BOSTON — Late night comedians are always looking for laughs.
This is, of course, right and good: the use of comedy and satire is a highly satisfying way to deal with human foibles, from Jonathan Swift to Jon Stewart.
Laughter is also a way of coping with pain, which is widespread in an American economy where median household income fell by 1.5 percent last year to just over $50,000, and where millions of people remain unemployed or underemployed.
Enter Mitt Romney and the ongoing media storm over the Mother Jones "secret tapes," in which the GOP candidate said 47 percent of Americans are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled."
The official campaign video purports to show real Americans reacting to a "secret video" obtained by Mother Jones of Romney at a dinner with private donors.
In the Mother Jones video now going viral around the web, Romney spoke — in an "off the cuff" manner — about the 47 percent of Americans who he said are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled."
This is especially true when it comes to middle and lower income Americans, particularly those who receive government assistance and — according to the GOP presidential candidate — voted for President Barack Obama four years ago.
So it's a safe bet to assume that Romney's standing with this group won't be helped by a video scoop today from Mother Jones, which features a "secret video" of Romney speaking at a private fundraiser earlier this year.
"During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don't assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them. Fielding a question from a donor about how he could triumph in November, Romney replied: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."
Romney went on to say the following: "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Here's the clip obtained by Mother Jones, which has been blurred to protect the identity of the photographer, and which Corn claims has been verified by the publication:
The Mother Jones story also includes video clips of Romney speaking candidly on a variety of subjects, ranging from why he's treating Obama "gingerly" (voters don't want to be wrong about 2008), to extolling his team of experienced "consultants" (including those who have worked for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others), to what he thinks wins elections (political ads), and to what will happen to the financial markets if he wins (they'll go up).
UPDATE: On Tuesday, Mother Jones released a second batch of secret videos, including Mitt Romney's unvarnished thoughts on several foreign policy issues, including Israel, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and his assessment of Obama's foreign policy moves.
MANILA, Philippines — The collapse of US apparel manufacturing has been good to Fely Curameng, a Filipina peasant-turned-factory boss. Through windows in her air-conditioned office, she looks out upon of an army of bent backs. A hive of workers on the factory floor hunch over automatic sewing machines. Each day, incoming bales of cloth are cut and stitched into signature American brands: Dickies, Wrangler, Lee and more. But now, as lower wage countries emerge, even Curameng has fallen victim to the perils of outsourcing.
BOSTON — As the middle class shrinks in America, it swells elsewhere. In Asia, to be exact.
The numbers, according to experts from the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC, are staggering.
"By 2021," write Homi Kharas and Geoffrey Gertz in a chapter of the compilation, "China's Emerging Middle Class," "there could be more than 2 billion Asians in middle-class households."
According to our estimates, by 2015, for the first time in 300 years, the number of Asian middle-class consumers will equal the number in Europe and North America. ... In China alone there could be more than 670 million middle-class consumers, compared with only perhaps 150 million today.
This is not a done deal, they say, since many things depend on as-yet-to-be developed infrastructure, education and health care.
But assuming these systems can rise to the occasion, China could become the world's largest middle class by 2020. Whereas today it accounts for only 4 percent of the global middle class, making it seventh on the list.
Already, global markets are shifting to reflect the changing dynamics of the global middle class. (Data from Kharas and Gertz's chapter.)
In 2000, the US accounted for 37 percent of all car sales, while China accounted for barely 1 percent. Fast forward to today, and China is the world's largest auto market. 13.6 million vehicles sold in China in 2009, well above the 10.4 million that sold in the United States.
BANGKOK, Thailand — If you’ve got a pair of tattered, grunge-era Levi’s, check the tag. If it reads “Made in Myanmar,” you’ve got a relic from a time when US apparel makers were still willing to do business in Myanmar (also called Burma) and risk condemnation for colluding with ruling despots.
A lot has changed since 1992, the year Levi Strauss closed Myanmar operations while announcing it wasn’t possible to do business there without “directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights.”
Now, as a reform movement nudges Western sanctions towards the dustbin, Myanmar appears primed to compete with other Asian nations on the come-up (think Bangladesh and Vietnam) and start churning out American clothing brands en masse.
This is almost inevitable. Stitching clothes is highly repetitive, low-pay work that gravitates to poor countries. Myanmar, located between China and India, hits all the right strategic and economic notes. In fact, the country already has a sizable industry that was gutted in 2003, the year American trade embargoes criminalized shipping clothes to the US.
Myanmar is among the poorest nations in Asia. And when extremely poor countries attempt to pull themselves off the ground, they often have little else to offer but dirt-cheap wages and unskilled masses desperate for steady jobs. That’s why garment stitching is, in the words of Japanese researcher Toshihiro Kudo, the “first rung on the industrialization ladder.”
Expectations are high, he writes, that garment stitching will become this ascendent nation’s “driving force” in the manufacturing sector.
So if you buy cheap threads from H&M, The Gap or any of the other brands that already source clothes from impoverished reaches of Southeast Asia, expect “Made in Myanmar” to reappear in your closet in the very near future.
BANGKOK, Thailand — Want a “Made in the USA” tag stitched inside your iconic Levi’s 501 jeans?
Your patriotism will cost you.
In the outsourcing era, all Levi’s jeans are stitched outside America with one exception: a single line of jeans produced at a factory called “White Oak” in Greensboro, NC. The mill is staffed by old hands who’ve narrowly survived the American garment manufacturing industry’s collapse.
Levi’s ad copy tells you that the jeans are “handcrafted by our faithful friends at the White Oak denim mill” and “proudly made in the red, white and blue” before reminding you that 501 jeans are “the ultimate icon of American culture.”
If you’re feeling overrun with American pride, I hope your pants-shopping budget can keep up with your patriotic zeal.
The standard-issue version of these 501 jeans costs a whopping $178. (Though, as I write this in early September, you can acquire a much cheaper version if you’re self-assured enough to wear purple jeans: a pair in the color “eggplant” sell for $58. A pair of “crushed wine” 501s is going for $138.)
HONG KONG — Almost as quickly as China’s burgeoning middle class has catapulted into existence, there have been fears that its days of heady growth could be ending.
With the economy slowing, and the manufacturing boom that propelled it looking shaky, many experts inside and outside the country argue that it will have to go through a period of painful rebalancing before middle-class growth can be resumed.
In a barnstorming editorial for Caijing magazine titled “The Ten Grave Problems,” Deng Yuwen argues that the problems created by the last decade of growth may outweigh its achievements. Among the problems he lists is the “failure to nurture and grow a middle class.”
In the last decade, benefiting from the economic boom, the sheer number of middle-class people increased. However, the growth rate lags far behind general economic growth rates, as a result of the lack of any mechanism to nurture the middle class. As regards income distribution, reform has stagnated, resulting in an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor.
The road leading towards the middle class is becoming even bumpier for low-income households. High housing prices have eroded people’s spending power, putting middle-class living standards beyond their reach. Bearish stock markets have sucked in people’s savings yet denied them the chance of getting returns on investment. These are just some areas where the government should have done better.