Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, November 29, 2014 1:59 pm

Quote of the Day, John McCain edition

From one of Charlie Pierce’s commenters, Deborah Weiss:

This corrupt, wizened brat is the sum and personification of outraged white privilege. He’s a man who inherited his luck and married his fortune. It doesn’t get much whiter than that.

He has never reconciled his loss to someone he sees (deep within in his primordial Republican brain) as wearing a little red jacket and offering him a martini from a silver salver. The loss to a worthy black opponent has unmanned him. It has overwhelmed him at a level so primitive it is obscene to observe–it turns the rest of us into shameless voyeurs. This is the right-wing Id in action.

Thursday, November 27, 2014 9:39 am

Today I am thankful for …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:39 am
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… health, family, friends, prosperity, and a country so great that not even 35 years’ worth of the best efforts of waterheads, mouthbreathers, knuckle-draggers, and straight-up sociopaths has managed to totally screw it up. Yet.

Be well and be safe.

Sunday, November 23, 2014 10:38 am

“You have the right to remain silent … and wouldn’t that be a nice change.”

Grandmother Attempts Citizen Arrest of Ted Cruz for Being an Arrogant [Expletive]

WASHINGTON — Tiny 83-year-old Ida Stanley was taken into police custody early today after she attempted to handcuff and haul away Senator Ted Cruz for “crimes against sanity.”

“Rafael Edward Cruz, I hereby arrest you for being an egotistical [expletive],” Mrs. Stanley shouted in front of media cameras as she approached the Junior Senator from Texas outside one of his D.C. homes.

It’s a satire site, in case that wasn’t obvious. But don’t you wish it were real?

Thursday, November 20, 2014 7:45 pm

Here’s where a good part of the middle class went — and what Obama could do to fix it

Welp, in today’s blind-pig category, self-described “wealthy capitalist” Nick Hanauer identifies one reason why the middle class is weaker than it used to be.

And he does it in the pages of Politico, which will never be mistaken for a publication interested in the concerns of the middle class (or, to be more forthright, will never be mistaken for a publication interested in interrupting the greatest theft from the middle class in history).

If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you are—falling further behind, that is. Adjusted for inflation, average salaries have actually dropped since the early 1970s, while hours for full-time workers have steadily climbed.

Meanwhile, a handful of wealthy capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams, in large part because we’re able to take advantage of your misfortune.

So what’s changed since the 1960s and ’70s? Overtime pay, in part. Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay—the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime—has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime. You know many people like that? Probably not. By 2013, just 11 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. And so business owners like me have been able to make the other 89 percent of you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.

And he points out a way that the problem can be fixed, singlehandedly, by the president.

The president could, on his own, restore federal overtime standards to where they were at their 1975 peak, covering the same 65 percent of salaried workers who were covered 40 years ago. If he did that, about 10.4 million Americans would suddenly be earning a lot more than they are now. Last March, Obama asked the Labor Department to update “outdated” regulations that mean, as the president put it in his memo, “millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage.” But Obama was not specific about the changes he wanted to see.

So let me be specific. To get the country back to the same equitable standards we had in 1975, the Department of Labor would simply have to raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid overtime when you worked more than 40 hours a week. That’s 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in their pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn’t want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack—slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.

But … but … wouldn’t this be bad for business?

But here’s a little secret from the corner office: The arguments that the corporate lobbyists are making—about how badly business will be hurt—just don’t add up. What is adding up instead is the trillions of dollars in corporate profits and stock gains that corporations have made over the same decades that your hours climbed and your wages fell. From 1950 to 1980, during the good old days of U.S. economic might—the era in which the Great American Middle Class was created—corporate profits averaged a healthy 6 percent of GDP. But since then, corporate profits have doubled to more than 12 percent of GDP. That’s about a trillion dollars more a year in profit. And since then, wages as a percentage of GDP have fallen, you guessed it, by about the same 6 percent or 7 percent of GDP. Coincidence? Probably not. What very few Americans seem to understand is that that extra trillion dollars isn’t profit because it had to be, or needs to be or should be. That extra trillion dollars is profit because powerful people like me prefer it to be. It could have been spent on your wages. Or it could have gone into discounts to you, the consumer. We capitalists will tell you that our increasing profits are the result of some complex economic force with the immutability and righteousness of divine law. But the truth is, it is simply a result of a difference in negotiating power. As in, we have it. And you don’t. …

Of course, capitalists like me will tell you that when we cut into profits, the entire economy is damaged. And think of all the investment that corporate profits make possible. What do executives like me do with all that extra money? Why, invest in creating good-paying jobs for middle-class Americans like you, of course.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true either. Mostly, we use profits to manipulate our stock price for personal gain.

Here’s a little history that will explain how: Back in the 1970s, when the share of total U.S. income that the top 0.1 percent of households got was at a 100-year low, corporate executives received most of their compensation in the form of a salary, just like you. But since the late 1980s, the largest component of income for the top 0.1 percent has been stock-based pay. This shift toward compensation via stock options and grants means that CEOs are directly incentivized to increase the share price of their company’s stock.

Building better products that lead to higher sales and fatter margins are the traditional way for a CEO to push up the price of his stock. But that’s so old-fashioned. So yesterday. Instead, ever since a former Wall Street CEO in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission back in 1982 loosened the rules that define stock manipulation (beginning to see a historical pattern here?), U.S. corporations have increasingly resorted to stock buybacks to prop up share prices.

(Aside on this point: There is an economic climate in which taking this action would have the effect that the corporate critics say — a climate of wage inflation and full or near-full employment. But we’re nowhere near either and haven’t been in decades.)

The president is going to announce his new, unilateral immigration policy in a few minutes, and that’s good. It’s so good, in fact, that Congressional Republicans have threatened to impeach him over it (although Reagan and Bush 41 did basically the same thing) is gravy.

That’s no reason not to change immigration policy. But if the president really wants to pick a hill to die on, this is the one. It benefits pretty much every wage earner making less than $70,000 a year (and the median total household income in this country is only about $53,000). It would pump up the economy significantly, directly benefiting the Americans who most need the help. It would be a strong substantive AND symbolic response to the complaints of voters in the 2014 elections that Democrats weren’t hearing their concerns about the economy. And it’s just the right thing to do on the merits.

Unfortunately, as Hanauer points out, there’s little indication that Obama understands why this is the right thing to do. Perhaps you can help him out on that one.

Hanauer agrees that that’s the right thing to do — for purely selfish reasons:

Contact the White House. Do it for yourself. Or, at the very least, have the courtesy to do it for me. Because honestly, I’m beginning to run out of customers.

Electric Light Orchestra: Roll Over, Beethoven

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:58 am
Tags: , ,

Because it’s Throwback Thursday (#tbt), y’all:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 11:34 am

“This is the world I want to live in.”

*sniff* Dusty in here.

Monday, November 17, 2014 8:38 am

UNC System tuition: “A failure of liberal thought” … and much more than that

Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute writes:

“There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. … The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

“This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. …

“The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individual, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.”

I get that it’s Konczal’s job to write about the strengths and limits of liberal thought, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we focus only on the thought, we overlook the real-world consequences, which are: In a state in which the constitution requires UNC System tuition to be as nearly free as is practicable, we’re making it harder and harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education just so that we can keep the tax burden on the wealthy low.

That’s both immoral and, from a purely practical standpoint, very shortsighted. For 220 years, UNC has been the greatest economic driver North Carolina has. The education the system has provided has immeasurably enriched every sector of the state’s economy — agriculture, industry, medicine, tourism, you name it. The shortest way out of the problem of stagnating wages that Konczal describes is to invest in human capital. When we make it harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education, we are, economically speaking, cutting our own throats. That’s not just wrong, it’s asinine.

Unfortunately for the state, however, the GOP controls state government and the UNC System board, meaning that asininity, shortsightedness and greed are just the currency of the culture.

Saturday, November 15, 2014 1:56 pm

All kinds of awesome: “Pieholes should be quiet.”

Filed under: Cool!,Religion — Lex @ 1:56 pm
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I don’t know which is better about this, that a little girl is trying to shout down an amplified street preacher or that the street preacher is very politely ignoring her, thereby, in at least a small way, living Christ’s teachings. Me, I found myself pulling for both of them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 6:04 am

“If I ever figure out an answer, I’ll write it down.”

Filed under: Say a prayer — Lex @ 6:04 am
Tags: , , ,

Don Marsh on his experiences in “Operation Cobra,” the Allies’ Normandy breakout operation, July 1944:

Sooner or later you get to wash your clothes, but how do you cleanse your mind of such horrible memories? You don’t, you bring it home with you, among your souvenirs you can keep in a special place in a far corner of your mind. The door is never locked so you can visit the memory, if you are so inclined. Some do, some don’t. Years go bye and you have never given it any thought, then out of the blue something clicks in your brain and the whole scene appears again in Technicolor. To me the burning question is always “why?” If I ever figure out an answer, I’ll write it down so that others don’t forget.

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” doesn’t mean quite what you think (or what *I* thought)

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer — Lex @ 6:00 am

Army officer Robert Bateman, a historian, dove a little deeper last year to show that the punch line of Owen’s classic poem was based in part on a historical misunderstanding:

Between the time when he was blown into the sky by mortars at the age of 22 and when he was shot dead by machine gun fire at 25, he wrote some poetry, the finest bit of which is partially stolen from the Roman orator Horace. It was repurposed by Owen. Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori. Owen had been taught that Patria meant “your country.” He called this sentiment, “the old lie.” You should read this poem, because it is beautiful, before you read my critique.

..But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
…the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin…

Owen shows us, up close, the inhumanity of war. Then in the final lines he mocks the notion that it is sweet or right to die for one’s country. To do this, he repurposes a bit of Latin from the Roman orator Horace:

…The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

See, early in the war, the British government had used Horace to encourage enlistment by appealing to the population’s Edwardian sense of duty. In 1917, Owen would have understood, “Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori” as something like, “It is beautiful and right that one should die for one’s country.” Nationalism and propaganda colored Owen’s interpretation of Horace, and I appreciate his resentment. But I think Horace’s words can be understood differently — not as an old lie, but as a shared truth.

Pardon, for a moment, my amateur translation of the Latin. It is tinged and informed by history. Dulce roughly means, “correct and/or peaceful/beautiful/sweet.” The word “et” is the same now as it was then, “and.”

The next word, “Decorum” carries some freight. “Right” and “Proper” is often how it is translated now, but in context it means, I think, “according with the values of your society.”

“Est” is merely “is.”

“Pro Patria Mori” is a little complex. Pro means “for,” and “Patria” is, essentially, your country. Okay, no. That is not exactly right. That is just what Owens was brought up to think that it meant. In reality it sort of means, “The folks what brung you up.” Or maybe, “Your peeps.”

See, the problem is that the word “patria,” as it is often translated, is that the idea of a “country,” or a “nation” is a more modern invention than Horace, or any Roman, would have recognized. They did not think in terms of “countries,” and so Latin did not have words that talked about what we would recognize as countries. I think Horace would approve of my deconstruction. (No, I am not a Derridean.)

So the sum can be seen, Owen’s interpretation of, Dulce et Decorum est,” labeled by a man who saw war and called this “the old lie,” came out this way: “It is beautiful and right that one should die for one’s country.” But Wilfred was wrong. That is not his fault. He was a poet, not a historian.

Dulce et Décorum Est, Pro Patria Mori, should be translated this way: “Fighting and possibly Dying for your friends and family to protect and defend them, as you have been taught, is the right thing to do.” Nationalism and Propaganda colored Owens’ interpretation, and I understand his resentment. Horace had been used by the British government early in the War to encourage enlistment out of a sense of Edwardian duty. That is not Owens’ fault, he was reacting to his own nation — not the actual history.

But even knowing this, the dead march through my dreams. They are my friends, my soldiers, my cadets-turned-officers, my enemies, dead in their many ways, but dead all the same. For the same reason, friend and foe, they are dead. Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

And so, today, I ask you to remember them. All of them, because in the end, they died believing.

Friday, November 7, 2014 11:03 pm

This puppy has unashamedly staked out his top priority and is pursuing it with vicious, relentless focus that we all ought to admire.

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:03 pm
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In a few minutes, in fact, I’m going to emulate him:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 6:30 am

It’s 6:30 a.m., North Carolina. Do you know where your ballot is?

Polls are now open in North Carolina, so if you haven’t already, VOTE! It annoys the bastards.™

Sunday, November 2, 2014 8:47 am

For what it’s worth, I think Ol’ Roy is lying

I haven’t written much about the academic scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill, even though I got my master’s degree there, for one simple reason: I haven’t had a chance to read the Wainstein report, let alone the 900-page supplement, in which some of the worst dirt is said to be found. But what I have gleaned from media reports is bad enough: a rogue academic program of which a rogue athletic program took full advantage. There was an utter lack of institutional control — a lack that should lead to serious repercussions, and not only from the NCAA (as if).

What went on at UNC, involving roughly 3,100 students during an 18-year period, dwarfs what happened at Southern Methodist University, whose football program actually got the NCAA’s death penalty almost 30 years ago for paying 21 football players a total of $61,000. (That remains the only case in the modern era of the penalty’s being imposed on a Division I revenue-sport program.) If this doesn’t merit the NCAA’s death penalty, what does?

But I also think that this situation calls for God’s own proctological exam from the college’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. SACSCOC could, at the extreme, withdraw accreditation from UNC. Without accreditation, the university’s students no longer would be eligible for financial aid. And without that eligibility, much of the university would collapse from lack of cash. Large state universities are not as overwhelmingly dependent upon tuition revenue as are small, private colleges, but loss of accreditation would be an existential threat to UNC-Chapel Hill. And, frankly, I’m not sure it isn’t deserved.

I don’t say that lightly. I’m all too aware that the long knives already are out for the university at the hands of the state’s Republicans. And I acknowledge right up front that any such punishment would fall overwhelmingly on the heads of students, faculty, and staff who had nothing to do with the fraud and would suffer unjustly as a result. But I still think it needs to be said, needs to be talked about, because I’m not sure what else will get it through people’s heads, at Carolina and throughout college revenue sports, that if we’re going to have rules, we must abide by them. (Whether the rules we have are actually the rules we need is a separate discussion, albeit one I’m willing to enter with a very open mind.)

At UNC, although fewer than half the students involved were athletes, a disproportionate number of basketball players took advantage of sham classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department to remain academically eligible to play, including members of the 2005 national-championship team. And we’re being asked to believe that Coach Roy Williams and his predecessors — Matt Doherty, Bill Guthridge, even the sainted Dean Smith — didn’t know about it.

My friend and former colleague Ed Hardin says in today’s News & Record (column not online) that he believes Williams didn’t know, although he argues that Williams should have known. I don’t disagree with Ed lightly on matters athletic because he knows a hell of a lot more about them than I do. But I know deception as well as anyone. And what Williams says is too clever by half.

See, if he really didn’t know anything, then why would he admit that, as Ed puts it, “his only concern was that too many of his players were in the AFAM classes and that he never met with [whistleblower] Mary Willingham”? If he truly knew nothing, why even bring up those classes? If he truly were concerned with honesty, why not meet with Willingham?

No, I think Roy screwed up here in trying to make it look like he wasn’t completely an idiot. Unfortunately, complete idiocy is the only condition congruent with a claim that he knew nothing about the academic fraud. Otherwise, what he did amounts to willful ignorance, which, for a man in his position as head coach of a nationally ranked revenue-sport program, is complicity, full stop. Perhaps he might not have known all the details, but he had to know that his program was dirty and had been for years.

And as far as the bigger picture goes, we’ve basically been asked to believe that one rogue academic counselor and one rogue professor were the masterminds of a program through which 3,100 students over 18 years defrauded the university and were themselves defrauded in return. To put it politely, that hypothesis beggars belief. I think Roy knew, and Doherty, and Guthridge, and Smith. I think athletic director Bubba Cunningham knew, and John Swofford before him.

And I think the NCAA’s death penalty ought to be the least of UNC’s worries.

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