Monday Reads: Race to the bottom for all but the 1 %

Good Morning!

I decided to write about a few interesting things today that are more issue-related than anything. I’m trying to avoid the continuing onslaught of bad journalism on what the next two years will hold.

Just to start it off, here’s a negative ad running from Mary Landrieu that will give you an idea of why I don’t want Doctor Strange Eyes for a Senator.  Then, we will move on to other things!!

I wonder if he’s been exposed to this virus that makes people more stupid.

A virus that infects human brains and makes us more stupid has been discovered, according to scientists in the US.

The algae virus, never before observed in healthy people, was found to affect cognitive functions including visual processing and spatial awareness.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska stumbled upon the discovery when they were undertaking an unrelated study into throat microbes.

Surprisingly, the researchers found DNA in the throats of healthy individuals that matched the DNA of a virus known to infect green algae.

Dr Robert Yolken, a virologist who led the original study, said: “This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition.

Russell Lee - Children of Frank Moody, Miller Township, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1936There’s an interesting study and book being published on an up-close account of poverty.  The authors are a married couple with ivy league credentials that moved into a poverty stricken neighborhood of Camden, then documented their neighbors and experiences.

ONCE A THRIVING INDUSTRIAL CENTER, home of RCA Victor and the Campbell Soup Company, Camden saw decades of white flight as the manufacturing sector disappeared. By 2000, five years after Edin arrived, 53 percent of Camden’s residents were black, 39 percent were Hispanic, and 36 percent lived below the poverty line. The year she moved in was the city’s bloodiest on record, with 58 murders among 86,000 residents.

About a block away from the blue clapboard Victorian where Edin lived is the former Presbyterian church where she taught Sunday school—one of the ways she got to know people in the community, along with volunteering at an after-school program. On the warm fall day I visited, the voice of a holy roller bellowing at his flock rang clear across the street.

Teaching Sunday school wasn’t just a research ploy. Edin hails from rural Minnesota, where she “grew up in the back of the van” that her mother drove for a Swedish Lutheran church. She worked there with needy families whose kids often cycled in and out of jail and foster care. “The religious tradition I came up in was very focused on social justice,” Edin says, citing Micah 6:8 (“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”).

She attended North Park University, a small Christian college in Chicago with a social-justice focus. There, she took extra-credit assignments working in the notorious Cabrini-Green public housing project. In her free time she did things like watch Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Franco Zeffirelli’s film about St. Francis of Assisi, and walk around campus barefoot in the winter to emulate the saint.

Sunday school in Camden was different. One day, Edin recalls, she drew on a common evangelical trope, asking the kids what one thing they would save if their house were on fire. The answer is supposed to be “the Bible,” but for these kids the question was not a hypothetical. Most of the kids had actually been in that situation and could tell her exactly what they took. (Sometimes it was the Bible.)

Tragedy was endemic to her small class. In the space of a month, the fathers of two of the five students were killed in gun violence. Trauma made the kids “very vigilant,” she says. “They notice everything about you.” Some of their comments yielded unexpected insights for her research on low-income women’s attitudes toward marriage, which they tended to view as hard work more than a source of pleasure. “One girl said to me, ‘You white women are really into your husbands,’” she says with a laugh. “Watching people respond to you reveals a lot.”

Not long after she and Nelson moved in, a teenager avoiding pursuers jumped through an open bathroom window, then raced out their front door. She recalls the time she put her baby’s empty car seat down in the front yard while unloading groceries. When she turned around, it was gone. She ran down the street to a garage that served as the neighborhood’s unofficial flea market, and found it already for sale.

Edin says her willingness to put up with the same routine annoyances as her neighbors helped persuade them to open up. “Lots of people said, ‘We know you’re the real thing. You’re not here just to study us, because you live here, too.’”

New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward has been facing many challenges after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  It’s latest challenge comes from voter defeat of an amendment that made selling empty lots easier to neighbors.2-20-Poverty2

It’s a common adjective in the Lower 9th Ward to describe Tuesday’s statewide voter rejection of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the city to sell vacant lots in that struggling neighborhood to aspiring homeowners for as little as $100.

But disappointment has come often and in many sizes to the Lower 9, one of the neighborhoods most thoroughly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and the residents and activists who have taken up the cause of repopulating the area are perhaps more capable than anyone of putting a setback at the ballot box behind them.

“For nine years, there have been many, many challenges — challenges far greater than (the failure of) this amendment,” said activist Vanessa Gueringer, who along with state Rep. Wesley Bishop came up with the idea they thought might jump-start residential development in the neighborhood. “We had to struggle to even come home. It’s not bigger than that.”

Thom Pepper, of the nonprofit group Common Ground Relief, put it a little more colorfully.

“No one is crying in their bourbon over it,” he said. The idea of $100 lots was “like one of the things to throw it on the wall and see if it sticks. It didn’t, but we’ll go on.”

The amendment, which was needed to override the constitutional prohibition against the government donating or selling public property at less than fair market value, needed a majority both in New Orleans and statewide. It was overwhelmingly supported by Lower 9 voters, but it lost 51 to 49 percent in Orleans Parish and failed badly statewide, 59 to 41 percent.

Had it been approved, a state law passed earlier this year would have taken effect. That law would have directed the city to sell vacant lots in the neighborhood for $100 each to, in order of priority: adjacent property owners; people who have leased property in the Lower 9th Ward for at least 18 months; former residents; veterans, teachers, retired teachers and emergency responders; and anyone who agreed to build on the property and live there for at least five years.

Developers, corporate entities and anyone with an active code enforcement violation or outstanding tax lien would have been barred from buying the lots, which the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority acquired through the Road Home program.

images (1)What can you tell about the politics of a neighborhood by the kind of retail activity it attracts?

If you do your grocery shopping at Whole Foods, you probably live in area more likely to vote Democratic. On the other hand, if you buy your food at Kroger’s, people in your area probably voted Republican in Tuesday’s election. That’s what Time magazine found when it looked at how Congressional districts voted on Tuesday and crossed referenced it with the prevalence of brick-and-mortar retail chains in those areas.

To create their interactive chart, Time matched some 2 million store locations to how a district voted in this week’s midterm elections. The publication found that certain brands, like Ben & Jerry, American Apparel, Tesla and Trader Joe’s were more likely found in Democratic-voting districts, while brands like Cracker Barrel, Dillard’s, and Waffle House had more of a presence in Republican-voting districts.

While at first glance, this might seem more like a red state/blue state map (brands like Waffle House, Cracker Barrel, and Hobby Lobby have more presence in Southern states, for example), there may be a bit of consumer psychology behind it.

Ben & Jerry’s, American Apparel, and Tesla, for example, have been perceived as companies with a more progressive agenda. Ben & Jerry’s co-founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are famous for their support of progressive candidates and causes, Tesla founder Elon Musk is an advocate of green-energy technologies, and American Apparel — despite serious sexual-harassment allegations against its founder Dov Charney — supports immigration reform, gay rights, and sustainability.

Conversely, corporations such as Hobby Lobby, Cracker Barrel, and Chick-fil-A, which are found in more conservatives areas, have generated controversy for their respective conservative stances on birth control, racial and sexual-orientation discrimination, and same-sex marriage.

Several corporations are so ubiquitous throughout the U.S. landscape that their presence is somewhat politically neutral, at least in this recent election cycle. These retail chains include In-and-Out Burger, Chipotle, Starbucks, and Planet Fitness.

The Unemployment rate keeps dropping but wages and the general condition of the labor market still remains very weak.  What are the underlying factors that worry labor economists?Child-Poverty_in_Australia

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent after employers added 214,000 jobs in October. The average monthly gain throughout the past year was 222,000. The BLS said the industries that added the most jobs were “food services and drinking places, retail trade, and health care.”

Guardian U.S. finance and economics editor Heidi Moore pointed to analysts who disputed the cheery view of the report. The National Women’s Law Center, she wrote on Friday, “objected that most of the gains… were in low-paying minimum-wage jobs.”

Moore parsed the report as follows:

While the so-called topline numbers – the number of jobs added and the unemployment rate–- are often cited in discussions, they have their flaws. The jobless rate, for instance, has been dropping in part because it only measures people who have been actively looking for jobs; when people stop looking, they are no longer counted as “unemployed” according to the government figures. In addition, the number of jobs added is frequently revised, often by large margin; the BLS reserves a margin of error of 100,000 jobs.

One alternative measure Moore pointed out is “discouraged workers.” These are people who have given up looking for jobs because they think there are none available. A whopping 770,000 Americans fit that description. The number is essentially unchanged from the same time last year.

One of these telling statistics is the “U-6 unemployment rate,” a more expansive measure that counts the “total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force.” That means all people who are unemployed as well as those who have taken jobs they don’t want out of financial desperation.

That U-6 number remains elevated, suggesting that 11.5% of the country is unemployed – in contrast to the milder 5.8% top-line unemployment rate. The U-6 rate has dropped in October, however, from 11.8% in September.

Additionally, at 10.9 percent, black unemployment remains more than twice the rate of white Americans.

Where have all the White Southern Democrats gone to?  Also,what does this mean for black people living in the South?f987-1-7

Not long after the polls closed on Tuesday night, Georgia Congressman John Barrow earned his place in history when he lost his reelection campaign to Republican Rick Allen by almost 10 pointsa peculiar place he undoubtedly didn’t want. Barrow, a five-term Democratic incumbent with a conservative voting record that earned him endorsements from both the National Rifle Association and the Chamber of Commerce, was the last white Democrat in Congress from the Deep South.

This fact has occasioned some eloquent obituaries for that most endangered of political species, which is on the verge of extinction. Not only will there be no white Southern Democrats left in the House come January, but it’s a good bet there won’t be any white Southern Democrats in the Senate either (Mary Landrieu is likely to lose in the Louisiana run-off next month). Throw in theelection of South Carolina’s Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate and, as The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson pointed out on Twitter, “there are now more black Republicans than white Democrats from the Deep South.”

Much as this is a problem for white southern Democrats, it’s a crisis for black ones. That’s because blacks in the Southwho, notwithstanding the very compelling counter-example of Tim Scott, are almost invariably Democratshave for decades relied on coalitions with white Democrats to increase their political power. Lacking white politicians with whom they can build coalitions, black politicians are increasingly rendered powerless. (See myarticle in August about what this has meant for black people in Alabama.) The situation for southern black Democrats has only grown more dire after Tuesday’s midterms. To truly grasp the severity of the crisis, it’s instructive to look not at Congress and Barrow, but at state legislatures and a Democratic state senator from Alabama named Roger Bedford.

The New Yorker has started the Hillary Pile On.

Clinton can’t present herself as a novelty. She’ll be sixty-nine on Election Day in 2016 and has been a national figure for a quarter century. The last politician to become President after a similarly long and distinguished career was George H. W. Bush. Since then, the office has been won by relative newcomers: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. “The one time in my political life that we’ve gone back a generation was Carter to Reagan,” Dean said. “Once you change the page on generations, you don’t go back.” He added that Clinton could be the exception.

For some reason, there’s a movement afoot for Maryland’s outgoing Governor O’ Malley.   Here we go again.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

Good Morning!!

It’s the last week of August, and the dog days of summer have supposedly passed; but the Boston area is supposed to hit ninety degrees today and tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it, because it has been so cool here lately–in the sixites and low seventies in the daytime and the fifties at night. Yesterday it got into the high eighties, and it felt wonderful.

The Boston Globe has a story today about Peter Theo Curtis, the writer who was just released from captivity in Syria. His mother lives in Cambridge. I had never heard of Curtis before; apparently his kidnapping was kept secret. The Globe reports: Militants free US writer with Mass. ties who was held in Syria.

Peter Theo Curtis, a writer and scholar with ties to the Boston area who was held captive for nearly two years by one of the Islamic militant groups operating in Syria, was released Sunday after emissaries from the government of Qatar won his freedom on humanitarian grounds, in a stark contrast to the brutal murder of fellow war correspondent James W. Foley .

Curtis’s 22 months in captivity were kept from the public at his family’s request since he was nabbed near the Syrian border in October 2012 by Al Nusra Front, one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashir Assad of Syria. Al Nusra Front has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Curtis, 45, who wrote dispatches under the name Theo Padnos and previously chronicled disaffected young Muslims in Yemen in a book titled “Undercover Muslim,” had studied Arabic in Syria.

He was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday evening, a UN spokesman in New York said. After it was determined he was in good medical condition, he was transferred to representatives of the US government, according to the UN.

“We are so relieved that Theo is healthy and safe and that he is finally headed home after his ordeal,” his mother, Nancy Curtis, who lives in Cambridge, said in a statement, “but we are also deeply saddened by the terrible, unjustified killing last week of his fellow journalist, Jim Foley, at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS.”

Foley was from New Hampshire, and the two families have gotten to know each other well, according to Curtis.

Garden Shed - Late Summer, KK Marais

Garden Shed – Late Summer, KK Marais

Syria and Iraq

President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, according to BBC News.

Correspondents say the move could mark the first step towards US air strikes inside Syria, where the jihadist group controls vast swathes of territory.

The US is already carrying out strikes against IS in neighbouring Iraq.

On Monday, the Syrian government said it would work with the international community in the fight against IS.

Western governments have so far rejected suggestions that they collaborate with President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to counter the growing regional threat posed by IS….

On Monday evening, US officials said Mr Obama had approved over the weekend reconnaissance flights by unmanned and manned aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes.

The US military has been carrying out aerial surveillance of IS – an al-Qaeda breakaway formerly known as Isis – in Iraq for months and launched air strikes on 8 August.

From The Boston Globe, citing “AP sources,” U.S. planes have already begun flying over Syria.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Jim Michaels of USA Today spoke to Gen. Dempsey on Sunday about what is being done to deal with ISIS in Iraq.

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — U.S. airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq have blunted their momentum, but defeating them will require a broad regional approach that draws support from Iraq’s neighbors and includes political and diplomatic efforts, the top U.S. military officer said.

The long-term strategy for defeating the militants includes having the United States and its allies reach out to Iraq’s neighbors, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday….

Dempsey is working with Central Command to prepare “options to address [the Islamic State] both in Iraq and Syria with a variety of military tools including airstrikes,” said Col. Ed Thomas, Dempsey’s spokesman, in a statement.

The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has shown itself to be so brutal that Iraq and the U.S. should be able to find “willing partners” to join efforts to defeat the militants, Dempsey said.

But military power won’t be enough, Dempsey said. The strategy must take a comprehensive approach that includes political and diplomatic efforts to address the grievances of millions of Sunnis who have felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, he said.

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

I get the feeling that we’re never going to escape involvement in the endless Middle East conflicts, thanks to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the neocon gang. What a horrible mess! We have our own messes to deal with here, but foreign wars always seem to trump the needs of the American people.

John Cassidy speculates at The New Yorker: What’s Next in Iraq and Syria?

On his first full day back from vacation, President Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he were still on Martha’s Vineyard. With confirmation that ISIS fighters have just captured another military base from the government forces of President Assad, and that Qatar has engineered the release of an American freelance journalist who was being held by a non-ISIS jihadist group, Obama has two formidable challenges to deal with.

The immediate task for Obama is deciding whether to launch American bombing raids on ISIS positions inside Syria, while simultaneously preparing his Administration, and the country at large, for the possibility of another video showing an American hostage being butchered. The ISIS militants, having carefully orchestrated the beheading of James Foley following the launch of U.S. strikes inside Iraq, will surely seek to exploit the fate of its remaining American hostages for maximum effect. Any U.S. decision to expand its air campaign is almost certain to be met with the release of more snuff films.

No President—no American—could take such a prospect lightly. At the same time, Obama has to guard against allowing emotion and wishful thinking to take over U.S. policy. That’s what happened after 9/11, and some of the chaos that we now see in the Middle East can be traced back to that historic blunder. What’s needed is calm cost-benefit analysis of the options open to the United States, taking account of its strategic interests, its values, and its capabilities. In short, we need what Danny Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist who pioneered behavioral economics, would refer to as some Type 2 thinking: a disciplined weighing of the likely consequences of our actions. If we give into our Type 1 reaction—horror, outrage, anger—we will be playing into the hands of the jihadists.

One place to start is by acknowledging two errors in thinking that have blighted U.S. policy in the past decade: the conservative delusion that the United States could, more or less single-handedly, use its military power to reinvent the Middle East, and the liberal illusion that we could simply walk away from the mess that Bush, Cheney & Co. created. Without the political willingness and the financial capability to garrison the region in the manner of postwar Germany and Japan, U.S. influence has to be exercised through air power, political proxies, economic inducements, and regional alliances. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the United States and other Western countries have vital interests at stake, one of which is preventing the emergence of a rogue Islamic state that would provide a rallying point, and a safe haven, for anti-Western jihadists the world over.

Read the whole thing at the link.

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

The Economies of the U.S. and Europe

There has been so much breaking news for the past couple of months that we haven’t talked much about the economies of the U.S. and Europe. But today the European Central Bank is topping the headlines, and last week Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen spoke at Jackson Hole, so I thought I’d post a few economics stories.

Here’s CNN Money’s report on Yellen’s speech, Janet Yellen: Job market not recovered.

That was Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s main message Friday in a much anticipated speech.

“It speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover,” she said.

The debate now is whether the job situation in America is healthy enough for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates, which have been at historic lows in recent years in an effort to jump start the economy. Yellen, however, said little new on Friday, and U.S. stock markets stayed flat.

Yellen is chair of the committee that sets interest rates, but she only gets one vote. Other members have differing views. The Fed board and other top economists are spending the weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, debating these key issues.

Though the unemployment rate “has fallen considerably and at a surprisingly rapid pace,” Yellen said problems remain.

Yellen called attention to what Americans in the job market already know–though the employment numbers look better, many people have stopped looking for work, and most of the new jobs are part-time and pay low wages.

A few more U.S. economy stories to check out:

The Wall Street Journal: Fed’s Yellen Remains Mum on Timing of Rate Change.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Job-Slack View Muddied by Pent-Up Wage Deflation.

Slate: The Fed Is Not As Powerful As We Think.

If you think the economy is struggling here, you should take a look at Europe, where austerity thinking has ruled since the economic crisis hit. Yesterday the French government collapsed. From The New York Times, French Cabinet Is Dissolved, a Victim of Austerity Battles.

PARIS — The collapse of the French government on Monday exposed widening divisions both within France’s leadership, and Europe more broadly, over austerity policies that many now fault for threatening to tip the eurozone back into recession.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he would dissolve his government after a rancorous battle in his cabinet over whether the belt-tightening measures taken by President François Hollande — at the urging of Germany and European Union officials in Brussels — were impeding France’s recovery.

The dispute broke into the open when Mr. Vall’s outspoken economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, insisted in an interview over the weekend that austerity had gone too far. “The priority must be exiting the crisis, and the dogmatic reduction of deficits should come after,” he told the newspaper Le Monde.

He also took direct aim at the policies of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it is imposing across Europe,” he said.

Even the formerly strong German economy is struggling now, according to Reuters (via NYT), Crisis in Ukraine Drags Economy in Germany.

The eurozone’s flatlining economy took another hit on Monday when data showed German business sentiment sagging for the fourth consecutive month. Chancellor Angela Merkel attributed some of her own country’s decline in the second quarter to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, over which tit-for-tat sanctions threaten trade. The Munich-based Ifo, a research firm, echoed some of those sentiments as it reported its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of some 7,000 companies, fell to a worse-than-expected 106.3 from 108, the lowest level in more than a year. The findings agreed with data earlier in the month on the second-quarter contraction in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy. Klaus Wohlrabe, an Ifo economist, said his institute expected growth in Germany to be “close to zero” in the third quarter.

A few more headlines on the European economic situation:

The Guardian: An austerity revolt has broken the French government. Will the EU follow?

Bloomberg Businessweek on the European Central Bank, Draghi May Again Find Bazooka Words Beat Action With QE, and an editorial from The Financial Times, Central banks at the crossroads.

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Ferguson Stories

Yesterday, on the day of Michael Brown’s funeral, The New York Times published a story that got a great deal of attention because of its insensitive characterization of the dead teenager. Here the paragraph that attracted the angry reaction:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Would the authors have written a similar paragraph about a white homicide victim? From Vox, The New York Times called Michael Brown “no angel.” Here’s how it described serial killers.

The New York Times’s description of Michael Brown as “no angel” has prompted a swift, critical reaction from other media outlets, including Vox, and various people on social media.

Alison Mitchell, national editor for the Times, defended the term in conversations with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:

“It comes out of the opening scene,” says Mitchell, who notes that “like many teenagers,” Brown was indeed “no angel.” Okay, but would the New York Times have chosen this term — which is commonly used to describe miscreants and thugs — if the victim had been white? Mitchell: “I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that’s where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way.” When asked whether she thought that “no angel” was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn’t believe it was. “The story … talks about both problems and promise,” she notes.

The Times’s response has done little to calm the storm. Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, dug into the archives to compare the Times’s description of Brown to the newspaper’s previous descriptions of serial killers and terrorists. Of course, comparing articles produced decades apart by different writers and editors isn’t an exact science. But it does lend context to the widespread frustration over how young black men are portrayed in the media.

A series of McElwee’s tweets are posted at the link, and are well worth reading.

One more from Salon by Joan Walsh, Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends. Check it out at Salon.

How did this post get so long?! I’d better wrap it up. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!

 

 


Sunday Reads: March Lions and This is your brain on Barbie Dolls

28685d3f59c2ed69b7d5035d696075a6Good Morning

Well Banjoville is getting hit with another bad day weather wise…don’t get me wrong, I’ve become a mole…all content inside the house. No need to venture out, hermitage that would be considered a lonely spot, is heaven for me.

Most of the links today are from earlier in the month, I saved them and just haven’t found a use for them until now. The images are from pinterest, all pulp covers, and all of them have a little something in common. First up though, a run of news stories getting attention.

There was a mudslide in Washington state last night, via the LA Times: Sounds of life heard from Washington state mudslide debris

Rescuers searching a Washington state community devastated by a deadly mudslide said Saturday night that they had heard signs of life coming from the debris and would continue searching even as the danger of flooding rose.

“We’ll be here all night long doing what we can to rescue people,” Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said.

Trenary, speaking at a televised news conference, did not specify what kinds of sounds had been detected. He said the search had been made difficult by the sheer devastation to the area about 40 miles north of Seattle. At least three people were killed and six homes destroyed.

“There’s nothing left in the area,” he said.

Let’s hope there are survivors…that link was about an hour old as of 4:30 am. In fact, the authorities are expecting more flooding.

Debris and mud let loose by the slide have created a dam on the Stillaguamish River, and water continues to collect behind it. Authorities called on people living downriver, from Oso to Arlington, to evacuate Saturday night.

“Although this is still a rescue operation, it’s a preparedness operation,” Pennington said. He urged people living near the river to seek shelter.

Pennington said that water had been rising behind the dam 10 to 12 inches every half hour, making flooding inevitable.

“That water is going to break loose,” he said.

1288d352d1bad11e451965d9a7a6e9d5Violence broke loose in Spain, BBC reports Spain austerity: Huge Madrid protest turns violent

Violence has broken out at the end of an anti-austerity protest attended by tens of thousands of people in the Spanish capital Madrid.

Dozens of youths threw projectiles at police, who responded by charging at them.

Demonstrators were protesting over issues including unemployment, poverty and official corruption.

They want the government not to pay its international debts and do more to improve health and education.

The BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid says protesters travelled from all corners of Spain, many of them making the journey on foot, in order to voice their anger

They called their protest the march of dignity, our correspondent says, because they say that the government of Mariano Rajoy is stripping Spaniards of just that.

For many of them, the cutbacks that Mr Rajoy has implemented, in particular to health and education, are causing Spain irreparable damage.

It looks like the protest started peaceful enough, but then got violent later…video and pictures at the link.

aa611192396924bebfa0378a0b0f8c02Bloomberg has a story out about the New York Times, check it out:  New York Times Story on Pakistan Censored by Local Printer

A NewYork Times story saying Pakistan’s government protected Taliban forces was censored by the publisher’s printing partner in that country, resulting in a blank hole on the front page of its international edition.

The article, a 4,800-word excerpt from a forthcoming book by Times reporter Carlotta Gall to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next month, appeared in the New York Times magazine in the U.S. and was intended as a front-page article of the International New York Times. While the story appears on most copies of the international edition, it doesn’t show up in papers distributed in Pakistan, about 9,000 copies, according to the publisher.

The Times’s Pakistan printer, part of the Express Tribune newspaper in that country, removed the article without its knowledge, according to Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy.

“We would never self-censor and this decision was made without our knowledge or agreement,” she said in an e-mail. “While we understand that our publishing partners are sometimes faced with local pressures, we regret any censorship of our journalism.”

It is unclear if the Times will continue its partnership with Express Tribune.

Mediaite has a picture of the paper here: Story on Bin Laden’s Pakistan Ties Disappears from International New York Times

View image on Twitter

And….in Vatican City: Pope names woman assaulted by priest, others to sex abuse commission – CBS News

Pope Francis named the initial members of a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy Saturday, signaling an openness to reach beyond church officials to plot the commission’s course and priorities: Half of the members are women, and one was assaulted by a priest as a child.

The eight members were announced after Francis came under fire from victims’ groups for a perceived lack of attention to the abuse scandal, which has seriously damaged the Catholic Church’s reputation around the world and cost dioceses and religious orders billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

918e57f5a3ef906256f79d1ac49bc148The Vatican in December announced that Francis would create the commission to advise the church on best policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. But no details had been released until Saturday and it remains unknown if the commission will deal with the critical issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities” for church personnel. Canon law does provide for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have never been imposed on a bishop for failing to report a pedophile priest to police.

It is a step in the right direction…

And hey, did you see this story from last week? ‘I have a bomb in my a**’: Man annoyed by slow security checks prompts airport evacuation

An airport passenger has been detained for five days after he told officers he had a bomb hidden in his rectum – because he was frustrated with the time it was taking to get through security.

He didn’t have a bomb, but the comments prompted a security alert and partial evacuation at Beijing’s international airport. The man was arrested at the scene.

In a hurry to make his flight, the unnamed man had made a number of vocal complaints about the slow progress of security checks, Beijing city government’s news website reported.

He had also shown signs of anxiety while queuing at the checkpoint, it said.

When he was asked to remove his shoes before passing through security screening, he told an officer: “Do I need to drop my pants as well? I have a bomb in my a**.”

a6960365fb048fc4c35c9e167b0e3da0The guard then asked him to repeat what he said, and he obliged, the report said.

After the area was cleared, the man was searched and taken to the local police station, where he has been held since the incident on Monday.

You know…there are some things that you obviously don’t say when you are getting a closer screening at an airport checkpoint. I have a bomb in my ass is one of those things.

I will tell you another obvious no no…you do not remake Hitchcock’s The Birds. No. You. Do. Not.

Michael Bay’s Remake of The Birds Is Going to Suck Ass

In life, there are few things one can predict with accuracy, even after years of training. Just ask a financial analyst who works for 80 hours a week studying the intricacies of stock price movement only to finally manage a fund that consistently underperforms the market. Just ask a couple divorcing after 30 years of marriage. Just ask a NCAA tournament Cinderella team that makes it to the Final Four against all odds. But there is one thing, in this world of uncertainty, that can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy: a Michael Bay-produced remake of an Alfred Hitchcock movie is going to gargle goat balls.

Yes, it’s happening, according to Variety. The director most famous for the Transformers franchise is graduating from updated live-action versions of glorified toy commercials from the early 80′s to ruining treasured Hollywood cinematic achievements and pissing off Tippi Hedren. He won’t be directing; that honor will go to Dutch filmmaker Diederik Van Rooijen. But his production company — which is also behind such cinematic farts as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville Horror, and Friday the 13th remakes — will be calling the shots.

If you think this is a joke, it is not.  Um…So Michael Bay Is Remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’: LAist

…Hedren thinks a remake of The Birds is a horrible idea. She spoke to MTV (via Cinema Blend) about this back in 2007 when there was talk about a remake:

“A couple of years ago, when they were first thinking about it, they called and asked what I thought about a remake of The Birds, and I thought ‘Why would you do that? Why?’ I mean, can’t we find new stories, new things to do?”

She added: “Must you be so insecure that you have to take a film that’s a classic, and I think a success and try to do it over? They tried to make Psycho over and it didn’t work.”

b924a39147d6a5757c765aa37145590eHedren, folks, just keeping it real.

Yeah, just more CG crap…CG birds, big fake explosions, running from big fake explosions and big fake tits everywhere…

Oh well, what about some of the old classic movies that never made it to the big screen? Via TCM’s blog moviemorlocks.com – Unfinished Films: Where Can I Buy My Ticket?

This month  JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013) will finally be leaving the festival circuit and getting a wider release on March 21st. Frank Pavich’s new documentary chronicles the long strange and turbulent development of what many consider to be one of greatest unrealized films in cinema history and allows us to imagine what Jodorowsky’s unfinished film might have looked like if it had been completed. Jodorowsky’s unruly vision was based on Frank Herbert’s science fiction opus and featured production design by the Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger and French cartoonist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, a soundtrack by the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd and a cast that included Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali and Amanda Lear. Pre-production on this big-budget film started in 1974 and millions of dollars were spent before the project eventually fell apart. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky’s story isn’t uncommon and there are thousands of forgotten unmade movies that we’ll never get the opportunity to see although they may not have had the same ambition or scope as the long lost DUNE. With this in mind I decided to compile a list of some particularly intriguing film projects that never made it to the big screen. These are the forgotten dreams of frustrated directors and writers but from time to time I find them unspooling in my head and my imagination has transformed them all into minor and, in some cases, major masterpieces.

Enjoy that blog post…

9840dc9ee54e8f00007a757819bfee57Now a bit on something that should never have been made into a play…especially a musical…Theater Review: Rocky — Vulture

Do you remember a while back I mentioned this play in a Sunday post? It was just beginning rehearsals.

The huge Winter Garden — lately home to the inane juggernaut Mamma Mia! — is not a theater in which you’d expect to find a sad and delicate romance. Yet one is playing out there. Amid gorgeous shadows and the monumental grimness of a city in decline, a scrappy small-time boxer, pursuing modest dreams of redemption in the ring and in love, hits apparent dead ends in both. At 29, he’s past his prime as a fighter; meanwhile Adrian, the girl he likes, is withdrawn to the point of hostility. They’re each other’s “flip side,” they slowly learn: The boxer convinced he’s all body, no brain, the abused Adrian just the opposite. That he’s not as dumb as he looks, nor she as plain as her cat’s-eye glasses indicate, is hardly a novel narrative notion, but it makes for a touching theatrical combo. Unfortunately, this two-character, black-and-white kitchen-sink drama, reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky in his made-for-TV days, is trapped inside (and eventually strangled by) a garishly colorful bloated mess of an unmusical musical called Rocky.

This was inevitable. From its inception, Rocky the musical was a cynical endeavor, driven not by artistic necessity or even plausibility but financial opportunity. (The movie Rocky and its five sequels, all written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, have grossed more than $1.5 billion, adjusted for inflation.) The notion of characters who can barely talk, who are by definition stuck in place, being made to sing and dance — in Philadelphia, yet — was so patently misguided as to invite ridicule. Bringing aboard some of the most highly regarded talents in the field to get around the problem only made it worse. These artists, trying harder and succeeding more than you might expect, have only exaggerated by contrast the contours of their overall failure. This was a job, if ever there was one, for Frank Wildhorn.

I don’t know directors or other broadway stage folk…but I saw that preview video back last year and thought it was shit! I mean like really shitty.

Ahrens, scrambling for hooks that won’t sound musical theaterish and twee, has actually found some, but they come at the cost of a certain outlandishness, like Rocky’s introductory solo “My Nose Ain’t Broken.”

[...]

(The book, hewing close to the movie, including “Yo, Adrian” and the sides of beef, is credited to Thomas Meehan and Stallone himself.) It’s in this sphere — the whole insane hoopla of an overhyped sporting event — that the designers, especially Zinn, go crazy. To judge from the clichés passing for costumes, Creed and his synchronized-sass entourage, dressed largely in Pimp Purple, have arrived in Philadelphia from a Saturday Night Live sketch about Soul Train.

And then there’s the famous boxing ring, which, in a coup de théâtre twenty minutes before the end, slides forward past the orchestra pit over part of the audience. (The 111 people in the affected seats — center section, rows AA through F — have by this point been moved to bleachers onstage, producing something like the in-the-round orientation of an actual fight.) All the whizbang effects $16 million can buy now come out of the closet, as any residual pretense of sincerity is burned off in the blinding light. It is admittedly, astonishing stagecraft, but also astonishing vulgarity. (Nor can you really understand what’s going on.) It’s bad enough that this Las Vegasized championship fight sequence, complete with anachronistic-for-1975 computer graphics, underlines what was already trashy in the earlier material, especially the portrayal of all the women (except for Adrian) as gum-snapping, vowel-honking floozies. But it also undermines whatever was good. It turns out that the love story was bait for the spectacle instead of the other way around.

New things to do? As Hedren asked above…nope.

Alright…just a few more links.

I thought this was a fun thread: Paris Review – Small Wonder, Sadie Stein

short chic

“Bond always mistrusted short men. They grew up from childhood with an inferiority complex. All their lives they would strive to be big—bigger than the others who had teased them as a child. Napoleon had been short, and Hitler. It was the short men that caused all the trouble in the world.” ―Ian Fleming

Every class has one, or maybe two: a child so improbably small that this becomes his or her identity. There he is, on the end of your class picture year after year, forced to play a pawn in the fifth grade human-chess game (wearing a teacher’s old velour shirt as a tunic), any child role in a play, and later the deadweight in a freshman year trust exercise. He humbly takes this as his due. He does not need James Bond proto-Godwin-ing to make him feel the sting of his lowly position.

I have come across many treasures on the giveaway table of my building’s lobby, but my most recent acquisition is perhaps the greatest. Short Chic: The everything-you-need-to-know fashion guide for every woman under 5’4″ could have come from the apartments of literally half my neighbors, but now it is mine. The cover features a petite woman dressed in the height of 1981 style: slouchy heeled boots, what looks like a leather duffel coat, a large woolen scarf, and some kind of bulbous cap that (the helpful height chart next to her informs us) brings her to a towering 5’1″. The two authors, according to their back-flap bios, are, respectively, 5’3″ and 5’2″.36e5d2250442fcb7683ecb9a7032320f

Why, 5’3″ that is enormous! Especially for someone like me! (Who is 4’11″ on a good day.) But damn, to think that James Bond did not like short people I mean men.  Go figure.

Oh, and I think my mom had a copy of that book…somehow that cover looks very familiar to me.

I don’t know about shortness causing men to go all Hitler and Napoleon and such…shit, most of the men in my family are short as hell but they aren’t evil murdering bastards. Hey, but if you want murdering batass crazy nut cases then take a look: This is your brain on murder: What the mind of a psychopath looks like – Salon.com

Burly, bearded James Fallon tells people he has the brain of a psychopathic killer. And he has some brain scans he thinks back up his claim.

The PET scans behind his surprising claim—and which have provided entertaining material for his lectures—were taken where he works. He’s Professor Emeritus of Anatomy & Neurobiology and Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). There he studies higher brain functions at the Human Brain Imaging Lab. Fallon describes his interests as “the neural circuitry and genetics of creativity, artistic talent, psychopathology, criminal behavior, and levels of consciousness.”

5511e9ac00394af80c54d79fe018db0bA neuroscientist with a forty-year-long, successful career, Fallon, now sixty-six, arranged to have his own brain scanned. He made the decision after his mother, Jenny, recalled some interesting family history during a family barbeque. She knew her son, the scientist, lectured about his research on violent offenders. His lectures covered what he saw in the brains of murderers and what the images revealed to him about the causes of violent behavior. That led Jenny, as she said on NPR, to challenge her son: “Jim, why don’t you find out about your father’s relatives? I think there were some cuckoos back there.”

She was right. There turned out to be numerous—and murderous— cuckoos back there, including Lizzy Borden and seven other alleged killers. They were all on his father’s side, to his mother’s amusement. Borden, the most infamous, was acquitted—quite controversially—of the axe murders of her father and stepmother in 1882. One of Fallon’s male ancestors, Thomas Cornell, wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t beat the rap for the crime he was accused of committing: the murder of his mother. He hung for it in 1667.

You should find that article interesting for a Sunday morning.

6086d9634965aaa571ced1136d830fa0Now, one to get you pissed. School Officials Take Over Student Paper After Rape Culture Article

After a student newspaper published a feature on rape culture, district officials in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin have set new rules governing the subject matter that appears in the publication.

Through Fon de Lac High School Prinicpal Jon Wiltzius the district will now determine what stories and issues the students can write about. The issue began over an article published in Cardinal Columns, the school’s student-run newspaper. The article by Tanvi Kumar was titled “The Rape Joke: Surviving Rape in a Culture That Won’t Let You,” and featured a discussion on rape culture. You can see the story here (it’s quite powerful and well worth a read). Here’s what the article entailed, according to Raw Story:

The story begins with an account of an anonymous student, “Sarah,” who stayed silent about her rape because she “didn’t know it was rape because there weren’t and drugs, and we weren’t at a party.” Despite having told her attacker “no” numerous times, her friends convinced her that sex had been consensual.

It recounts similar stories from other students — including one about a girl who had been molested by an uncle who is will be released from prison shortly — that demonstrate the way in which rape culture causes victims of rape and sexual abuse to blame themselves for the actions of their attackers.

The school district apparently balked at the idea of this kind of subject matter being in a high school paper and stepped in with the new rules for publication.

Read more about that decision at the link. It made me think of this picture I saw on Facebook the other day.

1947694_10152262876881738_1387854857_n

That is some fucked up shit!

Which brings me to the last link for today’s post…Study: Barbie May Be Hazardous to Your Daughter’s Career Aspirations – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Supportive parents tell their daughters they can grow up to do just about anything. But this message of empowerment may be undercut by one of their girls’ favorite playthings: Barbie dolls.

In a newly published study, four- to seven-year-old girls who briefly played with a Barbie picked a more limited set of potential career options than those who had played with a Mrs. Potato Head doll. Surprisingly, this effect occurred no matter if Barbie was dressed as a model or as a physician.0e779d33fdac11d07f7733e08831ead5

“Playing with either type of Barbie reduced the number of careers that girls saw as possibilities for themselves, compared to the number they perceived as possible for boys,” write psychologists Aurora Sherman of Oregon State University and Eileen Zurbriggen of the University of California-Santa Cruz. Their study is published in the journal Sex Roles.

I bet you know where this is going.

Participants were 37 girls growing up in a mid-sized Oregon city. Fifty-nine percent of them owned at least one Barbie; 57 percent owned two or more of the famously big-busted, slim-wasted dolls.

The experiment began with a five-minute play session, in which each girl was invited to play with one of three dolls: Mrs. Potato Head, who came with a purse and hat, but lacked glamor or sex appeal; “Fashion Barbie,” who wore a “short-sleeved pink dress with black lace overlay and pink high-heeled shoes;” or “Doctor Barbie,” who wore a white lab coat over her “scrubs-style V-neck shirt” and “tight fitting blue jeans.”

Afterwards, each girl was shown 10 pictures of workplaces representing specific occupations. For example, she would be shown a photo of a diner, told “this is a restaurant, where a food server works.” After looking at each, she was asked two questions: “Could you do this job when you grow up?” and “Could a boy do this job when he grows up?”

Aside from the restaurant, which was considered gender-neutral, the girls were asked about five occupations usually associated with women (including teacher and librarian) and five usually associated with men (including pilot, doctor, and police officer).

54aea9a86474ad3913e5bca3b18d3306The good news: “Girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly as many occupations as possibilities for themselves as they reported were possibilities for boys,” the researchers report.

However, it was a different story for those who played with either Barbie. They “reported fewer careers as future possibilities for themselves than they reported were possible for boys.” In other words, those who played with a Barbie doll “saw fewer future opportunities for themselves.”

“This was true whether the Barbie was dressed as either a fashion model or as a doctor,” Sherman and Zurbriggen add. “It appears that the doll itself trumps the role suggested by the costuming.”

The researchers noted that:

…“adding a doctor coat and a stethoscope” may not have been sufficient “to override the sexualized clues embedded in the outfit.” A Doctor Barbie in plain medical scrubs may have had a different effect. So, presumably, might the realistically proportioned Barbie-like doll which, coincidentally, has just been unveiled by its inventor.

It is a small study of course but it does make you think…hmmm.

Well, I hope you have enough there to chew on this morning. Give us some thoughts in the comments below and have a wonderful day.


Sunday Reads: Little Big Men

0ebdc95ad82b06d8bea49b4849e78134Good Morning

This post is going to have a theme, can you guess what that is?

Our first “little” big man story, or should I say stories, of the morning…updates on the man from New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie. The little being in quotes because this dude’s future role in the GOP used to be about as big as his “big and tall” non-wrinkle pleated-front dress slacks. Now he is being booed, yeah…you read that right…booed, and you know for a man like Christie, that has to sting like hell.

Gov. Chris Christie Booed Twice in One Week at Super Bowl Events | Mediaite

3729011e942d087aae0a96f0bd8f00dbFor the second time this week, Governor Chris Christie was met with scattered boos when he took the stage for an event leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. The first incident occurred on Monday night, when Christie appeared alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in Jersey City.

As Al Sharpton, who aired video footage from the event on PoliticsNation Tuesday night said, “It was a dramatic contrast to what we saw three months ago” when he was reelected in a landslide.

No kidding, video at the link.

Well, a lot has happened since the first and second booing. That being the news that Christie knew what was going on with the bridge…as told by former BFF David Wildstein.John Gutmann, 1935

Okay, you know I am joking with the BFF thing right? The NY Times had the story here: Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes

Read all the stuff there, I know Dak and Boston Boomer have covered it too.

Then we have the backlash from Christie himself.

Chris Christie attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein – Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman – POLITICO.com

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after a low-key initial response to Friday’s explosive allegations about his involvement in a bridge-closing scandal, mounted an aggressive defense late Saturday afternoon, attacking The New York Times and a former political ally in an email to friends and allies obtained by POLITICO.

“Bottom line — David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” the email from the governor’s office says, referring to the former appointee who reignited the controversy.

30461ca47ed89bcf41c64db627d7fb0dI think the best part of this move from Christie is the title of this email his office sent out:

The subject line of the 700-word email from the governor’s office is: “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell.” It offers a harshly negative portrayal of Wildstein’s character and judgment.

Sounds like one of those quickie news articles from USA Today.

Read the rest at that link to Politico, I have another link about the email here from TPM, I just wanted to use this picture: Christie Hits Back: Bridge Official Will ‘Say Anything To Save’ Himself

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The full email is below.

Christie Email

This email goes back to an incident in Wildstein’s past…when he was a 16-year-old kid for Christ’s sake.

Geezus….go look at the full email, it is priceless.

Worse Than I Realized by Josh Marshall at TPM:

It speaks for itself that Wildstein is out to save himself. He is not sitting on a reputation for integrity and truth-telling. So the wisdom of doing anything more than saying Wildstein is trying to save himself and lacks credibility is highly questionable. The end product here reads like it’s coming from a team or a person who is flailing and grasping at straws.

If I’m a Republican power player reading this to a get a read on what’s actually happening, what’s likely to happen next week or next month, I think I come away thinking things are considerably worse than I realized.

18f25a5ddcf4c15866f1d40653b3b49fOne more Christie link: Chris Christie should resign if bombshell proves true: Editorial | NJ.com

Forget about the White House in 2016. The question now is whether Gov. Chris Christie can survive as governor.

David Wildstein, the man who ordered the George Washington Bridge lane closures, is now pointing the finger directly at Gov. Chris Christie, saying the governor knew about the lane closures in September when they occurred.

That directly contradicts Christie account at his Jan. 13 press conference when he made this statement: “I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it… I first found out about it after it was over.”

If this charge proves true, then the governor must resign or be impeached. Because
that would leave him so drained of credibility that he could not possibly govern effectively. He would owe it to the people of New Jersey to stop the bleeding and quit. And if he should refuse, then the Legislature should open impeachment hearings.

Well, moving on…to another New Jersey little “big” man…Danny DeVito.  Esquire Interview -The Serene Beauty of the Five-Foot Fury of Asbury Park Guy just needed a job, and instead he became Danny DeVito. And the word big is in quotes for Danny because the man is just fucking awesome and bigger than anything you can possibly imagine.

His parents sent him to board at a prep school in the upper-crust suburb of Summit, New Jersey, fifty miles north and inland. He was the baby by more than a decade to two sisters, and as the only boy—the DeVitos had suffered the loss of two children, including a son, years before Danny came along—he was their prince. His father, Daniel Sr., preferred paying tuition to bail money.

“My father was a good man,” DeVito says. “He supported his family. He always worked hard. He had a candy store, a luncheonette kind of thing, when I was born. Then he had a pool hall. That didn’t really do very well. It was small—five tables—and couldn’t really compete. But he loved to play pool.”

One of the classic experiences I had with my father was we drove from Asbury to see a guy named Mr. Blatt. Mr. Blatt had pool tables—probably had other sports equipment, too. I don’t know. All I know is we drove up to New York, I think—November, December—in one of his Oldsmobiles. He always had an Oldsmobile. It was like paradise for a kid going into this place, and he ordered five slate-top four-and-a-half-by-nine tables, which fit—just fit—in the little store he rented. And he picked out the felt, he picked out the balls, the cue balls, the chalk, the counters for the straight pool counters, pill bottles for pill pool. Picked all this stuff out. I was twelve, maybe.”

That’s a big deal for a boy that age.

“Yeah, a real big deal. And on the way home, it started snowing. One of the biggest blizzards that we ever had. And we were stuck without chains, on the way back to the shore, in the middle of it. No cell phones—you’re at the mercy of humanity. And people stopped. Somebody stopped, and they had an extra set of chains and fixed my father up. He never was slow with the duke, my father”—an old-school nod to the timeless practice of greasing the right palm in return for a solid—”so it worked out good.”

Which is a wonderful story, don’t you think?  That made me think of this scene from Throw Momma From the Train:

Please go read the entire interview, it is a great long read. I’ve caught up on lots of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes I’ve missed over the years. That is one funny show.

e878a32e5e478ba5a419d16b238b0dc6In other news that seems fitting for something out of the circus, this article by Zach Beauchamp:  The Inside Story Of The Charlatan Who Duped The Nation’s Top Conservatives | ThinkProgress

On New Year’s Eve, I learned FEMA’s “Dirty Little Secret.”

It was the title of a fascinating email, one that had somehow dodged my spam filter. The message was suffused with breathless concern about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recent order of “420 million survival meals;” such provisions are apparently “the #1 most critical item in a crisis.” You see, “FEMA knows that if you control the food supply, then you control the people.”

Normally, such paranoid ramblings merit nothing more than a quick delete and a sad shake of the head. But the New Year’s note stood out because of the source. I was being alerted to FEMA’s nefarious plot by no less than National Review, the nation’s most important conservative magazine.

“Please find this special message from our sponsoring advertiser Food4Patriots,” the publication wrote. “This important support affords us the continuing means to provide you with National Review’s distinctly conservative and always exceptional news and commentary. We encourage you to patronize our sponsors.”

Since being added to National Review’s subscriber list, I had received four emails from the venerable publication selling me on Food4Patriots’ plan to “make darn sure your family won’t go hungry or get herded into a FEMA camp” by purchasing the dehydrated food they’re hawking. Indeed, Food4Patriots is deeply ensconced in the conservative movement, placing its ads in both more mainstream outlets (Fox News, Townhall.com) and fringier sites (Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, RedState, WorldNetDaily).

Food4Patriots is a lucrative enterprise. Its parent company, Reboot Marketing, took in $11.8 million in 2012, an astonishing 1,428 percent increase over its 2009 revenue.

But the company’s skyrocketing revenues came on the back of some (arguably) really shady practices. In fact, when I wrote National Review’s editor and publisher to give them a heads up about what I learned about the company, they promptly suspended future Food4Patriots ads.

Oh it is good…fascinating stuff, and it is a long read so go refill that coffee.

843d34af3ec04fdeb8f6e9a6bc6362d8Another link for you, this is an update to something I don’t think we have mentioned on the blog before so first the back story. Sam Bee interviewed Peter Schiff, an asshole CEO. Who goes on to tell Daily Show viewers the ‘mentally retarded’ could work for $2: ‘You’re worth what you’re worth’ | The Raw Story

The investment broker and talk radio host told Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee that lifting the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as President Barack Obama announced he would do by executive order for federal employees, could have devastating effects.

“There’s a law in economics, supply and demand, that you learn in Econ 101, and if you increase the price of something, you decrease the demand,” Schiff said. “The higher you make the minimum wage, the more jobs are going to be destroyed.

The CEO of Euro Pacific Capital argued that government programs, not low wages, were trapping Americans in poverty, and claimed that paying workers twice as much would double the cost of some goods – such as fast-food hamburgers.

“I do like to taste the tears of poverty in my milkshakes,” Bee said.

Schiff said those workers already earn enough.

“Did you ever go into a McDonald’s or Burger King?” he said. “I don’t really eat there, but they don’t seem desperate and hungry to me. They’re young kids, they seem to be enjoying themselves mostly.”

People don’t go hungry in a capitalist economy, Schiff claimed.

“It’s socialism that creates, you know, scarcity, that creates famine,” he said. “In a free market, there’s plenty of food for everybody – especially the poor.”

Schiff argued that eliminating the minimum wage law would allow more people entry to the workforce, and Bee asked him to identify someone whose work might be worth just $2 an hour.

“You know someone that might be? Maybe someone who is – what’s the politically correct word, you know, for mentally retarded,” Schiff said. “I believe in the principles this country was founded on.”

“I’m not going to say that we’re all created equal,” he said. “You’re worth what you’re worth.”

e006fb9d73724c77aad8e8710ad04350Well, the video is something you need to see, it is at the link. Go watch it.

Okay that was crazy, wasn’t it?

Now, check out what the dude is saying now: Investor Peter Schiff digs himself in deeper after ‘Daily Show’ remarks about the ‘retarded’ | The Raw Story

Radio commentator and investment adviser Peter Schiff , who was recently interviewed by The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee for a segment on the minimum wage, is very upset that he has been pilloried for using the not very politically-correct expression “mentally retarded” on air. During the episode, when prodded by Bee to explain who might be willing to work for $2 an hour, Schiff responded,  “You know someone that might be? Maybe someone who is – what’s the politically correct word, you know, for mentally retarded. I believe in the principles this country was founded on.”

Responding to public criticism about his star turn, Schiff has taken to his blog to express his displeasure with The Daily Show by pointing out that that Samantha Bee didn’t assist him with his answer and that he had delivered a four hour long disquisition on the free market and pay rates that somehow didn’t make it onto the half-hour long  satirical news program.

b26982af32a2d9f6a2c98435ffe5c297It is like some kind of canyon he is digging here.

Mr. Schiff  pointed out that  “Of the more than four hours of taped discussion I conducted, the producers chose to only use about 75 seconds of my comments. Of those, my use of the words ‘mentally retarded’ (when Samantha Bee asked me who might be willing to work for $2 per hour – a figure she suggested) has come to define the entire interview.” He then added,  “I just couldn’t remember the politically correct term currently in use (it is “intellectually disabled”). Assuming she knew it, Bee could have prompted me with the correct term, but she chose not to.”

Mr. Schiff then went on to further clarify that there were were two groups who would probably be happy to work for $2 an hour: the more appropriately named ” intellectually disabled”  and  “…unpaid interns who tend to value work experience and connections more than pay. ” He then pointed out that the Daily Show staffer who booked him for the show and attended the interview had  “… been thrilled to start there as an unpaid intern.”

Turning back to the “intellectually disabled”, Mr. Schiff added that if they “…can’t perform work that produces a minimum wage level of output, then no employer seeking to make a profit could afford to pay that person the official minimum wage. ” and that “Many of the jobs they perform may seem mundane to those of normal intelligence, but they are often the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. I pointed out that if the federal minimum wages were to apply to them, a great many of those opportunities would vanish. Others may disagree, but I believe a job for such a person at $2 per hour is better than no job at all.”

Some of his best friends are retards, oops… “intellectually disabled.” WTF is wrong with these people?

daab3814f86be30205d0781a9a71a933Just a few more links for you today, in dump fashion.

Postal Service Banking: How the USPS Can Save Itself and Help the Poor | New Republic by David Dayen

One of the key messages of tonight’s State of the Union address will be President Obama’s willingness to bypass Congress to create jobs and reduce inequality. As luck would have it, yesterday a new government report detailed an innovation that would preserve one of the largest job creators in the country, save billions of dollars specifically for the poor, and develop the very ladders of opportunity that Obama has championed as of late. What’s more, this could apparently be accomplished without Congressional action, but merely through existing executive prerogatives.

What’s the policy? Letting the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offer basic banking services to customers, like savings accounts, debit cards and even simple loans. The idea has been kicked around policy circles for years, but now it has a crucial new adherent: the USPS Inspector General, who endorsed the initiative in a comprehensive white paper.

I have read this whole article and I don’t know what to think of it. Dak? Any thoughts?

This op/ed is only here because of the spelling topic of the thing…not the repeal Obamacare stuff…okay. Correct Spelling, Canceled by Phil Kerpen

As an American, I laugh at those archaic British spellings. Colour? Honour? Their inferiourity, if you will, is obvious. Centre? Theatre? Ridiculous. Most of these barbaric forms were corrected in America hundreds of years ago. Yet one galling Britishism is appearing on my computer screen all too frequently of late: “cancelled,” with a gratuitous extra l.

133581 600 Correct Spelling, Canceled cartoons
Randall Enos / Cagle Cartoons

Does something about Obamacare drive otherwise reasonable people to write about health plans being “cancelled” instead of “canceled”? Does the prospect of intrusive government involvement in health care cause us to regress? Is it subconscious deference to British and Canadian expertise at imposing socialized medicine? Whatever the cause, it needs to stop.

f734859e318878ec2ee90f8ac299fbccI don’t know, I usually have to go back and correct my spelling of flavour to flavor. Anyway,

Google’s Ngram feature searches the vast library of books Google has digitized. A search for “traveller” and “traveler” shows the British version remained dominant in America throughout the 19th century, but by 1915 the single l version overtook it and is now dominant. Merriam-Webster even touts “traveler” as an example of a Noah Webster triumph.

It took longer for “canceled” to triumph over “cancelled,” according to Google Ngram. The single l version didn’t take the lead until 1942, and they remained competitive for the next 40 years before “canceled” took the lead for good in 1983. As of 2000, the most recent year covered by the Google data, the now-standard American version was used over 73 percent of the time. The double l monstrosity appeared destined to finally disappear. In 2010, the Associated Press helpfully reminded the world that their style guide says “canceled” has one l.

Yet lately it seems everywhere I look there are American publications going British on this word. It’s baffling. If we are slouching towards a British-style health care system, we should at least spell the canceling of all those health plans in the correct American fashion.

3862148307_6d6daa3819This leads me to a little wordplay: World Wide Words Newsletter: 1 Feb 2014 Give the mitten

Q From Michael Thomas: I was recently working an acrostic puzzle and came upon the clue, “to break up with a loved one”. The answer, which I had never run across, was give the mitten. Could you explain the history of this phrase, please?

A It’s new to me, too, Mr Thomas, as it probably is to readers, since it is now extremely rare. The meaning has often been the one you give (in the American Civil War, a soldier who received a Dear John letter was said to have been given the mitten) but it could also often mean that a woman had rejected a unwelcome admirer out of hand. It occasionally meant that a student had been expelled from college or a workman had got the sack.

It’s known to be at least 170 years old. It has sometimes been taken to be North American, as the examples that were written down first — in the 1840s — are from works by Thomas Chandler Haliburton of Nova Scotia, who had a keen ear for the vocabulary of his times. However, as it is also recorded in Britain and Canada during much of the nineteenth century, it is probably an older British idiom that emigrants had carried abroad. In support of this, at the end of the century, the English Dialect Dictionary noted it as a British regional or dialect expression in the form to send one a mitten, to reject somebody or to cast them off.

Oh why didn’t we know this when Mitt was running for Prez…we could have used that as a slogan. Let’s send Mitt a mitten.  More at the link.

Back to the little big man theme: The Extreme Emotional Life of Völundr the Elf

An illustration of Völundr.Elves have been a fixture in the European mentality for a long time in fairytales and legends and, recently, in the most popular novels and films of our age. In this article, my aim is to determine the function of elves in Old Norse narratives from the thirteenth century by concentrating on the figure of Völundr, the protagonist of Völundarkviða, who to my mind is the most important Old Norse elf. The poem portrays his marriage to a southern swan-maiden who later leaves him. He then retires into solitude, hunting bears, and counting his rings until he is captured and enslaved by the avaricious King Níðuðr. The poem ends with Völundr’s gruesome revenge on the king and his family.

Völundarkviða is the tenth of twenty-nine poems in the Codex Regius ms of the Poetic Edda. Few Eddic poems have suffered less from scholarly neglect: a recent bibliography lists over 100 studies, not counting editions. There are grounds for this attention. To take one, Völundarkviða is usually classified as a heroic rather than mythological poem and shares common characteristics with some of the more ancient heroic poems in the Elder Edda, and yet it stands among the mythological Eddic poems in the manuscript between Þrymskviða and Alvíssmál.

Over the weekend I saw this man was buried with his Harley Davidson, did you see it?

American biker buried ‘riding’ Harley-Davidson in clear box – Americas – World – The Independent

An American biker has made his final journey on his beloved Harley-Davidson and been buried astride the motorbike in a clear box.

It was Bill Standley’s wish to share a grave with the 1967 bike, which took him travelling around 49 out of America’s 50 states.

His body was dressed in full riding gear and positioned on the Harley in a see-through box, which was driven to the cemetery on a trailer before being lowered into the extra-large plot.

Work on the unusual coffin started six years before Mr Standley’s death, aged 82.

He built the plastic casket that would hold him and his motorbike himself with his sons, and bought three burial plots next to his wife.

Damn, talk about taking it with you. There is a video report at the link, if you need to see it. The photo is enough for me.

And finally another twist on our title, but this features little big men and women…

Alrighty then.  Y’all have a wonderful day, and since it is Superbowl Sunday…I guess we’ll see you around the blog later on.  In the meantime, what are you reading about this morning?


What ever Happened to “We” the People?

images (1)I am writing a post today as an outcropping of my professional pursuits, my status in life, and about the person I love who is mired deep in the kind of long term, blue-collar unemployment that didn’t used to exist in this country. I am underemployed at the moment because I don’t want to jump out of my sustainable life here to something that is risky and might not work out for me at my stage in life. I am trying to set up my end game and feel like I really can’t afford the risk of moving someplace for a job that may or may not pan out or some place where I basically suffer to exist.  I am in a state of perpetual hunker down because of this. It is stressful and eating into my investments which I am fortunate to have but are not inexhaustible. I will not talk about my friend’s situation because, of course, it is personal. But, I will say watching some one so beautiful struggle with self worth issues because this economy only works for a few and because our government persistently sticks to such an untrue narrative about our economy just keeps me on the edge of tears.  I am not an overly emotional person at all.  Living in the USA should not mean living in a state of risk avoidance, depression, poor shaming and poverty creation.

There are many things that I grew up with and assumed would be there when I grew up that I despair frequently at their loss and threatened existence. My kids,as you know, are doing fine. My father got his degrees on the GI Bill and saw to it that my sister and I were educated. As a result, my girls and I never even considered not going to university. Doctor Daughter is now a full-fledged OB-GYN in the process of getting board certified in Washington State where she will undoubtedly become very rich very quickly with her soon-to-be radiologist husband. Youngest daughter just took her GMAT and is headed for her MBA in the fall. She and her boyfriend of three years have very good jobs and make great money. But the deal is, that was the path set before us because our families can now chose further upward mobility through higher education and jobs in the right sectors.  We are all there. For my son-in-law, it is because his parents had access to immigration to the US and US public universities. For us, it was because my father who comes from a railroad worker and Oklahoma/Kansas dirt farmers could go to university.  That happened because my granddad had a great blue collar job that began with digging ditches for the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe and my dad’s access to the GI bill.  The real success stories of last century come from the many of us who got access to what we did because “we” the people invested in ourselves and each other. We also decided to jointly insure ourselves against personal and community disasters.  All of these accomplishments are under direct assault today and we are failing ourselves and each other in many ways.

There used to be an alternative path through good, stable, well-paying jobs that took training, skill, hard work and experience.  Original socioeconomic status wasn’t all that relevant.  That path has dried up.   The heart wrenching stories told in this NYT article about the crumbling city of Port Clinton, Ohio are typical of many midwestern, formally thriving industrial cities. The article contrasts the life of the author’s grandchildren and those of his blue collar classmates who went to school in the small town.  This narrative is one played out all over the country.  The conclusion is compelling.

The contrast with the egalitarian ethos and reality of the 1950s — the contrast between the upward mobility experienced by J and the bleak prospects of R — vividly captures Port Clinton’s transformation in the last half-century, much like that of the rest of the country. My research team has talked with dozens of R’s from Austin, Tex., to Duluth, Minn., and from Atlanta to Orange County, Calif.

The crumbling of the American dream is a purple problem, obscured by solely red or solely blue lenses. Its economic and cultural roots are entangled, a mixture of government, private sector, community and personal failings. But the deepest root is our radically shriveled sense of
“we.”
Everyone in my parents’ generation thought of J as one of “our kids,” but surprisingly few adults in Port Clinton today are even aware of R’s existence, and even fewer would likely think of her as “our kid.” Until we treat the millions of R’s across America as our own kids, we will pay a major economic price, and talk of the American dream will increasingly seem cynical historical fiction.

Yes. We have a “radically shriveled sense of we” these days and it is killing the economy for all but a few of us.  It is fueling racial resentment.  It is even leading to a zero sum game for the folks reaping the benefits right now even though they adamantly refuse to see that future. Much of the problem is because  The Pay is too Damn Low.  More and more of productivity gains and corporate income gains are going to a small number of passive investors and not to the people involved in producing the gains.  It is upending classical labor theory and actually invigorating the old ideas of Karl Marx as I have written before.  Please remember, I am not a Marxist but I and others see the coming fruition of many of his philosophical points on how capitalism would eventually self-destruct.   The New Deal did not bring about  radical change.  It brought about upward mobility and societal safety nets so we did not get radical change. Nothing fuels revolution like national despair.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.


The deal is that big businesses are making record level profits and the record-setting levels of the DJ industrial average show that we are not failing the largest businesses and the richest people in the country.  They do not need to be exempt from more taxation or responsibility from the moral hazard and the social costs they inflict on society.  The benefits of their existence do not trickle down on us.  What trickles down is their costs to society like those of the last financial crisis and that of oil spills, chemical company fires, and toxin produced illnesses.  A strong economy comes from jobs and middle income prosperity and spending.  Many private sector jobs are so bad they no longer do anything but sustain people in intense suffering.

One of the big reasons the U.S. economy is so lousy is the American companies are hoarding cash and “maximizing profits” instead of investing in their people and future projects.

This behavior is contributing to record income inequality in the country and starving the primary engine of U.S. economic growth–the vast American middle class–of purchasing power. (See charts below).

If average Americans don’t get paid living wages, they can’t spend much money buying products and services. And when average Americans can’t buy products and services, the companies that sell products and services to average Americans can’t grow. So the profit obsession of America’s big companies is, ironically, hurting their ability to accelerate revenue growth.

One obvious solution to this problem is to encourage companies to pay their people more — to share more of the vast wealth that they create with the people who create it.

The companies have record profit margins, so they can certainly afford to do this.

But, unfortunately, over the past three decades, what began as a healthy and necessary effort to make our companies more efficient after the malaise of the 1970s has evolved into a warped consensus that the only value that companies should create is financial value (cash) and that the only thing managers and owners should ever worry about it making more of it.

This view is an insult to anyone who has ever dreamed of having a job that is about more than money.

People take risks when they feel they have adequate safety nets to do so.  We are ripping apart the nets that let people try new things and move to do things.  We are losing opportunities to educate and advance our society and our people.

As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs.

That simple statement and the politics of right now have led Robert Reich to suggest that some policy makers actually want high unemployment to suppress wages and keep the profits trickling up to big investors.   All the while, these same politicians fuel racial resentment.  They tell formerly well-off white blue collar workers that it is immigration and and reverse racism in civil rights legislation that has hurt their livelihoods.  Meanwhile, the media keeps up the false narrative that it’s the defict, it’s social security, and it’s medicare that is hurting us.  Putting money into the group of people most likely to spend it is the way to drive the American Economy.  We economists have known that for years.  Hoarding money at the top and refusing to use the governments power to tax and spend is bad economic policy. Our fiscal policy is killing the American Dream instead of driving it.

tumblr_madbelHBtf1rubozqo1_500There are other examples besides our labor market.  Health insurance is just one more market where “we” the people can do right by each other and can actually improve outcomes.  I want to point you to the irascible Andrew Sullivan who uses Hayek–the economic god of the libertarian cult–to explain why social insurance –like Social Security and Medicare–actually stops freeloading off the economy rather than encouraging it.  In this situation, he explains why Obamacare actually forces us to take personal responsibility.  It is a argument from a different perspective on why “we” the people have to act on economic principals to preserve our society and way of life.  In this essay, he criticizes the right wing radical group Freedomworks.  The groupis trying to get 20somethings to burn their Obamacare cards which is in itself pretty crazy because the cards are nonexistent.  Actually, what this does is wreck the risk pool for all of us.  But, here is an argument for the leverage of government on a market that has failed so many people from another vantage point.

It is not being independent; it’s being potentially dependent on others while giving nothing in return. And insurance is an inherently collective endeavor. That’s how it works. It’s one area where going it alone makes very little sense. And, of course, the bigger the insurance pool, the lower the premiums. This is not socialism. It’s a simple insurance principle, used by free countries for centuries. It certainly passed muster with Friedrich Hayek, a man you would think would be an influence on the Tea Party’s political program. I’ve cited this before but it’s worth citing again:

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong … Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

That’s from The Road To Serfdom, one book of the libertarian and conservative Bible. And it’s common sense. It’s leveraging a simple principle – pooling risk – and extending it as far as possible to guard against the “common hazards of life.” There is nothing leftist or socialist about it. And it demands that each of us be personally responsible for the costs our own encounters with illness or accident impose upon our neighbors, rich and poor, young and old. If FreedomWorks were consistent, it would encourage twentysomethings to “burn their Obamacare card” while simultaneously pledging never to seek medical care under any circumstances. That would be coherent, if bonkers. What’s incoherent is claiming that refusing to contribute to a system you nonetheless intend to use is anything but a scam.

In fact, what FreedomWorks is encouraging is the real socialism. It’s using the 1986 law to force hard-working Americans to pay for free-loaders’ care.

The deal is that when labor markets or social insurance markets or health insurance markets fail a group of us, they fail and cost all of us one way or another.  The cost us through increased crime, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, family instability.  People losing homes costs us.  When houses go on the market at fire sale prices, it drags down the home prices of every one in the neighborhood.  When wages are low, people don’t spend money at the the local businesses who cannot afford to hire more people or order inventory.  Children raised with poor educational opportunities in crime ridden areas most likely become problems that cost us dearly in our incarceration nation.  We fully know that there are places where the government can act and change the momentum. Yet,  our government fails us.  The government of  “we” the people is not using the known and available tools to correct things.  It is, in fact, actively undermining economic health.  Economists known that deficit reduction is impeding the economy yet that is not the conventional wisdom floating around the beltway. Pundits and Policy makers are either being deliberately ignorant or lying.

Hardly a day goes by when either government analysts or the macroeconomists and financial forecasters who advise investors and businesses do not report on the latest signs of economic growth — in housing, consumer spending, business investment. And then they add that things would be better but for the fiscal policy out of Washington. Tax increases and especially spending cuts, these critics say, take money from an economy that still needs some stimulus now, and is getting it only through the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

“Fiscal tightening is hurting,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, wrote to clients recently. The investment bank Jefferies wrote of “ongoing fiscal mismanagement” in its midyear report on Tuesday, and noted that while the recovery and expansion would be four years old next month, reduced government spending “has detracted from growth in five of past seven quarters.”

We know that insurance is by definition a collective effort because of its pooling of risk.  Its goal is risk mitigation and therefore, cost reduction.  Yet, here we go down the path of bringing down the government for an effort to reign in the dysfunctional health insurance industry.  Not only are some policymakers willing to blow up our social insurance programs, they are doing so at the high risk of blowing up the entire economy when so many folks are still suffering from the last blowup and their inability to do something to stop the suffering.   This kind’ve foolishness really needs to come to an end.  There is nothing to be gained by any of us for this type of incessant nonsense.   Many policymakers and their pundit enablers are putting themselves and their friends’ interests above that of the country’s and that of “we” the people.  It is hurting many of us including a huge number of children whose lives look pretty bleak at the moment.  Spend some time reading the narratives of folks in that top story that these guys poor-shame daily and then think of the possible programs that would actually put the cost of market failure back on the companies and people that caused it to start out with.  It would also put people back to work. Then, start to wonder if our country can ever look like it did when it was truly the land of opportunity instead of the land of “we” the few, powerful, and rich.  It is a very American ideal to think we could have a country where every one can find a well-paying job and join together to pay to insure against and provide for the risk of disasters.


Thursday Reads: Villagers Turn On Obama, Texas Tornadoes, West TX Investigations, and Boston Bombing News

tea6

Good Morning!!

It’s beginning to look like Obama’s second term is pretty much over before it begins. We’re facing years of Republican scandalmongering and “investigations” of a president who won’t fight back or even fight for his own favored legislation or judicial and government appointments.

What is Obama actually doing every day? Does he spend the time he isn’t fund-raising or doing meaningless public appearances deciding which “extremist” to drone strike next? Because he certainly doesn’t seem to be governing.

Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. All I know is that the Villagers are finished with him. We got the news yesterday from Politico’s top gossip mavens Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen in one of their trademark “Behind the Curtain” posts: D.C. turns on Obama.

The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.

Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.

Really? if powerful Democrats weren’t “big fans” of Obama, why did they work their asses off to hand him the nomination in 2008 when they could just as easily have chosen Hillary Clinton?

Of course the “establishment Democrats” that Vandehei and Allen choose to quote in their piece are hardly current insiders, as Charles Pierce pointed out:

Not to minimize the inherent political savvy of Chris Lehane, one anonymous former Obama aide, one anonymous “longtime Washingtonian,” or Vernon Jordan — who, I admit, I’d thought had long gone off to peddle influence in the Beyond — but I think they’re pretty much camouflage here for the fiery tantrum summoned up by the authors.

(And, not for nothing, but “longtime Washingtonian” may well be the beau ideal of TBOTP sourcing. They should make it the company motto. And the two presiding geniuses are going to be shocked one morning when they look in the mirror and see Sally Quinn staring back at them.)

Nevertheless, the Villagers certainly pay more attention to Vandehei and Allen’s pontifications than Pierce’s. Here’s a little more of their venom:

Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.

This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”

Even Greg Sargent acknowledges that Politico probably speaks for the DC establishment, particularly the corporate media.

Read the rest of this entry »


Friday Reads: Life’s Labor Lost

lll Good Morning!

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m not a labor economist.  I’m a financial economist.  However, it’s hard to get through any econ program with out learning something about the labor markets given that it’s one of the most basic of all markets.   I wanted to talk about the increased minimum wage proposal in the President’s SOTU address.

You’ll probably hear quite a bit about how minimum wages create unemployment.  This is true under specific conditions.  The minimum wage must be below the going wage or what we call the equilibrium or clearing wage so that it is ‘binding’  or actually creating an excess supply of job seekers for that wage and less jobs than would be available at the clearing wage. You can look at the graph of the US below and see that in many states, the proposed Obama increase to the minimum wage is lower than the going wage in many states.  The poorest states–mostly in the south and middle of the country–are the ones with the lower wages.

However, the basic 101 econ labor market conditions, assumptions and model are very simplistic.  All of these things impact the outcome and can determine if the minimum wage increase creates any excess workers.    Labor economists that look at the real world have found some additional things about minimum wages that suggest that minimum wage can benefit the economy at large and unemployment at large.  They can also help create efficiencies in unexpected places, which is always good for markets.

I’m going to try to give you some background from the popular press, scholarly articles, and a conservative magazine where economists explain why increasing the minimum wage can be good for the economy.  Actually, there’s so much good rationale that even Walmart lobbies congress for increases. That probably will surprise you, but it’s pretty simple.  Minimum wage workers are Walmart shoppers.  Giving them more income turns them into customers. They don’t have any leftover money so they basically spend all they get.  This is good for Walmart.  This isn’t true for richer folks.  They tend to sit on their money and it goes to places that can take time to work through our economy if it actually goes to our economy and not some place else entirely.

So, let me first start with a New Yorker article called “The Case for a Higher Minimum Wage”.  This is, of course, not the scholarly arguments. However, there’s some good background information in the article to get us situated with the stylized facts. Unlike House Republicans and Joe Scarborough,  people that actually want to know abut things rather than opine through their bungholes love them some stylized facts.

While the labor economists and econometricians are still arguing about which of their many studies can be relied upon, there are quite a few things about minimum wages, and their impact on the economy, that we know for sure. Taken together, these things amply justify raising the minimum wage, as President Obama called for in his State of the Union address.

The first statement we can make without fear of contradiction is that, at $7.25 an hour, the current minimum wage is pretty low. In nominal dollars, it’s gone up quite a bit over the past twenty-five years. In 1978, it was $2.65; in 1991, it was $4.25. But these figures don’t take into account rising prices, which eat away at purchasing power. After adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage is about $3.30 less than it was in 1968. Back then—forty-five years ago—the minimum wage was $10.56 an hour, according to a very useful chart from CNNMoney.

We also know that the U.S. minimum wage is low compared to its counterparts in other advanced countries. In France and Ireland, for example, the minimum remuneration level is more than eleven dollars an hour. Even in Great Britain, which is usually regarded as a country with a flexible, U.S.-style labor market, it is close to ten dollars an hour. Another informative chart, this one from Business Insider, shows that the U.S. minimum wage is comparable to ones in places like Greece, Spain, and Slovenia—countries where G.D.P. per capita and labor productivity are markedly lower than here in the United States. We have an advanced economy but a middle-level minimum wage.

A second important and (largely) undisputed finding is that there is no obvious link between the minimum wage and the love's labour's sketch copyunemployment rate. During the nineteen sixties, when the minimum wage was raised sharply, unemployment rates were sharply lower than they were in the nineteen eighties, when the real value of the minimum wage fell dramatically. If you look across the states, some of which set a minimum wage above the federal minimum, you can’t see any sign of higher rates leading to higher unemployment. In Nevada, where the national minimum of $7.25 an hour applies, the jobless rate is 10.2 per cent. In Vermont, where the minimum wage is $8.60 an hour, the unemployment rate is 5.1 per cent. What these figures tell us is that other factors, such as the overall state of the economy and how local industries are doing, matter a lot more for employment than the level of the minimum wage does.

There are, in fact, many things that impact how the level of the minimum wage will impact an economy. Some economists have found that a “properly functioning minimum wage” can actually improve labor flows in a market.  Lee & Saez (2010) show under which conditions this can happen. This link goes to a theoretical paper so if calculus is not you’re thing, you may want to take my word for it. I’m going to show you the technical result as well as the authors’ story that is much more intuitive so you get an idea of how economists look at these things. This is from the paper’s introduction and conclusion which are the parts without the calculus!!

We show that a binding minimum wage is desirable as long as the government values redistribution from high-to low-wage workers, the demand elasticity of low-skilled labor is finite, the supply elasticity of low-skilled labor is positive, and most importantly, that the unemployment induced by the minimum wage is efficient, i.e. unemployment hits workers with the lowest surplus first. The intuition is extremely simple: starting from the competitive equilibrium, a small binding minimum wage has a first order effect on distribution but only a second order effect on efficiency as only marginal workers initially lose their job.

This is from the employer’s view point.  It basically says they let go of their worst employees first so they really don’t lose much.  Also, it implies it’s probably not a large number that are released.  The problem is that this doesn’t really look at the increased number of people that might enter the work force to get at the higher wage.  This is part of the excess worker phenomenon as  people that wouldn’t be in the market for the lower wage will enter the market if the wage is higher.  Therefore, more people will be looking for jobs than there will be jobs available.  However, this isn’t as big of a problem as job losers for society as a general rule.  It just makes the numbers appear worse.

The second part of the paper considers the more realistic case where the government also uses taxes and transfers for redistribution. In our model, we abstract from the hours of work decision and focus only on the job choice and work participation decisions. Such a model can capture both participation decisions (the extensive margin) as well as decisions whereby individuals can choose higher paying occupations by exerting more effort (the intensive margin). In that context, the government observes only earnings, but not the utility work costs incurred by individuals.1

In such a model, we show that a minimum wage is desirable if unemployment induced by the minimum wage is efficient and the government values redistribution toward low-skilled workers. The intuition for this result is the following. A binding minimum wage enhances the effectiveness of transfers to low-skilled workers as it prevents low-skilled wages from falling through incidence e ffects. Theoretically, the minimum wage under efficient rationing sorts individuals into employment and unemployment based on their unobservable cost of work. Thus, the minimum wage partially reveals costs of work in a way that the tax system cannot.

This is an interesting result since it basically says that it’s a more efficient way of giving poorer folks incomes by keeping the most efficient ones in the labor force instead of being unemployed and relying on government programs.  Their model argues that a minimum wage efficiently rations ‘out of work’ benefits.  So, in this case, yes it creates some unemployment, but generally this means the workers who are the most ‘deserving’ of the job stay in the job and those that aren’t can fall into the safety net and be retrained or schooled to improve their prospects.

One of the primary results of a paper by Dube et al (2o12) is estimating the decrease of what we call “churning” or what you probably know as job-hopping. This behavior costs employers a lot of money since the initial employment and training periods can be expensive for even the lowest wager earners.  Reducing churning means less of these expenses overall and basically coverage of the increased wage. So, in this case, the minimum wage makes the employer think about the total wage bill and not just the portion related to hourly work.

state-minimum-wages

Here’s one of the more interesting set of arguments from the conservative point of view.  This is the idea that by providing a good working wage at the bottom wage earners, you stop the problem of a potential ‘college graduate’ bubble.  Since the majority of jobs in this country still don’t require a college degree, people will be more likely to work jobs and not over-educate themselves. The author also argues that the kinds of jobs that tend to be minimum wage jobs are not out-sourceable so improving the lot of these folks improves a lot more than just the people in the jobs.  Minimum wage jobs tend to be service jobs and the benefits of the incomes and the jobs themselves will stay in the country regardless of the higher wage. We again see the argument that most economists make about ‘trickle-up’ economics.  Giving more income to the lowest wage earners actually creates a stimulus because they spend their money and there are a lot of them.

Although the direct financial benefits to working-class Americans and our economy as a whole are the primary justifications for the proposal, there are a number of subsidiary benefits as well, ranging across both economic and non-economic areas.

First, the net dollar transfers through the labor market in this proposal would generally be from higher to lower income strata, and lower-income individuals tend to pay a much larger fraction of their income in payroll and sales taxes. Thus, a large boost in working-class wages would obviously have a very positive impact on the financial health of Social Security, Medicare and other government programs funded directly from the paycheck. Meanwhile, increased sales tax collections would improve the dismal fiscal picture for state and local governments, and the public school systems they finance.

A final argument for using a minimum wage is that even though it tends to be less efficient and more costly than just supplementing the incomes of low income earners, it tends to be politically easier to get an increase through congress than a subsidy.

Does raising it improve the plight of the worst off, at a reasonable price?

A lot depends on your definitions, but economist Adam Ozimek makes a smart point. According to a 2007 study by the CBO, an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25, like that eventually passed that year, would increase wages by $11 billion, of which $1.6 billion went to poor families.

By contrast, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for large families (as happened in the stimulus bill) and for single people would cost $2.4 billion, of which $1.4 billion would go to poor families. The EITC option costs one fifth as much to society but does about as much good for poor families. That suggests that if you want to help families escape poverty, wage subsidies are a more cost-effective option than the minimum wage.

Oddly enough, the conservatives are less interested in the net savings, than the process of doing this, so they prefer minimum wage increases to the EITC option.  This means Boehner should be happier than he is with this proposal.

Furthermore, as large portions of the working-poor became much less poor, the payout of the existing Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be sharply reduced. Although popular among politicians, the EITC is a classic example of economic special interests privatizing profits while socializing costs: employers receive the full benefits of their low-wage workforce while a substantial fraction of the wage expense is pushed onto the taxpayers. Private companies should fund their own payrolls rather than rely upon substantial government subsidies, which produce major distortions in market signals.

So, I hopefully didn’t overwhelm you with too much stuff over coffee, but I would like to remind you that this is basically the mornings read post. So, since I’ve run out of space, it’s now your turn to share the other things. Oh, and it’s okay to ask questions or tell me that something confuses you.  I’m assuming you’re not a labor economist either.  Again, there’s a lot of controversy and a lot of different circumstances and assumptions around all these models.  But, it should let you know that increasing the minimum wage can be good policy for a variety of reasons even though it might impact the number of people looking for or working at those jobs.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?