ISMS

Posted in Rants on August 25th, 2008 by Ed

To be completely honest, it pisses me off that outsourcing has become such well-publicized political issue. We may not do dick about it, but it certainly comes up a lot in campaigns these days.

Outsourcing isn't new. "Average Americans" and mainstream politicians caring about it is. Four decades ago the MBAs and CEOs of the world realized how much money they could save by taking an end-around the uppity unions and doing un- or semi-skilled labor in Third World countries for pennies on the dollar. And here's the trick – the top 1% convinced the next 20% that they were on the same side of the game. Outsourcing worked because the upper-middle class – accountants, management types, IT folk, engineers who made instantaneous global communication possible – were told that they were part of the "us" in the game against "them" (the malingering, easily-replaceable slugs who made the widgets and whined for pensions). "Us white-collar management types are virtually irreplaceable," they agreed, "because we were smart enough to acquire valuable skills that the market rewards." This has always been one of Mike's big points – that the guy making $80-$100k in some generic office job has been convinced that he is the one being referred to when people talk about the rich.

Of course we know that outsourcing has become a relevant political issue because the white-collars are getting tossed overboard and the financial industry is the one getting reamed. Here is a great read if you want to see some major-league bond trader and mortgage broker whining. The message between the lines is practically shouted through their dazed comments: the market eliminating jobs en masse was natural and fair when it happened to other people, those useless people. Not us! We're special! Look at our business degrees! It's funny how Wall Street gives fewer rousing speeches about the majesty of the free market now that the MBAs are the ones in the underwhelming, no-benefit jobs.

How did they convince themselves that outsourcing was something they could embrace but personally avoid? My answer involves two -isms: elitism and a dash of racism. The illusion rested on the smug reassurance that those (yellow/Slavic/brown/etc) people can do assembly line work and make shoes, but savages can never master accounting. They can make the semiconductors, but they can't design them. They can answer tech support questions from a script, but they can't run Dell. That kind of work requires specialized skills that only "we" are smart enough to master. Now everyone look surprised when China, India, and others start turning out people willing and able to do white collar work at a cut rate.

When people defend outsourcing, my first question is invariably what they do for a living. Ask Mr. Middle Management, Mr. Computer Whiz, or Mrs. Fund Manager if they honestly believe that their employers can't find an Indonesian person to do their job in the next 10 years. Unless he or she works for the government or provides a service that can't be telecommunicated, the answer is no. The former is one of the great ironies of the Reagan Era – now that the market worshippers have had their way for three decades, the only jobs worth having are on the government teat. They have pensions and health insurance and they aren't likely to be shipped to India. How many professions can say that right now? Yes, we excel at contradictions, which is why you were raised (come on, don't deny it) on a diet of Reagan rhetoric by people who spent their entire adult lives earning government paychecks drawn from everyone else's tax dollars.

WEEKEND BONUS: EUROSTUPIDITY

Posted in Quick Hits on August 24th, 2008 by Ed

Financial Times columnist Matthew Engel ruminates on American elitism at the Olympics and the thrill other nations get from knocking American athletes off the pedestal. A fair point – after all, who outside of Boston wasn't praying to see the Patriots defeated last year, the smug smile wiped off Tom Brady's dimpled face? What baseball fan doesn't secretly openly enjoy watching the Yankees' $220 million train wreck?

Then Engel criticizes the way that we just don't get team sports and international competition, contrasting our must-win attitude with the casual, it's-all-for-fun-and-the-joy-of-competing attitude of our European cousins:

My own theory is that the US has never quite grasped the give-and-take character of world sport. Countries devoted to soccer, cricket and rugby play regular international fixtures; they win some and lose some, and learn to live with that…Neither (American) athletes nor spectators are well-prepared for the Olympics.

Right. I will keep that in mind the next time I am watching the World Cup, which is played for fun and in which the fans are not particularly concerned about winning.

NPF: IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 21st, 2008 by Ed

No Politics Friday usually meets two criteria, namely A) not politics and B) fun. Since only the first part is mandatory, today will be absent of politics but short on laughs.

Take 20 minutes and read this Pulitzer-in-waiting piece "The Girl in the Window" from the Tampa-St. Pete Times. On the surface the story is basic human interest journalism, but I think this tragedy highlights an important reality in this nation full of idiots.

You may recall that Hillary Clinton wrote a book which was the subject of some derision back in the 1996 – It Takes a Village. Irrespective of Hill-Dawg's merits as an author or sociologist, the basic premise is sound: individuals and groups outside of families have a significant role (positive and negative) in raising children.

My point, to make a long comment short, is that anyone with functioning gonads can have a kid and we all know that there are millions of "parents" in this country with no qualifications beyond that. The story illustrates that in spades. It's up to the rest of us – neighbors, co-workers, teachers, cops, and so on – to pick up the slack. The phrase "It's none of my business" should be retired when the welfare of other human beings is involved. Without the intervention of strangers, the girl would still be locked in her room. Yes, it's pathetic that you should have to be responsible for some complete stranger's kids, but you are. Not legally, of course, but ethically.

I doubt I am telling you anything new here. This story, unfortunate as it is, simply underscores the way that our culture of proud stupidity shifts responsibility from the incompetent to society as a whole.

MORAL AMBIGUITY

Posted in Rants on August 21st, 2008 by Ed

Let's be real honest with ourselves: not every house needs a lawn mower.

I'm standing on the cusp of professorhood, which will entail moving to a yet-to-be determined place and a lot of other big boy stuff like buying a home. When one buys a home, only three options exist vis-a-vis the lawn. One can disregard it, allowing the front lawn to resemble the Serengetti. "Professionals" (i.e., 20 illegal immigrants sharing a Social Security number) can be hired to do landscape maintenance. Or a lawn mower can be purchased.

For no specific reason I have always associated the purchase of a lawn mower with being old. Being an official adult. Renting for the past 10 years has allowed me to circumvent this to some extent, but soon there will be a reckoning. But why do we all buy lawn mowers? Given the infrequency with which it is used, one lawn mower per three or four homes would more than suit America's lawn maintenance needs.

Juliet Schor explored this idea in The Overspent American (a must-read), discussing the problems of materialism, consumer culture, and debt. She concludes with some proposals such as shared neighbor/community ownership of little-used, expensive things like lawn mowers. It makes sense, right?

If only being a good, sensitive, sustainable, zero-emissions 21st Century anti-consumerist were so cut and dried. Let's wave a magic wand and get every group of four families to share a lawnmower. That's great – unless you stand on an assembly line making lawn mowers. Demand will drop precipitously and it'll cease to be profitable to build the product outside of China or Mexico. And we NPR-listening Good Liberals are supposed to care about that too.

The point is simply that our society and economy are so entirely dependent on debt-financed consumer spending that every effort to make good decisions – conserving, reducing waste, increasing efficiency – has negative economic consequences. As consumer spending falls (which is great! Let's all shop less!) the entire nation shudders because it's all the US of A has left to fuel its economic engine. Buy, buy, buy. Spend, spend, spend. When you run out of money, charge it and keep spending. It's your goddamn duty as a patriotic American to shop 'til your fingers bleed. Our Leader (and his dad) tell us that when recessions hit, the right thing to do is "go shopping more." We jury-rig idiotic election-year panders like sending out rebate checks – remember those? – in the hopes that they'll be spent at the mall (which, like the economic crack that "stimulus" checks are, worked to boost consumer spending for about five minutes).

The baby boomers built a world in which neither they nor the rest of us can afford to live. When we try to be more efficient the extent to which our economy has devolved into a wasteful, materialistic, no-money-down gangbang becomes clear.

NO, SERIOUSLY

Posted in Quick Hits on August 20th, 2008 by Ed

I've said it before, I'll say it again: fuck Joe Lieberman. I hope he dies of something painful, and soon.

HI. I'M IN DELAWARE.

Posted in Election 2008 on August 20th, 2008 by Ed

While I'm on record downplaying the electoral significance of the VP, what the hell is Obama thinking with Joe Biden? I understand that the campaign is hoping to benefit from Biden's foreign policy clout. But what percentage of voters can actually make that connection? I think a response like this is more likely:

  • 2% of Americans who regularly watch the Sunday Morning Shows and read the non-sports section of the New York Times: "Ah, that's smart. Biden adds much needed aggressiveness and foreign policy expertise to a young campaign."
  • Remaining 98% of Americans: "Who the fuck is Joe Biden?"

    Name recognition and popularity should not be the overriding concern, but Biden's low profile makes it dubious that the strategic advantage he is expected to bring will materialize. It beats Evan Bayh, though. Remember what happened the last time that party used the VP slot as a way to appease "moderates?"

  • FEEL GOOD HIT OF THE SUMMER

    Posted in Quick Hits on August 19th, 2008 by Ed

    Holy shit. Monday nearly doubled this site's previous single-day high in hits. You beat that mark like it owed you money. I divide my thanks between C&L and the prison-industrial complex.

    POLLS ARE STILL STUPID

    Posted in Election 2008 on August 19th, 2008 by Ed

    The media's collective insistence on running an Obama-McCain horse race poll every 45 minutes is enough to make me want to adopt a homeless dog and punch it. Or go whaling. One of the two, just out of spite.

    I struggle to think of things that matter less than mid-summer general election polling. Voters fall into two categories at this point in the campaign season: either they have made up their minds (which a lot of us, frankly, did in 2001) or they have almost zero political information on account of paying no attention whatsoever to the race. The media's mythical fence-sitter, torn between two equally appealing candidates, is a rarity. The inability to express a preference speaks more clearly to ignorance than ideological ambiguity/ambivalence.

    Let's take a Pew Research poll, conducted from July 31-August 10. It polled 2,414 adult likely voters nationwide and collapsed the leaners (MoE 2.5%):

    McCain 43%
    Obama 46%
    Unsure/other 11%

    Obama's ahead, but McCain's closing in! Right? Aside from the fact that the margin of error overlaps (McCain: 40.5% – 45.5%, Obama: 43.5% – 48.5%) how can anyone put the slightest bit of stock in a poll – of a two-way race – with 11% undecided? Enjoy the many levels on which a single poll can negate itself.

    "I don't know" or "undecided" in a high-profile race with saturation media coverage means "I do not want to embarass myself by telling the survey guy that I have no fucking clue." Many such individuals will not vote ("likely voting" is another wildly inflated aspect of polling) but many will. They will do one of two things. They could remain clueless and literally vote at absolute random. Such voters would have no impact on the race because, as the Marquis de Condorcet discovered a few hundred years ago, true randomness cancels out. Second, they can start paying attention to the race at the last minute and make some sort of non-random decision. Some voters parcel out their tiny attention spans strategically. They ignore the race, giving "I'm clueless" answers to pollsters, until the last minute. So they have a real preference, they just don't realize it yet.

    Imagine yourself on a playground, having evenly divided your votes between kickball and freeze tag, waiting for the "slow" kids to stop picking their noses and eating glue long enough to break the tie. Yes, the 11% of individuals who, for one reason or another, can't give an answer in polls such as this one will ultimately decide the outcome in a close two-way race. How's that for depressing? The people who pay attention have essentially come to a split decision. Now we wait for the lame, the halt, and the ugly to furrow their brows and cast their votes – votes which may be entirely random. That's all these polls tell us.

    FROM THE RIGHT

    Posted in Quick Hits on August 18th, 2008 by Ed

    Downright readable righty blogger Jon Henke has some interesting thoughts to share about Obama/Kerry "biographer" Jerome Corsi, a man who has proven that it is possible to write a book without ever having read one.

    AMERICAN PRIDE

    Posted in Rants on August 18th, 2008 by Ed

    I felt a surge of American pride last week that had nothing to do with Michael Phelps. America now has more people incarcerated per capita than any other nation on Earth. U-S-A! U-S-A! War on Drugs! War on Drugs!

    The Pew Center, as reported in the excellent industry sheet Correctional News, have announced the results of a study on incarceration, finding that a staggering 1.01% of the American population (1 in 99.1 adults) is in jail or prison. The annual cost to state governments: $49 billion dollars in 2007, up from $11 billion in 1987. That's a 400-plus percent increase in two decades in an era in which state budgets are in shambles.

    Money well spent, though, right? You feel safer, right? This is working, right? Of course it isn't working, because there is no longer any "it" to work. There is no goal. We abandoned rehabilitative incarceration with the rest of the New Deal era in 1980, replacing it with the War on Drugs backed by draconian sentences in a purely punitive environment. The purpose isn't to rehabilitate, it is simply to take the (usually poor, brown) people declared unnecessary by the majestic wisdom of Thomas Friedman capitalism and put them somewhere out of sight. Just get rid of them. Send them to overcrowded gladiator academies like Stateville or Corcoran where, if they weren't already gang-affiliated, twitching balls of muscle ready to kill, they will be when they get out. Then act really shocked when they violate parole.


    Pictured: Stateville's "Roundhouse"
    Not pictured: a point

    Costs have exploded, (mandatory minimum) sentences have doubled or tripled in length, and recidivism rates haven't gone down a bit (it's still 50% within 36 months). And lest you delude yourself about who is bearing the brunt of this: 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are in prison right now. One of three are either on parole or in prison. A black male born today has a 30% chance of serving time in state or federal prison in his lifetime.

    In rural areas – and prisons are always located in desperate, economically-dying rural communities like Crescent City, CA – half of the observed population growth since 1980 is a direct result of overwhelmingly-black urban convicts being shipped to rural prisons. For example, tiny Brown County, Illinois had 1 black resident in the 1980 Census. In 2000, 1265 (18%) of the county's 6,000 residents were black. Why? Western Illinois Correctional Center opened in Sterling, IL in 1989.

    Politicians love to get "tough on crime" because proposing three-strikes or mandatory minimums is a great way for a bunch of candy-assed white guys to look tough. As naive is it might be to expect logic to intervene in this idiotic, delusional orgy of machismo, I have to wonder when Reagan's America will turn Rush Limbaugh down long enough to realize that these people taken "off the streets" do not cease to exist when the judge pounds the gavel. They have to be housed, and there are limits to how many can be jammed into a given space. Longer sentences and more prisons are proving to be a financial nightmare at $27,000 per head per year. We can't expect suburban America to care about the pointlessness or moral bankruptcy of this entire process, but as usual the bitching begins when they're asked to pay for it.

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