Posted in Rants on April 16th, 2015 by Ed

As soon as Trevor Noah was appointed Jon Stewart's successor, I knew it was coming. Without knowing anything about Noah beyond a very small number of appearances on Comedy Central's ratings juggernaut, I knew it was only a matter of time until someone, somewhere would uncover a reason that nobody is allowed to like him. Evidence that he is a Bad Person. He was going to be deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Mennonite, or something that would remind us of the imperfections of his character. It is part of the modern "callout culture," and it is fucking exhausting.

You would think that grown men and women could recognize some sort of happy medium between condoning racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive words and actions and going to the opposite extreme and deeming nearly everyone guilty of something. But who are we kidding. We lack the subtlety to do anything other than blindly accept and endorse offensive shit as Just Fine or to wildly overreact and point fingers (and level accusations) like a bunch of self-righteous teenage straight edge kids who just discovered that the bassist in that one skatecore band smoked a cigarette.

I will make no defense of Trevor Noah's jokes – which, in addition to being somewhat offensive were, more importantly, really stupid and un-funny. If he or any other person says something offensive it is fair to hold them responsible for it. What bothers me is the fact that the second he got the job, someone sat down and went through five fucking years of his Tweets until they found something sufficiently insensitive to run breathlessly to the principal's office and tattle on him.

I've been updating this site five times per week for more than ten years. Anyone with endless time on their hands could, if I suddenly became famous, mine those millions of words to find something Unacceptable. Like any human being, I'm sure that not every word I've ever said was perfectly inoffensive to anyone and everyone. And I would submit, perhaps self-servingly, that if you were able to find something I wrote in 2003 that you (or a large number of people, even) found offensive it would not be conclusive evidence of my character and fitness for interacting with human society. It might be something that would deserve attention – Does it represent the way I feel today? Am I proud of it? Do I regret it for reasons other than dislike of the consequences? Do I understand how and why someone else found it offensive? – but in terms of my underlying character as a human being I think the fact that someone read 5,000 blog posts to find a Gotcha quote speaks more poorly of their character than the quote does of mine.

This is the one and only Gin and Tacos Thing I have ever spoken to another writer about before writing. I asked, "Is there any way to be critical of this "callout culture" without sounding like a whiny white male who is sad that he can't tell racist jokes anymore?" And she told me, "No. So just go ahead and do it." I'm sure some people will take it that way. And that is unfortunate, because I honestly think there is a balance that could be struck between making sure that closet racists, woman-haters, etc are made known and this kind of obsession with finding something Wrong with everyone. And yes, I think someone sifting through five years of tweets upon first hearing of a comedian is, if not legitimately obsessive, at least on the Obsession Spectrum.

We are addicted to the rush of being offended and we love tearing down our idols. Always have, always will. I'm not going to join the Patton Oswalt brigade of "Oh dear, You People are so sensitive that it's silencing my white male voice!" I don't feel in any way censored by having to think about the way that things I say and do might offend someone else. If Trevor Noah told antisemitic jokes, then I suppose it is fair that he answer for that. It's getting ugly, tiring, and depressingly predictable, though, this drill of mining the past until we can find The Dirt on everyone in the public eye in even the most insignificant way. Let's let this guy do the new job he's been chosen to do and judge him on the basis of what he does rather than putting him under a microscope until we find something from the past that we can use to pre-disqualify him.


Posted in Rants on April 14th, 2015 by Ed

Last week in South Carolina we heard a sad story for the umpteenth time, one so familiar that we don't even need to know the details to complete it. Black male, police officer, minor infraction, "struggle", gunshots, dead body. Like school shootings or the weather, it has become part of the background of American life. It is estimated that every 28 hours a black male is killed by the police or a gun-toting vigilante; it's difficult to keep up even if one is willing to try.

A funny thing has happened with the South Carolina incident, though. Nobody has rallied to the officer's defense. His department hung him out to dry. Conservative talking heads refuse to talk about it. No one is handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars for his "legal defense." The reason, of course, is that the entire incident was videotaped and so clearly contradicts the traditional Police Story (there was a struggle, he took my gun, I was afraid for my life, etc.) that the usual parade of full time cop apologists can't even muster the energy. Oh, and it's kind of hard to generate sympathy when you're on video trying to plant a Taser near the guy you just shot. In the back. That's a level of callousness and corruption that even a Darren Wilson fan can't condone.

The distinctly American aspect of this reaction is the complete inability, or perhaps conscious unwillingness, to make the connection between this incident on video and thousands of other nearly identical incidents that happen not to be on video. This is a story that plays out time and time again across this country every year, and every time it is the officer's word versus the victim or witnesses and we are compelled to accept the official version of events. The idea that the one time the officer lied happened to coincide with the incident being clearly and completely captured on video redefines implausibility. I know that reactionary/authoritarian types are good at faking naivete when it protects them from thinking. What they no doubt tell themselves (and the rest of us) is the old Bad Apple argument – this was an unfortunate and isolated incident and all other incidents in which literally the exact same thing happens and the cop gives literally the exact same story are in no way connected.

The shooting and the callous reaction of the shooter are understandably the focus of most reactions to this depressingly predictable and familiar video, but the part that jumps out to me (and should be the most telling, at least to a sentient person) is the effort to plant the Taser near the dead body. I'll tell you what – ask someone in your circle of friends or family who is in or has worked around law enforcement what the phrase "drop knife" means to them (alternately, "drop gun"). True, I've never previously heard "drop Taser" but the officer in this video had to improvise. Work with the tools you have, right?

People are stubborn and often willfully ignorant. A person would need to have both of those qualities in spades to compartmentalize this incident in a separate reality. This cop was full of shit but all the others – the ones whose behavior isn't captured on video – are best consumed unskeptically. I refuse to believe that the hundreds of black (or otherwise inherently "dangerous") men who end up dead after what should be innocuous encounters with police are the violently resisting, weapon-grabbing, Hulked out monsters who require nothing less than a lethal response that the police always claim they are. If you think this is the first dead black male who had a weapon tossed near him by the cop who just shot him, in a just world you'd find out the hard way how these situations unfold in reality. Without the video, this would have been swept under the rug just like the hundreds of others; "Cop kills black male" isn't even news anymore without something more to make it interesting.


Posted in Rants on April 12th, 2015 by Ed

I'm at the point of Internet Success (which is like Success, except it doesn't improve one's life in any way) at which random strangers send me things that are relevant to our collective interests. Recently a reader posted this picture, presumably from the office bulletin board. One of his coworkers sounds like a he has been hitting the Swanson Angry Man dinners a bit hard for…decades, presumably.


I've posted many times over the past decade about Tax Rage. I simply do not get it. There are so many things worth getting angry about and I don't understand how someone's life could be so sad that they obsess over taxes. You know those people who seem like they can talk about literally nothing else? To me they are as pitiable (but somehow more socially accepted) than a guy whose conversational abilities are limited to weird hobbies or Deep Space Nine. The idea of mustering that much anger, that much enthusiasm of any kind about something as mundane as property taxes would be impressive if it weren't so sad.

Reading the small print, the property tax increase in question is $7.92 per assessed $100,000 of property value. According to a real estate site, the median price of a single-family home in Xenia, OH (address in the upper right corner) is $105,000. The median price of homes sold recently is $129,000. Using the higher figure to give Mr. Histrionics the benefit of doubt, an owner of that median priced home would pay under this proposed tax an additional ($7.92 x 12 months x 1.29) $122.60 per year.

Now, let's get something straight. I don't enjoy paying taxes because nobody really does, and I'd rather have $122.60 than not have it. I do not believe $122.60 is an insignificant amount of money, although that means different things to different people. My rule of thumb for evaluating the relative worth of a given amount of money in your life is: If you dropped it in a gas station toilet full of liquid trucker feces, would you reach in to get it? If the answer is yes, it's a lot of money. At least to you. For someone living on the margins of the economy, $8 or $10 per month might be a big deal. To anyone else losing that amount might be unpleasant but – pay close attention to this part, Tax Rage Guy – it's not going to kill you. You'll live. $122.60 is not the difference between the guy who wrote on this flyer being able to eat or not, and I'm hard pressed to see how $122.60 could be the difference between a middle class homeowner's life bringing him happiness or misery. To someone who can afford a median priced home, I don't see how a hundred bucks could be a game-changer.

To be certain I don't want to give away $122.60 any more than the next person. My point is that if the law demanded that amount of money from me to pay for woefully underfunded public schools it wouldn't ruin my day. I don't understand how so many people can get so angry over something so comparatively insignificant – and I'm a fairly angry person. When I have to pay bills or send the IRS money once per year I react the way I imagine most half-normal people would: I write the check, I say "Fuck" a few times, and then I forget about it once it's in the mail. You might say that's just privilege talking and that if I were poorer I would feel differently, a point that would be valid if only the people who do the most bitching about taxes were poor rather than old white people losing sleep over the idea of poor people taking Their Money.


Posted in Rants on April 6th, 2015 by Ed

Another week, another "Why does college cost so damn much?" article, this time in the NYT. The author discounts the argument that states have slashed funding for higher education by emphasizing that adjusted for inflation, state support is much more extravagant today than prior to 1980. Instead, as I have suggested in the past, he blames:

the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

This argument is irrefutable. The number of administrators in higher education today dwarfs any previous era. Moreover, their penchant for paying themselves lavish salaries is a big part of the problem. What does it tell you that among mid-career academics it is often tempting to make a push to go into administration? It's not that anyone thinks it's a good idea to quit being useful as a teacher to become another soul-crushing bureaucrat, but when you realize that the people who do the least work make 250% of your salary it has some appeal.

That's not the whole story, though, and everyone in higher education is terrified to talk about the rest. Some of the administrative bloat is pointless. The rest of it is a result of two legitimate problems. One is that competition for students is intense (at private schools, "desperate" doesn't go far enough to convey the enrollment situation these days) and colleges increasingly look to compete by turning the experience into a playground. Not only do they need to spend billions collectively on creature comforts – elaborate Rec Centers, luxury student housing and food, etc – but they have to hire countless paper pushers to administer the programs intended to keep students entertained. A gym is more than throwing up a building and filling it with treadmills. There have to be group fitness classes, semester long programs in whatever is trendy, a calendar full of events, and anything else you'd find on a cruise ship or resort.

The second part is the one people only whisper about. More and more students are going to college over the past two decades, partly driven by the availability of loans and the inability to enter most fields without a degree. The end result is that moreso than any time in the past, today there are huge numbers of students flocking to college who have zero ability to succeed there. Universities of course want to retain these students, and in order to do so they have to create a massive bureaucracy of support services. Any skill tangentially related to completing college level work now has a lavishly staffed support center devoted to it on campus. A writing center, a study skills program, tutoring services, a math helpdesk, a massive bureaucracy devoted to the shockingly large share of students diagnosed with various disabilities, and anything else you can imagine.

If you want to stay open, you have to admit a certain number of students. In an ideal world you accept only students who can succeed given the nature of the school. In reality you end up taking a lot who probably can't. And if you accept students who do not know how to write sentences in English, you better have someone ready to hold their hand if you expect them to last longer than a semester. That costs money – a lot of money.

When you add up the cost of huge salaries for presidents, provosts, deans, and deanlets, recreational facilities that resemble theme parks, athletic programs (a competitive D-I football program costs a small fortune), shiny new buildings, and an army of functionaries tasked with guiding students who sometimes lack even high school level academic skills through college coursework, it makes sense why costs are exploding. Those of you who went to college in the ancient past can attest to how austere the accommodations were, how barebones the support services were, and how little "fun" universities paid to provide.

There definitely are too many administrators and they have a terrible habit of paying themselves too much. But some of the growth has been of necessity, as more and more students need more and more help to have any hope of succeeding at this academic level. That isn't cheap. College costs a lot more than it used to. But "used to" didn't include paying half a million bucks to bring Katy Perry to campus and having to teach high school graduates how to do math involving fractions.



Posted in Rants on March 31st, 2015 by Ed

Midwestern states haven't done a great job of passing useful laws lately, but Illinois is making progress toward a law to ban "rolling coal." For those of you who live in areas that are populated by people who read books and have hopes and dreams, let me briefly explain: that is "the act of modifying a diesel vehicle, usually a pickup truck, to spew black smoke and soot." Last summer a number of viral videos of homemade smokestacks on otherwise normal pickup trucks inspired this insipid trend, giving morons everywhere a new way to warn people of their existence.

If this is the kind of thing that seems fun or amusing to you I'd recommend a nice, tall glass of acetone before bed tonight.

I read a lot of auto-themed blogs and look at a few Euro car message boards on occasion. Between the comment sections and the general level of discourse on any male-centric message board you can imagine the kind of stupidity one can come across in those corners of the internet. It's not quite as mind-numbingly bad as what you see on sports-oriented stuff, but it's still about what you could expect in terms of political and social commentary from an interest that appeals mainly to men, mostly white, of average or better income. Let's just say The Unions are to blame for a lot of things wrong with various cars and car companies.

When the topic of "rolling coal" comes up, as it does periodically, two things stand out. One is that the idiocy of the people who do this is agreed upon as close to unanimously as anything I can recall seeing on the internet. Even the troll-iest of trolls can bring themselves to say "lololol awesome!" or "I don't see anything wrong with this u bunch of whiny pussies" on this topic. Americans do not appear able to agree on anything save that people who do this are idiots. Second, people believe some very strange things about how incentives work.

The mantra of the Internet White Guy is used a lot: "I totally disagree with this and think anyone who does it is awful, but I don't think it should be illegal." You know, because Freedom or Big Government is Bad or (insert nonsense interpretation of some part of the Constitution) or Obama or whatever. Coal-rolling is far from the only subject on which you will hear this. Government is bad, laws are bad, so we should condemn unacceptable behaviors and…what, shame people out of doing them? Wait until they see the light? Live with it indefinitely?

What, for example, other than a harsh fine is going to convince people to stop doing this? We are not dealing with logic here, nor are we dealing with rocket scientists. Right-wingers always go on and on about how stupid The People are, and yet their preferred "Let The Market handle it" solution depends entirely on individuals being rational enough to realize that their behavior needs to change. And in this case, that change needs to take place in the absence of any incentives to do so.

To be clear, if you're not comfortable with the idea of making certain behaviors against the law then you are comfortable living in a world in which they continue indefinitely. No matter how many times you click your heels and make wishes, people aren't going to stop doing terrible shit just because you tell them you disapprove. People stupid enough to do something like this have the irritating tendency to fail to respond to reasoned arguments.


Posted in Rants on March 29th, 2015 by Ed

Those of us 40 and older no doubt remember Ronald Reagan's first summer in office (1981) coming to a crescendo on August 3 with his now-infamous ultimatum to the nation's striking air traffic controllers. Their union, PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) was effectively broken in the process. When Reagan demanded that the 13,000 employees return to work within 48 hours or forfeit their jobs, it was no idle threat. Since public employee unions were forbidden by law to strike, he was able to use the authority of the Attorney General and Secretary of Labor to de-certify PATCO. With the possible exception of the auto sit-down strikes, the Norris-LaGuardia Act, or Youngstown v Sawyer, it was the most important moment in 20th Century labor history in the United States.

Recently I recalled doing some research years ago and coming across Reagan's press conference Q&A after making his announcement (transcript here). I was struck at the time, and reminded over the past few days, at how frank he was. Unions were still fairly popular in 1981 although their decline in power and popularity was already underway. And Reagan, for whom I think you all know I have no excess of admiration, said, "Here's what we're going to do" and then did it. While I disagree vehemently with the course of action he took, at least he had the decency to be honest about it. When shitting all over a group of people, in this case PATCO, an elected official should never be hesitant to say "The purpose of these actions is to shit all over PATCO." If he has the strength of convictions that he claims to have, there should be no hesitation to tell the situation exactly like it is.

This came to mind over the weekend watching and listening to Mike Pence nervously sputter into cameras in an attempt to explain that despite all appearances to the contrary, the recent law passed in Indiana totally isn't about legalizing discrimination against gays. It is a textbook case of the lady protesting too much, with every appeal to "religious freedom" making it sound less and less likely that religious freedom has anything at all to do with the motive. Throughout all of this – I've received a heavier than usual dose of this controversy since I lived in Indiana for 7 years and still have dozens of friends there – I find myself desperate for someone, anyone, to come out (phrasing) and admit that they just don't like The Gays much. Pence has promised to "clarify" the "intent" of the law, and I'm hoping that will consist of explaining that Indiana has a huge population of old, rural, white people who fear change and hate their shitty lives so they need to pretend it's 1950 and take it out on some social minority group. If we can make it sound noble by appealing to religion, all the better.

To many of you there may not be much of a difference in practice between "discriminatory" and "discriminatory and sanctimonious." It's true that the effect of the law is the same no matter how it is packaged and sold. I'd argue that in a way the rhetorical obfuscation makes it worse. The animosity is real no matter how we burnish it with florid words, so why kid ourselves?

(Oh, and fun fact: Ronald Reagan was the only president who was actually in a labor union – the SAG. Of which he was briefly president.)


Posted in Rants on March 24th, 2015 by Ed

Whenever someone mentions that the world will run out of oil and natural gas someday, I enjoy pointing out that there's no point in worrying about it. We'll run out of potable water before that can happen.

Regarding the geographic shifts in the American population (favoring the Sun Belt) over the past thirty years I say the same: Don't worry, they'll be back when they finally kill the Colorado River. And their groundwater. And their reservoirs. I mean, at the rate that Desert Metropolises like Phoenix, Vegas, and Los Angeles are pissing through the available resources, the Great Lakes region will start looking very good in the next decade or three. Not that Texas won't be a joy when the water's mostly gone and our summers have heated up even more.

Any discussion of depleting a natural resource sounds, by definition, at least a little alarmist. We have so little direct experience with and social context for running out of anything here in the land of eternal plenty that it makes sense for most people to be unable to wrap their minds around it. Logically, though, it would make less sense to believe that things that cannot be man-made (or can be only at great cost) won't be exhausted someday. I mean, compare oil depletion scenarios to the belief that the Earth makes oil in its crust and tell me which one is nuts.

The unprecedented drought in California is drawing more attention to the issue, with reliable estimates that the supply of stored water is down to about one year. This does not imply, as some news outlets concluded, that California will be "out of water" in a year. At some point it'll rain and alleviate the immediate crisis. It does indicate that a potential disaster is never more than a few years off under the present circumstances, though.

The US and other developed countries are positively drowning in water compared to the rest of the world though. Changing consumption patterns, population growth, and changing climate add up to demand for water outpacing supply by nearly half in 2030, according to the UN. If the world thinks it has seen wars over resources, wait until it sees two massively populated but impoverished countries fighting over the last of the available water. I kind of picture it like the Battle of Helms Deep, but more dehydrated.

People tend to have an unshakable faith in technology to solve these problems for us. It's not in fact the worst argument in the world. History has given us a number of examples of how we've been able as a species to overcome some of our limitations with science. I would believe, for example, that by the time the oil runs out a synthetic substitute or alternative might be available. There's not many candidates for "water substitute," though.

Places like Southern California, the UAE, and Western Australia are relying at present on desalination as their savior. But desalination is a remarkably expensive and energy-intensive process. In most uses it also does little more than supplement cheaper and more accessible sources of water to meet the needs of large populations. The number and scale of desalination plants that would be necessary to support California's 40,000,000 people (not to mention Phoenix and Vegas, who will probably need pipelines) is impractical veering toward impossible, even if we disregard the ecological impact of large scale desalination.

I don't think it's going to be tomorrow or even a decade from now, but at some point in my lifetime I expect to live in a world in which deserts once again resemble deserts and the illogic of having a sprawling metropolis in the middle of one cannot be ignored. The Southwest will resemble (as it once did) the Australian Outback when the capacity to support four or five million people in a place like Phoenix disappears for good. In places less wealthy than the US, it's neither bold nor prescient to predict that the situation is likely to get much uglier.

Don't worry though: the good news is that an ever-increasing share of the global potable water supply is being handed over to private corporations. That should help.


Posted in Rants on March 16th, 2015 by Ed

The fact that the Ferguson Police aren't smart enough to avoid using government email accounts to send one another racist jokes underscores the vast number of horrible (and horribly racist) being hurled through cyberspace like so many turds every day. Not too long ago, Scott Walker's ex-Chief of Staff was in hot water for sending the following joke. If you'll bear with me, I must quote it in full:


In the nightmare I found myself nude in bed, and I was looking at a mirror on the ceiling, and I discovered that I am a Negro, and I’m circumcised!

Quickly I sat up, found my pants and looked in the pockets to find my driver’s license photo and it was that same color, black.

I felt myself being very depressed, downcast, sitting in a chair.

But it’s a wheelchair! That means, of course, besides being black and Jewish, I’m also disabled! I said to myself, aloud “This is impossible! It’s impossible that I should be black and Jewish and disabled!” “It's the pure and holy truth,” whispers someone from behind me. I turn around, and it’s my boyfriend.

Just what I needed!!! I am a homosexual, and on top of that, with a Mexican boyfriend.

Oh, my God …. Black, Jewish, disabled, gay with a Mexican boyfriend, drug addict, and HIV-positive!!!

Desperate, I begin to shout, cry, pull my hair, and Oh, nooooo…I’m bald!!!

The telephone rings. it’s my brother. He is saying, ‘Since mom and dad died, the only thing you do is hang out, take drugs, and laze around all day doing nothing. Get a job, you worthless piece of crap… Any job!’

Mom? Dad? Nooooo … Now I’m also an unemployed orphan! I try to explain to my brother how hard it is to find a job when you are black, Jewish, disabled, gay with a Mexican boyfriend, are a drug addict, HIV positive, bald, and an orphan, but he doesn’t get it.

Frustrated, I hang up. It’s then I realize I only have one hand!!! With tears in my eyes, I go to the window to look out. I see I live in a shanty-town full of cardboard and tin houses! There is trash everywhere.

Suddenly I feel a sharp pain near my pacemaker…. Pacemaker??

Besides being black, Jewish, disabled, a fairy with a Mexican boyfriend, a drug addict, HIV positive, bald, orphaned, unemployed, an invalid with one hand, and having a bad heart, I live in a crappy neighborhood.

At that very moment my boyfriend approaches and says to me, ‘Sweetie pie, my love, my little black heartthrob, have you decided what you are going to wear to Washington to see Obama?’

Say it isn’t so!!! I can handle being a black, disabled, one-armed, drug-addicted, Jewish homosexual on a pacemaker who is HIV positive, bald, orphaned, unemployed, lives in a slum, and has a Mexican boyfriend, but please, Oh dear God, please don’t tell me I'm a Democrat!

When my youngest nephew was about 3, I would tell jokes* to his older siblings and he would observe, not really understanding what a joke is or why the one I told was supposed to be funny. And every time he would laugh at exactly the right moment. He laughed because he understood that 1) what I was saying was a joke and 2) jokes end with a punchline and you're supposed to laugh at that point. It was the format he was responding to.

To me, the only thing interesting about this is marveling at what passes for humor among conservatives. You know my rule – if something is going to be offensive and racist, it better at least be funny. And that, to me, is the most offensive thing about this kind of "joke." It has all of the downsides of something racist, homophobic, and plain old mean with absolutely none of the upsides commonly associated with humor. Namely being funny or witty.

Until a few years ago when most of my family and friends who traffic in this sort of electronic detritus finally knew better, like most people I would receive emails of this type on occasion. And I reacted the same every time, not by saying "Hey this is really racist" (which would be denied flatly and produce an unproductive and overwrought exchange) but with "What about this is even slightly funny?" The email reproduced above looks like it was written by a 14 year old or someone with the mental skills and emotional maturity of a 14 year old. You know it's supposed to be a joke and it even shares many similarities in format with a joke, but it's devoid of everything that would make it even mildly amusing. It's stupid and sophomoric and unfunny to an extent that being racist and offensive isn't even the worst thing about it.

And so whoever writes this shit can rest assured that no actual humor needs to be involved because the intended audience is about as discriminating as my three year old nephew was. As long as they recognize the format and certain key concepts are invoked (farts, poop, black welfare queens, gays, etc.) they will laugh like trained seals and insist that it is Humor.

*Dog and a pony walk into a bar. Dog orders a beer. Pony orders *inaudible whisper*. Bartender says "I can't understand what your friend said" and the dog says "Don't mind him, he's just a little hoarse."


Posted in Rants on March 15th, 2015 by Ed

(Catch up on Part I here)

OK, so what? It's not like I'm breaking new ground here in explaining that Gilded Age-style capitalism is a race to the bottom in terms of employee compensation. The important questions are: How long can this continue? and What can be done about it? Veteran readers know that I hate the latter question but we will take a stab at it regardless.

As for how long this stagnation or even decline in wages can continue, the answer depends on how deeply you believe that the kind of people who support Scott Walker from their decrepit apartments in dying rural towns barely clinging to life on a SSI- and eCig-based economy have internalized the ration of shit sold to them by conservative bag men for the last three decades. It is a system of values that convinces a person to put hyper-jingoistic bumper stickers on their rusted out 1987 Plymouth Voyager and declare that America is #1, a viewpoint espoused with complete confidence despite never having ventured beyond a fifty-mile radius of the place he was born save for one high school trip to the Big City (Joplin). It is a system of values intended to convince a person you are paying $9 per hour that he doesn't want the myriad things he can't afford – vacations (What kind of lazy grifter takes time off of work?), decent schools (Homeschoolin's where it's at! Teach 'em some TRUTH for once!), decent food (What are you, queer or somethin?), higher education (buncha liberal bullshit), or any kind of cultural stimulation of a variety more refined than semi-pro wrestling. Once a person has settled into this mindset to enjoy the greatest country on Earth from the vantage point of Dogpatch, Alabama, it's hard to have much an impact using facts or logic. If people need nothing more to be happy than beer, church, shitty American cars, and a ranch house in some backwater, they're going to work for $10 or $11 per hour for a long, long time before they can be convinced to agitate. Hell, at $10 per hour in Cleveland, MS you might even have excess income if your expectations have been sufficiently lowered. If you do, don't worry. The State Legislature will build a casino to take care of it.

Conservatives are always telling us that no one can help us, rather we must help ourselves. Ironically, they're right in this instance. As long as people accept shit compensation and shittier treatment from their employers, they will continue to receive it. You can lead a horse to water, but if that horse watches Fox News eight hours per day it's going to be equal parts dumb, misinformed, and delusional. It will also probably hate black horses, and don't even get it started on donkeys. But I digress. This economic swamp we've been thrashing around in since 1980 will not be improved so long as millions of Americans fight to keep it as is.

That leaves us with the second question, what to do about it. Unfortunately I am not convinced that anything short of slow, steady progress by increments can have an effect. If the implosion of 2009 had no effect on attitudes toward taxation, wages, and government intervention in the economy then I can't imagine what kind of cataclysmic economic event would be required to change minds. We are witnessing the death throes of a group of people who are accustomed to living in "Their Country" and are sliding into demographic irrelevance. In a rare note of optimism, I will say that there is some hope to be found in increments in the last few years – a living wage law here, an extension of healthcare benefits there. These changes are being fought tooth-and-claw every step of the way, of course, but if you launch enough bombers you can guarantee that at least a few will make it to London. They're baby steps, but they're steps. Some people know what's up.

In the meantime, though, things will probably get worse before they get better as more states like Michigan and Wisconsin are depopulated and the electorate becomes one dominated by old, white, rural dead-enders with nowhere to go, like some economic Operation Gladio (and nearly as riddled with fascists). The iron law of globalized capitalism is that someone will always do it for less, and the only way right-wing elected officials will be able to compensate for promises of economic growth that never materialize no matter how many tax cuts are gifted to the Job Creators is to cut until they hit bone. Once that happens and their current gray-haired base of political support has gone to the great Denny's in the sky, we might have a chance. For people my age and younger, however, the changes won't come soon enough and we might as well get used to the fact that we are part of an economic lost generation.


Posted in Rants on March 9th, 2015 by Ed

I wish everyone up here in the Union states – especially the ones racing to emulate the political and economic policies that have made places like Mississippi and Alabama the gardens of Eden they are today – could be forced to read a little about what is happening to the components of the auto industry that have been fleeing southward for the last thirty years. The UAW is staking its future on being able to unionize southern manufacturing and parts facilities with little success so far and none appearing likely in the near future. That says more about Southern politics than about the contentedness of the people who were only recently so excited about all of them jorbs comin' down from the North. Some members of the new industrial workforce in Dixie aren't terribly happy now that they are starting to figure out that you can earn more at Taco Bell than in The Factory.

Cleveland, Mississippi is on the top ten list of shittiest places I've had the misfortune to see firsthand in this country. It's home to a parts factory making auto seats for Faurecia, a massive French company with 274 factories around the globe. You don't build a factory in Cleveland, MS because you want to take advantage of the skilled labor force or well-developed infrastructure. You build a factory in Cleveland, MS because some Governor named Buck or Sonny or Cooter told the State Legislature to give you $100 million in tax breaks and new highway construction and you want to pay your workers as little as the law will allow. Then you proceed to pay your workers as little as the law will allow while explaining to them that you're actually paying them quite a lot for the decrepit backwater in which they were unfortunate enough to be born and either unable or (unwisely) unwilling to leave.

Protesters say Faurecia employees make a top wage of $11.64 per hour, while contract workers make $7.73 an hour.

Company spokesman Tony Sapienza said that with overtime, the typical Faurecia employee makes more than the $27,000 a year that is the median wage around Cleveland. Wages are often low in the heavily impoverished Delta.

"We are very confident that we are offering a very competitive wage," Sapienza said.

In other words, $7.73 per hour ($16,000 per year at 40 hours) with no benefits is a lot of money for You People! And it should be noted that $8.03 is the estimated "living wage" in Cleveland. For one adult. With no dependents.

Much like handing a pedestrian in Mogadishu $100 would make him rich by the standards of his peers, the entire logic of moving industry southward is and always has been "We can pay these (hicks / colored people) next to nothing and they'll be thrilled with it!" And it has worked for a while. But even in Cleveland, MS people are starting to figure out that a factory job with a maximum hourly wage of $11 – with half the spots filled by contracted temp labor making a why-bother $7.73 per hour – isn't much of a step up from the $8 or $9 per hour that most fast food chains are paying these days. What did Mississippi really get for whatever ridiculous buffet of subsidies they slopped in a trough for Faurecia? A factory half-filled with people making under $30,000 per year and half-filled with temps making barely over the poverty line. Oh, and someone's nephew making $150,000 to run the place. Even Management salaries are subject to the local cost of living argument, otherwise he'd be making a half million.

Take a good, hard look, Wisconsin. This is your competition, and these are the "jobs" that people like Gov. Homonculus are promising to bring to (or retain in) your state. If only you'd stop being so greedy and agree to work for next to nothing, maybe Job Creators wouldn't be forced to take massive bribes from Southern governments to give your job to someone who will be thrilled to earn the Federal minimum wage.

At least for a while, anyway.