Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, April 7, 2014 6:59 pm

Do peons dream of loyalty?

I spent my 16th, 17th, and 18th summers working in food service at the Carowinds amusement park on the N.C./S.C. line near Charlotte. It was hard, hot, sticky, messy, occasionally dangerous work — hot frying fat is nothing to mess with, which doesn’t keep teens from messing with it, and I once got knocked back 10 feet into a stream cabinet when I accidentally touched a bare wire on a 440-volt grill I was trying to unplug. (Had I not been wearing rubber-soled shoes, an electrician told me, I might’ve been killed.) When I finished my first full day of work — 9 hours in a steamy kitchen on a humid April Saturday — I was in outstanding physical shape and still as physically tired as I would ever be in my life until I got E. coli food poisoning two decades later.

We had all kinds of rules about customer relations, grooming (sideburns no lower than the earlobe), our itchy-ass polyester uniforms, not sitting while on duty, and so on.

So when I read this post on working in retail by ex-journalist Joseph Williams, I didn’t find a whole lot that was new to me, other than the vastly increased amount of theft-prevention activity. But a lot of it was new to him, or forgotten since his last stint in retail 30  or so years ago. And there’s a small part of me that wants to criticize his ignorance, because retail and restaurant work is one of the fastest-growing segments of the labor force in an economy that is not, generally, creating enough new jobs even to match growth in the working-age population, let alone bring down the un- and under-employment rates. If journalists know nothing else about the economy, they need to know that, and what the ramifications are for the growing numbers of Americans for whom this is real life.

Obtaining work in retail had changed a lot since the 1980s. What used to require a paper application and a schmooze with the manager has turned into an antiseptic online process where human interaction—and the potential for an employment-discrimination complaint—is kept to a minimum.

That put me at a distinct disadvantage.

In person, thanks to good genes, people often assume I’m younger than I am. On paper, however, I’m just another overeducated, middle-aged, middle-class refugee whose last retail experience dates to the Reagan administration.

Not to mention retail employers these days have their pick of applicants: the Great Recession added countless numbers of desperate workers like me to the annual labor-market influx of college students and high schoolers. According to an Economic Policy Institute report, “In 1968, 48 percent of low-wage workers had a high school degree, compared to 79 percent in 2012.” Likewise, the percentage of people in these jobs who have spent some time in college has skyrocketed, jumping from under 17 percent to more than 45 percent in the same time. All of us are in a race to the bottom of the wage pool.

Although older job candidates bring experience and skills to the table, their job applications typically blink like red warning lights to retail managers: overqualified, overpaid, and probably harder to manage than some high school or college kid. In a word: trouble.

“Think about it, Joey—that’s why there are online applications,” my sister, a veteran human-resources professional, told me. “If you apply online, and you never hear back, they don’t have to tell you why they rejected you and face a discrimination lawsuit.”

I soon realized the only way I’d have a shot in retail is if I dumbed down my job application, met directly with the person in charge before applying, and used my journalism story-telling skills to sell myself, stretching the truth past the breaking point.

He also discusses how “wage theft” — essentially, employers ripping free labor from employees, works, and this, too, I remember from Carowinds:

Working in retail takes more skill than just selling stuff. Besides the mindless tasks one expects—folding, stacking, sorting, fetching things for customers—I frequently had to tackle a series of housekeeping chores that Stretch never mentioned in our welcome-aboard chat. Performed during the late shift, those chores usually meant I’d have to stay well past the scheduled 9 p.m. quitting time.

Mop the floors in the bathroom, replace the toilet paper and scrub the toilets if necessary. Vacuum. Empty the garbage. Wipe down the glass front doors, every night, even if they don’t really need it. It was all part of the job, done after your shift has ended but without overtime pay.

In at least one respect, I had it better than this guy: Once in a while, I actually did get overtime pay. Not always. Not often. But once in a while.

This guy was paid $10 an hour in a state where the minimum wage is $7.25. He has an interesting take on whether the minimum wage should be raised, and once again, it involves wage theft (highlighted text below):

Proponents [of a minimum-wage increase] argue that three extra dollars an hour can lift hundreds of thousands of workers out of poverty. Opponents say a raise for hourly-wage workers would keep some businesses from hiring and force others to make layoffs to stay in the black.

As a worker who earned $10 an hour, I say: Neither argument is entirely true.

Sporting Goods Inc., I came to realize, was fine with paying me a few dollars more than the minimum wage—officially $7.25 an hour in Maryland—because it had other ways to compensate itself, including disqualifying me from overtime or paid sick days. Requiring me to play Cinderella on the closing shift also saved management the money it would have had to pay a cleaning company to maintain the store. Yet even $10 an hour—about $400 a week before taxes—can barely keep a single adult afloat in a city like Washington.

A modest studio apartment in a safe neighborhood would easily consume an entire month’s pay. Meanwhile, depending on circumstance, an annual salary of roughly $20,000 might not automatically qualify a retail worker for government assistance. One of my co-workers, a young single mother I called Flygirl, lived with her mom and commuted 40 minutes, one-way, from a far-flung suburb to make ends meet. Most of my co-workers, in their early 20s or 30s, had roommates, spouses, or second jobs. None of them seemed to be making it on their retail salaries alone.

Even though I was living rent-free in a guest bedroom, my every-other-Thursday paycheck couldn’t help me climb out of my hole, particularly after the state took half my pre-tax, $300 weekly salary for child support payments. Grateful just to have a job, I didn’t think twice when I noticed Stretch sometimes cut me from the daily crew and kept my hours under 30 per week—until Mike, a longtime friend and a former union shop steward, explained.

“You’re part-time,” he told me. “If you work 40 hours or more, they’ll have to give you benefits.”

Because I live across town, meanwhile, I had an hour-long commute that cost as much as $10 a day round-trip on public transportation.

“Dude,” my best friend Jamie said. “After taxes, you’re making just enough to get to and from work each day.”

And when the writer finally finds a new job, one that pays a living wage, he tells his boss, who promptly criticizes his work ethic and  loyalty.

We seldom get to pick either the messages we receive or the messengers from whom we receive them. And it would have been nice if this guy hadn’t landed in poverty through his own doing, at least in part. But his story matters no matter his personal failings, because his story is pretty much the story of everybody who works in retail.

As was discussed in the Ideas section of Sunday’s News & Record, North Carolina still has about three unemployed people for every available job opening, and that doesn’t even count the so-called “discouraged” workers who have stopped looking for work and therefore are not counted as unemployed. Nor does it count the people who, though qualified for better jobs, are working part-time or minimum-wage jobs because that’s all they can find.

Their experiences are not hugely different from this guy’s. If you’re not one of them, you probably know many people who are. The American economy is screwing them to the wall, and it’s happening because of conscious and intentional decisions made by lawmakers in thrall to large corporations. It’s 21st-century peonage. And it needs to stop.

There is dignity and morality in honest work, even in retail, as long as workers are paid and treated fairly. But there is no dignity for the worker, and no morality for the employer, in taking from the worker what is rightfully his and debasing and degrading him while doing so.

 

Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:18 pm

You keep using that word. It does not mean what you think it means.

And speaking of invaluable economist Dean Baker, he schools NPR, not that they’ll pay any attention:

This adjective ["enormous" -- Lex] appeared in a top of the hour news piece (sorry, no link [this NPR blog post uses the adjective "massive" -- Lex] referring to the spending bill approved by Congress on Wednesday evening. It would be interesting to know how it made this assessment. While the government spends more money each year than any of its listeners will see in their lifetime, it spends less relative to the size of its economy than almost any other wealthy country. It is also spending less relative to the size of the economy than it did in the years 2009-2012. The domestic discretionary portion of the budget, which was close to half of the spending bill, is smaller relative to the size of the economy than it has been in decades.

It’s a simple point, but one journalists at even the biggest outlets in the business can’t seem to learn: a number is meaningless — or, worse, misleading — absent context. I bolded the last part because although I want to shout this in all upper-case letters, I have chosen merely to emphasize it instead.

Monday, January 13, 2014 6:08 pm

A $90 billion story about GM that I had not heard before

Filed under: Shooting the wounded — Lex @ 6:08 pm
Tags: , , , ,

From Ed at Gin & Tacos:

… did you know, despite this fact being absent both from Michael Moore’s ultra-liberal documentary and ten thousand mainstream media accounts of GM’s bankruptcy a few years ago, that the financial collapse of what was once the world’s largest corporation was precipitated by Roger Smith’s bright idea to replace all of the autoworkers with robots? True story. General Motors under Smith spent $90 billion on robotics and automation in nine years.

Think about that for a second. Ninety billion dollars. $90,000,000,000.00. Of course none of it worked, with factory robots breaking down constantly, painting one another, and welding car doors shut. It’s easy to say that the company got what it deserved and forget about it. But think for a second about the mindset of a group of people so committed to the concept of eliminating the workforce (and the UAW) that it would piss away ninety billion dollars trying to do it. Even if the Worker Bots worked flawlessly, how could that possibly make financial sense? How many decades and centuries of “savings” from lower wages to earn back those sunk costs? And how much money would the Robo-Factories demand in the future for maintenance, upgrades, and eventual replacement with newer and better technology? For $90 billion, GM simply could have purchased Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and most of its other foreign rivals – several times over. Of course, in that scenario they’d still have to pay people to make cars.

The fact is that General Motors didn’t go bankrupt, it committed financial suicide because its executive culture fostered a loathing for the UAW and the hourly workforce that was so extreme that it obliterated basic logic and business sense. The idea was not to replace the workers with Japanese robots (GM Robotics was acquired from Fujitsu) because it would save money; it was to replace the workers with robots because [expletive] the workers.

Phrased a little less colorfully, that mindset has put us where we are today, with the stock market, corporate profits and corporate cash on hand at all-time highs — not because of greatly increased sales, but mainly because of cost-cutting, primarily by laying people off.

Which raises a question I wish would become an integral part of the debate in any campaign for federal office: What is the purpose of the economy? Is it to make a very few individuals and large corporations fantastically wealthy? Or is it to create jobs in which people produce goods or services that other people want to buy? My bias on this question is pretty obvious, but I imagine a large majority of Americans share that bias. If so, then what role should government play and how should it go about playing that role? The GOP response for my adult lifetime has been lower taxes and fewer regulations, which not only has gotten us coming up on six lost years of economic activity but also is injuring, sickening and killing people while poisoning the planet, from Fukushima, Japan, to Charleston, West Virginia.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 6:49 pm

What’s at stake in the State of the Union

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 6:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

Outsourced to Charlie Pierce:

In any event, thanks to Ezra Klein’s invaluable House Of Wonks, we discover that all the howling about The Deficit has obscured the fact that, whatever real problems with the deficit are, they’re actually being slowly solved. This is a good thing to remember since it’s better than 6-5 that almost all the commentary after the president’s speech tonight is going to carry the theme that he didn’t do enough to address The Deficit. Here is something else to remember — given that chart, anyone who still argues for austerity in any form — and this means you, Dancin’ Dave [Gregory, of NBC -- Lex] — is doing so because they want government to hurt people, or they don’t give a damn whether it does or not. There’s no third alternative.

We don’t need deficit-fixin’. We need hirin’. Lots of it. Now.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 4:15 am

President tells truth, Senate Republicans only CLAIM he’s giving then hell.

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 4:15 am
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image

Senate Republicans have been misbehaving, the president finally calls them out on it, and what do they do? They whine. Pardon me while I refuse to give a damn.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 6:17 pm

“I’ve got $3 in my wallet and it feels like a million.”

My friend and fellow blogger Billy Jones has been through a rough few years. He just had an experience most of us who are more comfortable would describe as somewhere between bad and awful. And yet, in a message to me, he calls it a small victory.

I’ll let you decide just how small.

Sunday, November 25, 2012 7:40 pm

Spain dances with the devil, and the newspaper El País’s CEO leads

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:40 pm
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If you’ve followed the European economy much, you probably know the following things:

  • Spain has been particularly hard hit by the 2008 crash and its aftermath, with official unemployment at 25% and youth unemployment at 52%.
  • Spain’s problems were almost all caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. Before that, the country was running a surplus.
  • Nonetheless, the EC (read: German bankers who don’t want their bonds to take it in the teeth) are forcing austerity measures onto Spain that are making a horrific situation worse.

And here’s something you might not know: A newspaper editor who once helped fight off a military coup against a fragile new democracy is now a newspaper CEO who has joined the rapine:

“When you look at it from here, it doesn’t seem like there’s a crisis on,” observed one of the striking El País journalists I spoke to later that evening, gesturing at Madrid’s central shopping district, lights and logos glistening in the rain. But he said it wearily – he was above the cut-off age of 50, specifically earmarked by El País chief executive Juan Luis Cebrián as too old to be needed. A week before the high profile general strike, the newspaper’s employees were on strike over the “ere,” a kind of mass lay-off with next to no severance pay that had been enabled by the new labor reforms. El País will sack 139 journalists from a workforce of 450, a plan implemented by a chief executive who, they despaired, had once been a brave, campaigning editor, using his newspaper to fight the attempted military coup in 1981 with passion and integrity, and helping to establish a new pluralistic, democratic ethos in a febrile country still feeling its way into the light after 40 years of dictatorship.

Cebrián, who takes home 13m euros a year, told his striking journalists “we can’t keep living so well.”

For those of you keeping score at home, at the current exchange rate of $1.2975 to the euro, that’s close to $17 million. So if Cebrián could satisfy himself with making a ton of money instead of a shit-ton of money, he could pay the laid-off workers an average of more than $86,300 a year and still have $5 million left over for himself.

We can’t keep living so well?

WE?

¿Quién, hijo de puta, es este de quien hablas “nosotros”? Who, you son of a bitch, is this “we” of whom you speak?

 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 7:12 pm

Also, if you don’t want to repeat after me, kids, repeat after economist Dean Baker: The deficit problem is not an entitlements problem.

Listen to the man before you go giving away your — and my — Social Security and Medicare:

The gang for gutting Social Security and Medicare (aka “The Campaign to Fix the Debt”) are running in high gear. During the long election campaign they gathered dollars, corporate CEOs and washed up politicians for a full-fledged push in the final months of the year. They are hoping that the hype around the budget standoff (aka “fiscal cliff”) can be used for a grand bargain that eviscerates the country’s two most important social programs, Social Security and Medicare.

They made a point of keeping this plan out of election year politics because they know it is a huge loser with the electorate. People across the political and ideological spectrums strongly support these programs and are opposed to cuts. Politicians who advocated cuts would have been likely losers on Election Day. But now that the voters are out of the way, the Wall Street gang and the CEOs see their opportunity.

It is especially important that they act now, because one of the pillars of their deficit horror story could be collapsing. Due to a sharp slowing in the rise of health care costs over the last four years, the assumption that exploding health care costs would lead to unfathomable deficits may no longer be plausible even to people in high level policy positions.

As we all know, the large budget deficits of the last four years are entirely due to the economic downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The budget deficit was slightly over 1.0 percent of GDP in 2007 and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections showed it remaining low for the near-term future. The origin of the large deficits of the last few years is not a debatable point among serious people, even though talk of “trillion dollar deficits, with a ‘t’” is very good for scaring the children.

However, the big stick for the deficit hawks was their story of huge deficits in the longer term. They attributed these to the rising cost of “entitlements,” which are known to the rest of us as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

While they like to push the notion that the aging of the population threatened to impose an unbearable burden on future generations, the reality is that most of the horror story of huge deficits was driven by projections of exploding private sector health care costs. Since Medicare and Medicaid mostly pay for private sector health care, an explosion in private sector health care costs would eventually make these programs unaffordable.

As some of us have long pointedout, there are serious grounds for questioning the plausibility of projections that the health care sector would rise to 30 or 40 percent of GDP over the rest of the century. Recently a paper from the Federal Reserve Boarddocumented this argument in considerable detail.

Even more important than the professional argument over health care cost projections is the recent trend in health care costs. While the CBO projections assume that age-adjusted health care costs rise considerably more rapidly than per capita income, in the last four years they have been roughly keeping pace with per capita income.

In fact, in the last year nominal spending on health care services, the sector that comprises almost two-thirds of health care costs, rose by just 1.7 percent. This is far below the rate of nominal GDP growth over this period, which was more than 4.0 percent. While at least some of this slowing in health care costs is undoubtedly due to the downturn, it is hard to believe that it is not at least partially attributable to a slower underlying rate of health care cost growth.

CBO and other budget forecasters can ignore economic reality for a period of time (they ignored the housing bubble until after its collapse wrecked the economy), but if it continues, at some point they will have to incorporate the trend of slower health care cost growth into their projections. When this happens, the really scary long-term deficit numbers will disappear.

A projection that assumes that health care costs will only rise as a result of the aging of the population, and otherwise move in step with per capita income, will lop tens of trillions of dollars off the most commonly cited long-term deficit projections. It would cost some deficit hawks, like National Public Radio, more than $100 trillion of their long-term deficit story. This would be a real disaster for the deficit hawk industry.

This is why the Campaign to Fix the Debt and the rest of the deficit hawk industry will be operating at full speed at least until a budget deal is reached over the current impasse. If CBO adjusts its long-term health care cost projections downward then their whole rationale for gutting Social Security and Medicare will disappear. Now that is really a crisis.

And in light of today’s horrid front-page News & Record article on the so-called fiscal cliff, here’s a question for Greensboro peeps: Would it really be too much trouble to get Jeff Gauger and his crew at the N&R to introduce some fact-based economic coverage? The voters last week seemed to indicate a taste for that kind of thing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012 12:07 pm

Learning from the (not-so-ancient) Greeks

Thereisnospoon (@DavidOAtkins), writing at Digby’s Hullabaloo:

It turns that when you throw a proud people who have lived a relatively decent lifestyle with modest provisions for the middle class into the desperate grinder of austerity economics, fascist movements start to develop. That’s pretty much how it happened in Germany in the first place, which is why the the rest of the world learned from its Post-WWI mistake to implement the Marshall Plan after the Second War. When people start to lose everything, it’s easy to blame immigrants and the dispossessed. Those people start to become scapegoats for the sorts of scoundrels who use jingoistic xenophobia for career advancement in the guise of patriotism.

It’s no surprise that the ascendance of the far right in the United States tracks alongside the erosion of the middle class. Fortunately, America has been spared the full force of austerity. So far.

But the rise of a Golden Dawn [Greece's fascist neo-nazi movement, now polling at 14% there -- Lex] in the U.S. isn’t at all unthinkable. All that need happen is for the Very Serious People to get their way in voucherizing Medicare and Social Security, destroying the safety net, and remaking society in Ayn Rand’s image.

History repeats itself, and sometimes, if it doesn’t feel like you heard it the first time, it shouts.

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012 6:56 pm

Our terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad news media and the deficit; or, Don’t point that gun unless …

Economist Dean Baker:

In the middle of a steep recession, any measure that reduces the deficit will cost jobs. That is because it will reduce demand. If anyone wants to see a lower deficit in 2013 (certainly the Post does), then they want to throw people out of work.

This is sort of like pulling the trigger on a gun pointed at someone’s head. Presumably this is not done unless the desire is to see the person dead.

 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:00 pm

Why tonight’s debate matters; or, Quote of the Day, What the GOP is Good At Edition, cont.

From DougJ at Balloon Juice:

The American right’s real genius lies in [mess]ing things up, then using that [mess]ed-up-ness as the crisis that necessitates the implementation of the right’s policies. I don’t claim that the [mess]ing up of things is always deliberate—they’re incompetent enough to [mess] a lot of things up by accident—but the reaction is very cynical and very carefully thought out.

DougJ considers what the GOP is up to in this instance analogous to the Reichstag fire. But if you’re going to go Godwin, given how clear Romney/Ryan have been about their plans for government spending right up until Romney shape-shifted into Moderate Mitt during the first presidential debate, a better example than the Reichstag fire might be the Nazi blitzkrieg  of Poland. And Jon Chait at New York magazine believes the Romney campaign/would-be administration plans just such an assault on the American social-welfare structure. In a piece titled “November 7,” to which DougJ also links, Chait writes:

Let’s first imagine that, on January 20, Romney takes the oath of office. Of the many secret post-victory plans floating around in the inner circles of the campaigns, the least secret is Romney’s intention to implement Paul Ryan’s budget. The Ryan budget has come to be almost synonymous with the Republican Party agenda, and Romney has embraced it with only slight variations. It would repeal Obamacare, cut income-tax rates, turn Medicare for people under 55 years old into subsidized private insurance, increase defense spending, and cut domestic spending, with especially large cuts for Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs targeted to the very poor.

Few voters understand just how rapidly Romney could achieve this, rewriting the American social compact in one swift stroke. Ryan’s plan has never attracted Democratic support, but it is not designed for bipartisanship. Ryan deliberately built it to circumvent a Senate filibuster, stocking the plan with budget legislation that is allowed, under Senate “budget reconciliation” procedures, to pass with a simple majority. Republicans have been planning the mechanics of the vote for many months, and Republican insiders expect Romney to use reconciliation to pass the bill. Republicans would still need to control 50 votes in the Senate (Ryan, as vice-president, would cast the tiebreaking vote), but if Romney wins the presidency, he’ll likely precipitate a partywide tail wind that would extend to the GOP’s Senate slate.

One might suppose that at least a handful of Republicans might blanch at the prospect of reshaping the entire face of government unilaterally. But Ryan’s careful organizing of the party agenda has all taken place with this vote as the end point, and with the clear goal of sidestepping any such objection. When Republicans won control of Congress during the 2010 elections, Ryan successfully lobbied the party to take a vote on his budget plan the following April. The plan stood no chance of passage (given Obama’s certain veto) and exposed dozens of vulnerable House members to withering attacks over its unpopular provisions. So why hold a vote carrying huge potential risk and no chance of immediate success? So Ryan could get the party on record supporting his plan, depriving quiet dissidents of any future excuse to defect should the real vote come in 2013.

And if this were only a policy difference, that would be one thing. But the fact of the matter is that if these planned changes happen, a nontrivial number of America’s most vulnerable citizens — the very old, the very young, the chronically ill, those most hampered and hammered by the past four years of insufficient-bordering-on-indifferent action on unemployment – will die prematurely. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not an idle prediction. It is, rather, an absolutely foreseeable consequence of cutting social services, particularly Medicaid, in a time of great need and want. And if you don’t care about that, you’re a sociopath, pure and simple.

There are many things at stake in tonight’s debate and this year’s presidential and congressional elections, not the least of which are the fate of the globe’s environment and the fact that both my children  will be of military age before the end of a second Romney term. But for a combination of big and fast, the GOP plan to destroy what remains of the social safety net and give the proceeds to the very wealthy tops the list, and it simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012 10:35 pm

Child abuse

Economist Dean Baker:

Yes, on this great day when we hear the unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, NYT columnist Bill Keller is still pressing on the need to curb Social Security and Medicare spending and calling on his fellow baby boomers to rise to the occasion. He has even brought in Jim Kessler, the senior vice-president for policy at Third Way, to help him make the case.

I’m sure that Keller and Kessler would consider my mention of the 8.3 percent unemployment rate to be rude, after all what does that have to do with the need to cut Social Security and Medicare? There is a simple answer to that. The 8.3 percent unemployment rate should be seen as comparable to a school fire where the children are still inside the building. Tens of millions of people are seeing their lives ruined.

This is not a short-term story. Many of the families that will break up under the stress of high unemployment or the loss of their home will not get back together when the unemployment rate falls back to a more normal level. Similarly, the kids who have their school lives disrupted because their parents lose their homes or must move in search of jobs and/or family break up will not have the damage repaired later. This is why 8.3 percent unemployment should be problems #1, #2, and #3.

And yes, we do know how to fix this. Spending money puts people to work. Contrary to a bizare cult in policy circles, it does not matter whether money comes from the private sector or public sector –dollars will get people to work. And the people who get those dollars will spend them and put other people to work. If Keller and Kessler want to be responsible baby boomers they will do everything in their power to try to get us back to full employment quickly so that so many children do not have to grow up in families that are troubled by unemployment. The next generation will thank them for their efforts, I assure them.

UPDATE: Link added. H/t to Beau for alerting me to the omission.

UPDATE: Greensboro folks, this Keller piece appears on the front of today’s Ideas section in the News & Record.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 8:53 pm

“This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.”

Filed under: Evil,Religion — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

From my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman, originally posted on Facebook, via my friend John Graham:

Food Stamps – Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a Farm Bill which slashes $16 billion from one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in our nation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. At the same time, the overall cost of the bill does not go down but adds an additional $9.5 billion over 10 years for an entirely new agribusiness subsidy under the guise of crop insurance. A cut of this magnitude means that at least 2 million families will lose access to the program. All told, about 1 billion fewer meals will be available to low-income families each year—meals that are a bargain for taxpayers at about a $1.60 a meal—as well as a basic responsibility for our society. 85 percent of those receiving Food Stamps are living on incomes below the federal poverty line of $23,350 for a family of four. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has calculated that each dollar of supplemental nutrition assistance benefits create $1.79 in increased economic activity. America’s “hunger bill”—the cost of avoidable illness due to poor nutrition and poor education outcomes due to hunger—is already over $165 billion.

Three points:

Here in Greensboro, both Conservative and Liberal congregations support the very needed and I would say holy work of the Greensboro Urban Minsitry. The leadership at GUM is extremely concerned about such proposed cuts.

Second, I cannot see how this is not class warfare, an example of taking from the poor to give to the wealthy.

Finally, I leave you with a small piece of rabbinical teaching from the time of Jesus himself. “When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry’” (Midrash to Psalm 118:17)

(Some additional context, from the News & Record.)

A presumably well-meaning but misguided friend of mine took issue with this point, suggesting that government anti-poverty efforts have been both inefficient and wasteful:

Now let me be clear, I don’t object to poor people getting help. My problem is a government throwing money at programs that clearly aren’t working. Consider this: All this welfare spending adds up to $20,610 for every poor man, woman and child in the country.

For a poor family of three, that’s nearly $62,000 dollars. The poverty line for that family is just $18,500. With this kind of spending, poverty should be wiped out – instead it’s growing.

Today, one in seven Americans is living in poverty. The most in almost two decades. All the while spending is soaring.

And, welfare spending for the last four decades — adjusted for inflation? Up, up, up. How can we spend all this money, and see so little progress? …

… we should be stopping the taxes and bloated regulations that hold back economic growth and job creation. People need work, not handouts.

Unfortunately the only solution the president sees is throwing more money at the problem. More government, instead of less. More dependency instead of empowerment.

Leaving aside for a moment the “up, up, up” argument, whether or not adjusted for inflation, and whether or not more properly calculated on a per-capita basis or as a percentage of GDP, that was an awful lot of both factual and contextual inaccuracy in just a few lines. I responded:

You know what, [friend's name]? First of all, don’t change the subject. Second of all, I can sleep a lot better at night if govt money is being wasted so that people don’t go hungry than I can if it’s being wasted blowing sh*t up in an illegal war or bailing out criminal banksters.

Poverty is growing because the government hasn’t done enough direct economic stimulus to stimulate demand enough to lead businesses, which are sitting on $2 trillion in cash, to create jobs. And it hasn’t done enough because Republicans LIKE having American workers poor and desperate.

Deficits are soaring primarily because of 1) our broken health care system, the least efficient in the Western world, which the ACA at least goes some way toward fixing; 2) two wars, both of which Obama put back on budget after Bush ran them off-budget, and a defense budget unnecessarily sized at bigger than those of the next 26 largest combined, most of whom are our allies; and 3) the fact that federal taxation is at its lowest rate as a % of GDP in 60 years AND that top marginal rates on the wealthy are at their lowest rate in longer than that.

And why is that? Because of GOP obstructionism, aided and abetted by a few badly confused and/or corrupt Democrats.

You want to make excuses for screwing over poor people? Fine; go do it on your own page.

All most religions ask of us is basically that we not be dicks. And stealing food from the mouths of the hungry to give it to large corporations is being a dick.

 

 

Sorry, but, yes, the 2008 bank bailouts really were as much of a reaming of the American taxpayer as we thought at the time

Another crappy “both-sides-do-it” column: Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers write at Bloomberg that our current political debate on the economy is a “sham” because leading economists unanimously agree that  the bailouts helped the unemployment situation. But economist Dean Baker provides the missing context: While that claim might be technically true, the bailouts could have been structured far more constructively than they were, both to address then-current problems and to help prevent the recurrence of similar problems:

The Wall Street banks were on life support in the fall of 2008. Without trillions of dollars of government loans and guarantees (much more came from the Fed than the TARP money that went through the Treasury), they would be dead, deceased, pushing up daisies, out of business. The boys and girls getting those huge paychecks on Wall Street were at Uncle Sam’s doorstep pleading for help. There was no one else to save them from destitution.

In this context there were three main choices. One was to drag out Mitt Romney and give them a lecture about the free market and tell them the government is not about giving people stuff. In this case the banks go under leading to a full-fledged financial melt-down. In this story, the economy certainly takes a bigger immediate hit, but the advantage is that we have a Wall Street free world. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan and the rest would be history. They are in receivership, waiting to broken up and sold off. This parasitic sector that has led to so much waste, corruption and inequality is no longer a drag on the economy. Consider this short-term pain for long-term gain. (Just kidding about the Romney part, he supported the bailout.)

The second choice is hand over the money, which is the route we took. Oh yeah, Congress did put conditions on the money, but we know that was just for show. One of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in my years in Washington were the excellent stories on how executive compensation was treated in the TARP that the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal ran after the TARP passed.

Both articles featured comments from compensation expert Graeff Crystal who explained that the government could have changed compensation patterns on Wall Street forever (the Wall Street boys needed the money), but Congress instead took a pass. It would have been great if Crystal’s views were part of the public debate before the bill was passed.

This brings up option number 3, hand the money over but with real conditions. Congress could have said that banks that got TARP money, funds through the Fed’s special lending facilities, or benefited from the various Treasury and FDIC insurance commitments had to:

a) strictly limit all pay in all forms for the next five years;

b) set up a clear, legally enforceable plan for writing down underwater mortgages on their books;

c) agree to a breakup schedule that would get them below “too big to fail” size by a set date.

To my mind, option #3 was clearly the best route since it would fix the financial industry and avoid the crash that would result from going cold turkey in option #1. But let’s say that the choice is just the full crash in option #1 or the handout in option #2. In order to seriously decide between these we need some basis for assessing the size of the downturn. Saying that the short-term impact would have been worse in option #2 doesn’t tell us anything about the proper policy choice. We pay short-term costs for long-term benefits all the time. We need the terms of the trade-off.

In ths respect, the commonly claimed “second Great Depression”scenario is, to use a technical economic term, “crap.”  The first Great Depression, by which I mean a decade of double-digit unemployment was not locked in stone by the mistakes made at its onset. There was nothing that would have prevented the government from having the sort of massive stimulus spending that eventually got us back to full employment (a.k.a. World War II) in 1931 instead of 1941 and without the war. The fact that we remained in a depression for more than a decade was due to inadequate policy response.

In this respect, to claim that if we let the banks collapse we would have been destined to suffer a decade of double digit unemployment is absurd. That would only be the result if we continued to have bad policy, not just in 2008, but in 2010, in 2012, right through to 2018.

The serious question is how bad could we reasonably expect the downturn to have been if we had gone the cold turkey route. The place to look for insight on this question is Argentina, which went the financial collapse route in December of 2001. This was the real deal. Banks shut, no access to ATMs, no one knowing when they could get their money out of their bank, if they ever could.

This collapse led to a plunge in GDP for three months, followed by three months in which the economy stabilized and then six years of robust growth. It took the country a year and a half to make up the output lost following the crisis.

While there is no guarantee that the Bernanke-Geithner team would be as competent as Argentina’s crew [indeed, subsequent events have shown that they are not -- Lex], if we assume for the moment they are, then the relevant question would be if it is worth this sort of downturn to clean up the financial sector once and for all. I’m inclined to say yes, but I certainly could understand that others may view the situation differently.

Anyhow, this is the debate that we should have had the time and at least be acknowledging in retrospect.

We had the bastards down in the fall of 2008, and we didn’t hit them with the chair. A century from now that failure will be considered the key turning point in the transition of the U.S. from a democratic republic to a full-on oligarchy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 8:04 pm

You really didn’t build that.

Not by yourself, anyway, says John Scalzi:

I am financially successful now; I pay a lot of taxes. I don’t mind because I know how taxes helped me to get to the fortunate position I am in today. I hope the taxes I pay will help some military wife give birth, a mother who needs help feed her child, help another child learn and fall in love with the written word, and help still another get through college. Likewise, I am in a socially advantageous position now, where I can help promote the work of others here and in other places. I do it because I can, because I think I should and because I remember those who helped me. It honors them and it sets the example for those I help to help those who follow them.

I know what I have been given and what I have taken. I know to whom I owe. I know that what work I have done and what I have achieved doesn’t exist in a vacuum or outside of a larger context, or without the work and investment of other people, both within the immediate scope of my life and outside of it. I like the idea that I pay it forward, both with the people I can help personally and with those who will never know that some small portion of their own hopefully good fortune is made possible by me.

So much of how their lives will be depends on them, of course, just as so much of how my life is has depended on my own actions. We all have to be the primary actors in our own lives. But so much of their lives will depend on others, too, people near and far. We all have to ask ourselves what role we play in the lives of others — in the lives of loved ones, in the lives of our community, in the life of our nation and in the life of our world. I know my own answer for this. It echoes the answer of those before me, who helped to get me where I am.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 8:01 pm

Memo to Simpson-Bowles fanboys/-girls, the New America Foundation, Paul Ryan groupies and everybody else who thinks the deficit is our biggest current problem:

You cannot slash taxes AND slash spending AND still reduce the deficit. It’s mathematically impossible. You can no more reduce the deficit this way than you can walk to the moon or skin-dive the Marianas Trench.

And if you try it, we’ll be in another recession in a heartbeat. Hell, with three straight months of falling consumer spending, we might be heading into another one even if you don’t.

This really is the era of lowered expectations. I used to pray for deliverance from extremist ideologues. Now I just pray for deliverance from people who can’t count.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:04 pm

Dean Baker sums up our economic, political and journalistic problems in three short paragraphs

Baker:

Dana Milbank devoted his [Washington Post] column to the disenchantment of progressives with the current political situation. At one point he comments that “the still-lumbering economy has depressed President Obama’s supporters.”

While this is no doubt true, it is worth mentioning that just about all progressives said at the time that the stimulus would be inadequate to restore the economy to a healthy growth path. The collapse of the housing bubble destroyed close to $1.2 trillion in annual demand from construction and consumption. At its peak in 2009 and 2010 the stimulus only replaced about $300 billion in annual spending.

It is discouraging to see so many people suffering unnecessarily, but this outcome is exactly what our analysis predicted at the time. Unfortunately, having a track record of being right is not generally a factor in determining which views carry weight in Washington policy debates.

Somebody tell me again how the U.S. is a meritocracy. Or, as Driftglass famously observed:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:27 pm

Institutionalized

As befits one of the holders of prime New York Times op-ed real-estate, columnist David Brooks has analyzed American society and concluded that the problem is … us:

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

I guess Brooks didn’t get the word about the brown acid.

Because, see, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monicagate, torture and other war crimes, and even The New York Times helping lie this country into a war and sitting on a story about unconstitutional and criminal government wiretapping for more than a year while the guilty president who ordered it won re-election, have had nothing to do with collapse of people’s faith in institutions. Nor has the fact that the economy got blown up by the greatest white-collar crime in history while  the people responsible are still massively wealthy and the people who warned about it are continually ignored. Nor has the fact that government in general and the Republican Party in particular are hell-bent on looting this country until there is nothing left to steal.

And Jesus H. Child Molesting Vaginal Ultrasound Christ with Jimmy Swaggart Sauce and Jerry Falwell on top, what could institutional religion possibly have done to warrant such a massive loss of trust?

Without having done any polling, I’ll grant Brooks one possible point: It might actually be true that institutions aren’t performing significantly worse now than they did in 1955 (they were screwing up in 1925, too, and the result was the Great Depression). It might just be that thanks to the Intertubez, we just know more about the screwups than we used to. Certainly I don’t think the Catholic Church’s skirts were any cleaner in 1955.

But the reason followers aren’t following leaders the way they used to has nothing to do with vanity on the rabble’s part. (I and people like me don’t think we’re better than everyone else around us, but let’s face it: If Congress, the Roman Catholic Church and The New York Times op-ed page are the standard, then the bar’s really not all that high.) It’s not even explained entirely by the fact that leaders have manifestly screwed the pooch and/or sold themselves to the highest bidder, over and over again. No, what really gets our goats is that if you have enough money and/or profess to believe certain things, you can commit the most calamitous misfeasances, utterly without consequence — indeed, you can make a career out of failing upward – while those who were right are marginalized and ridiculed.  Blogger Driftglass has neatly encapsulated the phenomenon:

That last bit’s the most maddening part, and for Exhibit A, you need look no further than David Effing Brooks himself,  sitting in his comfy office at the Times Almighty and pulling meretricious and/or delusional observations out of his lower digestive tract, not only getting to keep his lucrative job but actually being celebrated as a public intellectual. He has decided that this country’s biggest problem is that you and I haven’t suffered enough. God help us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 8:26 pm

What John Cole gets that the Tea Party and Scott Walker and Mitt Romney do not

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

This:

I was in Kroger (our chain grocery store) the other day buying a couple things of crab meat to make crab cakes for the party at Walt’s, and in front of me was a young woman with a baby in a stroller, and she was checking out, and she used food stamps, and then had to spend about five minutes counting coins to have enough to pay for her purchases (which, contrary to Republican beliefs, were not 40’s and steaks, but diapers, milk, oatmeal, and vegetables), and I remember thinking, as she was rushing and making counting mistakes, that poor girl is just humiliated and embarrassed she has to go through this. I genuinely felt bad for her. And then she turned around, looked at me and the people behind me, and apologized- “Sorry, it’s the 31st and I just have to have this stuff, and payday and everything isn’t until tomorrow.”

It was a heart-wrenching experience, and then I looked down at my purchases — crab meat, panko, buffalo mozzarella, green onions, dijon mustard, a couple bottles of wine, and some peel and eat shrimp, and I felt like the biggest most entitled [jerk] ever as I was rung up and handed the lady my debit card and then declined a receipt because “I just do my banking online and I’ll deal with it next week.” At which point I realized how debased and out of touch I am. Here is a woman buying what she can to keep her kid alive, and I’m buying luxury foods, for a party, for other people, and I’m not even worried about the price. However ashamed that young woman ahead of me was, I am sure I felt more ashamed as I understood what I had just said.

But if you ask the modern GOP, I pay too much in taxes, and we do too much for the girl in line in front of me. …  We’re just a seriously [messed]-up nation. I’m not one of those making over 250k, but by any metric in the world I am rich beyond the wildest dreams of historical standards (although, admittedly, it takes a lot less to be “rich” in WV). Please, please, please, politicians. Raise my taxes. Spend it on food stamps, job training, road and bridge construction. Spend it on child care, nursery school, and child development. Anything but more god damned wars and tax cuts for Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 6:09 pm

America: Land of opportunity?

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Well, if, by “opportunity,” you mean, “scraping by and desperately hoping not to get sick”:

That’s right, folks: We’ve got a higher percentage of our work force working for less than two-thirds our median wage than any other industrialized democracy, and yet one major party insists that the answer to all our economic problems is more tax cuts for the wealthy and the other major party refuses to call this policy out for the batshit insanity that it is.

And you wonder why people are marching in the streets.

Thursday, March 1, 2012 2:17 am

The crux of the biscuit …

… and the quote of the new day, from low-tech cyclist at Cogitamus:

You know, when liberating the free market makes “the United States” richer, it doesn’t do a damned bit of good for most of us unless some of that extra richness finds its way into our pockets.  But when the median household in 2010 is only 7% richer than the median household in 1973, despite the fact that we’re clearly way, WAY richer as a nation, that means our economy has failed in a very essential way.

Why, yes. Yes, it has.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:07 pm

Anyone who argues differently is not trying to sell you something, he’s trying to steal what little you have left.

Facts and logic having failed to persuade anyone to do the right thing with respect to the economy, I decide instead to try a good rant, outsourced to Charlie Pierce:

Austerity has murdered any hope of recovery in the UK. It seems to have done the same thing in Italy. And, in Greece, the citizens of democracy’s birthplace seem to be taking offense at the notion that their first obligation is to punish themselves to make a lot of international bankers whole again, and to cement Angela Merkel’s place in European history, which will be further propped up in Germany by an economy that depends on strong labor unions, a thriving government safety net, and the world’s oldest universal health-care system, to which Germans are entitled, but to which Brits, Italians, Greeks and, if you believe David Gregory, Americans, are not. Make no mistake about it. “Austerity” is a theological construct. It is about punishing the alleged sins of sloth and gluttony. It is about purging through pain. It is about enshrining into law every misbegotten slander about the poor and struggling that’s been floating around the political dialogue for generations. And it doesn’t work.

The deficit is not our biggest immediate economic problem. Joblessness is. Questions? See post title.

 

Friday, February 10, 2012 7:05 pm

Popcorn; or, It’s fun to watch them eat their own

David Frum, who — have I mentioned this? Why, yes. Yes, I have — has blood on his hands, gets some more on in a good way with this stinging takedown of Charles Murray’s latest not-so-cryptoracist screed:

You are a white man aged 30 without a college degree. Your grandfather returned from World War II, got a cheap mortgage courtesy of the GI bill, married his sweetheart and went to work in a factory job that paid him something like $50,000 in today’s money plus health benefits and pension. Your father started at that same factory in 1972. He was laid off in 1981, and has never had anything like as good a job ever since. He’s working now at a big-box store, making $40,000 a year, and waiting for his Medicare to kick in.

Now look at you. Yes, unemployment is high right now. But if you keep pounding the pavements, you’ll eventually find a job that pays $28,000 a year. That’s not poverty! Yet you seem to waste a lot of time playing video games, watching porn, and sleeping in. You aren’t married, and you don’t go to church. I blame Frances Fox Piven.

When 95 percent of the American work force has got a secure job that provides enough to covers its needs, provide for occasional wants and leave a little over to be put aside toward its dreams, then I might entertain lectures from our social overlords about the morality of the lower classes. Until then, however, Murray and his ilk need to STFU.

(h/t: DougJ)

 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 10:52 pm

This would leave a mark, if The Washington Post, the administration and Congress had any integrity

Economist Dean Baker on the Post’s reporting on unemployment:

The unemployment rate for the 30 percent of the workforce with college degrees is still more than twice its pre-recession level. If the Post had done its homework it would know that the problem is not the skill levels of unemployed workers, the problem is the skill level of people who make economic policy.

 

Thursday, February 2, 2012 9:25 pm

“Those who don’t understand history are doomed to condemn those who do.”*

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:25 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Those wild-eyed liberals at The Economist apparently have figured out that the sky is blue:

Now maybe you people will listen to me.

D.B. Echo, Another Monkey

So, here’s the thing. The debate we had about the stimulus probably should have been a lot like the book Mr [Mike] Grabell has written: a detailed investigation of what does and doesn’t work in stimulus spending and whether the government really can jump-start a promising industry through investments, tax breaks and industrial policy. But that wasn’t the debate we had. Instead we had a debate about the very concept of whether the government ought to spend money counter-cyclically during a recession in order to keep the economy from collapsing, or whether it should tighten its belt along with consumers and businesses in order to generate confidence in the financial markets and allow markets to clear. We had a debate about whether governments should respond to recessions with deficit spending or austerity.

That was the debate we had. And what’s interesting about this particular moment is that while Mr Grabell is writing about what did and didn’t work in the stimulus, and Mr Obama is staying away from the topic for political reasons, out there on the barricades what’s happening is that the entire argument that governments should engage in austerity appears to be collapsing.

How about that.

There are times when austerity absolutely is the correct approach. This is absolutely not one of them. But our “leaders” continue to insist that the sky is pink with purple polka-dots.

*Quote and link from Digby.

Friday, January 27, 2012 8:32 pm

How the game is rigged

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:32 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Economist Jared Bernstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explains:

One reason multi-millionaire investors like Gov. Romney face 15% tax rates is because they engage in corporate activities but avoid corporate taxes.  They do so by taking advantage of policy changes that have made it easier to pass capital gains through the corporation to their personal income, where, in the case of PE managers, they tap a double loophole.  First, capital gains are taxed at less than half the rate of normal income, and second, even though these gains are really earnings for the fund managers, they get to claim them as capital gains (this is the notorious “carried interest” loophole).

As my CBPP colleagues Chuck Marr and Brian Highsmith wrote here:

Although businesses operating through C corporations [standard corporations] are subject to corporate taxes, the capital income of non-incorporated businesses is “passed through” to the business owners.  These owners benefit from the same tax deductions and credits as do corporations, but are taxed only at the individual level.  Over the past half century, and particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, states and the federal government significantly expanded the legal benefits of pass-through entities.  These changes have made it easier for firms to operate through such legal structures as S corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, and sole proprietorships — while also benefiting from limited liability and other provisions that formerly were available only to corporations.

As you see in the figure, the share of receipts passed through to non-incorporated business has almost tripled since 1980s, up from 13% to 35%.

Source: IRS, (h/t: BH)

Moreover, it’s a good example of what happens when you open up these loopholes.   The elasiticities attached to changes in tax rates are wildly exaggerated by conservatives and trickle downers who argue that the slightest increase will end the economy while any decrease will trigger boom times.  The evidence belies their view in terms of jobs, investments, and growth.

But when it comes to sheltering your income (e.g., passing through corporate income to the personal side to tap loopholes like carried interest), how you structure your investment vehicles, your preference for debt over equity financing (debt financing is very much favored by the tax code)—there you see very significant responses.

The question is, as posed above, does any of this add value—real value—to the economy beyond further enriching the rich?  It’s not a simple question and the answer is probably less obvious than it sounds.  There are unquestionably examples of PE firms that have taken over companies and discovered new efficiencies.

But neither is it a coincidence that the ascendency of this type of economic activity and the policies that support it have occurred during a period of sharply increasing inequality, weak job creation, and stagnant incomes for the middle class.

And Republicans think we need more of this, not less.

And don’t whine at me about “double taxation” (corporations paying income taxes, then investors having to pay taxes on dividends). If there weren’t huge benefits associated with being incorporated, not the least of them being the right to buy politicians without having to go to prison if what you do kills a lot of people, then businesses wouldn’t incorporate.

Thursday, January 26, 2012 8:17 pm

I say this with the greatest possible affection for the Irish …

… but subtlety has never been their strong suit:

I deplore eliminationist rhetoric no matter whom it comes from.

At the same time, it is worth noting that the economic policies of austerity enacted in Ireland have not helped that nation’s economy, which just a few years ago was the envy of the world. Indeed, they have had precisely the opposite effect. And yet all the Responsible People here in the U.S. want us to do the same thing Ireland did.

 

Monday, December 12, 2011 8:52 pm

Quote of the day, American Psycho edition

Filed under: Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 8:52 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Atrios:

There are people who have the job of being political hacks. Of being [jerks].  I get that. I don’t have a problem with these people. It’s their jobs to argue for things based on what the politics is. I don’t think they should be obeyed, but their existence doesn’t bother me.

The problem isn’t that people listen to political hacks, the problem is that they assume they’re right. You know, “the politics of mortgage relief is bad” trumped “the politics of people being thrown out of their homes and the economy being horrible is bad” based on this kind of advice.

The point is, I get that the sociopaths are in the room. But don’t necessarily obey them, and more than that … don’t necessarily assume they really know what they’re doing. They’re sociopaths, after all.

I’m not sure whether Atrios intended his remark to cover American “journalism” or just the political sphere, but, believe me, it covers a lot of the D.C. media establishment at least as much as it covers politicians and their minions.

Sunday, November 27, 2011 10:31 pm

Media criticism …

… outsourced to Duncan “Atrios” Black:

When Village elders like David Brooks or similar write their various tributes to the joys of other people suffering in order to purge the nation of its sins, and by sins they mean the Lewinsky affair and not banksters stealing all the money, I think their idea of personal austerity is like cutting HBO from the cable bill or something. They have no understanding of what it might be like to be without a job for years after spending your life living mostly paycheck to paycheck. It isn’t about one fewer trip per month to the Outback.

In the old days, journalism of Brooks’s type, replete with errors of fact and context, would be called “bad journalism,” and its perpetrators would be fired. Now they get slots on the New York Times op-ed page and cushy TV-talk-show gigs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 8:30 pm

Another quote of the day, #ows edition

“Trashing libraries is a very particular kind of political statement.” — Henry, Crooked Timber.

And commenter Bill Benzon adds:

I note that these police actions seem to be taking place in the name of public health, among other things. This is the imagery of defilement and impurity that clearly signals that “THEY are not one of US.” This is very dangerous ground.

Oh, please. Likening people to filth and vermin has always ended well.

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