll hear a catalog of horrors that include grossly expensive and unnecessary medical procedures and a privatized system that favors the rich. For a people accustomed to free healthcare for all, regardless of income, the fact that millions of their cousins across the Atlantic have no insurance and can't afford decent treatment is a farce as well as a tragedy.

But critics here warn that a similarly bleak future may await Britain if a government plan to put more power in the hands of doctors and introduce more competition into the NHS succeeds — privatization by stealth, they say.

So frightening is the Yankee example that any British politician who values his job has to explicitly disavow it as a possible outcome. Twice.

"We will not be selling off the NHS, we will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system," Prime Minister David Cameron emphatically told a group of healthcare workers in a nationally televised address last week.

In case they didn't hear it the first time, Cameron repeated the dreaded "A"-word in a list of five guarantees he offered the British people at the end of his speech.

"If you're worried that we're going to sell off the NHS or create some American-style private system, we will not do that," he said. "In this country we have the most wonderful, precious institution and also precious idea that whenever you're ill … you can walk into a hospital or a surgery and get treated for free, no questions asked, no cash asked. It is the idea at the heart of the NHS, and it will stay. I will never put that at risk."

Cameron's eagerly declared devotion to the NHS illustrates the totemic role it plays in British society, an institution so cherished that some describe it as the closest thing here to a truly national religion. Created in 1948, as the country struggled to rise from the ashes of World War II, the NHS is widely hailed as the welfare state's biggest triumph.

Since then, it has bloomed into a behemoth that gobbles up nearly $170 billion a year in taxpayer money — an amount set to grow along with Britain's aging population — and is one of the nation's largest employers.

Governments of all stripes have taken office pledging to reform the system, to streamline it and make it more efficient, but none has fully succeeded, knowing that they tinker with the NHS at their peril. The current Conservative Party-led coalition, which has embarked on the most radical public spending cuts in a generation, has promised not to take a penny from the health service.

To each other, Britons love to complain about the NHS, retailing gruesome tales of substandard care, of long waiting lists for simple operations like hip replacements, of snotty surgeons and naughty nurses. But when Americans began citing the NHS as the epitome of socialized medicine gone wrong, people here bristled.

Fear that Britain is becoming more like the U.S. extends beyond healthcare. "American-style" is also the epithet of choice to describe the direction of Britain's higher-education system.

To make up for lost state funding, many public universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have decided to take advantage of a new law allowing them to charge students a maximum of $14,750 in annual tuition, nearly triple the current price tag. Shelling out huge sums for college may be part of the American way, but Britons don't like it.

Last week, well-known philosopher A.C. Grayling caused a stir by announcing the creation of a private university, featuring top British and U.S. academics, that will charge nearly $30,000 a year.

There have also been demonstrations over the proposed NHS overhaul. Britons are so uneasy about the changes that a sheepish Cameron was forced to put them on hold and ordered his ministers to go on a two-month listening tour to hear out voters.

"We recognize that many people have had concerns about what we were doing," Cameron said. "This has been a genuine chance for people … to work together to strengthen the institution we all love and hold dear."

The results of the review, and the government's expected concessions, are to be unveiled this week.

The changes will be debated in the public arena and fought over in Parliament. Doctors' groups will no doubt say one thing, patients' advocates another. In the end, lawmakers will probably approve a messy healthcare compromise that will anger many and please few.

Which just goes to show that maybe Britain and America aren't so different after all.

Army Brings Back Caps, Tosses Berets

About damn time:

The U.S. Army is abandoning the beret, after a failed 10-year experiment.

The black beret, which proved deeply unpopular with American soldiers, will be replaced by a patrol cap for everyday wear, U.S. Army spokesman Colonel Tom Collins said Monday.

The move came after outgoing Army chief of staff, General Martin Dempsey, asked the army's sergeant major "to go out and talk to soldiers across the force and see what was on their minds," Collins told AFP.

"One of the things that soldiers consistently brought up was the desire to wear the patrol cap as part of their duty uniform," he said.

The beret will still be part of the Army's dress uniform, but will no longer be worn in the field as soldiers complained that it was impractical, he said.

"It does not have a visor and doesn't shield the sun, doesn't absorb sweat well," Collins said.

One soldier put it more bluntly.

"I hate wearing a wet sock on my head," Chief Warrant Officer Mark Vino, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, told the Army Times. "Plus it makes head/skin break out."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bistate recovery trails U.S. rate

Both Missouri and Illinois suffered in the Great Recession. Now they're falling behind in the recovery.

Economic growth was slower than average in both states in 2010, and is expected to stay that way for years to come, according to a pair of new reports out Tuesday.

The Commerce Department said that Missouri's economy grew a little more than half as fast as the nation as a whole in 2010; Illinois' grew at about three-fourths the national rate. This comes after steeper-than-average declines in 2009, and growth rates that have generally lagged the nation for a decade.

And it doesn't appear they'll be catching up any time soon. A second report, from forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, predicts that personal income will grow more slowly in both states than in much of the country at least through 2016.

This makes sense to Fred Giertz, an economist at the University of Illinois. Both states have relatively slow-growing populations, and without adding people, it's harder to grow your economy. He notes that the unemployment rate in Illinois, at 8.6 percent in April, is slightly lower than the nation's right now — a relatively rare thing.

But, Giertz says, the recovery has been "very, very slow." He keeps a monthly index of tax receipts in Illinois, a sort of first read on income and spending in the state, and an early indicator of its economy. That index has climbed for 12 straight months, yet it's still below the point suggesting healthy growth.

In Missouri — where the St. Louis area makes up at least 40 percent of the state's $244 billion economy — growth has been lagging for a long time. Adjusted for inflation, economic output per person actually fell slightly in the 2000s, while growing nearly 7 percent nationwide.

There are many reasons for this, said Jim Diffley, an economist with IHS who studies regional economies.

Part of it is slow population growth, and part of it is simply the mix of businesses in the state. Looking ahead, he expects that places with strong high-tech manufacturing and business service sectors will thrive. Regions that depend on construction and retail spending will continue to lag.

"You need to be on the cutting edge of the things that are in demand tomorrow," he said.

Of course, that's easier said than done.

In April, Missouri officials wrapped up a six-month-long study of the state's economy, with a panel of business leaders recommending a focus on sectors such as advanced manufacturing, biotech and financial services. David Kerr, head of Missouri's Department of Economic Development, has said that the plan will be refined and rolled out over the next few years, but that they would start right away.

They're working on implementation now, said DED spokesman John Fougere, and he said the new numbers highlighted the need for a new approach. "This is exactly why Gov. Nixon launched the process," Fougere said.

Meanwhile, St. Louis-area business groups such as the Regional Chamber and Growth Association have criticized state legislators for their inability to reach a compromise on reforming development tax credits — which in turn has stalled new incentive programs to help Missouri's science, IT and air cargo industries.

But, Giertz said, there's only so much government can do. It can establish a stable tax climate, build roads, provide good schools. The rest is really up to the private sector.

"Governors get blamed and governors take credit," he said. "But most of what happens happens because of the dynamics of a state and region. We are what we are."

Decline and fall of the American empire

America in 2011 is Rome in 200AD or Britain on the eve of the first world war: an empire at the zenith of its power but with cracks beginning to show.

The experience of both Rome and Britain suggests that it is hard to stop the rot once it has set in, so here are the a few of the warning signs of trouble ahead: military overstretch, a widening gulf between rich and poor, a hollowed-out economy, citizens using debt to live beyond their means, and once-effective policies no longer working. The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence.

Empires decline for many different reasons but certain factors recur. There is an initial reluctance to admit that there is much to fret about, and there is the arrival of a challenger (or several challengers) to the settled international order. In Spain's case, the rival was Britain. In Britain's case, it was America. In America's case, the threat comes from China.

Britain's decline was extremely rapid after 1914. By 1945, the UK was a bit player in the bipolar world dominated by the US and the Soviet Union, and sterling – the heart of the 19th-century gold standard – was rapidly losing its lustre as a reserve currency. There had been concerns, voiced as far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition, that the hungrier, more efficient producers in Germany and the US threatened Britain's industrial hegemony. But no serious policy action was taken. In the second half of the 19th century there was a subtle shift in the economy, from the north of England to the south, from manufacturing to finance, from making things to living off investment income. By 1914, the writing was on the wall.

In two important respects, the US today differs from Britain a century ago. It is much bigger, which means that it benefits from continent-wide economies of scale, and it has a presence in the industries that will be strategically important in the first half of the 21st century. Britain in 1914 was over-reliant on coal and shipbuilding, industries that struggled between the world wars, and had failed to grasp early enough the importance of emerging new technologies.

Even so, there are parallels. There has been a long-term shift of emphasis in the US economy away from manufacturing and towards finance. There is a growing challenge from producers in other parts of the world.

America's own 'Lost Decade'

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The economy is still struggling. And Americans are in for a long and painful adjustment period.

One major reason: their own household debt.

Many experts say private debt owed by households, as well as businesses, is an even bigger problem than the government debt that's getting so much attention lately. And it won't be solved without a difficult stretch of high unemployment and slow growth that will likely last for six or seven more years, producing America's own version of Japan's "Lost Decade."

"I think it's one of the major headwinds we're fighting against right now," said David Wyss, a visiting fellow at Brown University and former chief economist at Standard & Poor's.

Following a real estate bust that hit Japan in the 1990s, the economy fell into a prolonged period of economic stagnation that lasted for years and became known as the country's 'Lost Decade.'

In the U.S., the situation is shaping up to be similarly stubborn.

"I think we're in for a lot of disappointment," said Carmen Reinhart, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a leading expert on financial crises. "If historic norms hold, deleveraging isn't pretty, and it is not a smooth process. We're already four years into this. I don't think the next six years look great."

The bubble economy that led to the recession was fueled by American consumers, businesses and banks taking on too much debt, particularly in real estate, during the decade before the crisis.
Fewer jobs for the unemployed

Total private sector debt -- held by consumers and businesses combined -- peaked at 283% of gross domestic product in early 2008 -- nearly three times the size of the entire economy.

The good news is that since the recession, consumers have been paying off debt and saving more. Private debt fell to 234% by the end of last year, though much of that decline resulted from bad mortgage debt shifting from banks to the government through the bailout of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Reinhart said.

But even with some modest improvement in savings in recent years, households still can't afford the current debt levels, which are well above the average disposable income.

"At least households are being prudent and rational and bringing the debt down. But I worry we'll see it leveling off higher than I think it should," said Wyss.

That's the major reason why it will be more difficult for Americans to start spending again as they did coming out of past downturns when they had only a fraction of current debt burdens.

'Zombie consumers'

Without a jump in consumer spending, the economy is unlikely to really get going again. And until that happens, Americans can expect to see lingering high unemployment and additional suffering in the years ahead.

"The engine-of-growth role that [consumer spending] played in earlier recoveries is unlikely in this one," Reinhart said.

Stephen Roach, the chair of Morgan Stanley Asia, wrote a recent note suggesting that American consumers were turning into "zombie consumers," greatly because "burdened with underwater mortgages, excessive debt, and subpar saving, U.S. consumers are stretched as never before."

And the process of unwinding those huge debt loads is slow going.

Despite Americans paying down debt, saving more of their paychecks, and shedding some of their debt through bankruptcy and foreclosure, Reinhart estimates that the amount of consumer debt alone has declined to only about 92% of the gross domestic product.

That's down from only 98% at its high point at the end of 2007 -- a peak that shot up from less than 70% in 1999.

"The deleveraging process doesn't really get underway quickly," Reinhart said.

Friday, June 3, 2011

10-Year Real Wage Gains Worse Than During Depression

The past decade of wage growth has been one for the record books — but not one to celebrate.

The increase in total private-sector wages, adjusted for inflation, from the start of 2001 has fallen far short of any 10-year period since World War II, according to Commerce Department data. In fact, if the data are to be believed, economywide wage gains have even lagged those in the decade of the Great Depression (adjusted for deflation).

Two years into the recovery, and 10 years after the nation fell into a post-dot-com bubble recession, this legacy of near-stagnant wages has helped ground the economy despite unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus — and even an impressive bull market.

Over the past decade, real private-sector wage growth has scraped bottom at 4%, just below the 5% increase from 1929 to 1939, government data show.

To put that in perspective, since the Great Depression, 10-year gains in real private wages had always exceeded 25% with one exception: the period ended in 1982-83, when the jobless rate spiked above 10% and wage gains briefly decelerated to 16%.

There are several culprits, of which by far the biggest has been the net loss of 2.7 million private nonfarm jobs since March 2001. (Government payrolls rose by 1.2 million over that span.)

That excess supply of labor has given employers the upper hand in holding back wage gains.

Then there is a dramatic, decade-long job shift that has occurred. The often higher-paying goods-producing sector, including construction and manufacturing, has shed 26% of its workers. Meanwhile, typically lower-paying service industries have kept growing their payrolls: social assistance (41%), nursing homes (21%), leisure and hospitality (10%).

"To the extent you have more hotels and fewer manufacturing jobs," the changing composition of the work force has been a negative for wage growth, said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

Behind this job shift is the globalization of production, which has fed "the substitution of capital for labor" amid a push for productivity and competitiveness.

"Brain, not brawn, is required" for today's high-skilled factory jobs in the U.S., Silvia said.

A third trend is the increase in nonwage compensation — fueled by the growth of tax-free health care spending — which has eroded real wage gains.

A fourth factor, rising food and fuel prices, has taken a bite out of real wage growth in the past year.

The long dry spell for real wage gains tests the natural resilience of America's consumer economy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Bin Laden Decade

Visiting the Middle East last week, and then coming back to Washington, I am left with one overriding impression: Bin Laden really did a number on all of us.

I am talking in particular about the Arab states, America and Israel — all of whom have deeper holes than ever to dig out of thanks to the Bin Laden decade, 2001 to 2011, and all of whom have less political authority than ever to make the hard decisions needed to get out of the holes.

Let’s start with the Arabs. In 2001, Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Just a few months later, in 2002, the U.N. issued the “Arab Human Development Report,” which described the very pathologies that produced Al Qaeda and prescribed remedies for overcoming them. The report, written by Arab experts, said the Arab states suffered from three huge deficits: a deficit of freedom and respect for human rights as the bases of good governance, a deficit of knowledge in the form of decent schooling and a deficit of women’s empowerment.

Instead of America and the Arab world making that report their joint post-Bin Laden agenda, they ignored it. Washington basically gave the Arab dictators a free pass to tighten their vise grip on their people — as long as these Arab leaders arrested, interrogated and held the Islamic militants in their societies and eliminated them as a threat to us.

It wasn’t meant as a free pass, and we really did have a security problem with jihadists, and we really didn’t mean to give up on our freedom agenda — but Arab leaders, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, sensed where our priorities were. That is why Mubarak actually arrested the one Egyptian who dared to run against him for president in his last election, and he and the other Arab autocrats moved to install their sons as successors.

As the Arab leaders choked their people that much tighter, along came Facebook, Twitter and cellphone cameras, which enabled those people to share grievances, organize rebellions, lose their fear and expose their leaders: “Smile, your brutality is on Candid Camera.”

That’s the good news. The challenging news is that because of the Bin Laden decade, these newly liberated Arab states are in an even deeper hole in terms of economic development, population growth and education. They each have a huge amount of catch-up to do that will require some painful economic and educational reforms.

But as one can quickly detect from a visit to Cairo, right now Egypt has a political vacuum and, if anything, is tending toward more populist, less-market-oriented economics. Yet, in return for infusions of cash, Egypt will probably have to accept some kind of I.M.F.-like austerity-reform package and slash government employment — just when unemployment and expectations are now sky high. Right now, no Egyptian party or leader has the authority that will be required to implement such reforms.

In America, President George W. Bush used the post-9/11 economic dip to push through a second tax cut we could not afford. He followed that with a Medicare prescription drug entitlement we cannot afford and started two wars in the wake of 9/11 without raising taxes to pay for them — all at a time when we should have been saving money in anticipation of the baby boomers’ imminent retirement. As such, our nation’s fiscal hole is deeper than ever and Republicans and Democrats — rather than coming together and generating the political authority needed for us to take our castor oil to compensate for our binge — are just demonizing one another.

As the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi points out, governance is based on authority “that is generated in one of two ways — by trust or by fear. Both of those sources of authority are disintegrating right now.” The Arab leaders governed by fear, and their people are not afraid anymore. And the Western democracies governed by generating trust, but their societies today are more splintered than ever.

Israel has the same problem. The combination of Yasir Arafat’s foolhardy decision to start a second intifada rather than embrace President Bill Clinton’s two-state peace plan, followed by the rise of Bin Laden, which diverted the U.S. from energetically pursuing the peace process, gave the Israeli right a free hand to expand West Bank settlements. There are now some 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Absent some amazing Palestinian peace overture, and maybe even with one, I do not see any Israeli leader with enough authority today to pull Israel out of the West Bank. So, for now, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Bin Laden both win: In the short run, Bibi gets to keep the West Bank, with 300,000 Jews occupying 2.4 million Palestinians. And in the long run, Bin Laden helps to destroy Israel as a Jewish democracy.

For all these reasons, I find myself asking the same question in Cairo, Washington and Jerusalem: “Who will tell the people?” Who will tell the people how deep the hole is that Bin Laden helped each of us dig over the last decade — and who will tell the people how hard and how necessary it will be to climb out?