Posted in Rants on June 23rd, 2016 by Ed

On June 23, 1982, thirty-four years ago today, two unemployed Detroit auto workers (both white) were hanging out at a strip club called Fancy Pants in Highland Park. At the same time, a Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was there having his bachelor party. Drunkenly, the white auto workers began harassing him and his party, at one point yelling according to witnesses, "It's because of you motherfuckers we're out of jobs!" Chin did in fact work tangentially in the auto industry as a draftsman for a parts supplier on the outskirts of Detroit. Unless the Chinese auto industry was more relevant in 1982 than anyone outside of Fancy Pants knew, it is assumed that the hecklers thought Chin was Japanese. Close enough for angry white people, I guess.

Chin, according to witnesses, exercised his God-given right to fuck with drunk assholes, making fun of them and verbally egging them on. So they responded in that whitest, malest of ways, scouring the neighborhood for a half-hour after the club emptied out before finding Chin in a McDonald's, presumably drunkenly waylaying some fries. They waited until he emerged and then beat him to death in the street with a baseball bat. Any number of the blows to his head once he was unconscious could have been the fatal one. Witnesses, of which there were many, reported hearing them yell further racial slurs at him.

Beating a person to death in front of an audience with the knowledge that one is unlikely to be punished is something Americans usually associate with white-on-black violence in the pre-Civil Rights South, but it worked in 1982 Detroit as well. The Wayne County prosecutor and judge not only allowed them to plea-bargain down from 2nd Degree Murder (murder without premeditation, which is actually kind of dubious here given the length of time they spent searching for their intended victim, but we'll let that slide) to Manslaughter, but he noted that "These aren't the kind of men you send to jail" when releasing them immediately with a small fine and three whole years of probation.

It doesn't take a very deep reflection on the current state of the country to realize that little has changed in the last 34 years. Any behavior up to and including cracking someone's skull with a baseball bat is acceptable as long as the perpetrators are white, the victims aren't Real Americans anyway, wink, and white people have sufficient cause to be (choose one: angry, scared). The lesson we refuse to learn from the murder of Vincent Chin and thousands of other crimes like it is that the more we scapegoat and condone vilification of a group of people, the more we signal that their lives aren't worth quite as much as our white ones. There are a ton of not-terribly bright people out there – the kind who get drunk at strip clubs and think it's a decent idea to beat someone to death because he or she made you mad – who internalize that message very well. It turns out that if you tell enough half-wits enough times that (insert demographic group) is to blame for the problems in their life resulting from ignorance, laziness, and limited opportunities, some will eventually cross the line from merely being assholes into violence. Every aspect of our society, culture, and justice system that reinforces the message that Their lives are valued at a discount shares responsibility for crimes like this one, not for swinging the bat into the skull but for teaching white people, especially men, that the system will look the other way and accept the right to commit violent acts out of hate as just another thing they are owed.


Posted in Rants on June 21st, 2016 by Ed

A minor news item from the weekend.

On Sunday a passenger flight from Houston to Phoenix turned around midway and landed safely at Houston. There were no mechanical issues. All passengers and crew were healthy. No storms were encountered. What happened was that the pilots and their airline were aware of laws that forbid planes to land when the temperature exceeds 120 degrees. At that point certain instruments on older planes may lose precision and smaller planes are subject to additional danger from the waves of heat radiating up from the ground.

It's likely that the plane could have proceeded without incident and the turnaround could be described as an abundance of caution. But the incident highlights the fact that Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport recorded a record high of 117 F in the shade on Sunday, with ground temps on the black asphalt runway easily over 120. For the overseas folks, 117 F is 47 C. It is, in the scientific sense, balls hot. It's almost too hot to imagine. Having spent a fair amount of time in southern Arizona, I subscribe to the easy to mock "It's a dry heat!" theory. Compared to sweltering Midwestern and Southern humidity, I find that 100 F in the dry desert does not feel as hot – as long as you're in the shade. 110 F in the shade might be bearable, even if still hot. In the sun you'd be dead in a couple of hours.

The question the current Southwestern heat wave raises is one that is one it might be useful to start thinking about more: At what point is it just going to get too hot to live in some parts of the world? Calm down, I'm not talking about right now. In the long term – thirty or forty years down the road – the continuation of current warming trends could push it to the limit of what we can reasonably inhabit. Some serious research has suggested that at some point between 2050 and 2100, for example, parts of the Middle East and Africa may simply be too hot for humans to survive in. Granted it is arguable that humans can survive in any environment given all the advantages of technology, but with caveats. One is that infrastructure degrades at a certain point – roads buckle, rails bend, and transformers explode. Another is that if the ability to live in an environment depends entirely on limitless availability of water, electricity, and air conditioning in the middle of deserts, such an environment is "habitable" only in a limited sense. We assume those things, which far from guarantees that they will always be there. The combination of water scarcity and sheer heat eventually have to reach a breaking point. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but we can't hold back nature forever.

Long-time readers know my Crazy Old Man theory that the mass migration of population and economic resources to the Sun Belt is a temporary phenomenon. There simply is no long-term logic, for example, to having 10 million people live in the Phoenix-Tucson urban area with water sufficient to sustain maybe a quarter that many. Add in (slowly) rising temperatures, longer summers, and explosive population growth and it's clear that the current trends cannot continue indefinitely. The United States industrialized and populated itself from the Northeast and Midwest because, despite the crappy winters, they were actually survivable during the summer before the widespread availability of cheap power and they have ample water resources for transportation, agriculture, and urban use. We probably won't be alive to see the waves of migration reverse and move back in that direction, but it will happen eventually. The funny thing about unsustainable behavior is that it can't go on forever.


Posted in Rants on June 19th, 2016 by Ed

As horrifying as his rise has been, from an academic perspective it's hard not to find Trump interesting. One thing I wrote about a while back is the rare opportunity to see a modern American election devoid of ideological content. We also get to watch a campaign and candidate almost literally do everything wrong. Even in situations that are difficult for a campaign to botch, Trump finds a way. He's like King Midas, if everything he touched turned into a rancid heap of excrement instead of gold.

As common as they are in our society, a spree shooting is a pretty easy, routine play for an elected official or candidate. "What a terrible tragedy. My thoughts are with the victims, families, and community. We must (proposal that will never happen but sounds good) to avoid tragedies of this kind in the future." It's very difficult to screw up. Certainly it's difficult to screw up to the extent that your terrible response as a candidate overshadows the event itself. But here we are. He went from bad – congratulating himself on his own brilliance without mentioning the victims – to incomprehensibly bad, which is to say things so stupid that even the NRA has to distance itself from the rhetoric. Ignoring the fact that an armed, on-duty Orlando PD officer was at the club during the event, Trump rambled to a salivating audience:

"If we had people, where the bullets were going in the opposite direction, right smack between the eyes of this maniac," Trump said, gesturing between his eyes. "And this son of a b—- comes out and starts shooting and one of the people in that room happened to have (a gun) and goes boom. You know what, that would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks."

Because what we really want is piss-drunk 23 year olds at "last call" time at a dance club firing a gun for any reason, ever. NRA lobbyists had to hit the Sunday shows to point out, "No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms. That defies commonsense. It also defies the law. It's not what we're talking about here," and "I don't think you should have firearms where people are drinking." That is, the Republican candidate for president could not manage to make statements about gun rights that the NRA could agree with. That's incredible, if you think about it. Almost impossible to believe. Yet here you have it.

It's also interesting to watch Trump try to use a positive affect toward LGBT people as a means of furthering anti-Muslim sentiment – which is a page straight out of Geert Wilders' playbook for modern far right politics in Europe. One author called this "pro-gay Islamophobia," which is a neat phrase. It's concern trolling about the intolerance toward gays and lesbians in Islam (and, you know, Christianity, but that part gets left out) to further the argument that the religion is somehow incompatible with Western Values. The goal is to make xenophobia and anti-immigration policies more palatable to people who instinctively avoid ultra right wing politics. It's the face of a kinder, gentler neo-Nazism.

We might as well get used to the fact now that the statement "Surely it can't get any worse than this" is bound to be false at any point in this campaign; any assertion that we've hit rock bottom inevitably will end up being retracted and revised.


Posted in Rants on June 15th, 2016 by Ed

It's the second week of June and Republicans in Congress are already fully committed to writing this presidential election off and trying to save their own hides.

All delusions about Trump settling into Mature Campaign Mode and sticking to the teleprompter have been crushed brutally; in the first week after he promised to behave, he made a trainwreck of a response to the Orlando massacre, implied that Barack Obama is somehow involved with ISIS, and doubled down on his "Let's round up the Muslims" talk. Republicans in elected office literally cannot go one day without being asked to comment on something new and idiotic he said. And they're already crying uncle: a laundry list of prominent House and Senate Republicans – Cornyn, Barrasso, Tim Scott, Bob Corker, and many more have declared that they will no longer respond to questions about the statements of their own party's nominee. Two of the longest-serving Senate Republicans, Orrin Hatch and Lamar Alexander, chose to pretend they haven't heard any of Trump's statements or that Trump isn't actually the party's nominee, respectively. Two months out from the convention, it's already Every Man for Himself.

As I've said all along, regardless of the Democratic nominee we are going to see Trump destroyed by historic margins this November. He has a core of really loud, really enthusiastic supporters – and everyone else hates him. His poll numbers are abysmal. Trump is currently tied with Hillary Clinton in Utah. UTAH. The state that provided the largest GOP margin of victory in every presidential election since 2000. Even Red State, of all sources, is alarmed by his terrible poll numbers.

What we're seeing now is Republicans slowly coming to grips with the reality that this is it. This is how he's going to be for the entire campaign, unless he gets even worse. And they're shifting into survival mode. One invariant characteristic of elected officials is self-interest, and it is dawning on congressional Republicans that Trump is a disaster of the magnitude that could pull the entire party down with him – and certainly more than a few current GOP incumbents. One of the lifeboats is pulling down the entire ship and everyone is rushing to cut it loose. These people might be dumb but they're not stupid, and they're certainly adept at looking out for #1. Not one of these people like Donald Trump; they don't owe him anything, and they all realize clearly that Trump would not stop to spit on them if they were in flames. Trump is not one of them. He is an interloper. I have no sympathy for them, as they created the forces that made Trump possible, and it is gratifying to watch them scramble to avoid the fallout now. Metaphors about reaping and sowing come to mind.

The eagerness with which his co-partisans are rushing to distance themselves from Trump says more than any poll between today and November will about the outcome. It's too bad Sanders couldn't pull it out, because any Democratic nominee could crush this guy. This is not a blog one comes to expecting to feel better about the human condition after reading, but here's your optimism for the year: Americans recognize this for what it is. Not all of us, of course, but more than enough to ensure that Trump's candidacy is the disaster it was meant to be.


Posted in Rants on June 13th, 2016 by Ed

There are two distinct groups of people who are really into Trump. I understand one of them very well because I've spent my entire life around them. The other group I only encountered recently.

The first is white people over 50. These people have, for the most part, remarkably good lives (or at least no excuse not to). I'm from the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where about half of all working adults got their paycheck from the public sector when I was growing up. Cops, public school teachers, state-county-municipal employees, streets and san workers, you name it. The people I knew growing up are, for the most part, retired or near retirement, coasting on massive (and massively expensive) government pensions. They live in relatively pricey, lily white suburbs. Their lives literally could not be any easier, and they owe every penny they've ever earned in their lives to the government. They're retiring in a level of luxury and comfort their children and grandchildren will never know, on the public dollar. And, almost to a person, they love Trump, Fox News, constant outrage, etc etc. Some are scared of a new world and a new society they don't understand. Some believe things used to be better and don't understand why that's no longer the case. Some really, really don't like brown-skinned people. These are not, broadly speaking, intellectually curious people. There's a lot they no longer recognize or understand, and they have no inclination to accommodate the way they think to a new reality. So they sit around, double-dipping state and county pensions after they retired (for the first time) at 50, in large homes with two expensive cars ranting about how terrible everything is.

The second group – and color me sheltered, I suppose – I didn't encounter until four years ago when I moved to Central Illinois. They are not all over 50. In fact, many are younger and have legitimate economic grievances, hence the part of Trumpism that appeals to people who are angry about American jobs being outsourced overseas. Nothing in my first 33 years prepared me for how bitter, angry, and flat-out mean people who live in shitty places are. They hate their lives, and they hate them with good cause. They're simply looking for someone to take that fact out on. It's not surprising once I saw it and thought about it; take any relatively normal human and have them spend 30 years in the middle of nowhere in a town that smells constantly from its rendering plant and where the best restaurant is a Hardee's and he or she will be pretty bitter, resentful, and angry too. These are people who have never met a Muslim, yet they're furiously angry at Muslims. They also hate immigrants, Mexicans who are not immigrants, blacks, gays, Big City people, professors, doctors, lawyers, teachers…basically everyone who isn't white and a member of their shitty church. They adopt this cartoonish hyper-jingoistic and faux-Country manner and style, talk a lot about Real 'Muricans and people who aren't Real 'Muricans, and recite lists of grievances about everyone to blame for the fact that they didn't try hard enough in high school to get out like some of their friends did. Obama, Hillary Clinton, ISIS, Jews, gays, welfare queens – anyone will do. They love Trump because he's blaming the same scapegoats. It is emphatically not hard to get these people to be really, really angry at some target. Any half-talented charlatan can do it.

Of course not everyone who lives in these places fits this description; the ones who are enthusiastic about Donald Trump do, though. I've thought a lot about what thread connects these two superficially very different groups, and the best way I can describe it is disappointment. These are people who thought life would be better than it is – or perhaps even feel entitled to more than what they got – and they don't want to blame themselves for whatever shortcomings there are, real or perceived. They're comfortable middle class people who are mad because they expected to be rich, and poorer people who are mad that they didn't become comfortable middle class. Their circumstances are different but the palpable, deep seated sense of having been cheated out of what was theirs is the same. Unable or unwilling to grapple with the complex set of structural economic changes that left them in their respective situations, they take the easy way out and blame it on any convenient target. The politics of blood and culture are the path of least resistance, and the choice between confronting the reality that they're financially insecure because the trickle-down economics they professed faith in for decades does not actually work or blaming the Mexicans and the blacks is no choice at all.


Posted in Rants on June 8th, 2016 by Ed

Eleven years ago George W. Bush sounded a hopeful note on the increasingly (by mid-2005) unpopular war in Iraq, noting that the American role would decline as Iraqi institutions became capable of functioning without direct U.S. support. "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," he said rather famously, despite not the slightest hint two full years into that conflict that the Iraqi Army was capable of doing anything other than being infiltrated by terrorists, deserting by the thousands, and showing no particular inclination to do anything that resembled real fighting.

One could reasonably ask if two years (roughly beginning with the summer of 2003 when most of Iraq was essentially reduced to rubble) is enough for a fighting force to become effective. Perhaps some time was needed. While U.S. forces continued to complain that Iraq's military was useless, we were repeatedly urged to grant them more time. And more money – tens of billions of dollars were flushed down the toilet that was and is the Iraqi Army including literal shipping pallets full of cash (reportedly $12 billion) that simply vanished without a trace in 2007. The effectiveness of U.S. and some coalition forces brought Baghdad into some semblance of stability, which is to say that Baghdad is still insanely violent but most of the organized terrorist and militant groups have withdrawn from the city to avoid directly confronting its enemies at their point of greatest military strength.

By the time Obama brought combat forces home a few years ago we appeared willing to accept a status quo of a violent, semi-governed Baghdad (and a few other major cities in Iraq's east) with most rural areas of the country outside of the control of its central government. Once they could sort of handle Baghdad on their own, we peaced out. That worked for a while until ISIS happened, and eyes turned to the Iraqi Army to see how it would react to whole cities and territories within the borders of Iraq being put under ISIS control. As it turns out, they didn't much seem to mind. We're several years into the proliferation of ISIS as an organized fighting force and the Iraqi Army hasn't so much as farted in their general direction. Whether they are incapable of confronting ISIS or merely unwilling to do it, all doubts about their competence have been erased.

Enter the Kurds. They straddle the border of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and as inhabitants of that largely rural area they have borne the brunt of ISIS inhumanity. But the Kurdish "state" and people – people who have been the whipping boys of that region for longer than anyone can remember – decided to fight back. Organized into a 5000-strong military force called Peshmerga and with the assistance of an allied but less organized militia force, they recently advanced on Fallujah and Mosul, major cities held by ISIS. And here's the thing – with US/Coalition air assistance, they've kind of kicked ISIS's ass. No one should mistake Peshmerga for a military juggernaut, yet they have taken the fight to ISIS and outfought them.

The point is not to laud the Kurds but to use this example to underscore just how utterly useless the Iraqi Army has been, 13 years into Bush-Cheney's grand experiment. The Kurds are certainly brave, but this is a relatively small fighting force not terribly well equipped or led. The Iraqi Army is on paper a numerically large force that has been inundated with expensive, high tech US weapons and training. It has had its hand held for more than a decade. If 5000-some Peshmerga fighters could dislodge ISIS from a major city, how is it humanly possible that an Iraqi Army with 1,800,000 enlisted men supposedly in uniform and Abrams tanks at the ready could not simply roll in Mosul with 100,000 people and sweep ISIS aside?

There are three possible answers. One is that the Army is so utterly inept that even with 100-1 numerical superiority they can't outfight ISIS. Another is that they simply have no motivation to fight for territory within borders largely defined by Western mapmakers but of no particular significance to people of the region. A third is that they are infiltrated by terrorist elements and sidelined by factional, regional, and ethnic rivalries within their own ranks to the point that they can't be considered anything like an effective fighting force.

If anyone needed a reminder of what a comprehensive and unqualified failure Iraq and the neocon plan to "liberate" it have been, this is it.


Posted in Rants on June 7th, 2016 by Ed

Since 1990 municipal and state governments have devoted a positively embarrassing amount of money to publicly financing sports stadiums in the United States. The first of the new wave – Comiskey / US Cellular Field in Chicago – in 1991 is now one of the oldest stadiums in Major League Baseball (only Dodgers Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field are older). It is also a rare example of a stadium built with borrowed funds (the State of Illinois did a bond issue) that were actually – hold your breath – paid back by the team. As far as public stadium deals go, that's about as good as it's going to get. Most of them are so much worse, and the new Atlanta Braves stadium swindle is perhaps the worst yet.

Almost every publicly financed stadium is approved by local governments (and sometimes, but not always, by referendum or ballot measure) based on the twin fallacies of promises of massive economic benefits and zero tax increases for local residents. The economic benefits tend to be either short-term (the city hosts one Super Bowl, and then what?), accrued entirely to a handful of people (team owners, concessionaires, and whoever got the parking rights), or greatly exaggerated (turns out that demand to buy expensive tickets to see a mediocre or bad team is insufficient to fill a stadium). As for the zero tax impact argument, it depends on a very specific and, shockingly, deceptive definition of that concept.

Municipal budgets are close to a zero sum game. There are ways to generate new revenue but they are politically unpopular and tend to be measures of last resort for elected officials. So, in the Braves current situation, it is true that the county is not raising taxes to pay for the stadium. What they will have to do is raise taxes to pay for everything else in the budget that they can no longer afford since they devoted all of their resources to the stadium. It's like someone blowing their entire paycheck on the casino and then asking to borrow rent money; the lender isn't really paying the rent, it's paying the person's gambling habit that precludes them from paying their own rent.

No matter how many times this trick is played, local governments seem to keep falling for it because WOO SPORTS! and a dozen local real estate and construction companies stand to benefit tremendously from the arrangement. Those same business interests tend to have a loud voice in government at the state, county, and municipal level. The fact that Cobb County had to monkey with the rules to prevent the public from having any input on the stadium decision suggests that voters have begun to figure out what a boondoggle these deals are. The fact that the public was not allowed to vote or have input suggests that the people behind the deal knew, or strongly suspected, that voters would never willingly swallow the costs involved. We might learn our lessons slowly, incompletely, and at times incorrectly, but there are enough examples in the last two decades to convince even the most enthusiastic sports fan to think twice before supporting free handouts to help people who are already obscenely rich make even more money.


Posted in Rants on June 5th, 2016 by Ed

Given the chance to read for pleasure, about every five or six books I go through ends up being at least tangentially about the Cold War. Not the military or political aspects of it necessarily, but about some aspect of society, life, and the state of the world during that time period. It's not something I do intentionally; it's just an endlessly fascinating time period to me and if something half-decent is written about it there's a better than average chance it'll end up in the queue.

One thing that strikes me every time I read about the collapse of the Cold War paradigm and the Eastern Bloc is the oddly familiar language with which the Soviet system is described in its final stages of decline. Whenever I read someone's take on the flaws that led to its ultimate demise it sounds an awful lot like someone moderately cynical describing the United States today. When someone describes the USSR as little more than a massively expensive military and a lavish pension system for the aged I can't help thinking, hmm. And the America of 2016 is different how?

Every characteristic that knowledgeable people identify as a contributor to the ultimate "victory" of free market capitalism over Soviet-style planned economies has slowly come to be a prominent characteristic of Western societies, particularly in the U.S. The public lost faith in the system and saw its leaders as increasingly inept. The economy produced what vested interests wanted, not what was actually needed. The resources of the society and the state were diverted to an unsustainable degree to wildly expensive and ill advised military adventures and martial infrastructure. Unemployment, underemployment, idleness, and laziness were epidemic in a workforce that saw little to gain from working hard and almost inevitably saw innovation punished. Constant appeals to patriotism, nationalism, and the enemy within and without produced diminishing returns as people grew tired of hearing the same propaganda lines repeatedly. The media system was consolidated into a small number of hands and did not offer the general public a full and factual accounting of issues of importance. Increasingly heavy-handed police state tactics were employed to deal with public demonstrations and protests (which grew in frequency). The list goes on.

The point is not that the United States is on the brink of collapsing into the Dustbin of History alongside Marxist-Leninist systems of the type seen in the post-War period. It's instead an interesting intellectual exercise to try to figure out what aspects of our system allow it to survive (so far) that which the USSR and its kind could not – and how far we can push it before we suffer the same fate.


Posted in Rants on May 30th, 2016 by Ed

The horrifying realization that the election is just beginning is brought into high relief every time Trump talks about an actual issue. The GOP nomination process was so utterly devoid of substance that up to this point we've mostly been talking in circles about his sanity and his sincerity. Where he actually stands on issues is only now and in the near future going to become apparent, and if you think he's an asshole now you're going to have to invent some new insults by November.

He appears to be going from state to state telling the local population of reactionaries whatever they most want to hear. He told Iowans that ethanol (a certified boondoggle and massively expensive welfare program for agricultural interests) is the key to his ideas about energy independence before flying to California to tell the state's substantial population of complete assholes that there is no drought, only a lack of will to stand up to The Environmentalists who won't let water be diverted from wild rivers for economic activity. This literally is an argument straight from online comment sections. Your dumbest uncle and friend from high school have posted it on Facebook at least once, guaranteed.

The argument ("argument") is as follows. All urban water consumption in California adds up to about 9 million acre-feet annually, and the state's enormous agricultural industry uses about 34 million. Wild rivers in the state handle about 25 million per year, none of which is dammed or diverted for economic use. So, if those pussy libtard tree huggers would just let agribusinesses build dams and diversion channels on all the wild rivers, problem solved.

This is precisely the kind of logic that appeals to people who have no real understanding of a public policy problem. They glance at some numbers on a chart and anoint themselves Fully Informed on the subject, insisting that it's "really simple" and "not hard" and the solution is "obvious." These are people who think the Federal budget could be balanced if someone would just take a pen and cross some things out. It's Common Sense! Unfortunately these oversimplified ideas from simpletons ignore all reality, context, and consequences in whatever mental calculus underlies them, if any. In this case the logic ignores the location of the wild rivers (generally nowhere near population centers) and the consequences of damming them. I'm not talking about the consequences to some endangered fish that Trump types clearly do not care about under any circumstances, but the long-term consequences to the climate and landscape of the state. Southern California, in case anyone has forgotten, is a desert. That is the root of the problem – not environmentalists hugging trees in Berkeley.

Listening to that California speech (if you can stomach it) makes it perfectly clear that Trump has thought about this issue for all of about ten minutes in his life but, as usual, is now 1000% convinced that he has the solution. What leadership! Like a college student trying to bullshit his way through a speech by browsing the internet five minutes before it is due, Trump's ideology (if it can be so called) is starting to look like an overarching ultra-short sighted, scorched earth approach to any issue that he thinks a crowd of yokels might be mad about. There is no future, there is no reality, there are no considerations that need to enter into the decision-making calculus. The answer to everything is whatever some guy who is furious about an issue he fundamentally does not understand thinks is the Common Sense answer.

Someone joked a long time ago that Trump is like a comment section running for president. That is going to prove more accurate a prediction than anyone realized.


Posted in Rants on May 25th, 2016 by Ed

This is the kind of data release sure to go viral and put the internet into a frenzy, so let me be the first of many to tell you that Pew has done an analysis concluding that "at home with parents" is now the most common living arrangement for 18-34 year olds. It is the plurality winner at 32.1%, edging out the long-time leader "with spouse or partner." The trend is not unique to America but is affecting Europe and the rest of the industrialized world as well.

It's hard to tell where sociopolitical attitudes begin and where one's defensiveness and projection end, but I've been involved in a lot of conversations lately with older adults observing that The Youths aren't buying homes, getting married, or pumping out grandkids like they used to (or are expected to). As a childless, single 37 year old male living alone in a rental unit, it's hard not to engage in such conversations with a broad perspective rather than just making my own excuses. The Pew report predictably – not to say unwisely – includes a discussion of the job market. Logically, young people who can't find decently paid work are likely to be living with someone who can at least partially subsidize their basic costs. This is obvious enough not to merit any in-depth discussion.

What is under-appreciated, in my view, is that the relationship between the economy and the life choices of young adults goes beyond how hard it is to find a job or what said jobs pay. Finding a job is not easy and finding one that pays well is even less so, but the real culprit behind the trend Pew highlights is the lack of stability that young adults have had beaten into them over the past three decades. Everyone is aware that lots of young adults aren't "settling down" because they can't find good jobs. I'd argue that at least as many have a good job but have no job security beyond day-to-day. We've heard all our lives how the days of spending 40 years at one company/employer are over, and that much is obvious. Despite the fact that some of us (OK, I'm 3 years over the limit but I'll lump myself in there nonetheless) are doing somewhere between "OK I guess" and "pretty well." Without anything to rely on for the future, though, who's going to take out a 30-year mortgage and have kids?

The sea change in our economy has not been one of wages and salaries (although those are stagnant since the 1970s outside of the top 1%) but of job security. We've been told that in order to compete in the Global Economy we have to work cheap and hard; to work anything less than 50 hours per week for the good of our employer is a moral failing, a shirking of economic and patriotic responsibility, yet they owe us nothing whatsoever in return. There is no trade-off in terms of stability. If they can find someone to do our jobs for less tomorrow, even halfway around the world, Third Wave capitalism demands that they fire us in the name of Efficiency and Shareholder Value. And that new reality – the knowledge that no matter how hard or well one works, the financial rug could be yanked out from under us at any minute – is one that actively discourages young adults from doing the very things (investing, saving, home-buying, and consuming) that this new economy needs us to do in order to grow. This system doesn't work unless we spend; we don't spend when we're insecure about the future; we have to be kept in fear so we're too afraid to demand better compensation and treatment; we spend less to compensate for stagnant compensation.

And that is why this whole Rube Goldberg machine of cheap credit, disposable labor, and a consumption-based American Dream is irredeemably goddamn broken.