Friday, August 29, 2014

Yes, Virginia, This Is Why 30% of Americans Don't Know Their Economic Asses from a Hole in the Ground.


A really good graph can tell a whole story anybody could understand:


This is a story of how income inequality expands at the expense of somebody, in this case the middle class. This isn't an accident but the result of policies and practices of a democratic nation. We can do better. So far we have not chosen to do so. For the whole story as told by Jared Bernstein, read this.

Today's thought experiment: Imagine how Fox News would handle this. Pick anyone, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, The Five, Geraldo, Stuart Varney.

Next, consider how this "Faux Effect" might influence that portion of the electorate who would look at this graph and blame immigrants or creeping socialism or [insert favorite boggy man here].

Stuart Varney has found his favorite boggy man:


Yes, stick to matters of faith and morals, Pope Francis. Capitalism runs best when unhindered by morality.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cops Shooting Black Men: Will It Stop, Can It Stop?


John Crawford III: Shot and killed for being black?

My entire adult life this has been going on. I wasn't around when lynching was the preferred method of randomly dealing with black men, but I shouldn't be surprised in 2014 to hear of yet another black man dead, apparently for being black in a wound-up-tight policeman's world:
Surveillance video shows an Ohio man talking on a cell phone, leaning on a toy gun, and facing away from officers moments before police shot and killed him in a Walmart store, according to an attorney for the man’s family.
John Crawford III died Aug. 5 after police were called to Walmart in Beavercreek, near Dayton, by another shopper who reported a man carrying what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle.
The 22-year-old Crawford was instead carrying an unpackaged MK-177 (.177 caliber) BB/pellet rifle he picked up in the store’s toy department.
Police claim Crawford ignored their commands to drop the weapon, and the former Marine who called in the report and witnessed the shooting said Crawford “looked like he was going to go violently.”
But attorney Michael Wright said surveillance video from the incident, which Ohio’s attorney general allowed him to watch with Crawford’s family, contradicted those accounts.
“John was doing nothing wrong in Walmart, nothing more, nothing less than shopping,” Wright said.
[...]
[Ohio Attorney General Mike] DeWine said Tuesday he was glad he had allowed Crawford’s family to view the surveillance video, but he did not plan to publicly release the video to avoid tainting the jury pool.
“I thought the family had the right to view it,” DeWine said. “The mom did not want to view it; I understand it. The dad did view it, (but) to put the video out on TV is not the right thing to do.”
Wright said the family objected to the piecemeal release of evidence, such as dispatch audio and video on the day of the shooting, was biased toward the police.
“Everything released is one-sided,” Wright said. “There is nothing favorable to John Crawford. You can’t show different pieces, show it all, don’t trickle pieces to gain favor of the public.”
He said the video suggests Crawford probably did not see or hear officers as they arrived.
The list of black victims of police violence goes on and on and on. The Trayvon Martin case is a police shooting, once removed. George Zimmerman was a cop wanna-be, who was then acquitted.

For Republicans, who are predominantly white, it's all good. In fact, the whiter you are, the richer you are, the Republicaner you are, the more you like the actions of the police in Ferguson, MO, following the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, according to a recent YouGov poll.

This woman, speaking for her people, supports Officer Wilson. Why? Evidence?

A moment of reflection, and a question: Why, why, why is this so? Why, why, why? Here's a hint:
The [Associated Press, Oct. 27, 2012] poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).
Yes, Republicans are measurably more racist than Democrats. Everyone should already know that, unless you're in denial or watch Fox News as your main source of cultural and political literacy. Clearly, however, Democrats harbor substantial racist feelings, as well. Everyone should already know that, too. Republican ranks are whiter, Democratic ranks less so. To rewrite a Los Lobos title, white is white, whether Repub or Dem.

There is a difference, and that's in the empathy gap. Predominantly white Christian conservative Republicans don't care what happens to blacks vis-à-vis the white-cop-on-unarmed-black-man situation. not-so-predominantly white centrist-to-liberal Democrats care more. They're more likely to empathize with the plight of blacks in America and want to see things get better for both blacks and Hispanics.

The fact that white Democrats continue to harbor racist sentiments clouds the picture, but there's no denying who is on the side of minorities in this country, whether they be black, Hispanic, Asian, or women.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if blacks and Hispanics would say that liberal Democratic empathy and $2.95 will get blacks and Hispanics a cup of coffee. And yet, it's that empathy that brings blacks and Hispanics to vote for Democratic candidates. (As a thought experiment, imagine a black voting for Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz.)


If the racial divide in this country isn't clear to you, you either haven't been paying attention or are in denial. Can we admit where we are and work for change? Certainly, but it will take generations upon generations to make a serious dent.

Millennials want a post-racial world. Good luck with that.

Reading assignment: Why millennials perpetuate racism by wishing it away, in Slate.



Libertarian, Schmibertarian: The "Libertarian Moment" That Never Was


The last man who liked marijuana and hated war was a hippie in
San Francisco, not a GOP senator from Kentucky. Of course, Rand
Paul hates immigrants and poor people. When he opens his trap about
women, though, his goose is cooked. But he's a libertarian! It's all good.

Libertarianism, which is actually a real thing, was proposed in an article in the NYTimes by Robert Draper as finally having arrived. Read the article here at your peril. It's long and compares Rand Paul to Pearl Jam and his father, Ron Paul, to Nirvana. Obviously, Pearl Jam can never be Nirvana, but some of us already knew that. Ted Cruz, if you have to know, is Stone Temple Pilots.

The theory -- Libertarianism, This Is Your Hour -- has many immediate detractors, reality apparently being one of them. Thanks, Paper of Record!

Jennifer Rubin -- god, I'm never linked to her before -- says that it isn't a libertarian moment in the GOP (of course, Draper didn't say that) because the GOP loves poverty, I mean the poor, because, you know, Paul Ryan. Again, read Rubin at your peril, but it is interesting and a bit shocking in the I-suppose-I-already-knew-that category when she reports that the vast majority of Republicans support the police actions in Ferguson. Holy crap.

For shits and giggles, read RedState.com's post contra the Libertarian Moment. Sample madness:
For instance, a disapproval of morality has been a staple of the Progressive Movement since its inception. The libertarian fetish of personal licence has long had a home within the Democrat party. It is Democrats, not libertarians who have waged the war on marriage as it has been recognized since the dawn of human history. It is Democrats that led the charge for legalization of marijuana (though many of we conservatives have become so jaded by the evils wrought under the guise of the War on Drugs that we were willing to go along with it.)
There's some wisdom for the ages. What's funny is that, though there are libertarians on both sides of the political divide, the GOP tends these days to claim libertarianism as their own -- the Kochs founded and continue to underwrite the libertarian Cato Institute in DC -- though they're shocked to find that civil libertarians, the ones who are concerned with civil rights, favor gay marriage, legalized pot, and reining in the police. Oops.

We return to Earth with a poll by Pew that catches the libertarian moment as a misunderstanding of what libertarianism is by those who think they are it. Sez Pew, via TPM's Dylan Scott:
But Pew's research showed striking departures from the expected party line. Libertarians were more likely than the general U.S. population to say that it is better for the United States to have an active role in world affairs, according to the Center.
They even favored stop-and-frisk -- the controversial policing tactic -- a touch more than the average American, despite civil rights supposedly being one of the cornerstones of the libertarian movement.
Pew dug further into the numbers by looking back at its political typology report from June. Tellingly, out of the seven typologies that Pew identified within U.S. politics, "none closely resembled libertarians, and, in fact, self-described libertarians can be found in all seven," Kiley wrote. In some of the early versions of the report, there was a group that looked like libertarians. They made up about 5 percent of the U.S. population.
That group was later discarded under Pew's methodology, in part because the sample size was too small. But even that group was not a perfect manifestation of libertarians, Kiley noted.
"Many members of this group diverge from libertarian thinking on key issues," she wrote, "including about half who say affirmative action is a good thing and that stricter environmental laws are worth the cost."
That's rich. Those who self-identify as libertarians love stop-and-frisk and affirmative action. Somebody somewhere has to rethink this whole thing. Maybe Rand Paul can do it.

After all, he's presidential. Timber!

Shit, if I run for president, I need a coherent message. This libertarian thing is hard.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Taylor Swift Gets a Bad Rap (Can't Believe I Just Said That)


Girl can dish it out, apparently can take it, too.
Taylor Swift has basically irritated me by her particular brand of narcissism. I admit to casually liking a couple of her songs, but that's like appreciating an occasional Snickers bar, if you know what I mean. Okay, she's cute, too.

Watching her parade around in her performances, especially when "sharing" the stage with others, again, is irritating. She's a star, fine. Now, grab some humility for being lucky.

Now that I've got that out front, let's look at the case of her new song, one categorically aimed at establishing her pop (non-country) cred, "Shake It Off," and the criticism it's getting, especially from blacks who feel stereotyped.

To get the gist of this, read this article in the NYTimes. The black contempt is shown in the article, though defenders are presented, too.

My take is that Swift's latest is straight-out fun pop, catchy, with a reasonably up-beat message: Don't sweat the small stuff (from the players, the fakers, the haters) and dance, however you define dancing.

What's likeable about the video is that OMG Taylor is self-deprecating, having fun at her own expense. So we've got suitably unserious fun pop, with an upbeat, inclusive message, along with Swift letting people know it's okay if you're white and not as good a dancer as Beyoncé. She can "shake it off" regardless. She's celebrating her limitations and enjoying it!

I say props on the progress, girl.





Now I can go back to being a grumpy old man.



Wealth Transfer Doesn't Mean the Welfare State


Manufacturing jobs used to pay well, and they could again. Who would that hurt?

Income inequality.

Asking if those two words are good for the economy or bad for the economy is truly a Rorschach test for today's politics. Conservatives will say it's good because it puts money in the hands of the "job creators." Liberals will say we're short-changing workers and stifling economic growth while allowing massive amounts of capital to accumulate among a handful of winners, you know, the 1% or, more accurately, the .1%.

Also in the mix of current outcomes is the lower tax burden at the top, exacerbating income inequality and starving government, especially by cutting public-sector jobs and benefits and underfunding and understaffing government agencies.

And yes, also in the mix is a tension between social welfare programs -- which, if not being cut, are also being underfunded -- and austerians who would cut them further.

But stepping back away from the politics, one finds that the key here is stagnant wage growth. Yes, there are winners at the top, as corporate profits soar, but there are losers all over the income spectrum: Even upper-middle-class workers are seeing earnings contractions -- if these workers are still in the upper-middle class at all. And the middle class itself, once the driver of the U.S. economy, is falling off a cliff, leading economists to surmise that we're in for a long economic winter referred to as secular stagnation.

What is secular stagnation? It's a situation in which job growth is slack, what new jobs are "created" pay lower wages, and demand remains slack. GDP used to track population growth, but it can't in a secular stagnation because low wage growth, among other things, limit demand growth. As they say, it ain't rocket science. If I have no money, I don't spend. If I have money, I do spend.

Bottom line: Money accumulated at the top has lower velocity. It moves through the economy slowly, if at all. Money in the lower quintiles moves faster because the less well-off you are, the faster you empty your wallet, not because you're stupid but because you're needy, even hungry. This velocity, as money repeatedly changes hands within the economy, is what drives economic activity and growth.

Rising wages might be the best way to stimulate an economy, even if it comes at the expense of businesses, which just might thrive because of rising demand. It's a wash, this wealth transfer, and a good wash indeed, but tell that to the conservatives who don't want you to find out that money at the top -- and the lower taxes they "purchase" with their wealth -- isn't the best outcome. You just might find out that money redistributed is what lifts all boats, and that would be political disaster for the conservative cause.

Why? Because once that canard known as the "job creators" is shown to be the fraud that it is, what else to they have, drill, baby, drill and bomb, bomb, bomb? Yeah, maybe so.

The Puritans, the forefathers of the conservative movement, believed in
predestination. In other words, God picks winners and losers. Sound familiar?

Once you accept that rising wages lifts all boats, how do you raise wages? Through collective bargaining, that's how. It's called unionism. Sure, you could raise the minimum wage, which should be done, up to a living wage. But to revive the middle class -- and let it start spending again -- we need more than a raise of the minimum wage. We need real wage growth, and that takes wage negotiations between business and labor on a level playing field, and that takes unions. It worked for America in the past, and works in much of Europe today. And what's wrong with that?

Nothing at all. But tell that to the "job creators." I mean, er, the wealthy.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferguson Starts a Slow-Rolling Cop Implosion


(Update Below.)

The Ferguson apparent murder of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer has provoked a horrid police response, the worst example of which just took place last night. In the area of bad PR for St. Louis County, this does not look good:


No one asked this police officer to look so stupid and dangerous. He figured this out all by himself. I'm not mocking him. I'm just saying a guy with a short fuse like this needs to be off the police force anywhere his type appears. Where am I wrong?

Update. This is getting a lot of attention all over the blogosphere. I wouldn't be surprised if it hardly makes a dent in the mainstream media -- it makes cops look bad, and that's not their job! But a larger point, hopefully, is that this is how things move in the social media environment. Maybe this is emblematic of how cops cannot just keep shooting black and brown people -- let alone the random white guy -- at will. Maybe, just maybe, they'll be a price to pay, and more, as we grow further into the information age. Not meaning to get ahead of ourselves here, just being hopeful.


The Army Doesn't Point a Gun at Anyone Unless They Intend to Shoot. Not So with the Police?


I guess not. I spotted this a week ago in Ferguson:


I could put up many examples this week in Ferguson. It's just a bit horrifying.

But not as bad as what I just saw on the Huffington Post:



Along with this companion clip:


People need to understand that soldiers are trained to have their guns down unless they intend to use them. Our police, which often come from the military, don't seem to be trained as well. Something must be done. Or we'll live in fear of this: