Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Get Drunk, Shop Online


Unfortunately, you cannot legislate against the stupidity of people who get drunk and buy things online. The flip, vacuous comment in this story has me wondering if this is real, by the way:


That's damned good satire in any case. You can imagine poor Miss Whitten saying tee hee all the way to bankruptcy court.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's All About Jobs


There are a lot of things to like about this piece by David Rohde. Specifically, anyone who identifies jobs as being the number one issue facing the American middle class has got it exactly right.

But, what happens is, when you move on to his second item, you see the problem. Since we are talking about how jobs have evaporated, it's easy to see where so many people get it wrong. Jobs have not left because of government spending; in many cases, those jobs disappeared when austerity and "belt tightening" took over as themes and when our elected officials stopped trying to use proven techniques to revive the economy.

Not all government spending is wrong; trying to get people to embrace that fact means having to move mountains and pound sand. So, when an idea takes hold, it has to be battled back, time and again. One of the great failures of this era has to be the failure to destroy the idea that the government should cut spending during a recession. We've seen, time and again, where this leads to a downward spiral.

Rohde's piece illustrates that, perfectly. At the end of his piece about jobs, he writes about how 20,000 jobs have been slashed. Why? Because of item number two--a misguided effort to battle the deficit. If we had the political will to do so, funding state and local governments with Federal grants specifically designed to keep people in their jobs would be a tremendous benefit to both the economy and to fighting the deficit. People who are working pay taxes; this revenue helps reduce deficits at both the state and Federal level. Whenever someone is thrown out of work, the ripple effect cascades through the economy. Avoiding that buys time so that the economy can recover.

It's all about the jobs. Whoever wants to be President next year has to answer for the need for jobs. And cutting the deficit is not going to create a single job in this country. Period. End of story.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Phony Piece of Argument from Megan McArdle


I just about fell out of my chair when McArdle said this:

"Everyone I've spoken to about the problem seems to agree that the poor respond to these high marginal tax rates by either taking lower-paying jobs than they could, or working less--not in every individual case, but in aggregate."
Yes, but Frankel's post is three and a half years old. And the person in question made a choice to pursue a job that paid more, but cost her more in gas and other expenses. When you make a choice to change jobs, you have to factor in costs vs benefits and this person didn't do that. Working in a big city will pay you more but costs will have to come out of that extra income--who doesn't know that? Just because she made a poor choice doesn't mean that we should give tax cuts to millionaires. Wait--isn't that what this is about? Because of the false choice presented by a three and a half year-old anecdote, I'm supposed to clap for a tax cut for people making a lot of money?

The problem also happens to be that wages have stagnated for the working poor. And there isn't one single Republican policy that has done anything in the intervening three point five years to alleviate that woman's stress. In fact, by preventing the reform of health care, and by shutting down the government, and making every piece of legislation rise or fall on the whim of a Senator who doesn't care who goes without heat or lights or food or medicine, there is no dynamic movement in addressing the fact that the working poor are being punished.

This is like the argument that raising the price of gas will cause people to drive less. No, people buy as much gas as they need, and no more. People will always have to weigh their wages against what they can afford in added expenses. Being smart about that is a personal responsibility. But that doesn't mean we should cut taxes on the rich.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Royal Bank of Scotland Fails


Of course, the joke going around is, Sean Connery took his money out of the Royal Bank of Scotland in cash, causing it to collapse outright. But that's not even close to the real truth.

Six or seven years ago, our monetary elites were out of control. Completely and utterly insane with greed, and they began to leverage themselves into positions whereby they could bail and stick everyone else with the bill. When the bill came due, they believed that they would not only land on their feet but that the impact of their transgressions wouldn't be too bad.

Well, it's going on four years now, and we are, as Paul Krugman says, in a Depression. It doesn't look or feel like the Great Depression, but it is a period of stagnation, desperation, and unregulated greed nonetheless. Austerity has killed economic growth and condemned millions to a state of permanent joblessness. Millions of productive workers have given up looking for work. And few, if any, credible modifications have occurred in the financial sector (in Britain, in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter) that would ensure that another speculation bubble couldn't happen.

There's a very real danger that the unregulated markets throughout the world right now are going to spawn a super-predator, one who has no hesitation about screwing people mercilessly and creating massive economic damage to the world's economy. That could be in the form of a person, a business, or some other such entity. But, make no mistake about it, we're headed for the days of the walled private compound brimming with well-paid guards and people living in fantastic comfort well beyond the reach of any bought-and-paid-for judge.

This is the banana republic era, and we are all plantation workers now.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Impoverished?


Paul Singer's article leads with a whopper of a mistake. To say that Newt Gingrich, circa 1979, was "impoverished" is ludicrous.

Impoverished by Washington standards? Impoverished, as seen through the filter of modern journalistic integrity, whatever that is? Impoverished by whose standards, I want to know.

The article says that Gingrich was making a little over $10,000 per year in 1979, after having been denied tenure (which was for being too focused on running for Congress in the 1970s, apparently). His "debt" was probably some sort of loan or something of that nature, and I'm surprised that he did not own a home at that point in his life, but oh well.

In any event, this is what poverty looked like in 1979:



Now, I'm an idiot. And if I can look up something like this, and find where the poverty line was in 1979, why can't a big shot reporter with editors and a full-time job look it up? Given his family situation (a wife, several kids), Gingrich would have been at least two or three thousand dollars above the poverty line, and living in Georgia, to boot. Georgia, in case you didn't know, has traditionally enjoyed a lower cost of living than, say, Washington D.C. or the Mid-Atlantic region.

In other words, Gingrich wasn't "impoverished" by any stretch of the imagination. His "debt" was probably being serviced and his family was probably living at a level no better or worse than any of their contemporaries.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Season of Petty Theft

'Shoplifters of the World Unite' by The Smiths


Shoplifting has always fascinated me. Catching shoplifters used to be a part of my working life when I was holding down retail jobs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My last retail job was in 1998, or so, and that was a part-time bookstore position that took a very "enlightened" view towards shoplifting. In essence, the store didn't care; catching shoplifters was a time-consuming and regular customer-ignoring activity and so it was discouraged in order to maintain a more "civil" atmosphere in the store.

I've caught several shoplifters; most, if not all, I just let go. I think there were a few that were detained, but that was because I was not running the store at the time or the only one in the store. In several cases, there was no point in calling the police; I would have had to have shut down the store because I was the only one in it. Take the merchandise, let the shoplifter go. That's the way to do it.

I'm not surprised at the list; people are in desperate straits. The item at the end is worth a blog post if only because MSNBC.com has, on staff, some twit who things typing "ewwwwwww" is meaningful and entertaining. This, being a news item, is not where you make a comment about the fact that other human beings like to wash themselves and stay clean.

But, a little analysis is in order. The reason why people steal Axe body wash is because it is more expensive than other products in that same vein. And, it's in a part of a retail store that is not under heavy surveillance. So it's an item that is appealing, it's worth about the same as a value meal, and it isn't being watched night and day by the closed-circuit television monitors.

People are going to steal, and there is very little that will deter them. People steal in good times and in bad; it usually comes down to their personal situation. Are they stealing for psychological reasons or are they stealing because they're sick of being broke?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Key Word Here is Usually


Our super-elites lead charmed lives. They float through the ether, leaving bits of themselves on others, and no one thinks twice about ethics or values anymore. Those are for suckers. Strauss-Kahn goes on to say that there were "usually" no hookers at the parties he went to. Were there usually people with cameras willing to take pictures on the sly and bribe people? Were there usually agents of foreign powers there, looking to spring the well-worn honey trap? Thank God this man has no chance of being a partner when it comes to the security operations carried out by France in conjunction with other nation/states.

I still can't figure out if he merely self-destructed or if he was the target of a coordinated smear campaign. Someone had to have sent that maid into his room with the intention of getting him to do something he wasn't supposed to do. But, in the mind of Strauss-Kahn, there were no limitations on what he was "supposed to do." There were no moral or ethical boundaries.

This is a man who clearly lives a life entirely free of accountability (until recently) and who gratifies himself any way he can. In this regard, is he any different from a Baptist preacher who does meth and demands gay sex in return? Is he any different from any elite member of society at any stage in human history?

No, of course not. But even the French can see that he is too randy and too easily compromised to trust.