Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, May 10, 2014 8:37 pm

Actually, only PART of the 1% is the problem. But we don’t know which part.

OK, strictly speaking, it’s the top 8%: CNBC commissioned a poll of U.S. households with $1 million or more of investable assets. And to a significant (and, to me, surprising) extent, they think a lot like you and I think on the economy:

  • 51% believe income inequality is a “major problem” for the country.
  • 64% support higher taxes for the wealthy.
  • 63% support increasing the minimum wage.

Now, they don’t think exactly like us; they’re likely to overestimate the effect of a good education and hard work (America tops only the U.K. in social mobility among the 20 wealthiest nations), and they tend to underestimate the effect of inherited wealth and luck.

But the fact remains that close to two-thirds of millionaires think they, themselves, should be paying more taxes and that the minimum wage should be higher. Just thought you should know we have some support among their ranks.

 

 

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, March 27, 2014 8:53 pm

Thought for the day, rugged-individualism edition …

… from Helaine Olen at Reuters:

To presume home-buyers put into predatory loans by mortgage brokers working for outfits like Countrywide Financial could have stopped the housing market implosion if they knew a bit more about balancing their checkbook is absurd. Just as absurd as thinking a high school class in money management could help someone two decades later decipher a 100-page, single-spaced mortgage origination document loaded with “gotcha” clauses.

But our self-help culture doesn’t allow us to admit we might not be able to overcome greater economic woes on our own. In fact, it often makes our individual situations worse when things don’t work out.

Thomas Scheff, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recently published a paper in the journalCultural Sociology claiming that in highly individualistic cultures like the United States, where people are encouraged to “go it alone,” shame is the price we pay for not achieving success.

Viewed through this prism, you can think of the constant simmering anger in our culture as the road rage of self-help culture. Fearing the humiliation of failure, we aggressively lash out at others who prove the self-help nostrums a lie.

This could be the reason that many, including Republican members of Congress, blame the long-term jobless for their own plight, and cut off their unemployment checks. We say those who fell prey to predatory lending weren’t misled, but were greedy.

According to the tenets of self-help, the victims of the American economic collapse need not a helping hand, but a kick in the pants.

True, self-help advice is not always fully useless. Saving money, for starters, is certainly more likely to lead to a prosperous life than not putting anything aside at all. Yet all too often, knowledge and individual action are not enough.

Self-help causes us to take the political and economic problem of increasing income inequality and make it personal. That’s both morally wrong and financially ineffective.

That we fall for it only makes it worse.

I would add that the fact that we fall for it is no surprise when you watch how much and how deeply American media of all political stripes (or none at all — movies produced purely for entertainment, for example, often include this theme) drill this message home. As we are bombarded by and marinated in those messages, the notion that many if not most great things we’ve accomplished could only have been accomplished by teams, groups, companies, communities, or the states or the federal government becomes the dog that didn’t bark: We’re so used to, and have so absorbed, this self-reliance tenet that we fail to note its all-too-frequent systemic failures.

We’re all in this together, folks. And before we can act like it, we — or most of us, anyway — have to think like it.

(h/t: Fec)

Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:12 pm

New York Times vs. New York Times

If a genie granted me three wishes, I wouldn’t waste one of them on this. But, damn, it would be nice if, at least once in a while, New York Times economics reporters would consult their columnist colleague Paul Krugman, who has, like, a Nobel Prize in the subject, before publishing bilge like this, particularly when Krugman could steer them to a large pile of research showing that he’s right and they’re wrong.

(h/t: Dean Baker)

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, January 7, 2014 6:31 pm

One reason among many why Mitch McConnell is probably going to hell

Today he did this:

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered on the Senate floor to extend unemployment benefits if the Obamacare individual mandate was delayed for a year. He claimed that they would “pay” for the unemployment benefits extension by killing Obamacare. The problem is that the ACA doesn’t add anything to the deficit.

In October when the CBO rescored the ACA, they found, “Those amounts do not reflect the total budgetary impact of the ACA. That legislation includes many other provisions that, on net, will reduce budget deficits. Taking the coverage provisions and other provisions together, CBO and JCT have estimated that the ACA will reduce deficits over the next 10 years and in the subsequent decade.”

McConnell was trying to eliminate something that reduces the deficit in order to pay for an extension of unemployment benefits. This is how delusional Republicans are about the ACA. They have invented their own reality on healthcare, and this includes their own version of a fiscal impact on the law that doesn’t exist.

People are losing homes and more because of long-term unemployment, and all Mitchell can do is play politics: He wants to kill a program that doesn’t add to the deficit in order to pay for some very basic help for people still out of work because (surprise!) there are still about three unemployed people for every available job.

(And where in the pluperfect hell was he when we needed to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and borrowed every dime of those trillions instead? Did he go along with a tax increase then? Hell,  no. And so we marched off and fought two wars for the first time in U.S. history without raising taxes to help pay for it.)

This is the behavior of a sociopath, and a delusional one at that. When you create your own reality, when you successfully sell yourself a line of bullshit, the result may include nontrivial numbers of homeless, hungry, or even dead people. And anyone who willfully and intentionally engaged in that behavior, knowing what its consequences will be (and that children will be, disproportionately, among the victims), deserves to go to hell.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 12:58 am

The Gospel According to Pierce; or, A Christmas Prayer, With Carrion

And Pierce wrote, saying:

But this is the argument in season over these holidays. That the poor must suffer in order to be redeemed. That hunger is a moral test to be endured. That only through pain can we hope. What doesn’t destroy you, etc. Santa Nietzsche is coming to town. The idea that we should — hell, that we must — act out of charity for each other through the institutions of self-government is lost in the din of a frontal system of moral thunderation aimed at everyone except the person who is out there thunderatin’ on behalf of personal-trainer Jesus, who wants us to work, work, work on that core. That was the way that government operated once before; the specific institutions that Scrooge mentions, and with which the Spirit eventually reproaches him in his own words – the prisons, the union workhouses, the treadmill, and the Poor Laws – were all government institutions based on the same basic philosophy that drives the debate over the food stamp program today.(We even seem to be going back to debtor’s prisons.) We have speeches on self-reliance given by government employees to people who increasingly have only themselves on whom to rely, day after grinding day. It is a way to keep the poor from having a voice in their own self-government. It is a way to keep the wrath of the boy at bay. There will be a reckoning, one way or another. But it can be staved off by platitudes, and by verses from Scripture wrenched from the obvious context of the Gospels. The sepulchers brighten whitely while the bones inside grow increasingly corrupt. This is what this Congress believes, as it goes home proud of itself and its members dress themselves to sing the midnight carols with no conscience sounding in counterpoint, and this is Christmas in America, and it is the year of our Lord, 2013.

Merry Christmas to all, and tonight, God bless us, every one. But forgive me, Lord, in advance, for hoping and praying that the year of our Lord 2014 brings plague and pestilence upon those who would force the suffering to suffer further, those who would insist upon morality tests for the poor that they themselves could not pass, those who would require that many of our fellow Americans be denied a voice with which to insist anything. Bring on the plagues for them, turn their fruit into locust husks, their wine and water into blood, and their foie gras to feces, and let their corrupt bones and those of their first born be cast out from the whitely brightened sepulchers to be feasted upon by jackals and vultures.

Except for those who repent and atone. Always except for those.

Amen. And Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2013 6:19 pm

Our overburdened corporations

The Washington Post had a chart on how corporate taxes have been rising as a share of GDP in OECD countries (industrialized countries comparable for economic purposes to the United States). The problem is that the piece was a tad misleading in that every country counted the same.

In the U.S. that burden has been generally shrinking since World War II. As of 2009, that burden was 1%, down from its postwar high of 6% just after the Korean War. Here’s a chart showing how it’s gone:

Corporate Income Tax as a Share of GDP 1946 - 2009

Now, corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in cash. If they’re not going to create jobs with it, which they’re not because there’s no demand for their goods and services because too many people have been unemployed for too long, then they ought to pay a bit more of it to the government so that we can set about some badly needed infrastructure projects. Those projects, in turn, will both create jobs in the short term and lay the foundation for future wealth creation in the long term.

This is not rocket science. This is not even rocket economics.

(h/t: Dean Baker)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 6:53 pm

Whack-a-mole

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:53 pm
Tags: ,

I’m poking my head up from underground only briefly. It’s been a month: The busiest time of year at work, my own projects and term papers to turn in, and then comprehensive exams in my master’s program, on which I only got official notification of my final grade Sunday. I still have a capstone project to finish by December, and we’re redesigning the website at work. So: though there’s plenty I’d like to say about tornadoes, Benghazi, the IRS and wiretapping, much of it critical of the government, no blogging from me.

But I did stumble across a nice quote I wanted to share on joblessness, the most serious threat facing this country besides climate change. It comes from the low-tech cyclist at Cogitamus:

The problem is, the ability to create widespread abundance doesn’t mean abundance will actually be widespread.  Right now, in the U.S.A. of 2013, we could have an economy where everybody’s working, and where we’re producing a lot more stuff than we are now.  But we’re not in that alternate reality, because many see the economy as a morality play where we’ve got to suffer for our previous (and largely imagined) excesses, and other movers and shakers are simply dead set against a world where people have better choices than to do their bidding.  Many of the people who run our world are quite happy for our economy to run at well under peak efficiency, so long as it puts them and their interests in the driver’s seat.

It’s time to take back the wheel.

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 10, 2013 7:56 pm

Quote of the Day

From Steve M. at No More Mr. Nice Blog:

… we think we live in a democracy, but mostly we just watch the rich fight. We just get lucky when a few of them fight on our side.

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
Tags: , , ,

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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:54 pm

I’ve looked at clods from both sides, now …

Pretty much every single professional journalist in Washington, and a lot of regular Americans, think there are virtues to be had in balance, moderation and centrism. Perhaps as an extension of that belief — for it certainly is not on the basis of even moderately complicated economics, or, for that matter, mathematics — they believe that both the rich and the poor must give something up to address the nation’s budget issues.

(I refuse to call them budget problems, let alone crises; they are issues in the way that we say that sociopaths have issues in that they are the perfectly predictable, and pretty well predicted, results of predictably sociopathic decisions made by known sociopaths.)

So a lot of people who either ought to know better, or who do know better but stand to profit from pretending otherwise, are out there arguing that we need to screw the rich a tiny bit and the middle class and poor a lot to “fix” the deficit (which is fixing itself pretty nicely at the moment, plunging dramatically as a percentage of GDP, but never mind that) and that if both sides are angry, as they are about the nonexistent Simpson-Bowles “report,”  then we must be doing the right thing. The problem, of course, is that not all anger is justified, valid, moral or even sane, as Charlie Pierce reminds us:

Can we please have an honest assessment of credibility here? If billionaires are angry because they might have to chip in some boutonniere money on April 15, and a middle-class family is angry because their 82-year old grandmother with Alzheimer’s is lying in her own filth in a substandard nursing home because of Medicare “reforms,” are we honestly saying that the anger of both sides is equally justified? Has anyone even asked that question?

To the best of my knowledge, no one in the DC media has asked this question, and my friend Doug Clark at the N&R, who’s usually much more sensible, doesn’t seem to be concerned with it, and, hey, I’ve got a blog, so I thought I’d raise it here.

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

OK, if you don’t want to repeat after me, kids, repeat after Kevin Drum: There. Is. No. Fiscal. Cliff.

The former Calpundit and Political Animal econowonk, now with Mother Jones, explains it all for you:

Which part has the worst effect: the spending cuts or the tax increases?

That’s tricky! CBO estimates that the effect per dollar is greater for spending cuts than tax increases: roughly a dollar of GDP for every dollar of spending cuts versus about half a dollar of GDP per dollar of tax increases.

However, the absolute size of the tax increases is much larger than the absolute size of the spending cuts. Overall, CBO estimates that the spending cuts will reduce GDP by about 0.8 percentage points; the end of the payroll tax holiday will reduce GDP about 0.7 percent; and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will reduce GDP by 1.4 percentage points.

But wait a second. There are two parts to the Bush tax cuts: the middle-class cuts and the cuts for the rich.

Right. And here’s the thing: CBO figures that letting the middle-class tax cuts expire would shrink GDP about 1.3 percentage points.

But that’s almost the entire effect of letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

Right. And everyone agrees we should extend the middle-class tax cuts. So if we did that, but let the tax cuts on the rich expire, it would have virtually no impact on growth.

So that would make a ton of sense. Are we going to do that?

Good question! Republicans are dead set against it, so it’s going to be a big fight.

What about the payroll tax holiday?

Everyone seems willing to let that end, so that’s not really very controversial.

Why is that? It has a pretty big effect.

Beats me. It would make a lot more sense to extend the payroll tax holiday than to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but Republicans are opposed to the tax holiday and Democrats have already caved in on this. Mostly it’s because they’re worried that extending it would set a precedent for keeping payroll taxes lower forever, and that would hurt Social Security’s finances.

Conversely, Republicans care a lot about tax cuts for the rich. At the moment, they claim they’ll kill any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff unless they get to keep them.

Are they serious?

Yep.

There’s more, but that’s the gist. Having just been told by voters not to blow up the economy any more, the GOP is dead set on doing and the Dems are less than fully dead set on stopping them. Sigh.

There is some good news, though. President Obama has been asking the Republicans for $1.6 trillion over 10 years in tax increases ever since the Great Debt Ceiling Joke of 2011. He campaigned for a year on that very proposal. And on Nov. 6, he won by a — what’s that word, again? Oh, yeah, landslide. So, Mitch the Turtle and the Weeping Cheeto can just take that.

Oh, and Kevin also says, for the love of God, stop talking about raising the retirement age.

Thursday, October 25, 2012 9:29 pm

Blessed — uh, I mean kicked — are the poor

Today’s sermon comes from the Rev. Athenae:

If you added up all the fraud and waste and horror that poor people supposedly cause, I doubt it would total a month’s worth of time blowing [stuff] up in Afghanistan, but hey, people on public assistance are already down, so that makes them much easier to kick.

I do not understand what we get out of this, as a society. I really, really don’t. If I thought making poor people feel like [crud] about themselves would actually end poverty maybe I’d be a little more in favor of doing it, but you know, it’s not about the objects of our charity. It’s about us, and what we deserve to do. To send outward into the world. To show others.

And all of the testing, the probing, the constant suspicion that somebody somewhere is getting away with something, that doesn’t do [anything] to make people any less poor. All it does is make those of us who are not poor a little less rich.

 

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.

 

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, August 2, 2012 7:43 pm

Steve King’s priorities

Steve King, the dog-slaughtering mutt who represents unfortunate parts of Iowa in the U.S. House, is moving on. After creating enough jobs to reduce unemployment to below 5%, he pushed a bill today to make English the country’s official language.

What?

Oh.

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.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 10:38 pm

Odds and ends, school break edition

I’m really enjoying not having to study, but I haven’t been hit by the inspiration for anything lengthy. So here’s what’s going on:

* * *

Pretty much everybody thinks Rupert Murdoch isn’t fit to run a media company. And, hell, we know that. But when Parliament thinks Rupert Murdoch isn’t fit to run a media company, well, that could have real-life, tangible, bottom-line consequences. Because the UK doesn’t let just any old thieving, lying, wiretapping raper of the hopes of the parents of kidnapped children own a media company the way the U.S. does. No, News Corp. could have to actually divest itself of its 40% share of BSkyB. Ouch.

* * *

So on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, Obama shows up in Afghanistan and commits this country to spend, at the current rate of $2 billion a week, one and a quarter trillion dollars over the next dozen years in that country. One and a quarter trillion dollars, I hasten to add, that the United States cannot spare. I mean no disrespect to the victims of 9/11, and a great deal of respect to the Americans who have had to fight the resulting military campaigns, when I ask: Tell me again who won the war on terror? and/or, Have you people never heard of Pyrrhus?

* * *

I see that not only do the Republicans want to wage war on women, they insist that only straight men can join the fight.

* * *

Finally, Fec reflects on MLK’s call for a national guaranteed minimum income, varieties of which have been endorsed by such wild-eyed liberals as Milton Friedman (who called it a “negative income tax”):

Consider, if you will, that the oligarchy, by virtue of access to the Fed’s ZIRP [zero interest rate policy -- free loans to banks], has already achieved the status of guaranteed income. Was MLK in reflection so terribly wrong? As we contemplate the end of unemployment benefits for 700k of our citizens, and underemployment for many more, do not the ravages of outsourcing and global corporatism render a circumstance where the least of us is just as entitled to at least a wage of existence as the bankster supping at the .25% discount window, especially as the proceeds are immediately fed into a gamed engine of guaranteed profit?

If we are bailing out the Europeans for their folly, is it nor more just to provide subsistence wages to our own whose only fault is absence of opportunity, particularly by design of the corporatists who enjoy the very same protections manifold?

Are we not finally at the point where Bernanke‘s famous helicopter drops cash upon the least of us, as it has surely rained bountifully upon our most fortunate?

I assure you that the poor have no wish for anarchy or the imposition of some stringent biblical reconstruction. They merely wish to enjoy those essential things we all aspire to: a full belly, a comfortable home and freedom from financial worry.

To those cretins who proclaim such an idea is socialism, I reply they are too late. Socialism is rife among the fortunate; it is merely those left out who have yet to commit this supposed sin. Is not the greatest act of fairness to now include everyone with income, given that the most criminal among us have already lined their pockets to the point of embarrassment?

If we are headed toward a great conflagration of currency devaluation and hyperinflation, is it not right that the poor finally be allowed to join the bacchanal before its end?

Actually, of this much I am sure: No matter exactly how this country goes down, it will go down never once having given any serious policy thought to the true needs of the least among us. That just isn’t how we roll.

(Also, although I am somewhat sympathetic to my friend’s view of the Occupy movement as it manifested itself today on what was supposed to be a big, national show of strength, I also am somewhat sympathetic to Charlie Pierce’s take: “From the start, I said that the best thing about the Occupy movement was that at least they were yelling at the right buildings. … What I do know is that, if it weren’t for the people in the streets last autumn, the Obama people would be running a very different campaign and Willard Romney wouldn’t look half as ridiculous as he does.”

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