Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 10:19 pm

Odds and ends for March 25

I think it’s about damned time the president of the United States reminded Israel (as well as congressional Republicans) that we have no permanent allies and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.* It’s a position with which Israel should be familiar.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says that if Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t seeking the Democratic nomination for president and no one else runs on economic issues, he might have to run. That’s an interesting development. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support is a mile wide and, on average, an inch deep (see this Meredith College poll re her N.C. standing), precisely because she’s not running against the GOP’s continued reaming and killing of the working class and strip-mining of the little remaining wealth of the middle class. If Reich jumps in soon — which he would have to do to win — he’d pose a formidable challenge to Hillary and would add some desperately needed real-world substance to the 2016 debate.

N.C. Republicans continue their war on equality. Serious question, guys: Why do you hate America? And spare me your “religious freedom” crap, please.

North Carolina’s private-school voucher program has met with, to be charitable, deeply mixed success. So what do the Republicans want to do? Quadruple it, duh.

And they want to privatize the state ferry system, an essential public service for Outer Banks residents. Look at the backers’ financial support and see what you find.

I usually try to end these posts with something lighthearted or at least satirical, but today I’ve got nothin’. Have a good evening.

*Attributed to Henry John Temple Viscount Lord Palmerston

Friday, March 13, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for March 13

Charlie Pierce at Esquire has written the best big-picture analysis of what the GOP is up to that I’ve seen anywhere. They really don’t want a United States as you and I think of it. Dana Milbank at The Washington Post also addressed this issue, but largely in silly fashion.

For the record, after re-reading the Logan Act, I have changed my mind: I now think the 47 senators who signed that letter to Iran violated it. No, Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Assad doesn’t count because a bunch of Republican congresscritters also visited Assad just days before and after she did. No, the Democrats’ 1984 letter to the Nicaraguan government doesn’t count because basically all they did was ask for free elections, which the Reagan administration also wanted, or said it did. I realize nothing will happen to the 47 (and that Obama would be impeached immediately if his Justice Department made any moves in that direction), but this is worth documenting as another case in which Republicans broke the law and got away with it.

Did Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor and likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016, totally pull a story out of his rear end about having been anointed by Nancy Reagan to carry on in the spirit of the Gipper? Signs point to yes.

North Carolina is going to start issuing fracking permits on Tuesday. Not only do we not have, as promised, the best air-quality regulations in the nation regarding fracking, we don’t have any air-quality regulations regarding fracking at all. Your Republican state government at work, folks. And if they don’t care about the air, what makes you think they give a damn about your water?

The N.C. Senate officially doesn’t give a damn about at-risk kids in the state’s public schools. Ending the requirement for an individual education plan means nothing specific will be required to happen for any particular student and no one will be held accountable when it doesn’t. This doesn’t end the federally-required Individual Education Plans for special-needs students, but I’m sure Richard Burr, Thom Tillis and Mark Walker are working on that.

The N.C. GOP says it’s gonna start listening to people. That’s a laugh. If they wanted to listen to people, they could start by killing SB36 and SB181, the unsolicited, unnecessary, not-at-all-an-attempt-to-dilute-Democratic-voting-strength efforts to redistrict the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County commissioners, respectively.

So Florida has banned the use of the phrases “global warming” and “climate change” in state documents? Pikers. North Carolina did that years ago.

You can’t make this up: Indiana State Rep. Justin Moed, a Democrat, got caught sexting … with the same woman Anthony Weiner got caught sexting with.

This is cool, and I did not know about it before: In March 1944, in blatant violation of Jim Crow laws in force at the time, Duke University’s (white) basketball team played the team from N.C. College for Negroes (now N.C. Central University). And the Eagles gave the Blue Devils a righteous ass-whipping.

Tomorrow, 3/14/15, is Pi Day, so at 9:26:54 a.m. and p.m., you should eat pie. Just because. Also, no doubt to your vast relief, you can stop trying to square the circle; pi says it’s impossible.

 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:28 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 10

Terrorists are winning the war on terror, primarily because, more than a decade after 9/11 and despite all the costly lessons we’ve learned since then, the U.S. persists in playing the terrorists’ game instead of its own.

Dean Smith‘s public memorial will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smith Center. Which leads me to wonder: Where will they hold Billy Graham‘s, once he passes on? Bank of America Stadium? Charlotte Motor Speedway? The National Mall?

There’s just one teeny-weeny little problem with the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court that could, perhaps, lead to the Affordable Care Act’s being struck down: None of the four appears to have standing to be suing in the first place.

Could the hammer at long last be coming down on rogue Swiss(-ish) bank HSBC? I’ll believe it when/if it happens, but the Honorable Senator Professor Warren is on this like white on rice. (And just how rogue? Check this out.)

Jim Crow lynchings: significantly more common than previously reported.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but I could tell in 11th grade U.S. history that “right-to-work” was Orwellian doublespeak. Unfortunately, that ain’t all it is.

Debtors’ jail, ostensibly illegal in the U.S., apparently is alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri. A lawsuit seeks to change that.

“Trials” at Guantanamo: No, Casey, nobody here can play this game.

If you’ve never worked in newspapers, you probably thought newspaper executive editors couldn’t get any stupider, and that if they did, it wasn’t your fault as a reader. You were wrong, as Robert Price of the Bakersfield Californian is pleased to demonstrate:

Several weeks ago, [director of audience development] Louis [Amestoy] and I introduced a set of new expectations for reporters and editors. Chief among them was that reporters and editors shall write publishable content every single day. Not blow-out, eight-source 30-inchers (although they have their place), but quick-hit 4-inchers based on as few as a one source or even personal observation — “what I saw driving in to work” stories. So far I have seen almost none of these.

These are required and will be measured on your annual reviews (which are coming up). Please think about how you might start creating these. If you’re like me, you may think some stories (weather related, seen on a business marquee, etc) just don’t clear the bar of importance. Not true, in most cases. Readers gobble this stuff up. [emphasis added; along with the unmistakable sound of Our Lord and Savior weeping bitterly]

#StealAlltheGrammys According to Google, Annie Lennox, Kristen Wiig, Prince (“almost”), Kanye West, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams’s funky park ranger hat, among others, “stole the Grammys.” Thought you’d want to know.

 

 

Monday, February 9, 2015 8:01 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 9

So because I think Binyamin Netanyahu is a sociopath who has led Israel down a dangerously self-destructive path and who (as is true of any other head of state) has no business addressing our government without an invitation from the head of that government, Joe “Ratings Lower Than Whale Poop in the Marianas Trench at High Tide” Scarborough thinks I’m anti-Semitic. Fortunately, Dave Winer, the Godfather of Blogging, has a response: “Let me jewsplain that for you: chuck is a goy schmuck asshole schmeggegey nazi idiot dick.”

Some people just don’t have the temperament to be lawyers. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, not for the first time, is demonstrating that he is one of those people, ordering officials in that state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 legalization of same-sex marriage there. Coming into today, Alabama was 0-2 in nullification contests, and it began losing again today not long after county offices opened for business. Sorry, Roy. And screw you with a fence post, bigot.

“[I]f memory for events is strengthened at emotional times, why does everyone forget what they were doing when the Challenger exploded?” Memory is damned tricky. And our criminal justice system, for good or ill, needs to take better stock of its shortcomings.

A month or so ago I had to give New York Times op-ed pecksniff Ross Douthat credit for being right about the Charlie Hebdo incident. Now, I must give New York Times op-ed pecksniff David Brooks credit for being right about President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments. Verily, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming up the driveway and here I am all out of hay.

If Mike Freaking Huckabee blows that dog whistle any louder, he’s gonna owe me for some new windows.

So, Godwin’s Law with respect to privatization? Totally bogus:

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them.

(Seriously. I had no idea.)

There might be a case for not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo images, but outgoing NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos utterly fails to make it.

Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has a fiancee. His fiancee has advised the governor on some of the same energy issues on which she works as a paid consultant for private interests, and there’s roughly zero chance Kitzhaber was unaware of this major conflict of interest. I imagine there are roughly 4 million Oregonians who don’t give a damn what I think, but I think Kitzhaber should resign. I imagine a district attorney and a U.S. attorney there also don’t give a damn what I think, but I also think Kitzhaber should go to prison.

WRAL-TV catches Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam lying about Medicaid. Stop the presses.

A former chairman of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womackgets all butthurt over the fact that a Lee County coffee-shop owner doesn’t want Duke Energy’s coal ash dumped in her back yard. Because Womack was having trouble understanding the owner’s position, I wish she’d’ve spooned some coal ash into his coffee.

I was wrong; Carolina Panther Greg Hardy won’t be convicted on domestic-assault charges in a jury trial after all. The complainant has skipped town amid rumors of a civil settlement. I stand by my prediction, however, that Hardy has played his last game as a Panther.

Here in Greensboro, a patron at New Orleans Bar & Grille on Big Tree Way was unsatisfied with his steak Saturday night and started filming a review, when restaurant employees not only interrupted but also stole their phones. My wife’s from Louisiana, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before we set foot in that place. This deserves to go viral so hard that not even the owners’ grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever be able to try to start a business here. And the restaurant employees need to go to prison.

Let it never be said I’m not tough on crime. Y’all have a good evening.

 

Saturday, February 7, 2015 11:11 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 7

“Pro-life” Sen. Richard Burr doesn’t really give a rat’s ass if you or your unborn baby dies.

A British court has found seven years’ worth of surveillance by the UK’s counterpart to the NSA to be illegal. Question: Will anyone be punished? Answer: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA …

So Brian Williams is giving himself a paid vacation while he waits for the stink about his lying about his Iraq experience to blow over. Yes, he should be fired. No, he shouldn’t be the only person to suffer consequences for lying about Iraq.

Rummage in your bedside cabinet; the current condom shortage in Venezuela has boxes going for the equivalent of $755US.

‘Night, y’all.

Friday, February 6, 2015 8:03 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 6

Climate change: It’s a matter of national security.

Obama might be a socialist, but the country just completed its best three-month period of job growth in 17 years, bitchez. Still a long way to go — unemployment actually went up in January as more people resumed looking for work — but it’s definitely looking better.

Boko Haram is opening a branch office in neighboring Niger. Bloodshed and misery follow. World does little.

The annual silliness known as the National Prayer Breakfast was this week. And this year we got more proof, were more needed, about just how impossible it is for Americans conservatives to have an honest conversation about race.

NBC’s Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that got shot down in Iraq (which is a firing offense where I’m concerned), but did he also lie about seeing a body floating outside his New Orleans hotel after Hurricane Katrina? Quite possibly not.

Relatedly, why is it such a bad thing for Brian Williams to lie when Fox News personnel do it day-in and day-out, constantly? That’s neither a rhetorical question nor an exaggeration of the network’s mendacity.

Hey, anti-vaxxers? When Autism Speaks says you should vaccinate your kids, you’ve pretty much lost the vaccination argument.

I love it when they throw each other under the bus. This time, it’s Bibi and Boehner, who both deserve all the tire tracks.

One would think that maternal health would be a human right. Sadly, the U.S. has not gotten the word.

Yes, health insurance premiums have gone up an average of $4,154 under Obama — but that’s less than half as fast as they went up under Bush.

Is police reform impossible? Could be.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea (the state university system should benefit the entire state), then got busted for it, then lied about it, then got busted for lying about it. Great start to your presidential campaign, there, goob.

If there’s no war on women, it ain’t for lack of trying.

Intuit’s TurboTax, though not hacked itself, may be being used by scammers to file fraudulently for tax refunds.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership might be the most dangerous, and depressing, trade agreement you’ve never heard of.

The oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona has died at age 100.

The movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened today. Theater operators requested that patrons not dress up, or down, for the showings.

This is how the apocalypse will begin.

Or this, as a single penguin holds the entire crew of a Coast Guard vessel hostage. I, for one, welcome our new spheniscidaean overlords.

Y’all have a good weekend.

Saturday, January 31, 2015 9:10 am

“Massacre” vs. “shootout”; Mike Barber drags the discussion backward

The good news, I guess you can say, is that here in Greensboro we’re no longer arguing over whether we’ll have a state historical marker commemorating the killings of five Communist Workers Party members by Klansmen and Nazis in 1979. Instead, we’re arguing over whether the sign will say “massacre,” as the state advisory committee (trained historians) recommended, or something with fewer emotional overtones, like “killings” or “shootings.”

Any of those options is fine with me as long as the city takes this opportunity to come face to face with something it would rather forget. Nov. 3, 1979, was, pretty inarguably, the worst single day in Greensboro’s history. We’ve practically had to be forced at gunpoint to reckon with what happened that day and afterward, and how it happened, and why. But now, at least, the ground has shifted from “whether” to “how.” It’s not as much progress as I’d like, but it is progress.

Today’s story reminded me, though, of something from a story last week on this same issue, and an argument that cries out for a response. City Council member Mike Barber said:

“The bigger issue for me is that in a city of almost 300,000 people, we continue to have just a handful of people who live their lives looking in the rearview mirror. Other midsize cities are concentrating on the positive, marketing the positive, attracting jobs and businesses. We continue to discuss what happened when gas was 28 cents per gallon. That’s what holds Greensboro back — a small group of people who make an industry of racism and unhappiness, marketing all that’s unpleasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred.”

My initial response? Two syllables of basic Anglo-Saxon.

Who in the pluperfect hell is Mike Barber (whom, by the way, I’ve known since our daughters were in day care together) to decide that trauma suffered by other people is unworthy of thought, reflection, or mention? Who in the pluperfect hell is he to tell those who suffered that trauma to get over it? If his daughter had been killed in the shootout — or had died prematurely in any other way — would he be OK with me or anyone else telling him to get over it? Somehow I doubt it.

We’re supposed to believe that Greensboro is being held back, or even could be held back, by such a small group of people? Please. It’s OK for places from Andersonville to Auschwitz to “market all that’s unplesasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred,” but it’s not OK for Greensboro? Please. (And, boy, “market” is a revealing word, isn’t it?)

But, much worse, ridiculing and diminishing the tragedies in the lives of others displays, at the very least, a stunning lack of human sympathy. Doing so for political gain, as here, demonstrates nontrivial amounts of sociopathy. And because this kind of lack of sympathy and lack of empathy is at the heart of so many of the issues that divide us as Americans, it’s also bad for the country. White people tell victims of racism to get over it. Men tell women who have been raped, and/or whose rights are under assault in areas ranging from reproductive health to equal pay, to get over it. The wealthy tell Americans whose wealth has been stripmined where it hasn’t been swindled to get over it. People looking to capitalize on the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps of Engineers tell longtime New Orleans residents who lost their homes to get over it. And on and on. It goes against everything that we have told ourselves about what the United States stands for — not least, that we’re all in this together. Yet that is where Barber has chosen to place himself.

Mike Barber could argue against the marker on historical grounds. (He says he’ll go with whatever a majority of the council decides.) He could argue against the word “massacre” on the marker on rhetorical grounds. I might or might not agree with him, but these are subjects over which reasonable people of good will can disagree even if many of the arguments we’ve seen so far have been disingenuous. But Barber’s comments, uttered from a place of race, gender, and class privilege and obviously aimed at strengthening that place politically, put him squarely in the middle of a stream of American political thought whose source lies somewhere between Bob Haldeman and Nathan Bedford Forrest. If anything is truly holding Greensboro back, it’s that kind of attitude. It’s despicable. It’s evil. And I just thought someone should say so.

Sunday, January 25, 2015 11:03 am

Odds and ends for Jan. 25

I’ve had trouble finding time to blog at length about anything lately. (Working two jobs will do that to you.) So instead I’m going to return to the birdshot approach I’ve used under similar circumstances in the past. Blogging experts will tell you this is not how to maximize your audience, but blogging experts usually have only one job.

The News & Record’s Janice Carmac, a part-time employee to whom the paper wisely grants column space to from time to time, has a well-grounded, understated column today on the literally life-and-death importance of health insurance in general and the Affordable Care Act in particular, based on her family’s experience. Naturally, the paper didn’t put it online. UPDATE: It’s now online here.

Also in the N&R and of particular interest to Greensboro folks, columnist Susan Ladd righteously dopeslaps both Earl Jones and Mike Barber for their egregiously ill-intentioned dialogue over the International Civil Rights Museum and the larger issue of race in Greensboro. This is one of the few times where “both sides do it” really is accurate and contextual criticism.

My Davidson Wildcats beat George Mason on the road in OT last night to go 5-2 in the Atlantic 10 and win their second straight game (the first was against No. 22 Dayton) without their starting point guard. Someone remind me again how the ‘Cats were supposed to finish in the conference cellar this year.

If I were in charge of the Republican Party’s presidential-election efforts, I think I’d be doing everything short of human sacrifice to make sure that the first good look the nation got at my candidate pool wasn’t watching the richest of them suck up to two sociopathic billionaires right out of a James Bond film followed by watching the lot of them pile out of a clown car to genuflect in front of Iowa’s batshit insane religious-right GOP base.

Even as a final Supreme Court decision likely affirming the constitutionality of same-sex marriage approaches, some politicians — primarily Southern Republicans — continue to fight, pardon the expression, rear-guard actions against fairness and equality, as by threatening the state salaries of public officials who facilitate such marriages. The heathen rage for they know the end is near. And although I know that anecdotes are not equal to data, I must say that my own, different-sex marriage appears to have been remarkably unaffected by the advent of same-sex marriage here in North Carolina.

My Braves appears to have written off 2016, perhaps in hopes of fielding a strong team in 2017 when they move to a suburban stadium. No link; this is  just my (very disappointed) impression.

Politics 1, science and the future of humanity, 0: The U.S. Senate pretended not to be insane by voting 98-1 for a resolution stating the climate changes is real, then spoiled the effect by failing to approve (60 votes were necessary) a resolution saying that it is largely driven by human activity.

“Why do people in positions of power ask so many stupid questions?”

We’ve finally got teleporters. But still no jet packs. Grrr.

That’s all I’ve got. Time to work. A good week to all.

Friday, December 19, 2014 8:35 pm

Get a clue: Your tender fee-fees do not trump HUMAN LIFE

This is a point I’ve made many times in the past, usually in the context of privileged conservatives trying to cast themselves as victims.

Athenae at First Draft:

Your vague resentment of a public worker’s pension doesn’t mean he shouldn’t eat.

Your unnerved-ness about gay people doesn’t mean someone else should be prevented from receiving full equality under the l aw.

Your discomfort with abortion doesn’t mean a woman should die from a medical procedure.

Your belief in God doesn’t mean an atheist owes you something.

And once and for all time, mah fellow white peoples, your itch when you see a black dude you do not know is not something black people are required to indulge by dying.

People keep trotting out “sincere beliefs” as the reason their idiocies should be tolerated, as the reason minority groups or anyone they consider “other” should continue to be beaten down. As if the foibles of the fearful are equivalent to the beat of a human heart.

You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re even entitled to your “sincere belief,” as misguided, or, indeed, wackaloon, as it be. But you’re not entitled to have your feelings, your opinions, your sincere beliefs indulged at every turn, and you’re sure as hell not entitled to that indulgence if your tender fee-fees have a body count. Indeed, all you’re entitled to then is ridicule, or worse.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 5:59 pm

The Senate torture report

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. (You can download it here.) Here are five things you need to know as you read it.

1) “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” — Gen. Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army (ret.), April 20, 2009

2) “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” — Gen. Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army (ret.), June 18, 2008

3) The “report” being released today is merely a heavily redacted, 600-page executive summary. The full report runs to about 6,000 pages.

4) In the words of The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin, “Many of the same news organizations you are trusting today to accurately inform you about the torture report were either naive or knowing dupes in a CIA misinformation campaign orchestrated by top CIA officials, that included leaks of information that was amazingly enough both classified and inaccurate at the same time.” So you’ll want to be very, very cautious about accepting any news report that seeks to minimize or defend the torture program.

 5) Some additional background from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:

One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (includingduring the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate reportconcluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.

American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.

I expect that even the edited, redacted document we now have will confirm a lot of ugly things we already knew and tell us about even more ugly things we hadn’t known. But the truth needs to be made public so that we at least will know what the U.S. government has done in our name, whether or not the individuals responsible are ever brought to justice.

I understand that many Americans had, and have today, no problem with our torturing people. That doesn’t make it any more effective. And it doesn’t make it any more right.

I’ve been raising questions and raising hell about this issue for more than a decade, ever since the possibility that we were torturing first reared its ugly head months before the news broke about Abu Ghraib. And while there are a lot of issues with many shades of gray, this one, to me, is black and white. Despite quite a bit of criticism here and elsewhere online, I’ve not lost a minute’s sleep on this position, because whatever else happens, I don’t ever have to worry about my kids or grandkids asking me, “Why are people calling you a good German?”

 

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.

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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:40 pm

The single most important reason why we cannot elect another conservative president in my lifetime …

… is the federal bench in general and also, in particular, federal judges’ attitude toward the most precious and fundamental of our rights: the franchise. Charlie Pierce on SCOTUS’s recent stay of the 4th Circuit’s reinstating same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina:

There is a long, blue river of sadness running through the words of that dissent. It runs under the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. It pools into a lagoon of sadness behind an earthen dam in Mississippi. The survivors of the generation that fought and bled for the right to vote are getting old and dying off right now. John Lewis is 74. Soon, there won’t be any of them left. But it always was thought that the victories they won would survive them. That the real monument to their cause would be lines of the historically disenfranchised suddenly empowered, swamping the system, and realizing that elections in this country are meant to be the most powerful form of civil disobedience there is. And now, it looks very much as though powerful interests are in combination to make sure their victories die with them, here as we celebrate John Roberts’s Day of Jubilee. There is a long blue river of sadness running through those words, and a darkness spreading across its surface, and a long night is falling on the face of the water.

Conspiring to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights is a felony under federal law. But when a majority of the Supreme Court is among the co-conspirators, to whom do we turn?

Monday, October 6, 2014 10:00 am

An open letter to Kathleen Parker re the War on Women

Ms. Parker:

Normally I enjoy your work, but in your column today in the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, you stumbled and fell right out of the gate.

You wrote: “Let’s be clear. The war on women is based on just one thing: abortion rights.”

Clear as mud, ma’am.

I have not needed to work particularly hard to gain any special understanding or insight into the war on women. I only have needed to look at what goes on in my field, the media and communications, and to look at the experiences of my mother, my sister, my wife, and my daughter.

My mother runs a management consulting firm with clients on three continents, and that running is very much hands-on despite the fact that she will turn 80 in December. She has a long list of anecdotes about sexism in the workplace ranging from hiring and pay discrimination to the constant little patronizing, condescending comments men make to and about women, often without even realizing how offensive they’re being.

My sister works in the technical end of music and theatrical productions, a male-dominated field, and has had to work twice as hard to be paid half as well.

My wife, before changing careers recently, worked in information technology, which was, as you can imagine, even more of a testosterone sink than my sister’s field. And that was in higher education. I can only imagine what she would have had to put up with in the for-profit sector.

And my daughter is 16, and you and I both know what 16-year-old boys are like … as well as the condescending male adults in teens’ worlds. Just a few weeks ago, she had to sit and listen to teachers at her high school tell girls they couldn’t wear Nike shorts to school because doing so would be a distraction to the boys — as if the boys are somehow not responsible for their own actions.

The war on women takes many forms and is fought on many fronts, from hiring and pay equity to rape culture, particularly but not exclusively on college campuses.

You misleadingly argue, in effect, that because the Saudis mistreat women, the U.S. does not. Such an argument not only is untrue, it also seems to be implying that Americans have just as much control over Saudi law and culture as our own. That’s patently absurd. You’re desperately hoping that we won’t notice that one major political party in this country is doing everything it can both to cut back women’s rights and to discredit anyone who argues in favor of them, and that the other major political party is doing the opposite.

One particularly insidious aspect of this war is the inevitable blowback that any woman will receive when she attempts to speak out against the war on women — blowback from what anyone can see is a mixture of uninformed bigots and well-paid trolls, such as you with this very column. I hope the money helps you sleep at night.

You’ve made the classic mistake of argumentation, asking me which I’m going to believe, you or my lyin’ eyes. Lady, given that choice, I go with my eyes every single time.

Get bent,

Lex Alexander
http://www.lexalexander.net

Thursday, September 25, 2014 6:19 pm

“Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.”

“The thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s.”

I don’t agree with everything she asserts, but I get why she thinks as she does. I wish more people did.

Monday, September 8, 2014 7:49 pm

Joe Freeman Britt: Sociopath

This New York Times Sunday Magazine article about retired Robeson County DA (and later judge) Joe Freeman Britt shines a light into just how messed-up our judicial system is because of the ability of one sociopath to wreak havoc.

Britt won an international reputation decades ago as the “Deadliest DA,” but his many murder convictions and death-penalty judgments were won at the cost of innocent people’s lives: Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a 1983 killing. DNA evidence exonerated them, and they recently were released from prison.

It’s not clear what, exactly, Britt cares about with the legal system, but it obviously isn’t the truth, nor is it justice. He says it’s not his ego, and not only will I grant that he probably believes that, I’ll even grant the possibility that that’s true.

Just read the story. Britt’s behavior in office was so bad that the current DA, who is related to Britt, says:

He is a bully, and that’s the way he ran this office. People were afraid of him. Lawyers were afraid of him. They were intimidated by his tactics. And he didn’t mind doing it that way. … “You treat people with dignity, and you can get a whole lot more done that way than you can by trying to run over people. And that’s part of his legacy, that he ran over people.

Britt’s response to this rebuke? Nothing but macho blustering and ad-hominem attack:

“Well, let’s say, if I was a bully, he is a pussy. How about that?” the elder Mr. Britt said. “I think Johnson Britt has been hanging around too much with the wine and cheese crowd.”

I have my own ideas about what should happen to prosecutors and judges who willfully or negligently convict innocent people. Those ideas are tailor-made for sociopaths like Joe Freeman Britt, who, if he doesn’t watch it, could end up on a spit in Hell between two of the murderers he convicted who actually were guilty.

 

Your local daily newspaper didn’t fall. It was pushed.

Athenae basically says, yeah, sure, print journalism died of lead poisoning — in the sense that it was shot full of it:

No moral dimension?

It’s all just happening?

It’s nobody’s fault?

I hate to interfere with that comforting perception but I think it’s pretty clear there are more forces at work than just declining advertising revenue.

Imagine, for example, that instead of spending all the money they were making in the 80s and 90s on hookers, blow, and acquisitions of stupid [expletive] like baseball teams, newspaper companies socked that cash away. Imagine if they’d treated journalism like the public trust it always should have been, and safeguarded that trust, instead of partying like it was 1929.

Imagine if they’d greeted TV and the Internet not with defensive crabbing in public but with the confidence to use those media to enhance what they already did well, instead of flailing around in a goddamn panic pissing off every customer they had.

Imagine if they didn’t sign over their circulation and distribution departments to minimum-wagers who had no sales or logistics backgrounds and couldn’t sell the paper or deliver it properly.

Imagine if they courted “25-year-olds” with actual information, instead of insulting them with section after section that disparaged everything they found interesting or culturally relevant? Imagine if they looked at the places print was the best option — like college campuses or small towns or commuter suburbs — and invested there.

Imagine if they just RAN THEIR BUSINESSES WELL. What would print look like then?

We won’t know, because it’s much easier to just steal all the money, spend it on a yacht, and sit back while supposedly intelligent media commentators blame the Internet for everything.

And if you’re wondering why your local daily continues to suck, and sucks worse every year, well, this is, shall we say, a nontrivial part of the reason.

 

Thursday, August 28, 2014 7:27 pm

Karma is a bitch even — and maybe especially — if you’re the U.S.

Filed under: Evil,Sad,Say a prayer,Shooting the wounded — Lex @ 7:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

Chris Hedges at Truthdig:

Our terror is delivered to the wretched of the earth with industrial weapons. It is, to us, invisible. We do not stand over the decapitated and eviscerated bodies left behind on city and village streets by our missiles, drones and fighter jets. We do not listen to the wails and shrieks of parents embracing the shattered bodies of their children. We do not see the survivors of air attacks bury their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We are not conscious of the long night of collective humiliation, repression and powerlessness that characterizes existence in Israel’s occupied territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not see the boiling anger that war and injustice turn into a caldron of hate over time. We are not aware of the very natural lust for revenge against those who carry out or symbolize this oppression. We see only the final pyrotechnics of terror, the shocking moment when the rage erupts into an inchoate fury and the murder of innocents. And, willfully ignorant, we do not understand our own complicity. We self-righteously condemn the killers as subhuman savages who deserve more of the violence that created them. This is a recipe for endless terror.

Chaim Engel, who took part in the uprising at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp in Poland, described what happened when he obtained a knife and confronted a German in an office. The act he carried out was no less brutal than the beheading of Foley or the executions in Gaza. Isolated from the reality he and the other inmates endured at the camp, his act was savage. Set against the backdrop of the extermination camp it was understandable.

“It’s not a decision,” Engel said. “You just react, instinctively you react to that, and I figured, ‘Let us to do, and go and do it.’ And I went. I went with the man in the office, and we killed this German. With every jab, I said, ‘That is for my father, for my mother, for all these people, all the Jews you killed.’ ”

Any good cop, like any good reporter, knows that every criminal has a story. No one, except for perhaps a few psychopaths, wakes up wanting to cut off another person’s head. Murder and other violent crimes almost always grow out of years of abuse of some kind suffered by the perpetrator. Even the most “civilized” among us are not immune to dehumanization.

Sociopathic neocons to the contrary, “Kill ‘em all!” is never the answer, not only because it’s wrong, not only because it’s impossible, not only because it dehumanizes those who take part in it, but also because it doesn’t work. Indeed, not only does it not work, it blows back on us in ways that we see, in our mindless hubris, only as mindless barbarism.

(h/t: Carolina Under Seige)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 8:03 pm

Bell House is closing, and here’s why.

Bell House, a nonprofit, specialized assisted-living center here in Greensboro that serves people with orthopedic and/or neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, will be closing in two months.

It’s not entirely clear where its current residents will go.

The center blames Medicaid cuts.

Insurance executive Richard Mayhew explains why this didn’t have to happen.

TL;DR version: It’s the fault of Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP legislature.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 9:46 pm

Greensboro Urban Ministry needs your help. Now.

The ministry’s plea, [fixed] from its news release (via Yes! Weekly):
 
This summer, we held a food drive call “Feeding the 5,000” in partnership with the City of Greensboro, First Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, Friendly Avenue Baptist, Grace UMC, New Garden Friends Meeting, Starmount Presbyterian, VF Corporation, West Market Street UMC, Adams Farm Community Church, Christ UMC, Faith Wesleyan Church, St. Andrews Methodist, and St. Pius X Catholic Church.  Through this drive, cash and non-perishable food items totaling more than 15,000 lbs were collected.  However, this food provided for only two weeks of food assistance.
 
Our pantry now looks much like that of our clients – it is bare. And, there is little hope in sight until the end of September when the annual Leadership Greensboro Senior’s Food Drive restocks our shelves. Until that time, we will be purchasing food to meet the needs of our clients. In their first annual meeting last night, the Greensboro Urban Ministry Board of Directors pledged enough funds to purchase nearly two weeks worth of food, yet we have six weeks to cover.  That is why we are asking you, our supporters, to help us fill this gap and meet the needs of our clients. Your monetary gift, or donation of non-perishable food items, will go directly to those individuals in our community who would otherwise go to bed hungry tonight. Won’t you please support our efforts and give?
 
As reported last week, hunger is growing faster in this metro than in all but nine other metros nationwide. And no long-term solution is on the horizon at the federal, state or local level. So dig deep. And, please, do it today.

Saturday, August 16, 2014 11:24 pm

Reality check, Ferguson, MO, edition

David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” points out just a few elements of the bullshit that has been thrown our way since Michael Brown was gunned down in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Mo.:

The notion that police officers are entitled to anonymity after such an action [taking a human life — Lex] is not merely anti-democratic; it is, in fact, totalitarian.  The idea that a police department, with all of its resources and sworn personnel, might claim to be unable to protect an officer from retribution, and therefore employ such anonymity to further protect the officer from his citizenry is even more astonishing.  And any police agency showing such institutional cowardice which might then argue its public should continue to come forward and cooperate with officers in police investigations and to trust in the outcome is engaged in little more than rank hypocrisy.  After all, if an armed and sworn officer — backed by all the sworn personnel of his agency, by the power of its prosecutorial allies, the law and the courts — is afraid, then why should any witness or party to any crime, unarmed and unallied as they are, be asked to come forward and participate publicly in the process?

Earlier tonight, I had an exchange on Facebook with someone claiming to be a police officer about the Ferguson case. I was polite until the point at which he suggested I do a ride-along sometime — as if I hadn’t done hundreds of hours worth in 25 years of journalism, as if I hadn’t, as he suggested, seen what they saw and smelled what they smelled.

He also argued, among other things, that the victim had been caught on videotape stealing cigars from a store (it has not been confirmed that the victim was in fact in the video), that the cop who shot him knew this (we now know the cop had no idea), that the victim was stopped for possessing the purportedly stolen cigars (again, way too many assumptions about facts that remain in question) and that the victim therefore probably thought he was going to be arrested for stealing some cigars (we have no idea what the victim thought) and thus behaved in a way that forced the officer to kill him (according to all available evidence thus far, utter horseshit).

So I called the guy out on all the assumptions he had made without any evidence. I said any “cop” who would handle a case as he was handling this one didn’t deserve the honor of wearing the badge bestowed by us taxpayers. And, because his writing suggesting that he was a lot younger than I am, I addressed him as “son.”

This gave him a case of the ass, apparently; according to Facebook, he deleted the thread. Whether he did or not, he certainly DM’ed me with a brief message: “Fuck you.”

Well, right back at you, “officer.” You made inaccurate assumptions about me, you behaved condescendingly and patronizingly, you spouted a bunch of crap about the Ferguson case that either was questionable or was flatly untrue, and then, when called on it, you accused those holding you accountable of being “rude.” Was I rude? I called you “son” because it’s statistically likely that if you’re still a working cop, you’re younger than I am, because your writing style suggested you are a LOT younger than I am, and because — I admit it — I knew it would piss you off. But you know what? As a sworn law enforcement officer, you’ve got to weigh some things sometimes, including damage to your ego vs. oh, I don’t know, BLOWING AWAY AN UNARMED MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREET FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.

And that’s before we even get into the race issue, which is deeply rooted in Ferguson, Mo.

I am not an expert at law enforcement, though I know a little more than the average civilian. But one thing I am kind of an expert on is how people respond to authority, particularly when it is abused. And that is what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

All you gun owners out there: What was the first rule your daddy taught you about guns? Don’t point your gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. So if I’m a resident of Ferguson, Mo., and the police department my tax dollars support rolls up to me in an armored vehicle when I’m not doing anything and levels a machine gun at me, you tell me what in the pluperfect hell I’m supposed to think. You tell me whom in the pluperfect hell I’m supposed to trust.

Go on. I’ll wait.

Forget the racial angle, though I have no doubt it’s relevant in Ferguson, where the victim and two-thirds of the population are black and the police department is overwhelmingly white. Forget the political angle, too: I’m a white, middle-aged, male Republican. But if the cops in my city shot an unarmed 18-year-old white man down in the middle of my street, refused to answer questions about it, and then rolled an APC into my ‘hood and pointed a machine gun at me when I tried to get answers, I’d be pissed, too. I’d be wanting answers, too. And I’d be expecting somebody to be held accountable, too.

Understand, please, that anyone who actually rioted, committed vandalism, looted, or what-have-you in Ferguson should be prosecuted and jailed. But understand also that not everyone who is in the streets of Ferguson tonight has done that — indeed, most of them have not and some of them have tried to stop those who have.

But the bottom line is just as Spider-Man said: With great power comes great responsibility. Cops have the power of life and death. They have the responsibility to operate legally, competently, and transparently, and to have their transgressions treated transparently. Police in Ferguson, Mo., have been behaving as if this reality does not apply to them, and they’re taking shit for that from people nationwide (as well they should). And telling anyone who reminds you of this fact, “Fuck you,” is not going to change the situation. Indeed, it might only make it worse.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 11:21 pm

Rigged

Nine years ago today, my father died. He was 75 and a self-employed financial consultant who was still working about 30 hours a week right up until his final illness (acute pulmonary fibrosis), which lasted a couple of weeks before his death.

From an early age, I heard Dad talk about the importance of saving and investing, and I did the best I could to follow his advice. As I got older and better able to grasp the mechanics, he talked about the stock market as the best long-term investment vehicle for retirement (although he did say that once I hit 50 I should start swapping some equities for bonds).

To the best of my abilities, I have followed his advice. I won’t give you numbers, but I’ll tell you the following: I don’t have a ton of ready cash and never have. But were I to die tomorrow, my family would be pretty well fixed, especially considering I was a journalist, and thus not particularly well paid, for most of my career. Like many Americans, I haven’t gotten a dime in retirement matching for coming up on about seven years now, but — although no one can read the future — I think my family and I will be OK assuming I live to 67 and actually get to retire.

But Dad didn’t live long enough to see the mortgage bubble burst. He didn’t live long enough to hear all the revelations about bank and nonbank and insurance-company and security-rating shenanigans on a scale that dwarfed the crimes of the S&L crisis two decades prior. He thought repealing Glass-Steagall was a bad idea, but he didn’t live long enough to see just how bad. For that matter, he didn’t live long enough to see high-frequency trading and the ease with which the practice makes front-running a trade possible.

So although I’m remembering Dad today with warmth and his passing with sadness, for some reason the Dad thought that has been most on my mind today has been: I wonder what he would make of today’s financial markets? Would he still consider it possible for a single, well-informed investor to do OK? Or would he be convinced, as I have been, that most of the market is a rigged game — that there is a club and that most Americans like me aren’t in it?

(And I’m writing from a middle-class prospective. My problems don’t even begin to touch the problems of the working poor, who are being robbed outright.)

I don’t know what he’d think. All I do know is that while he certainly wasn’t perfect, in his professional life, to the best of my knowledge, he acted with integrity and took seriously his fiduciary duty to his clients. I’m struggling to name a commercial or investment bank that exists today that I’m confident does the same thing.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 7:27 pm

The problem with the “new economy” — and how the media make it worse

Ed at Gin and Tacos:

Things like airbnb and Uber (a car sharing service, for those of us who don’t live in a city large enough to make the prospect of paying a stranger to drive you somewhere viable) are “building trust” among Americans, bringing them together and facilitating economic activity. Plus, they make the economy more efficient, partially eliminating the dead airtime in daily life. Why leave your house empty when you can get someone else to pay you to stay in it? Why sit around watching TV all evening when you could make money driving people around?

It all sounds great, at least according to the fawning sycophants who provide all of us out here in the provinces with such worshipful coverage of the amazing achievements of the Techno-Demigods. And it is great as long as you don’t bother to ask (or care) why people are suddenly employing themselves as improvised innkeepers and taxi drivers. After all, does anyone really want to let some strangers stay in their home for a few bucks? To drive some trust fund asshole to the airport on Saturday after a 45 hour week? I doubt it. People turn to the “Trust Economy” because they’re somewhere between financially stressed and desperate. They don’t make enough or they’re without any steady source of income at all. They do it for the same reason that people go to work at a temp agency or loiter in a Home Depot parking lot to do day labor: because they have no better options.

The tech media work hand in hand with the mainstream media to put the brightest and prettiest coats of paint on economic developments of this kind, but who really benefits from this kind of arrangement? Hold on to your hats, kids, but it isn’t you. The beneficiary is the guy who can get people like you to perform for pennies on the dollar all of the tasks that a driver, personal secretary, and butler would do. It’s remarkable how many of the recent Big Developments from the omniscient men of the Valley have managed to make the lives of the well-off easier without actually creating any jobs that pay a livable salary or have benefits. Oh, and they convince the media to cover these breakthroughs in a way that makes it sound like they’re doing you a favor. You’re free at last, free at last. Say goodbye to the chains of full time employment and hello to the boundless freedom of working piecemeal, making phone calls on Mechanical Turk for a quarter and driving Damon the Junior Content Developer to the airport so he can spend the weekend in Cozumel with his frat bros.

The problem with the fact that the economy created a robust 288,000 jobs in April is that it needs to keep doing that for many, many more months to begin to undo the damage wrought by the Crash of ’08. And in the meantime, people are doing whatever they have to do to get by. Ignore it if you like, sociopaths of the world, but for God’s sake do not try to romanticize it. There is some shit even Americans won’t eat.

The future is here, and it blows.

 

Monday, April 14, 2014 12:09 am

Is we is or is we ain’t a nation under the rule of law?

I think we ain’t, but it looks like we’ll know soon enough, because the leak even I could see coming is here:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

So, in plain English:

  • The CIA tortured people — some of whom died of it, remember — in violation not only of international and U.S. law but also in violation of the flimsy, themselves-illegal guidelines set up by the Justice Department.
  • The CIA lied to the White House and Congress, obstructing their oversight, which is duly required by Constitution and statute.
  • The CIA lied to its own inspector general.

So CIA personnel ordered and committed hanging offenses and lied to everybody about it. That’s the bottom line, folks. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Let’s be very clear about what needs to happen here:

  • The people who actually carried out the crimes must be charged and tried, but so must the people who ordered them and the people who lied about them.
  • If anyone carried out or ordered torture that resulted in death, that individual is subject to the death penalty. As a tough-on-crime conservative, I can sleep soundly knowing that.
  • If anyone used the classification process to try to hide evidence of a crime, he should be criminally prosecuted for that offense.
  • If anyone then or now in a Senate-confirmable position carried out or ordered a crime, he should be impeached and convicted, thereby to revoke his pension and any other benefits of having served in the federal government.

If these things do not happen, then we are not a nation under the rule of law, plain and simple. I wish I could say that we are, but experience suggests that nothing will happen.

So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s put paid, once and for all, to this notion of American exceptionalism. We are not special. We are not a shining city on a hill. We are not a Christian nation in any way that Christ Himself would recognize. We are not even, to judge by both legal standards and OECD measures for quality of life, a particularly good example.

It is tempting to say that we are governed by a parliament of whores, but to do so would insult whores, who generally are not nearly as hypocritical about what they do as our leaders are. We are a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an outlaw nation, and the only differences between our genocide and that of the Nazis is that ours was less recent and less efficient. Indeed, it was ironic for me to read tonight on Facebook about my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman honoring the congressional service of my friend Howard Coble, when Coble, a former federal prosecutor, did nothing to stop precisely the kind of behavior on the part of Americans that got Nazis hanged at Nuremberg.

I’d love to be proved wrong on this. I really, really would. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna. And Americans need to understand that and to plan their futures accordingly.

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, April 3, 2014 6:30 pm

Life and death, post-9/11, and why it matters if you live in North Carolina

In March, for the first time in 11 years, no U.S. service members died in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

That’s good. Hell, that’s GREAT.

But it doesn’t mean our problems are over:

On average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

To commemorate them and raise awareness, 32 veterans from the group flew to Washington, D.C., to plant 1,892 flags on the National Mall today, one for each of the veterans that the group says took his or her own life in 2014. IAVA extrapolated that number from a 2012 Veterans Administration report finding that 22 veterans took their lives each day in 2009 and 2010, only a slight increase from years past, and a number that includes all veterans, not just those who served in America’s more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The event was part of IAVA’s 2014 Storm the Hill campaign, an annual week of action in which organization vets meet with lawmakers to push a veterans’ agenda picked for that year. In 2013, it was the Veterans Affairs benefits-claim backlog; this year, it’s veteran suicides.

“I know several individuals that have died by suicide,” Sara Poquette of Dallas, a video journalist who served in Iraq, said, adding that she herself considered suicide while experiencing the hardships of reintegrating into civilian life. “For me personally, it was more just getting through until I was really ready to get help, just realizing that my life was going down a path that I never really wanted it to go down.”

In Joining IAVA, Poquette said, she found a “new unit.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is pushing a bill, the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, which Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., plans to introduce. Walsh commanded a Montana National Guard battalion in Iraq.

“When we returned home, one of my young sergeants died by suicide, so this is very personal to me,” Walsh told reporters on the Mall today, calling veteran suicides “an epidemic we cannot allow to continue.”

The bill would extend eligibility for Veterans Administration health care, create a pilot program for student-loan repayment if health care professionals work for the VA, instigate a review of certain behavioral discharges, and mandate a review of mental health care programs at the VA, IAVA said.

The group is calling on Congress to pass the bill by Memorial Day.

OK, so the numbers are extrapolations, not exact counts. But even if they’re off a good bit, they’re still intolerably high. God bless Sen. John Walsh for planning to introduce this bill.

But you know who else could do something about veterans’ suicides and other problems, particularly with disability payments, that veterans are experiencing and have been for years?

That would be the ranking minority member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

That would be the guy from Winston-Salem, home of the VA regional office with one of the nation’s worst backlog of disability claims cases and a record of illegally destroying claim files.

That would be my senior senator, Richard Burr.

How ’bout it, Senator? Time to saddle up, ya think?

Friday, March 28, 2014 8:57 pm

If only there were a solution; or, Why Pat McCrory and Art Pope need to be horsewhipped

From today’s News & Record print and e-edition (but apparently not from the website, so probably paywalled):

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday asked for more belt-tightening within state government as a pre-emptive move to protect the state from a Medicaid shortfall and a fuzzy revenue picture.

In a memorandum to state agencies and their leaders, McCrory said that while the state’s fiscal picture is much improved compared with “a year ago, “the state still needs to exercise restraint for the remainder of the fiscal year,” ending June 30. He wrote a similar directive in March 2013.

McCrory’s state budget office projected this week that Medicaid expenditures could be up to $140 million above the amount the General Assembly authorized.

First of all, “McCrory’s state budget office” is budget director Art Pope, the real governor. McCrory’s just the cabin boy.

Second, so the state might need to spend $140 million above what’s been authorized. Gee. Whocouldaknowed? And if only there some way the state could do something about that without eliminating raises for hard-working state employees, who have seen damn little in the way of raises since the Crash of ’08. There ought to be something we could do, y’know. Hmm. What could it be? And why didn’t the AP and/or the News & Record point that out?

But we continue:

While revenue projections are largely on track to cover this year’s budget, “there is revenue uncertainty for the remainder” of the year, McCrory wrote.

Stop right there, bubba. Both of those things cannot be true simultaneously. McCrory, by whom I mean Pope, is just flat-out lying here and hoping no one will notice. Certainly the AP and the News & Record didn’t.

He also ordered his Cabinet-level agencies to discontinue most salary increases, limit purchases, reduce travel expenditures and reconsider contract work.

Translation: Basically, we’re not just going to screw up Medicaid, we’re going to screw up every other agency, too.

Jesus wept. What they’re doing (and refusing to do that could help) is bad enough. And the news media are giving them a free pass on top of that.

Dear Merciful God, I’ve had a pretty good life, all in all, and so I haven’t asked you for much. And much of what I have asked for, you’ve delivered. But even though you did my family and me quite a solid just today, I’m asking this: Please let Roy Cooper, or some other competent Democrat, run against McCrory in 2016 and whip him like a rented mule. I mean, whip him so badly he needs skin grafts to close all the bloody welts on his ass.

Now, Lord, I grant that’s pretty harsh. But your own son took a brutal flogging en route to saving humankind. Meanwhile, thousands of North Carolinians are doing without health insurance, and thus health care, who wouldn’t have to except that Pat McCrory and Art Pople hate the non-white guy in the White House. And a nontrivial number of those North Carolinians, research shows, are likely to die prematurely because McCrory and Pope are petty, racist sociopaths. So I figured that taking a beating like that wouldn’t fix the damage McCrory will do between now and January 2017. But it might make a lot of suffering people feel a little better and prevent a boatload more suffering in the future.

So if it wouldn’t be too much trouble …

Amen.

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)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 8:27 pm

Was EVERYBODY to blame for the 2008 crash? Not just no, but, hell, no.

Dean Starkman at The New Republic, writing long and worth every word and minute:

With Wall Street’s demand for mortgages unending and some loan producers managing to book up to 70 loans per day, the system didn’t just crash. It was brought down.

But we’ve also been made to understand that subprime lenders and their Wall Street funders didn’t act alone. Instead, they were aided by the avarice of the American people, who were not victims of the crash so much as accomplices in it. Respondents to aRasmussen poll done during the throes of the crisis overwhelmingly blamed “individuals who borrowed more than they could afford” (54 percent) over Wall Street (25 percent). To this day, the view is widespread and bipartisan: Main Street was an essential cause of the meltdown. The enemy was us.

“It all goes back to the increase in the tolerance for debt,” David Brooks wrote a couple of years ago. …

One of so many instances in which Brooks has been flat wrong on the facts without professional consequence. But I digress.

Is that not the truth?

Actually: No, it’s not. The notion that American consumers share the blame for the mortgage crisis is a lie. And it is one of the most pernicious out there.

Everyone-Is-To-Blame (or EITB, for brevity’s sake) has done much to mute the public outcry essential for sweeping efforts to respond to the financial catastrophe. To the extent that Dodd-Frank fell short of the root-and-branch reform that followed the last great crash in 1929, EITB is to blame. The fact that banks too big to fail before the crisis have been allowed to grow to twice their pre-bubble sizes can be traced to a nagging sense that they didn’t act alone. And if you wonder why, six years after the fact, no significant Wall Street figure has been criminally prosecuted, I would suggest that EITB has muddied perceptions just enough to allow the administration to sidestep the necessary legal mobilization. If everyone is to blame, then criminal indictments of individual executives can be framed as exercises in scapegoating.

Everyone-is-to-blame did its worst damage to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, an effort rolled out in the immediate aftermath of the crisis to reduce borrowers’ monthly payments through refinancing or principal write-downs. It was the mere idea of HAMP that set off Rick Santelli on his 2009 rant about “losers’ mortgages” and their “extra bathroom,” sparking the Tea Party revolt. The prospect of helping delinquent borrowers, while others paid theirs on time, unleashed a flood ofressentiment that filled the Congressional Record with denunciations of “irresponsible” actors who “lied” only to wind up in line for “gift equity,” and “tax-payer subsidized windfall.” Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the concept of “happy-go-lucky borrowers” and “cagey borrowers.” Jim Bunning, then Kentucky’s junior senator, felt compelled to warn against helping homeowners “who made bad decisions.” The outpouring tapped into a sentiment powerful enough to silence even some liberals and turned hamp into a political disaster for the Obama administration. Left adrift, the program went from a potential lifeline for borrowers to a fee-machine for servicers and a Kafkaesque nightmare for those it was supposed to help.

As an agent of obfuscation, EITB is a gift that keeps on giving. In October, The Washington Post’s editorial board objected to a $13 billion mortgage-era civil settlement with J.P. Morgan largely because it unfairly singled out the bank, when, in fact, “everyone, from Wall Street to Main Street to Washington, acted on widely held economic beliefs that turned out not to be true.” A forthcoming book by Bob Ivry, a Polk Award–winning investigative reporter for Bloomberg News (and, full disclosure, a friend), eloquently inveighs against big banks and their Washington lackeys, but also includes this assertion: “In the years leading up to the Great Bubble-Burst of 2008, everybody got a chance to cash in. … If you wanted to buy a place to live, you could get more house than you ever dreamed. You could use your rising home equity for the Disney vacation, the power boat, the fourth bedroom or the college education.” …

True. But that’s not the same thing as mortgage fraud, which, though not trivial, was an incredibly small part of the total problem:

In 2010, an FBI report drawing on figures from the consultancy Corelogic put total fraudulent mortgages during the peak boom year of 2006 at more than $25 billion. Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously not nothing. But here again, teasing those mortgages out of that year’s crisis-related write-downs of $2.7 trillion from U.S.-originated assets leaves our infamous “cagey” borrowers to blame for only a tiny share of the damage, especially since not all of the fraudulent mortgages were their fault. The ratio looks roughly something like this:

Yes, some of our cab drivers, shoeshine boys, and other fellow citizens tricked a lender into helping them take a flyer on the housing market. But the combined share of the blame for bad mortgages that can be placed on the public sits—and I’m really rounding up here—in the high single digits, and not the much larger, fuzzier numbers in our heads.

The fact is that defrauding a bank that actually cares about the quality of a loan is actually rather difficult, no matter how aggressive or deceitful the borrower. Lenders, on the other hand, can lie with relative ease about all sorts of things, and mountains of evidence show they did so on a widespread basis. For starters, it’s lenders who establish the loan-to-value ratio for a property: how much money the buyer is borrowing versus the house’s estimated worth. Banks didn’t used to let you take out a mortgage too close to the home’s total cost. But play with those numbers and, voilà, a rejected loan application turns into an accepted one. Leading up to the crash, some banks’ representations about loan-to-value ratios were off by as much as 40 percentage points.

Then there was the apparent rampant corruption of appraisals, which also have nothing whatsoever to do with borrowers. Before the bubble popped, appraisers’ groups collected 11,000 signatures on a petition decrying pressure by banks to arrive at “dishonest” or inflated valuations.

And that’s to say nothing of lenders misleading borrowers directly—a practice that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the Levin-Coburn report, and lawsuits by attorneys general around the country have all found was very much systemic. Mortgage brokers forged borrowers’ signatures and altered documents; Ameriquest (those guys again!) had its own “art department,” as it was known internally, for precisely that function. Oh, and remember those 137,000 instances of “suspicious activity” about possible borrower misdeeds? For the sake of perspective, Citigroup settled a Federal Trade Commission case alleging sales deception that involved two million clients in a single year. That’s what we call wholesale, and it was happening before the mortgage era even really got started.

Today, there’s a big and growing body of documentation about what happened as the financial system became incentivized to sell as many loans as possible on the most burdensome possible terms: Millions—and millions—of borrowers were sold subprime despite qualifying for better.

Perhaps the most astonishing and unappreciated finding comes from The Wall Street Journal, which back in December 2007 published a study of more than $2.5 trillion in subprime loans dating to 2000 (that is to say, most of the subprime loans of the era). The story, by my former colleagues Rick Brooks* and Ruth Simon, painted the picture of a world gone upside-down: During the worst years of the frenzy, more than half the subprime loans issued went to borrowers who had credit scores “high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.” In 2006, the figure hit 61 percent. Along with its article, the Journal illustrated the alarming trend line with a version of the following graphic:

It goes without saying that no one would voluntarily eschew a prime loan for subprime—subprime is called that for a reason, carrying higher, often escalating rates; pre-payment penalties that “shut the backdoor” by precluding refinancing; and other burdens tacked on for good measure. The Journal concluded that its analysis “raises pointed questions about the practices of major mortgage lenders.” That’s putting it mildly!

He goes on to suggest some reasons why Everybody Is To Blame is such a popular world view. But what he keeps coming back to, what we must keep coming back to, is that it is wrong. If you actually look at the numbers — you know, like bankers are supposed to do — you consistently find that the overwhelming majority of the financial damage was caused by the banks, often through unethical and sometimes even illegal means.

Even so, today, we refuse to punish those responsible. If there’s Blame to be laid at the feet of Everybody, this is it. Charlie Pierce is fond of saying that for all Occupy Wall Street’s many foibles, gaffes and mistakes, it at least got people shouting at the right buildings — i.e., corporations rather than government, and the big banks in particular. Unfortunately, some of the country’s top journalists and pundits still get it wrong, and they and the lawmakers on the take form a daisy chain that keeps anything substantive from happening, not only to punish those who were responsible last time but also to do what it takes keep something like this from happening again.

It’s not Everybody’s fault. Everybody is NOT to Blame. The banks and their executives and boards are to blame. And part of citizenship in a constitutional republic is to hold them to account.

*Disclosure: Rick Brooks worked with me at the N&R in the early 1990s.

Thursday, March 6, 2014 7:57 pm

The effort to help the poor that even the GOP could love, once, is now in their sights

Tim Noah:

President Obama’s new budget increases spending on and expands eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit, the largest and most successful government assistance program for the working poor.

The much-praised House GOP tax reform introduced last week would cut the EITC, even though a House GOP report excoriating most federal assistance to the poor singled out the program for applause.

This new partisan difference over the EITC – a program that in the past has been a rare source of bipartisan agreement – speaks volumes about Republicans’ newfound ambivalence toward the working poor.

The EITC was created back in 1975 by Sen. Russell Long, who–despite being the son of populist Louisiana Gov. Huey “Every Man A King” Long – was fairly conservative. The idea was to use government assistance to reward work rather than indolence among the poor; you only got the money if you could show that you had worked.

This conceit had obvious appeal to President Ronald Reagan, who expanded the program, and later to President Bill Clinton, who expanded it much further even as he eliminated “welfare as we know it,” i.e., long-term, no-strings cash assistance to the poor. (The EITC was further expanded under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.)

Welfare reform should have ended the partisan scrimmage over welfare dependency. Instead, it merely shifted the goalposts. Previously, the GOP had praised the “deserving” (i.e., working) poor even as it derided the “dependent” (i.e., welfare-collecting) poor. But with Clinton’s abolition of long-term assistance and imposition of work requirements, it became more difficult to isolate a class of nonworking, government-dependent poor that Republicans could reliably scapegoat. So they gradually came to rebrand as “dependent” any low-income person who collected government assistance, even if that person also had a job. In effect, conservatives broadened their definition of “welfare” to the breaking point, including food stamps (most of which go to people with jobs), Medicaid (a benefit you collect only if you get sick), and even Pell Grants.

I don’t think the Republicans are “ambivalent” toward the working poor. I think they actively want to kick them harder. They may say otherwise, but by their works ye may know them. North Carolina already has killed its own version of the EITC because our legislature is controlled by sociopaths.

UPDATE, 9:37 p.m.: Forgot the link. It’s there now.

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