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.

WATER WET

Posted in Quick Hits on April 4th, 2016 by Ed

Despite getting little attention over the weekend, the Panama Papers document leak received a substantial amount of mainstream media attention on Monday (at least online). Fortune, the BBC, USA Today, NBC, the Washington Post, and any number of other Very Serious Media Outlets are running with it now, which is a victory by proxy for the kinds of non-mainstream outlets that began pushing hard on the story as early as Saturday evening. The story is unlikely to have much staying power in the U.S., though, and may even fade faster than expected in Europe and the rest of the world due to the nature of the underlying issue.

The first problem with getting U.S. media to cover this extensively is that no major American figures are (yet) involved. It's awfully difficult to get Americans to care about our own politics let alone elected officials in other countries. "Oh man, I can't believe Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugson did that!" is a phrase no American news consumer or media personality has ever used or will ever use. Another problem is the fact that outrage fatigue and general cynicism make it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for scandals that confirm what we already know (or very strongly suspect) about the world – in this case, namely that the rich and powerful live in a separate world that operates under its own exclusive rules and they squirrel their money away in proverbial Swiss Bank Accounts so they don't have to pay taxes like some nouveau riche suburban desk commando with an MBA. Is it fair? Of course not. Is anyone really surprised to learn that this is in fact what has been going on? I doubt it.

Clearly it's an important issue and one that validates a lot of what we already know to be part of the deep systemic social and economic inequality built into our system and our way of life. But therein lies the problem; if everyone is already assuming that water is wet, the headline announcing that discovery is going to fall flat. We openly allow corporations to get away with offshoring their money in this country, and if they're People anyway, why would we be surprised to learn that the elites who control them do exactly the same thing with their personal finances?

I'm not saying nobody should care. I'm saying it isn't entirely surprising that nobody seems too up-in-arms over the revelations. It's nice to learn that our suspicions are correct, but beyond that it fits seamlessly into the worldview most half-smart people have long since held.

SECOND VERSE, SAME AS FIRST

Posted in Quick Hits on March 16th, 2016 by Ed

If you're looking for interesting non-fiction reads you could do substantially worse than Vincent Cannato's American Passage: The History of Ellis Island. It gives a good historical overview of the island itself but, more interestingly, a tour through 19th and early 20th Century nativist / anti-immigration movements in American politics.

The striking thing is to compare historical examples to the modern equivalent on full-throated display through the Trump campaign. The rhetoric of anti-immigration rabble-rousing has not changed in 150 years. Not one bit. A simple ctrl-F find and replace for the relevant nouns – Irish, Italian, Oriental, Mexican, A-rab, etc. – would fit the material seamlessly into any period in American history. And this is true across classes as well, from the highbrow arguments about "stock" and "moral tone" from your Henry Cabot Lodge / National Review types to quasi-economic "They Took Our Jorbs" rhetoric to the lowest kind of racism and xenophobia. The modern anti-immigration movement is the latest iteration of an ideology that hasn't had a new idea in two centuries. If the "terrorist" angle feels new, refresh your memory on what "anarchist" meant in the context of Gilded Age politics.

Most ideas evolve over time, if only incrementally. You almost have to admire the immutability of xenophobic rhetoric. Almost. It's like the Rock of Gibraltar of being an asshole.

FREEWHEELING

Posted in Quick Hits on March 15th, 2016 by Ed

In political science, 2016 will go down as the election in which the political parties – which used to exercise unchallenged control over the nomination – have seen their control of the process decline to near zero. With the withdrawal of Marco Rubio the GOP field is down to Kasich (who isn't going to win anything other than Ohio), Ted Cruz (who literally everyone hates), and a frontrunner about whom establishment Republicans are literally kept awake at night trying to think of ways to prevent him from winning.

On the Democratic side the party establishment is on the verge of getting exactly what it wants, of course. It is difficult to say whether that is because of the influence of the party or spurious to it; perhaps Bernie Sanders wouldn't have the juice to win the nomination regardless of whether the party supported him explicitly.

At least on the GOP side it is fair to say that the heavy hitters have had no influence on the outcome this year. The Koch Brothers' candidate didn't even make it to Iowa. Sheldon Adelson swung and missed, as did the other big money men who poured money into failing Bush and Rubio campaigns, among others. Republicans with the highest name recognition, people like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, have done everything but beg party voters to reject Trump. The RNC has not lifted a finger to assist him but has given considerable support to other campaigns that have failed. The diminution of party influence, which began with the Democratic Party after the debacle of 1968, seems to have crossed the partisan aisle to reach its zenith.

LIES, DAMN LIES, ETC.

Posted in Quick Hits on March 8th, 2016 by Ed

When I have to watch cable news networks present and "discuss" polling results I feel the way doctors must feel when they watch E.R. or lawyers would feel watching a cut rate Law & Order knockoff courtroom procedural show. The urge to yell "THAT'S NOT HOW THAT WORKS" at the TV screen borders on overwhelming at times.

When CNN assaulted the data from their Nevada Caucus Entry Poll to declare "Trump wins Latino vote in Nevada" any freshman student in math, statistics, or survey research could tell you what's missing from this picture:

caucusnv

Gee those are some nice lookin' percentages. By the way, how many Latinos voted in the Nevada Republican caucus? Because I'm guessing it was about 80.

That's an exaggeration, of course, but common sense dictates that it isn't going to be very many, what with Barack Obama winning 76% of the Latino vote in Nevada in 2012. Furthermore the NV Caucuses were a legendary shitshow that descended into chaos in more than a few locations, so the question of the validity of those Entry Polls certainly cannot be assumed. Who showed up, who actually voted, and who was some asshole Trump supporter who thought it would be funny to pretend to be Latino are all open to interpretation. Given the low turnout in the NV Caucus overall and the small number of Latinos identified – about 100 – by the polling agency suggest that statewide no more than 2000 Latinos, an estimate that appears generous, participated.

Nevada has at least 750,000 voting-age Latino residents according to the Census Bureau. It might have been helpful to point this out when declaring that Trump "won" a tiny subset of a small polling sample, or perhaps to have one person working at the network on election day who has some idea of how numbers work. But who cares as long as it sounds alarming, right?