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Shorter Fortune: “The Poor: BORING!!!”

[ 284 ] June 5, 2014 |

Geoff Colvin at Fortune has precisely the reaction to the income inequality debate as you’d expect: “BORING!!!!”

I suspect I’m not the only one suffering from severe inequality fatigue.

The debate over income inequality is now officially the most boring debate in America, and that’s because it’s scarcely a “debate” at all. Here’s the thrilling state of play. Liberals think inequality is a really big problem—“the defining challenge of our time,” as President Obama said last December. Conservatives think it’s a problem, but not all that serious. As House Speaker John Boehner said grudgingly in March, “We do have an issue of income inequality in America.”

So we see furrowed brows across the political spectrum, with the “debate” focused on exactly how energetically we should be wringing our hands.

Wake me when it’s over.

Now, Colvin says there is an income inequality debate he wants to have, but it’s a fakeout. He doesn’t want to talk about income inequality at all. He just wants to find ways to blame the poor for their own poverty. He poses three questions. First,

If today’s degree of inequality is too great, then what degree would be just right?

This is a self-serving question because the answer for Colvin is that inequality is good and by forcing people to admit that, the rich win. Obviously we are never going to achieve full and absolute income equality. But it is a noble aim to strive for and I’m certainly not going to answer Colvin’s question in any other way than “None.”

2. If everyone’s real income were multiplied by 100, would inequality still be a problem?

A stupid question and irrelevant since it is never going to happen and we are heading in the opposite direction.

3. Is education the real reason for what’s happening?

Here we go. Because some of our young people go to Harvard (like Colvin) and others go to the University of Rhode Island and still others don’t go to college at all and because some of our young people were born rich, white men (like Colvin) and others were born in the ghetto or a West Virginia hollow or were raped by their fathers, we can blame those who have failed. If only they had gone to Harvard, they would be writing for Fortune too!

The idea that everyone is responsible for constantly “acquiring new skills” in order to have a house and eat properly and raise a family is totally absurd and ignores the reality of how people actually live in the world. Moreover, it does exactly what the plutocrats and their hack writers have done for 150 years–blame the poor for their own poverty.

I guess this is what one should expect from Fortune. Why read it if not for laughable defenses of the plutocracy?

Guestworkers as Strikebreakers

[ 25 ] June 5, 2014 |

While I am open to an argument that part of an immigration reform package should include a guestworker program, I am extraordinarily skeptical. Why? Because guestworker programs have ALWAYS been used to bust strikes. They give employers even greater leverage over their workers than trucking in strikebreakers from a different part of the country because they have no right to stay and thus no investment in not crossing the picket lines or showing solidarity with the workers, a solidarity they may well feel but what choice do they have? Such was the very plan for Sakuma Farms in Washington, even under the limited guestworker program already in existence:

This year Sakuma Farms applied for H-2A work visas for 438 workers it intends to bring from Mexico to work during the harvest, from June 18 to October 15. Afterward, they would have to go back to Mexico. Sakuma, one of the largest berry growers in Washington state, hires about 500 workers each picking season. If it recruits 438 of them in Mexico, there will not be enough work for those like Ventura, who have been laboring in its fields every year…

What is happening to Rosario Ventura… is a window into a possible future for farm workers. For workers already here, that future includes lost jobs. For growers, the same future holds government-administered programs giving them a source of temporary workers at close to minimum wage, who go back to Mexico when the work is done…

Workers question the company’s eligibility to recruit H-2A workers. [The Department of Labor] Fact Sheet #26 says clearly: “Employers must also assure that there is no strike or lockout in the course of a labor dispute at the worksite.” Last year Ventura, Galicia and 250 workers went on strike at Sakuma Farms several times…

In the course of the work stoppages workers formed an independent association, Familias Unidas por la Justicia—Families United for Justice…

Last year Familias Unidas por la Justicia wanted an improvement in both hourly wages and the piece rate—a $14 hourly guarantee, and a minimum price of $6 for a fifteen-pound box of blueberries. The company would not pay more than $4 a box, and a $12 per hour guarantee, saying that the higher demand would raise its labor costs too much.

When the company was questioned about why it needed H-2A workers, it said a labor shortage had led to the loss of blackberries and strawberries—it couldn’t find enough workers to pick them. But the farm was also unwilling to raise its wages to attract additional pickers.

Sakura has since withdrawn their application, possibly because of bad publicity, more likely because it was going to be rejected. But a bigger guestworker program would only undermine organizing. Immigrant labor must have the opportunity to stay in the country to create a fair playing field for them and for the workers already here.

The New Gilded Age

[ 19 ] June 4, 2014 |

Peter Van Buren provides an absolutely outstanding rundown of the New Gilded Age, even if he doesn’t use the term. An excerpt to remind you of the glories of 21st century America:

Last year eight Americans—the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined. The median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, 1 percent of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

Just in case you aren’t yet rock-bottom certain about the reality of that divide, here are some stats: the top 1 percent of Americans hold 35 percent of the nation’s net worth; the bottom 80 percent, only 11 percent percent. The United States has such an unequal distribution of wealth that, in global rankings, it falls among the planet’s kleptocracies, not the developed nations that were once its peers. The mathematical measure of wealth-inequality is called “Gini,” and the higher it is, the more extreme a nation’s wealth-inequality. The Gini for the US is 85; for Germany, 77; Canada, 72; and Bangladesh, 64. Nations more unequal than the US include Kazakhstan at 86 and the Ukraine at 90. The African continent tips in at just under 85. Odd company for the self-proclaimed “indispensable nation.”

Another way of phrasing this question is: Why don’t we just blame the poor for their plight? Mention unemployment or underemployment and someone will inevitably invoke the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” line. If workers don’t like retail or minimum-wage jobs, or if they can’t find good paying jobs in their area, why don’t they just move? Quit retail or quit Pittsburgh (Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis) and…

Move to where to do what? Our country lost one-third of all decent factory jobs—almost six million of them—between 2000 and 2009, and wherever “there” is supposed to be, piles of people are already in line. In addition, many who lost their jobs don’t have the means to move or a friend with a couch to sleep on when they get to Colorado. Some have lived for generations in the places where the jobs have disappeared. As for the jobs that are left, what do they pay? One out of four working Americans earn less than $10 per hour. At 25 percent, the US has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the developed world. (Canada and Great Britain have 20 percent, Japan under 15 percent and France 11 percent.)

One in six men, 10.4 million Americans aged 25 to 64, the prime working years, don’t have jobs at all, a portion of the male population that has almost tripled in the past four decades. They are neither all lazy nor all unskilled, and at present they await news of the uncharted places in the US where those 10 million unfilled jobs are hidden.

I’d only quibble in his way forward bit at the end that he doesn’t talk about taming capital mobility. He correctly identifies the fleeing of factory work from the United States as undermining the nation’s 99%. But without the taming of corporations that can only happen if they remain in one place for a reasonable amount of time, there’s nothing we are going to do about these problems.

Today in the Post-Racial Society

[ 67 ] June 4, 2014 |

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Racism is dead:

Two black workers in a Tennessee cotton factory just filed a federal complaint against a domineering white supervisor who called them “monkeys” and was recorded lamenting racial integration while telling them the water fountain and microwave were for whites only. Happy 2014!

The men, who worked at the Atkinson Cotton Warehouse in Memphis, shared their story—and their secret recordings—with WREG-TV. The video above has to be seen to be believed.

The cotton industry’s history reminds some people of slavery.

Antonio Harris and Marrio Mangrum say their former supervisor was stuck in the past.

“He would be like, ‘You need to think like a white man,” said Mangrum.

“He pulled his pants down in front of us and told us to kiss his white tail,” said Harris.

He said after months of racist comments and feeling powerless, he decided to use his phone as a weapon to fight back.

At a cotton gin even.

Obviously the victim is the white supervisor for being accused of racism. Only a black racist would accuse a white of racism.

NYT Opinion

[ 36 ] June 4, 2014 |

I hope I don’t know anyone who thinks the New York Times opinion page is so valuable that they will subscribe to it alone. I know reading about Maureen Dowd getting stoned, Nic Kristof pretending to save Asian women, Little Tommy Friedman giving us the latest installment of “Made Up Conversations with Cab Drivers around the World,” and Ross Douthat cringing over the idea of women using birth control is quite compelling and all, but somehow this does not seem good value if it were free, not to mention paying for it.

Nic Kristof Buying Somaly Mam’s Lies Makes More Sense Now

[ 189 ] June 3, 2014 |

Evidently, the New York Times thought it worthwhile to pay Maureen Dowd to fly to Denver, get stoned in her hotel room, and then write about how it was a bad experience and therefore marijuana is scary.

Ali Gharib responds appropriately:

An Official LGM Hero

[ 107 ] June 3, 2014 |

LGM has some principles shared across writers. For one, we like booze. For two, although I guess this is not fully confirmed among everyone, most of us at least think Cubs fans are subhuman. No offense to any Cubs fans who are readers, but really, you might want to reexamine your life. Still, sometimes the first point outweighs the second. Especially when the Cubs are not yet involved. Mr. Harry Caray, ladies and gentlemen, who decided to keep a diary of his alcohol purchases in 1972 so he could expense them:

Saturday, Jan. 1, lists four bars: the Back Room, still on Rush Street, plus three long-ago joints: 20 E. Delaware, Sully’s and Peppy’s, with expenses for each $10.30, $9.97, $10, and $8.95. This in a year when a six-pack of Old Style set you back $1.29.

You needed to cite who you entertained to get the write-off, so on New Year’s Day he lists Dave Condon, the Tribune sports columnist; Billy Sullivan, who owned Sully’s; and Joe Pepitone, the former Yankees first baseman who had been traded to the Cubs.

And so it begins. A chain of old-time Chicago bars — Riccardo’s, Boul Mich, Mr. Kelly’s. A posse of early 1970s sports figures — Wilt Chamberlain, Don Drysdale, Gale Sayers. Plus a few unexpected blasts from the past: boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny.

“These guys did nothing but go out and have a few cocktails,” said Jimmy Rittenberg, who owned Faces, which Caray visited 14 times in 1972. “I don’t know how they did it. They were 20, 30 years older than me and I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Jan. 16 something unusual happens. Caray is in Miami, yet there are no expenses, just one enigmatic word, “Super.”

After that break, if indeed it was, comes 288 consecutive days in bars, not only in Chicago, but New York City, and of course on the road with the Sox, beginning with spring training in Sarasota.

288 days in a row. 288. This is great too,

Toward the end of the diary, on Dec. 24, comes the kicker. After spending at least 354 of the previous 357 days in bars (DePorter counted 61 different tap houses) Caray writes, in a bold hand, “Vacation in Acapulco. Then “Vacation” every day until the year runs out.

Which makes me wonder how he knew he was on vacation. I guess if nobody was playing baseball in front of him and when he looked over the rim of his drink he saw Mexico, then he knew he was on vacation.

But give Caray credit. As old-fashioned, and perhaps even pathological, as the bar-crawling seems today, there is another truth worth mentioning: Harry Caray could have taken his drinks at home. He went out because it was his job.

This is when work meant something in this nation.

I mean, really, when you put George Jones to shame, you have reached impressive heights. Harry has no concern about aging 20 years in 5. He destroyed his body as a young man and just never stopped.

Despite working for the Cubs, I think Harry Caray deserves a place in the LGM Hall of Fame.

Shorter Plutocracy: “Piketty’s Right. So Suck It.”

[ 21 ] June 3, 2014 |

There’s really no reason for the plutocracy to pretend it’s not the New Gilded Age. What are you going to do about it if you don’t like it? Nothing. Go read your Horatio Alger novel and pretend you could be me you worthless taker.

Tax the Hedge Funds

[ 27 ] June 3, 2014 |

I’m not an expert on tax policy, but if taxing hedge funds at 20% could be changed to 39% at Obama’s orders, obviously this should be done yesterday.

Greatest Troll in LGM History

[ 91 ] June 2, 2014 |

Since we are navel-gazing these days, let’s remember how RICK VENEMA, COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VIRGINIA was not only the greatest troll in LGM history, but really in all of history.

The first post linked above is great for many reasons, not only for RICK VENEMA’s craziness posted from the BIG ASS ARBY’s in COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VIRGINIA, and not only for the awesome commenter responses, but because Manju clearly feels threatened in his role here and works VERY HARD to compensate.

Great times. My greatest failure writing here came in January, when I drove through Richmond and did not realize that COLONIAL HEIGHTS was a suburb until later. Man, I would have loved to post a picture here of the Arby’s. Which is evidently indeed quite large. I wouldn’t have actually eaten there though. Because really, who eats at Arby’s?

“The Democrat Party”

[ 105 ] June 2, 2014 |

One of the stupidest little games Republicans like to play is to refer to the Democrats as the “Democrat Party” rather than the “Democratic Party.” Seems like especially around 2009-11, this was pretty common and a lot of Democrats got angry over it. I mostly ignored it because whatever. It is worth noting however that Joseph McCarthy was doing the same thing at least as early as 1954. See this broadcast of Face the Nation from November 1954. He does this at about the 2:00 mark. Don’t know if he is doing this explicitly as a pejorative or not.

He uses it in this speech as well, which is obviously no later than 1952. Plus “Commiecrat Party!”

Race to the Bottom, Small Scale

[ 104 ] June 2, 2014 |

I talked a bit about the emissions problems at the Sriracha factory last fall. In short, residents living near a chile sauce factory that is indifferent to emissions violations do not have a good life. The conflict has come to a conclusion and how that went down says so much about the problems with the economy and, really, a lot of modern American life.

As a condition of Irwindale dismissing the suit, Huy Fong Foods has promised to make improvements to its factory’s rooftop ventilation system—but, as Mark Berman points out in the Washington Post, there won’t be any way to tell whether the improvements make a difference until August, when the plant begins production again. The likelier cause of the dropped suit is the public flirtation between Huy Fong Foods and officials from other cities that would be happy to subject their citizens to acrid capsaicin-smog in exchange for sweet moolah—but, whatever!

Perfect. You have a voluntary system of corporate reform with no enforcement, which Irwindale agreed to because Sriracha was looking to move the factory to a city even more desperate for jobs. The scourge of capital mobility in a nutshell. Company after company, move after move, citizen concession after citizen concession, this aggregates into the destruction of the entire set of economic, social, and environmental victories American citizens enacted to tame corporate pathology in the 20th century. This is how the New Gilded Age is created.

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