• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    HerstoryRepeating on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Catscatscats on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Earlynerd on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    William on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    HerStoryRepeating on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Catscatscats on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    William on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Ga6thDem on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    William on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Ga6thDem on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Ga6thDem on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Ga6thDem on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Ga6thDem on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    Ga6thDem on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
    William on Bring on the Conspiracy T…
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama Bernie Sanders big pharma Bill Clinton cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donald Trump Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare OccupyWallStreet occupy wall street Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans research Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    August 2019
    S M T W T F S
    « Jul    
     123
    45678910
    11121314151617
    18192021222324
    25262728293031
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 18, 2019
      Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 18, 2019 by Tony Wikrent Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus Strategic Political Economy Rebecca Gordon, How the U.S. Created the Central American Immigration Crisis [TomDispatch, via Naked Capitalism 8-16-19] How the Supreme Court Is Rebranding Corruption — Ciara Torres-Spelli […]
  • Top Posts

  • Advertisements

Saturday: Chutzpah, pyramids and connections

Man, islands and all that rot.

I’m baaaaack!  It’s been a very busy week here in the surburban jungle of New Jersey as well as being snowy and gloomy and cold.  But next week, I’m in Sandy Eggo for a conference.  The extended forecast looks good.  Temps in the 60’s seem positively balmy.  I might even ditch my jacket.

But first, I wanted to go over a little something I read in The Atlantic article on The Rise of the Global Elite.  These guys have chutzpah.  Now, before we go any further, there’s nothing wrong with striking it rich.  If you have a good idea and you can make oodles of money off of it, go for it.  But if you do it here in America, you need to remember that Americans made it possible.  All of those people who pay taxes to make sure that there are standards and infrastructure and a well-educated workforce and a “classless” society that means you don’t have to kiss some poobah’s ass or spend the rest of your life as a downstairs maid even if you have the secret to the next killer app, made it relatively easy for you.

So, I was particularly apalled to read this:

The good news—and the bad news—for America is that the nation’s own super-elite is rapidly adjusting to this more global perspective. The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.”

Really?  What planet is this guy on anyway?  Does he know that when the typical American starts working, he/she gets a measly 2 weeks of vacation- prorated?  Two frickin’ weeks.  You have to work 5 years before you get that measly third week.  I work for an international company and even though our European cousins work differently and are always on task when they are at work, I have slowly come to the realization that they are not more productive than Americans.  But for some reason, Mr. Taiwanese Born Rich Guy isn’t picking on them and their 2 months of vacation a year and nice life affirming salaries or the fact that many European workers are covered by unions that make it nearly impossible to lay them off, even if the work goes elsewhere and there’s nothing for them to do.  They still get paid and no one is asking them to give up their middle class lifestyles.  Only Americans are.  If anything, Mr. Taiwanese Born Global Elite’s comment says more about Americans’ vulnerability to Reaganesque ‘rugged individualism’ messaging and failure to protect themselves.

Personally, I think workers need a bit of stress in their environments to keep them pushing forward and to prevent them from sliding into inertia.  But the stress levels of the American worker “goes up to 11” these days.  We are very, very busy.  Eight hour days are a thing of the past.  There are fewer of us doing the work of more people.  If we could be there 24/7, which the middle level MBA beancounters seem to want these days, maybe we could catch up.  So, just how much *MORE* work would be acceptable to these people?  10X harder is physically and mentally impossible.  That’s not to say that there aren’t slackers who always seem to evade the lay off ax (and if anyone wants names…), but my experience, and those of my friends and former colleagues is that you can be extremely good at what you do and work your skinny little ass off and *still* get laid off.  The MBAs who make these decisions rarely look further than the next quarterly earnings.  Meanwhile, the outsourcing scheme doesn’t always work out so well and adds to the work of the people left behind in the states.

The problem is not that Americans don’t work hard enough or get paid too much.  If anything, wages have been pretty much stagnant since the 70’s, when adjusted for inflation.  Anyone who doubts that should see Elizabeth Warren’s youtube lecture on the collapse of the middle class where the result of the clamp down on wages is displayed in all of its miserly, stingy, mean spirited glory.  Many of us are one paycheck from insolvency, even with both parents working.  How much more of our paychecks should we sacrifice to make Mr Taiwanese Born Global Elite happy?  The problem is that our global overlords have no appreciation for the work that is done.  Or that in the case of those who have made money from technology, the body of knowledge is added to painstakingly over time by thousands of people until some young nerdy asshole comes along, reads the right papers or documentation, and makes some breakthrough discovery.  Maybe they need to sit down for an afternoon of James Burke’s Connections.

The point is, these people are sitting on top of pyramids, not just economically but in every other sense as well.  Under them are millions and millions of people both present and past who have made it possible for the global elite to have a Eureka! moment and cash in big.  That flash of insight could happen to any of us but it *won’t* happen nearly as frequently in the future if the global elite forget from whence they came.  It takes infrastructure, open and flatter societies, and communication with people who have crucial information.  That last part is something different that what Julian Assange envisions.  Innovation is much harder to do when information is locked down by entities protecting their data.  Information is power but proprietary information can be constipating.  So, what I’m getting from The Atlantic article is not that the global elite are critical of how much Americans are producing.  It’s that they are too wrapped up in themselves to understand that they are killing the global goose by cornering the market for themselves.  If they were really concerned that Americans were not producing enough, they might be more diligent about making sure that we have the broadband speed of Korea and not Romania.

But that would mean paying more in taxes and being accountable to their country and acting like citizens and we have seen that they are not willing to do any of those things.  So, we must conclude that they aren’t really serious about what they perceive to be Americans parasitical attachment to eating three squares a day and keeping a roof over their heads.  They just want it all for themselves.  Where’s that Malthusian catastrophe when you need one?

Moving on:

Also in The Atlantic, James Fallows is still concerned with the optics of Juan Williams firing from NPR.  For the record, I’m not at all concerned.  I was a long time listener to NPR, which *used* to have a very high reputation for quality journalism.  When Juan came on board, I noticed a distinct turn to more of the “he said/she said, we must present all sides of the story equally” type of journalism that I loathed in other media outlets.  I got so sick of listening to it that I stopped listening altogether and don’t donate anymore.  Yep, there probably are PC police at NPR whose minds are so wide open their brains have fallen out but, oddly enough, Ellen Weiss had retained enough gray matter to do the right thing in Juan’s case.  Williams has totally shown his colors.  He fits right in at Fox where pandering for profit is de rigeur.  Fallows can stop wringing his hands.  Maybe The Atlantic readers were sympathetic to Williams but there were a lot of former NPR listeners around here who were more than happy to see him go.  Fallows needs to get out and mingle more with people with higher standards.

In medicine, those of you parents out there who have decided not to vaccinate your children against measles, mumps and rubella can stop worrying unnecessarily. The whole scare was an elaborate fraud perpetrated by an unethical doctor in England who was being paid by a lawfirm to drum up business.

A 1998 study, that linked the MMR vaccine to autism, has been found to be false.

The investigation published in the British Medical Journal by Brian Deer lays out in detail, how the paper published in 1998 by British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism was a deliberate fraud.

According to the investigation, a law firm that hoped to sue the vaccine manufacturers hired Wakefield. The law firm wanted Wakefield to provide scientific evidence that vaccines caused autism. Wakefield received roughly $750,000 for his efforts.

[…]

The analysis found that despite the claim in Wakefield’s paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, that in fact, the children’s medical records show that some clearly had symptoms of developmental problems long before getting their shots, BMJ says. Several had no autism diagnosis at all.

I read the BMJ articles (you may need a subscription) and the whole scam is a doozy.  Nothing but lies and falsified documents from the very beginning.  Some of the children profiled had development issues noticed months before the vaccination and at least one had a genetic defect that caused facial deformities that were recorded by pediatricians shortly after birth.

(For those of you who still cling to the notion that vaccinating your children is inherently dangerous, give it up already.  There’s not one single argument against innoculation that isn’t full of holes, from the autism link to the thimerosol thing to the “vaccine makers are trying to make money”.)

But, hey, where there’s money to be made, it’s OK to panic the developed world’s parents to stop innoculating their kids, put other kids at risk and break down herd immunity exposing adults to chicken pox, mumps and whooping cough.  It wasn’t personal.  It was only business. Way to go.

Do it yourself cremation-do not try this at home or buying a dilapidated chateau in France will make you crazy:

The village mayor, Pierre Sourdain, a farmer, says he liked Robert and Joanne Hall very much. All the villagers say the same: they were impressive, charming, self-possessed. (Saying that, the people in the village speak no English and Robert Hall – despite living here for 10 years – never learned French.) For years the Halls had been trying to get an ambitious golf project off the ground. They wanted to turn the chateau into an 18-hole golf resort with holiday cottages. That’s presumably what the file resting on the chair was all about, Mayor Sourdain says.

“It would have happened, too,” he says. “They would have made it happen. That’s the kind of man Robert Hall was.” He pauses and says, wistfully, “It would have been so good for the region.” There’s a short silence. Then he says, less confidently, “I’m sure it would have happened.”

On the evening of 4 September, Sourdain got a call from the gendarmes – something had happened at the château. It is a French custom for the gendarmes to call the mayor, as the representative of the people, to the scene of a crime or a terrible accident. He arrived to see the oldest son, Christopher, 22, with the gendarmes as they stood in protective suits breaking up a big block of concrete. Robert Hall was inside the house, crying.

[…]

Robert Hall had told the gendarmes that 24 hours earlier he’d had a drunken argument with Joanne during which she accidently fell, hit her head, and died. Then, during the hours that followed, he set her body on fire, put her remains into a builder’s bag, poured in concrete and hauled it on to the back of a lorry. All this happened behind the house, near the back gate, next to a row of half-built holiday cottages.

[…]

Catherine Denis, from the prosecutor’s office in Rennes, told a press conference later that week that when the gendarmes asked Robert why he burned Joanne’s body and encased her remains in concrete, he explained that she’d always said she wanted to be cremated and laid to rest in a mausoleum and he was simply respecting her wishes, albeit in a somewhat informal way.

The BFF is siding with the husband and says he was only carrying out his wife’s wishes, er, should she ever fall and die accidentally.  Something to think about when you write that prenup.

Just posted on Twitter, video of a girl arrested at a Metro station.  It’s hard to tell what it is that she did that provoked this kind of response.  It looks like she had an argument with a cop, he told her to leave, she said something rude as she turned around to go and he tackled her.  I gotta say that it looks very bad when a big strong guy is pinning a girl to the ground and her dress is hiked up above her pants and she’s struggling in vain to cover her butt and all the asshole dude can say is “Stop resisting”.  It is apparently now a crime to try to preserve your modesty.

And now for something completely different:

Bohemian Rhapsody for Four Violins.  (The global elite dudes would probably argue that the chinese can do this with half a violinist)

Advertisements

Wednesday: Life, the Universe and Change!

I was hanging around YouTube the other day, aimlessly clicking away, when I found what looks like the entire catalog of James Burke’s Connections and The Day the Universe Changed series in neat little 10 minute packets.  For those of you who were mere twinkles in your fathers’ eyes at the time, James Burke is a historian whose specialty is the history and philosophy of science.  His series traced the route of technological breakthroughs from their humble beginnings to the modern era.  He’s full of nifty facts and his presentation style is wry and witty.  Yesterday, I got to episode 8 of The Day the Universe Changed, Fit to Rule, where Burke lays out Darwin’s theory of natural selection and describes how three societies got it horribly wrong in three different ways.  Yes, America is in there as example number 2:

Now, why bring this up?  I think it’s because at the time this series was produced, back in the early eighties, we were right in the middle of a renaissance of the “rugged individualist” model.  Ronald Reagan had been elected and the movie Wall Street, with Michael Douglas in suspenders chanting “Greed is good!” was just around the corner.  Burke doesn’t pass judgment on our attitudes and misinterpretation of Darwin.  But let’s face it, the two other examples of the social Darwinism, the Third Reich and Soviet Communism, aren’t exactly great company.

What Burke discovers is a peculiar characteristic of the American culture.  Our mindset and philosophy is very much formed by our experience of leaving it all behind and facing new challenges on the wild frontier.  It was shaped by the need to survive a hostile environment and sometimes hostile native Americans.  But the interpretation of natural selection that the pioneers understood, violent struggle and take what you can before someone else takes it from you, has outlived its usefulness.  What Darwin really said was that organisms that had the ability to adapt to their environments would survive.  Right now, our country is failing to adapt.  In part this is due to the Randian business culture that sees globalization and the race to the bottom in wage compensation as an inevitable thing.  But the problem with that philosophy is that what allowed wealth and prosperity to flourish in the United States was the rule of law and democracy that gave average Americans the opportunity to succeed, protected from the most of the outrages of corruption that plague less prosperous countries.  That is not to say that the industrialists didn’t have their way before The Great Depression.  But the years following World War II saw one of the greatest expansions of wealth and equality that the world has ever known.  And part of that was due to the fact that Americans who had good ideas were not confined to the lower stratums of society where birth determined their futures.  If you’ve seen Slumbdog Millionaire recently, you know what I’m talking about.  The idea that a mere chai walla would know the answers to some pretty sophisticated questions in India still seems to be improbable in that country. However, those of us who are losing our jobs to globalization know that even in India, there are hundreds of thousands of well trained people who will do the job cheaply.  What they *aren’t* allowed to do is create.  The PhDs in India are merely a pair of hands to their corporate masters in the United States.  They’re overqualified.

What would happen if individuals had the power to create again?  That is the part of Darwin’s theory that I think our MBA culture ignores in its pursuit of the bottom line and one of the reasons I think America is going to go the way of the do-do if it doesn’t change its ways.  Back when Pell grants were not impossible to get, before Reagan came into office, it was possible for a person of humble origin, yours truly, to become the first in her family to go to college.  Back in those days, people still had health insurance and pensions.  Social security meant that if you decided to strike out on your own and create a business, you had something to fall back on if you failed.  Yes, crime was a problem, but corruption was dealt with more seriously.  What made this country successful as an organism were the institutions that allowed creativity to thrive.  What happens to a country that rips all of that away in its pursuit of draining the public of its wealth just because it can?

Let’s not get too depressed.  There is still plenty of opportunity in this country to turn this around.  For example, we *could* make sure that students get the financial aid they need to go to college without it becoming a lifelong crushing debt and indentured servitude.  We could invest in alternative energy and become world leaders in the field.  We could get it into our heads that teleconferences in the middle of the night with programmers in India are not the best use of either country’s personnel.  We could recognize that if we don’t shore up the middle class and improve their compensation packages and safety net, there will be significantly fewer consumers of new products in the future.

The question is, how do we neutralize the Randian MBA culture that brought us to this point?  Maybe that is the Change! we all need.