EXIT ENGLISH

Posted in Quick Hits on June 27th, 2016 by Ed

If you have never noticed that most (but not all) post titles here are song titles or lyrics, rest assured that today it was a difficult choice between what you see above and "Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before." Because I know you're going to be truly shocked to hear this, but the UK's vote to exit the EU is yet another example of people over 50 voting to destroy an institution that, having benefited from it for decades, they no longer wish to pay for. There is some interesting exit polling data here that ultimately boils down to a tale you're tired of hearing. Old people wanted it, young people didn't. Dumb people wanted it, people who have Fancy Book Learnin' didn't. Repeat until we're fighting over a conch shell.

brexit

It's impossible to read voters' minds based on election results. Vote totals are like an ancient oracle – everyone agrees that they are saying something but exactly what is, even if few are willing to admit it, ambiguous at best. It is hard to tell if older British voters are ignorant of how much they as individuals and as a group benefited from membership in the EU or if they simply no longer consider the benefits to be relevant to them personally and therefore no longer care to pay for others to enjoy them. If they are retired on fixed incomes, perhaps they simply no longer respond well to arguments about The Economy writ large. If they don't care to leave a 20 mile radius around their homes, maybe unrestricted travel within a group of 27 nations has lost its appeal. Or perhaps they're at that point of decay at which fear of a changing world, dislike of anyone and anything Different, and good old fashioned nativism trumps anything approaching a rational analysis of costs and benefits.

Ironically, if the UK is anything like the USA, the Eastern European immigrants that so vex older British people are the only ones who will accept the pitiful wages offered to wipe their ancient asses in hospitals and retirement homes across the country. At this rate, god knows their children will be neither willing nor able to care for them as they age. We've already got two jobs that don't pay enough to make ends meet.

AGENDA-SETTING

Posted in Quick Hits on June 22nd, 2016 by Ed

CNN ran the ten-thousandth story about how Social Security will "run dry," this time "by 2034." The headline is misleading, as the story goes on to explain that beyond that date Social Security benefits would be reduced, not eliminated, but that's only the second-most dishonest thing going on here. The full text includes the following gem of Beltway consensus "Guarantee victory for the status quo by defining the options" agenda-setting:

To make all of Social Security solvent for the next 75 years would require the equivalent of any of the following: immediately raising the Social Security payroll tax rate to 14.98% from 12.4% on the first $118,500 of wages; cutting benefits by 16%; or some combination of the two.

In The Semi-Sovereign People, E.E. Schattschneider asserted that "the definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power" (1960/1975, 66). We may never find a better example than this one. Here are your options, America: raise taxes or cut benefits. Or, you know, we could lift the earnings cap ("on the first $118,500 of wages") that serves as little more than a tax break for people making six figures and then fund the system for the next century without a second thought. Congress could do that at any time, and it happens to be the simplest and best solution to the problem. Too bad it's not an option. There are only two of those: raise payroll taxes or cut benefits. Any questions?

If you get a stain on your shirt, according to CNN I guess your only two options would be to continue wearing the stained garment or throw it away. Getting it cleaned to remove the stain is just crazy talk.

WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH

Posted in Quick Hits on June 12th, 2016 by Ed

Whenever someone says there's nothing the government can do to stop mass shootings, remember that in December the Senate voted down a bill to prevent people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns. That's right – Senate Republicans are so corrupt, so totally beholden to the NRA that they wouldn't vote to ban sales of firearms to actual…let's call them "Terrorism enthusiasts." People who have made contact with known terrorists. People who are big fans of ISIS websites. Are they all terrorists? Of course not. Might it be a reasonable idea to think twice about letting them load up on guns? Well. Maybe that much caution is appropriate.

This gentleman's Twitter account is detailing exactly how much each member of Congress who voted against that bill – people who wanted to make sure that individuals on the terrorism watch list could buy guns – received from the NRA recently. As usual, all they can do is offer their Thoughts and Prayers. Thoughts and Prayers. Thoughts and Prayers. It's just too bad that there's nothing else they can do about it.

House and Senate Republicans currently up in arms over Islamism and terrorism had an opportunity to prevent something like this from happening but they didn't. Keep that in mind. Remind them of it every time they wail and rend their garments over another Tragedy that no one anywhere could possibly have stopped unless more people had more guns.

Prayers are for the dead. The living deserve more.

POWER PLAYER

Posted in Quick Hits on June 1st, 2016 by Ed

It's fair to say that whatever clout Bill Kristol mysteriously had within the conservative movement is gone. I say "mysteriously" inasmuch as even by the standards of modern conservatism this guy is beyond inept; seriously, try to find something he has been right about. Anything. Try to find one of his protégés who has been anything other than a political Hindenburg. Remember when he touted Sarah Palin as the next star of the movement? Remember when he started rumors a few weeks ago about some absolute nobody named James Mattis running for president as an independent to save the GOP? Remember, well, basically everything he said during the George W. Bush years?

For years – decades, really – he has held his inherited position as a conservative icon despite having been wrong about everything, often to the bemusement and wonder of those of us outside the movement. It appears that his star might finally be fading, though, if the "big announcement" he teased last week is any indication.

Without further ado, let's hear the big news, Bill!

Kristol wanted a national contender, but Mitt Romney said no. He would have settled for an experienced presidential candidate, but Rick Perry said no. He turned his attention to sitting senators, but Ben Sasse said no. He looked at former senators, but Tom Coburn said no. He eventually moved past elected officials and sought out a military leader, but retired Gen. James Mattis said no.

And so, Kristol lowered his sights just a little more – and found a political blogger who appears to have said yes.

Oh. So, uh, despite already having missed the deadline for ballot access in a few key conservative states, the big anti-Trump savior is…D-list National Review blogger David French. Not even the right-wing anti-Trump media can take this seriously.

How the perplexingly mighty have fallen, Billy. From kingmaking to begging loser ex-candidates and anonymous bloggers to run kamikaze campaigns to derail the nominee you assured everyone would never win.

I WANT TO GROW UP TO BE MILL GRIST

Posted in Quick Hits on May 23rd, 2016 by Ed

Charles Pierce found some interesting readings from the Koch Brothers' never-ending efforts to buy their way into education, in this case a passage on the hard realities of the Free Market aimed at high school students.

The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities … is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits. Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn't a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That's right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

Gotta give 'em one thing: at least they're honest.

Also, as any educator can tell you, today's K-12 students aren't getting enough pro-capitalism propaganda in their lives. Something must be done about it, and fast.

BACKGROUND RADIATION

Posted in Quick Hits on May 2nd, 2016 by Ed

Here's a screenshot I grabbed from CNN early last week. See if you notice anything odd.

cnn

Take a look at the secondary stories in the column on the left. You know, the "Kinda important but not too important" list. Halfway down, beneath the story about a zookeeper who got eaten by a tiger, we have two separate incidents with a total of 13 people shot dead.

What can you say anymore about a country in which eight and five people being shot to death almost simultaneously is barely news. We're so used to it, it is the background radiation of living in the U.S. We long ago passed the point of caring; now we're not even noticing.

EXCLUSIVE: CRUZ RUNNING MATE LIST

Posted in Quick Hits on April 27th, 2016 by Ed

My anonymous source in the Cruz campaign was kind enough to send me this. Looks like Carly Fiorina, shockingly, was not their first choice!

Cruz

BEDFELLOWS

Posted in Quick Hits on April 26th, 2016 by Ed

You've gotta love Fox News, bless their little hearts. They sure are trying. You can imagine how silly they must feel writing headlines like "Cruz stays in the Republican presidential fight by quietly scoring delegates." They probably drink themselves to sleep in the tradition of Soviet propagandists who just faked another set of economic reports for the 7th Five Year Plan.

A REAL PUZZLE

Posted in Quick Hits on April 25th, 2016 by Ed

The bar is set pretty low regarding what we expect from CNN at this point, but even by their Wolf Blitzery standards this "Voices from the Rust Belt" thing is delusional. It's little more than a variant on the Hard Working Americans / Salt of the Earth Blue Collar Types (read: white people who live in shitty places) theme that the mainstream media simply can't let go, probably on account of the fact that their average viewer is 65 and thus able to remember a time when Erie, PA mattered.

rust

Having ruminated over the causes and consequences for decades, the present reality is that there is no real economic reason for these places to exist anymore. They once serviced geographically-bound industries that either have ceased to be relevant or have been brutalized by free trade agreements. As I tell every single half-sentient adult I meet in rural Central Illinois, the solution to the problem is to leave. Get out. Move somewhere with jobs and something to do. The good times are never coming back to Buffalo and Flint.

As the CNN piece itself notes, most mobile individuals do leave, and in fact have already left. So, one might ask their producers, what is the point of focusing on these places? Why do we care about the Voices of the people left behind, the vast majority of whom are just too old to let go of the place psychologically. Anything that could be done to "save" these places is never going to be done; the country is too all-in on globalization and the inerrant wisdom of the free market to countenance sentimental arguments about saving some massively polluted shit hole in rural Ohio.

They can call it whatever they want, but we can spot "Let's tell our old, sad, white viewers in Scranton or some other place we wouldn't live on a bet that they're still really important" when we see it.

RUNAWAY JOB GROWTH

Posted in Quick Hits on April 18th, 2016 by Ed

Sometimes I start writing a post and it begins to sound vaguely familiar, so I double-check if I've done it before. In this case I've basically done it annually for 15 years. I'll give myself a pass since the news itself never changes and it seems like people are actually beginning to notice.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Job growth is robust, unemployment is low, and yet the job market is still poor. That's because for thirty years we've been hemorrhaging jobs that pay people enough to live half-decently and replacing them in the balance sheet sense with menial service industry jobs. Of the fastest growing sectors in the job market over the next decade, half of the top ten pay less than $25,000 annually. If you like wiping up puddles of body fluids in a nursing home for $10/hr or working at Burger King, these are going to be salad days for you. The world will be your oyster.

It's not relevant, despite that attempt at humor, that these jobs are shitty (pun intended, in the case of home health care). What is relevant is that they don't pay. They pay about two-thirds of the median annual wage, and that isn't exactly high; it's around $35k. A person with dependents could live on a $20,000/year job, if barely and as long as absolutely nothing unexpected goes wrong. It's a paycheck-to-paycheck existence at best. In reality it's more likely to be part of a two-job routine for an individual or one of multiple jobs held in a household. Because that job isn't going to allow anyone to do much more than scrape by. With some luck.

This may be the only thing that Trump supporters and the rest of us who read books and live in reality can agree upon: our problem isn't job loss as much as it is the loss of good jobs. There are, and will be for the foreseeable future, more than enough jobs making the lives of the top 10% easier. We can serve them food, clean their houses, drive them around, make their appointments, and take care of the dying parents they don't want to see. And we'll have no problem getting the chance to do it for little money and without any job security beyond day-to-day.

If you have a few minutes to spare and academic journal access, check out "Inequality and the Growth of Bad Jobs." Despite the fact that low-skill jobs have shrunk in number since 1960, low-wage work makes up most of job growth over that time period. The problems with our economy aren't hard to figure out in light of that information.