The American savings crisis, explained


Since the 1970s, our personal savings rate has fallen from 12 percent to just 3 percent today. Almost half of all households don’t have enough money socked away to meet a $400 emergency. At least one-third of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

It’s easy to blame this on failings of individual discipline, and plenty of people do. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recently griped about Americans who “are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” And there’s a whole cottageindustry of personal finance scolds insisting that everyone could save massive amounts if they just had the willpower.

This is nonsense.

Americans didn’t magically suffer a collective collapse in self-discipline over the last four decades. So what changed? The economy, stupid.

Here are three crucial economic factors that make saving much, much harder than it used to be.

1. Stagnant incomes

Before you can save money, you actually have to earn a decent paycheck. But the growth in hourly compensation ground to a halt in the 1970s, and has barely budged upwards since.

Look at this stunning chart. As you can see, a few decades ago, low- and middle-income Americans used to reap the biggest percentage income growth, with the rich getting the lowest percentage growth. That trend is totally reversed today, with the richest of the rich pocketing enormous income growth while everyone else stagnates.

Is it any wonder the personal savings rate has plummeted from 12 percent to 3 percent? Most people simply don’t have any money to save.

2. Skyrocketing prices

Over the same time period that paychecks stagnated, the pricetags for things like health care, child care, and college educations all shot up much faster than inflation. The same is true for homes in the geographic areas where jobs are still available these days (i.e. big cities) — the price of housing and rent went through the roof.

Most families can’t just pay for less child care or education or health care or housing than it used to. The needs for these goods and services are fixed. The result is that paying for them inevitably chews upincreasingly enormous portions of family budgets. From 1972 to 2005, the median American family’s spending on health care rose by 74 percent. For mortgages, it rose 76 percent; for automobile expenses, 52 percent; and for child care and college expenses, it rose 100 percent.

Even though the median American household makes more now than in 1972, it actually has a bit less income left over after those critical needs are factored in: $19,560 in 1972 versus $18,140 in 2005.

Americans are squeezed between incomes that stopped rising and costs of living that kept rising a lot.

3. Saving no longer pays

Half the point of saving is that you earn interest on your money. But over the last three and a half decades, the interest rates people can earn on their savings also went right into the ditch. As my colleague Matthew Walther recently pointed out, savings instruments called certificates of deposit (CDs) used to earn 11 or 12 percent for a six-month or one-year maturity, respectively. Our grandparents understandably considered them goldmines.

Not so much today. “A five-year CD taken out in 2017 is due to yield a whopping 0.86 percent,” Walther wrote.

How did that happen?

Interest rates are basically a function of how much aggregate demand there is in the economy. If there’s a lot of untapped market potential out there, demand for investment capital will be high relative to the supply. And interest rates can typically be understood as the “price” of investment capital. If banks are hungry to invest in a demand-heavy economy, they’re more likely to pay you a high interest rate for your money.

At the same time, if aggregate demand is high, then businesses will be desperate for workers, and will outbid each other on wage offers to attract enough labor. That can bleed into price increases, at which point the Federal Reserve steps in with interest rate hikes to keep inflation in check.

Since 1980, America has been struggling with chronicshortfalls in aggregate demand.

The federal government can raise aggregate demand, either through direct public investment or by getting more money into consumers’ pockets through welfare state spending. But the conservative turn in American governance inaugurated by Ronald Reagan pulled way back on that. The Fed itself also went nuclear to fight inflation around 1980: It jacked interest rates into the stratosphere, causing a massive recession and a wipeout for the working


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And while I’m at it, I don’t think Al Franken has done enough to deserve anything like the treatment he is getting.

In these economically challenging times, is it unlikely there could be some gold digging going on?

Here is the text I sent to Minnesota Public Radio on Keillor’s behalf.  I invite you to read the story and comment to MPR at the links provided.


MPR Comment Form:

My Text:

Given the strong possibility that the accusation against Mr. Keillor could be entirely petty in nature, I think he deserves some benefit of the doubt. This harassment craze has gone over the edge into an irrational witch hunt that is doing much more damage than good. Mr. Keillor has been a HIGHLY positive influence in our national culture and in the hearts and minds of millions of individuals. At the very least, he deserves to be reinstated to desk duty until the investigation of the accusation has been concluded.



Ocean plastic a ‘planetary crisis’ – UN

By Roger Harrabin BBC environment analyst, Nairobi

Plastic on Ivory Coast beachImage copyright AFP
Image caption Plastic waste has a variety of detrimental effects on the environment

Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned.

Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution.

“This is a planetary crisis,” she said. “In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.”

She was speaking to BBC News ahead of a UN environment summit in Nairobi.

Delegates at the meeting want tougher action against plastic litter.

Ms Svensson had just been saddened by a Kenyan turtle hospital which treats animals that have ingested waste plastic.

She saw a juvenile turtle named Kai, brought in by fishermen a month ago because she was floating on the sea surface.

Plastic waste was immediately suspected, because if turtles have eaten too much plastic it bloats their bellies and they can’t control their buoyancy.

Kai was given laxatives for two weeks to clear out her system, and Ms Svensson witnessed an emotional moment as Kai was carried back to the sea to complete her recovery.

‘Heart-breaking’ reality

“It’s a very happy moment,” she said. “But sadly we can’t be sure that Kai won’t be back again if she eats more plastic.

“It’s heart-breaking, but it’s reality. We just have to do much more to make sure the plastics don’t get into the sea in the first place.”

Caspar van de Geer runs the turtle hospital for the group Local Ocean Conservation at Watamu in eastern Kenya.

He had demonstrated earlier how uncannily a plastic film pulsating in the water column mimics the actions of the jellyfish some turtles love to eat.

“Turtles aren’t stupid,” he said. “It’s really difficult to tell the difference between plastics and jellyfish, and it may be impossible for a turtle to learn.”

On a pin board he’s compiled a grid of sealed clear plastic bags like the ones used at airports for cosmetics.

Here they contain the plastic fragments removed from the stomachs of sick turtles. Half of the turtles brought here after eating plastics have died.

A huge table at the hospital is laden with an array of plastic waste collected off local beaches – from fishing nets and nylon ropes to unidentifiable fragments of plastic film.


There’s waste from down the coast as far as Tanzania – but also from Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, Thailand, Indonesia and even a bottle from far-away Japan.

There’s a score of mysterious white plastic rings which staff speculate are the rims of yoghurt pots, a plastic lighter. There are disintegrating woven plastic fertiliser bags, plastic straws – and much more.

Bite marks show some items like small suncream bottles have clearly been nibbled at by fish, because they look like potential food.

Local people scour the beach daily for plastic waste. They want clean beaches, and they’re aware that local hotels want the same.

But along the high water line millions of the fragments of plastics are mixed in with dried sea grass, too small to be collected.

countries producing most plastic waste worldwide

Gaining momentum?

“The scale of the challenge is absolutely enormous,” says Ms Svensson. She’s backing a resolution by Norway this week for the world to completely eliminate plastic waste into the ocean.

If all nations agree to that long-term goal it’ll be considered a UN success.

Certainly, it sounds more ambitious than the current commitment to substantially decrease waste inputs into the sea by 2025.

But some environmentalists argue that the absence of a timetable for preventing waste is a huge failing.


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Science Suggests We’re Making Fish Homicidal Through Antidepressants We Flush Into the Water

By Yves SmithDecember 1, 2017

By Reynard Loki, AlterNet’s environment, food and animal rights editor. Follow him on Twitter @reynardloki. Email him at Originally published at Alternet

New research has found that human antidepressant medications are accumulating in the brains of fish in the Great Lakes region. Earlier research indicates the drugs could be making fish antisocial and unnaturally aggressive.

The scientists behind the recent study, from Ramkhamhaeng University and Khon Kaen University, both in Thailand, and the State University of New York at Buffalo, looked at fish living in the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario via Niagara Falls.

“The continuous release of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) into freshwater systems impacts the health of aquatic organisms,” they concluded, adding that the cause was “direct exposure” to the discharge from wastewater treatment plants.

Approximately 70 percent of consumed pharmaceuticals are excreted in urine, and subsequently aren’t filtered out by municipal sewage systems, which primarily focus on removing disease-causing bacteria and solids like human excrement. So Prozac and other medications end up in the river, leaving fish and other wildlife exposed to a host of foreign chemicals.

Largemouth Bass is one of the 10 species of Great Lakes fish found with human antidepressants in their brains. (image: Rostislav Stefanek/Shutterstock)

In addition to various pharmaceuticals, the researchers found ingredients from personal care products in the bodies of all 10 species of fish they studied. This disturbing discovery could have significant impacts not just on the species impacted, but up and down the food chain—and entire ecosystems.

Unnatural-Born Killers

One impact is on the behavior of the fish. “When fish swim in waters tainted with antidepressant drugs, they become anxious, antisocial and sometimes even homicidal,” writes Brian Bienkowski of Environmental Health News, who notes that

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The Motherboard Guide to Avoiding State Surveillance


This is excerpted from the Motherboard Guide to Not Getting Hacked, our comprehensive guide to digital security. We recommend you read that entire guide if you are generally looking to improve your privacy and security—if you do not take basic steps such as using unique passwords for every account and enabling two-factor authentication on your accounts, this guide will do little to help you. This guide, and that one, will be regularly updated. This post was last updated November 14. -Jason Koebler

In the wake of September 11th, the United States built out a massive surveillance apparatus, undermined constitutional protections, and limited possible recourse to the legal system.

Given the extraordinary capabilities of state surveillance in the US—as well as the capabilities of governments around the world—you might be feeling a little paranoid! It’s not just the NSA—the FBI and even local cops have more tools at their disposal to snoop on people than ever before. And there is a terrifying breadth of passive and unexpected surveillance to worry about: Your social media accounts can be subpoenaed, your emails or calls can be scooped up in bulk collection efforts, and your cell phone metadata can be captured by Stingrays and IMSI catchers meant to target someone else.

Remember, anti-surveillance is not the cure, it’s just one thing you can do to protect yourself and others. You probably aren’t the most at-risk person, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice better security. Surveillance is a complicated thing: You can practice the best security in the world, but if you’re sending messages to someone who doesn’t, you can still be spied on through their device or through their communications with other people (if they discuss the information you told them, for instance).

That’s why it’s important that we normalize good security practices: If you don’t have that much to be afraid of, it’s all the more important for you to pick up some of these tools, because doing that will normalize the actions of your friends who are, say, undocumented immigrants, or engaged in activism. Trump’s CIA Director thinks that using encryption “may itself be a red flag.”If you have “nothing to hide,” your use of encryption can actually help people at risk by obfuscating that red flag. By following this guide, you are making someone else safer. Think of it as herd immunity. The more people practice good security, the safer everyone else is.


The security tips provided earlier in this guide still apply: If you can protect yourself from getting hacked, you will have a better shot at preventing yourself from being surveilled


Continue caring Vor yourself and loved ones.


Well.  I guess Russian and Chinese media won’t need to brainstorm how to demonize him.


Trump makes “Pocahontas” remark at Navajo code talkers event, referring to Sen. Warren

By Emily Tillett CBS News November 27, 2017, 3:54 AM

President Trump lashed out at a frequent foe of his while hosting an event for Native American code talkers at the White House Monday, honoring war heroes who used their native language to outwit the enemy and protect U.S. battlefield communications during battle in World Wars I and II.

Mr. Trump hailed the men as “special people” who have an ultimate “love of the country.” He also took the solemn occasion to acknowledge the history of the native people in America while seemingly slamming Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, as Pocahontas, a reference to claims she made about being part Native American in the past.

“You’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who


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