Posted in Election 2010 on June 23rd, 2010 by Ed

Watch and listen to the following and tell me if you think this sounds like A) a serious, major-party candidate for the U.S. Senate in Nevada or B) Dadaist performance art, a parody of the worst possible candidate in the history of electoral politics extending her middle finger to voters and practically daring them to vote for her.

This is like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross running for the Senate. "You're all spoiled, lazy assholes. Jobs are for closers. What's my name? Fuck you, that's my name." Angle is telling voters in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation – take that, Michigan! – that the root of the problem lies in their slothfulness and sense of entitlement. "Spoiled", that's what they are.

Let's investigate those claims, momentarily suspending disbelief and pretending that someone like Angle would choose her words based on readily available data.

Nevada's unemployment program is unremarkable, calculating benefits using the same "High Quarter" method employed (see what I did there?) by the majority of states. Using the most recent data I could find, a report from February 2010, the 2009 average weekly benefit ($305) and average duration of benefit (16 weeks) were both within 1% of the national average.

$305 weekly would be $7.62/hr assuming a standard 40 hour work week. The minimum wage is set by state law in Nevada at $7.55. At 40 hours that would produce $302 before taxes. So the unemployment benefits spoiling the hell out of Nevadans paid a premium of $3 over minimum wage – for about four months. On July 1 the minimum wage increases to $8.26 in Nevada, meaning that unemployment will pay the equivalent of about $30 per week less than what the most feebly compensated hourly workers will make.

In other words, unemployment benefits in Nevada do pretty much what they are intended to do: provide short term, subsistence level income for people who have been involuntarily separated from their jobs. Perhaps Sharron Angle should be prepared to tell us the proper level at which benefits should be set in order to properly encourage people to work. Perhaps a maximum benefit of $100 per week, paid in a moldy onion sack full of quarters placed atop a tall, greased flagpole, would provide the right incentive. If the issue is that the dole and menial jobs pay essentially the same, why are we supposed to jump to the conclusion that the welfare state is too generous? It is far more relevant to ask why all of these jobs our elected officials are telling us to take pay wages that barely cross the poverty line.

"Logic" like Angle's takes me back to my childhood, to lectures from brainwashed Reaganites about how poor people were just lazy and the problem was that welfare paid them a six-figure salary to sit on their asses enjoying their big screen TVs and bouncing cars and all those other silly things that negroes like (All unemployed people were black). It has been a while since we've been blessed with a politician sufficiently disconnected from reality to make this argument in the middle of a double-dip recession in a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. We should bottle Sharron Angle – to preserve her special essence, not to deprive her of oxygen. We need to keep her talking, as she appears to be another gift that will keep on giving.



Posted in Rants on June 23rd, 2010 by Ed

Being a Midwesterner – my first 31 years were divided among Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana – deindustrialization is something I have seen in painful detail. It's not an idea or something I need to learn about in Michael Moore movies. I've seen Youngstown, Fort Wayne, Saginaw, Buffalo, Rockford, Detroit, and the dozens of others like them. To some extent they all look the same, which is logical given that their histories are so similar. They peaked in 1950, treaded water throughout the 1960s, started to suffer from foreign competition in the 1970s, turned into post-apocalyptic war zones in the 1980s (inspiring an entire genre of white suburban revenge fantasy films like Robocop and Death Wish in the process), and were dealt the final blow in the 1990s with NAFTA.

The big problem, from a brutally realistic perspective, is that these places didn't just disappear when they were declared unnecessary by the wonders of globalization and unregulated capitalism. Their hollow, crumbling shells still exist. We can still wander around their (now vacant) 1950-vintage storefronts and the neighborhoods that have long since made the transition from working-class housing to crack dens and squatters' tenements. So even though singular events – the closing of the Big Factory in a company town, the rapid decline of a key industry – signal the death of a place like Flint, the process of dying is drawn out painfully. It takes decades, not years, for the residents to admit that It is never coming back and things are never going to be the way they used to be again. After a dozen failed "revitalization" and re-development plans, everyone just sort of…gives up.

Evansville, Indiana ("E-ville" to its residents, all desperately seeking an escape) fits the classic Rust Belt model very well despite avoiding the kind of epic, media-friendly collapse suffered by Flint or East St. Louis. Its death has been a slow process. The major employers didn't disappear overnight; they slunk away one by one. Windsor. Guardian Automotive. Zenith. Bristol-Meyers Squibb. Enfamil / Mead Johnson. And now Whirlpool. Now there's pretty much nothing left. A place that was already sad has gotten even sadder. Even the service industry jobs will disappear without a middle class to blow its paychecks around town.

Until now this story is unexceptional. It's nothing new. NAFTA, Mexico, and moving vans speeding toward Guadalajara. The wrinkle in the Whirlpool tale, however, is the $19 million they just took from the Federal government as part of the "stimulus" spending. The money was awarded to develop "smart" clothing dryers that will, like, be Green or something. In a shameless example of quite literally taking the money and running, it appears that Congress's investment in Whirlpool's business is reaping great dividends for the American taxpayers in…Mexico. Now, I understand that these two things are not directly related; the grant money is to develop a quasi-new technology while the E-ville factory made standard refrigerators. Nonetheless the disconnect is striking, with the company quite literally taking the money with one hand and handing its manufacturing jobs to Mexico with the other.

Has there ever been a single piece of legislation or act of Congress that did more to fundamentally alter our society than NAFTA? Part of me says no because it merely finished a process that had already started in the 1970s. On the other hand, the speed with which it has dropped the hammer on so much of the Northeast and Midwest is shocking, leaving cities with no time to adapt or transition their economies away from manufacturing. According to President Clinton we were going to solve this problem by "re-educating" laid off workers in some vague and unspecified way for some vague and unspecified jobs with the word "tech" in their description. Alas, the process of imbuing 45 year-old factory workers with three kids and a mortgage with the skills needed for the High Tech jobs that don't exist anyway has not been a smooth one. As much as this will shock people who opposed NAFTA at the time it was debated, the only promise that this Agreement kept was sending good American jobs to the developing world (which, coincidentally, doesn't actually appear to be Developing. But that's another story.)

Congratulations, President Clinton. Your legacy is intact.