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Forget Romney’s taxes, what will Obama do about unemployment??

Sorry Matt Taibbi, This tax return issue is one gigantic distraction:

The Obama administration, if it wanted to, could make a lot of hay over this. It could say, “Mitt Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns for years and years during the last decade. But the years for which he did release returns, he paid a rate that’s less than half of what most ordinary American professionals make – and he thinks that’s ‘fair.’”

Now, Obama has gone after Mitt’s tax returns – a little. He’s released a few ads here and there, including one called “Makes You Wonder” that called Mitt’s use of carried interest in his tax return a “trick,” a semantic move for which Obama was criticized, since it was actually nothing of the sort. Mitt Romney’s ability to pay a top rate of 15% for his work was no trick at all but a fully-legal expression of the values of our current political system, a system, again, that Mitt Romney is “proud of” and thinks is “fair.”

I can’t blame Matt for doing what all the other journalists do during an election year.  Jay Rosen has written extensively on the “horse race” reporting of election year journalism.  Journalists write stories only other journalists would love.  It’s all about petty tit-for-tat and gossip and gaffes.  But this is not like other election years.  In a way, you would have thought that the politicians with their slick psychological manipulators on the payroll would have figured out that the voters want to talk about serious things this year.  They should be on the cutting edge.  But I’m beginning to think that the parties are not as modern and hipster as they’d like to think.  Maybe that’s because both *presumptive* nominees are representing old, establishment money and power.  Old guys think the world revolves around their interests and that they can still mold the culture to suit them.  But it is social distancing that prevents them from seeing the American landscape as it truly is.

Jonathan Chait recently encapsulated this mindset in his recent piece, Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment. Chait is critical of the Washington establishment that thinks that bad things happen to other people.  But the weird thing is that he doesn’t even know how vulnerable he is:

It’s important to respond to arguments on intellectual terms and not merely to analyze their motives. Yet it is impossible to understand these positions without putting them in socioeconomic context. Here are a few salient facts: The political scientist Larry Bartels has found (and measured) that members of Congress respond much more strongly to the preferences of their affluent constituents than their poor ones. And for affluent people, there is essentially no recession. Unemployment for workers with a bachelors degree is 4 percent — boom times. Unemployment is also unusually low in the Washington, D.C., area, owing to our economy’s reliance on federal spending, which has not had to impose the punishing austerity of so many state and local governments.

I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy.

Maybe in the plush Washington suburbs 4% unemployment among college graduates is the norm.  But I’m sitting here in NJ with the dead corpses of the careers of PhD’s in Chemistry and Pharmacology all around me and it is most decidedly not all sunshine and roses.  We are also part of the “elite” and we’re dying out here. All we hear is myths about how there aren’t enough of us while vast numbers of us can’t get jobs or keep the ones we relocate our families to take.  Jonathan Chait joins Bill Keller in the same clueless club.  Who exactly do they think they are talking about?  Are journalists and poli sci graduates guaranteed gold watches and pensions these days?  A couple of years ago, the kids around here also would have looked on the recession as “a sad and distant tragedy”.  These days, those same kids are the ragged refugees of the middle class.  Their childhoods will be permanently marked by the changes their parents are going through.

The tax distraction serves both parties.  Neither one of them wants to talk about unemployment.

Here we are, 3 months from the election and no one is talking about unemployment.

How is Obama going to put people back to work?  If I don’t hear some concrete policies, then I am going to assume he has no plans.  I am going to assume he doesn’t care.  I’m not going to be the only one.

Yes, yes, it’s really crappy that rich people do not pay enough in taxes.  If politicians are really concerned with this, the first thing they could do to help level the playing field is eliminate the cruel excise tax for people who are chronically unemployed who have to liquidate their 401Ks in order to keep their kids in the same high school.  That’s where I would start.  No, do not lecture them about saving their money for retirement.  If they needed a lecture, they wouldn’t have a stash in their 401Ks to begin with.  You want to lecture people about saving for retirement? Go talk to a 30 year old who hasn’t saved a dime.

You know, I have no intention of helping Republicans achieve a damn thing.  I’m not harping on Democrats because I want Republicans to win.  I’m harping on Democrats because I want them to do something.

It gives me no pleasure to have to be a Democrat in Exile looking forward to a long hard slog and decades of being in the wilderness while we build another party.  But that’s where we’re headed.  And I’d like to remind the party who wants to make it sound like resistance is useless that that’s probably they way the Liberal party treated the New Democratic Party of Canada about 10 years ago.  Times change, people change, and it happens at a much quicker  pace these days.  The Democrats might not feel so smug in a few months when 5-6% of us decide to tough it out and turn to replacing one of the two parties with something different.

The unemployed will have plenty of work to do to get rid of the party that wanted to waste our time with a pointless exercise of distraction while we were losing everything.  That will motivate us to get up in the morning and work for a shake-up of the two party system.

****************************

Updating Shakespeare: “First thing we do, kill all the marketers.”  Grocery stores are now using loyalty card information so that food manufacturers can reward some of their customers more than others.  There are a zillion reasons why this is a bad idea.  It’s unfair.  It’s like putting your thumb on the scales for some customers while others still generate a hefty profit margin thinking they’re getting a break.  As one commenter noted in this NYTimes piece, if you’re poor, you don’t look loyal enough to the companies who might offer you a lower price so you end up footing the bill for the upper middle class suburbanites.

If there isn’t a law, there oughtta be.  For one thing, it feels like someone is always looking over your shoulder and invading your privacy.  For another, it seems like the whole world is manipulating prices with a giant optimization algorithm in just one more way to pick every penny of disposable income as it can from our pockets.  I don’t feel like a consumer anymore.  I feel like a crop that is being harvested.

***************************

More dance loveliness.  Afternoon of a Faun combines two of my favorite things: Debussy and Dance.  The original was choreographed by Nijinsky and was scandalous.  In the end, a faun that has been stalking a nymph throws himself on her discarded scarf and lustily pelvic thrusts into it.

But when I was a kid, I searched the NYCB schedule at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the Jerome Robbins version.  The music is the same but the setting is different.  In this ballet, two dancers are in a studio and dance alone and together, seemingly unaware of each other as they stare into an imaginary mirror.  It’s playful, romantic and clever.  And no scarfs get messy.

I’m pretty sure the version I saw was danced by Allegra Kent.  The name sticks out.  Allegra.  Only ballerinas have names like that.  Allegra, Darcy, Gelsey, Paloma.  Even their names are in arabesque.

In the case of the Robbins’ updated version, the original dancer was the ethereal Tanaquil LeClercq.  Tanaquil was the name of an ancient Etruscan queen.  Tanaquil’s career did not last very long.  She was married to George Balanchine at the peak of her ballet career when she was struck down with polio while she was on tour.  She never danced again and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  But we have this video of a substantial portion of this short ballet where Tanaquil and Jacques D’Amboise  dance as “nymph” and “faun” in a studio in an afternoon.  You can watch it here if the request is disabled.

Enjoy.

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10 Responses

  1. What will Obama do about unemployment?

    Won’t do nothin’. Not a thing.

  2. The Voters have no choice but to rock this thing out of the ditch election by election. You sound like someone who should be voting your pocketbook, yet you hold onto the possessed carcass of the democratic party as if It’s Spirit hasn’t already left it’s body to avoid being desecrated by the cannibals inhabiting it.

    • I’m not sure I would call myself a loyalist. But it is true that it would spare a lot of people pain and a decline in their living standards if the Democrats would snap out of it and get back to FDR style policies. It would mean a lot less reinvention of the wheel, sturm and drang, and years of little Depression economics.
      So, yeah, I wish the Democrats would rehabilitate themselves so that we didn’t have to go through the painful struggle of replacing them.

  3. you hold onto the possessed carcass of the democratic party

    I really wish that when people claim that we’re soooo in love with the democratic party, they would provide the quote & link demonstrating such a loyalty.

    Because I don’t see it here.

  4. RD,

    I get the impression you may still have some illusions about the Democratic Party, its responsiveness to the workers in the U.S., and the purpose of U.S. politics for the fatcat old guys who own this country. Hint: PhDs are *not* part of the “elite;” they are skilled labor and nothing more. Unemployment IS the plan. (You have written before of your awareness that the pharma industry now gets PhD laborers for low prices in China, so I know you know what’s going on.)

    This talk by Jon Moynihan nicely summarizes the current economic big picture. But I think this outlook has not been honestly confronted and discussed in U.S. politics.
    “The continued economic decline of the West”
    Video at:
    http://techtv.mit.edu/videos/20213-the-continued-economic-decline-of-the-west
    also at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-y2aqYwOQ0
    Slides at:
    http://www.paconsulting.com/our-thinking/the-continued-economic-decline-of-the-west-lse/

    • I don’t know if I would call them “illusions”. I prefer the term “expectations”. We know that once upon a time, the Democratic party did appear to respond to US workers. It is possible for it to do so again. Why would anyone vote for them otherwise? Seriously. If they’re going to be just like the other party, just not as crazy, why would we ever choose to vote for them? What’s in it for us?
      I hope the Democrats have a reason to ask themselves this same question after November. I would much prefer working within an already established party than to have to recreate a new party. The latter is going to take a lot of time and although it will inevitably be successful, all the intervening pain to millions of people is avoidable. I can only conclude that the present version of the Democratic party is run by sociopaths. Why do this to your base?
      As for scientists being in the “elite”, I think we are in some respects. It’s not easy to do what we do. It’s much more difficult than learning law and probably as difficult as medicine, if not more so. There are some tasks that a HS graduate can be taught to do and are routine enough that anyone could do them. But real research is incredibly difficult and requires ongoing education, keeping up with the latest science and technology. Discovering drugs is not something that can be broken up into little tasks and farmed out with some uber genius sitting behind some control panel in Cambridge orchestrating all of those tasks like some conductor. For one thing, I don’t care where you went to school, you can’t do industrial research straight after graduation. I’ve witnessed this myself. Plenty of PhDs come into a company and it takes them years of seasoning before they get it. Some of them never do.
      So, yeah, the financiers have attempted to turn us into skilled labor. But all they are really doing is destroying the research environment. This is not merely a case of of pharma workers thinking of themselves as irreplaceable. It’s not. This is more of a case of fire always being extremely hot. We could tell you over and over again not to put your hand in the fireplace but you probably won’t believe us until your hand is blistered.

      • Perhaps by elite, David means strictly what C. Wright Mills called the Power Elite? Referring strictly to the power to make decisions and enforce and impose them against society. If so, that would be a power scientists do not have, thereby placing scientists outside the electrified razor wire guarded Circle of Power . . . . along with everybody else.

  5. RD writes: “I feel like a crop that is being harvested.”

    Yes! Now you know how the fatcat old guys who own the U.S. view their peasants.

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