Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Bargaining Chips

Most Americans are horrified by the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at our southern border, and plenty of politicians, whatever their real feelings, have concluded it is in their best interest to say they are as well.  Even our Psychopath-in-Chief has mouthed concern, while blaming Democrats for the damage he has done.

The "deterrent effect" claimed by Jeff Sessions is a ruse: desperate families are unlikely to believe that emigration to the US presents a greater threat than the gang violence and poverty that drives them from their homes.  Immigrant children are just the latest bargaining chips in the Republican effort to remake American immigration policy: holding DACA recipients hostage was not enough to sway Democratic votes in Congress, so Republicans have upped the ante.  "If we kidnap the babies," one imagines Stephen Miller whispering in Tr*mp's ear, "you'll get your Wall."

 One only can hope this latest "negotiating tactic" is ineffective: that Democrats will hang tough, and that enough Republicans will find (or feign) the decency required to reject the radical and racist Ryan "compromise" bill, forcing a humane, immediate resolution of the current showdown.  Too much damage already has been done.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

More "Diplomacy"

Our President has advised us that we can "sleep well tonight" because "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."  Presumably, that means he will ignore entreaties from John Bolton and refrain from a first strike: there never was any threat that North Korea would begin a war with the US.

While Tr*mp is deciding where to display his Nobel Peace Prize, most of the world is trying to figure out just what the US may have gained from the strikingly nebulous Singapore agreement.  Kim achieved his primary objective: China and Russia now can gracefully back out of the US imposed sanctions regime.  As a surprise added bonus, he got an end to the annual joint military exercises the US has conducted with the South.  (Tr*mp accurately described those as "war games.")

As for the "Great Negotiator," one more opportunity to strut across the screens of Fox News viewers seems hardly worth the trip.  One wonders whether North Korea's famously skilled hackers may have penetrated Russian computers and secured a copy of the Piss Tape.  And wouldn't it be wonderful if Canadian, French, or German hackers could do the same?

Monday, June 11, 2018


Reflection on the G7 meeting leads to two inevitable conclusions:
  • The "American Century" has ended a bit early.
  • That piss tape must be truly extraordinary.

It is hard to imagine anything more Our President could have done to antagonize our closest allies and advance Russia's diplomatic agenda; and his ad hominem attacks on Justin Trudeau were the icing on the cake.  While ignorance, hubris, and a perishingly fragile ego may go a long way towards explaining the latest presidential tantrum, it is hard to ignore the fact that so much of the Tr*mp "agenda" accrues to the benefit of Vladimir Putin.

I will not venture to guess what new mayhem may be unleashed tomorrow in Singapore, but I have a strong suspicion that Kim Jong-un is the better prepared and better advised partner to the negotiations — and that, somehow, Russia will come out ahead.  In the meanwhile, here's my nominee for tweet of the week:

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Media Muck

We all know "The N-Word Rule," delineating who is "allowed" to use that powerful term.  Is there a "C-Word Rule" that follows the same logic?  Far be it from me to mansplain such matters.  Still, I do see a correspondence between Samantha Bee's vulgar reference to Ivanka and Roseanne Barr's racist tweet: both women put their employers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide what to do about them.

Roseanne appeared on ABC, which is a subsidiary of Disney: a company that has been polishing its family-friendly reputation for as long as anybody can remember.  Disney gambled on the self-control of an unstable racist, and it lost.  Full Frontal with Samantha Bee appears on TBS, which is owned by Time-Warner; and Time-Warner soon may become part of AT&T,  a company nobody likes anyway.  Marketed as a foul-mouthed assault on Tr*mp and company, the show won't lose any viewers; queasy sponsors will be replaced as soon as public attention is diverted by the next outrage.  The show stays on the air in an instructive illustration of "corporate ethics."

There are a great many late night shows that can be mistaken for MSNBC with a laugh track — possibly too many.  Watching TV, of course, is not a form of activism — but it can feel like it is.  Do the comedy shows ever inspire any action, or are they just profit-making wall decorations inside the liberal information silo?  When did comedy get so depressing?  And, tell me, are you bored yet?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Church and State

Franklin Graham, son and heir to evangelist Billy Graham, says that "progressive" is just another word for "godless;" and that what godless progressives want most is to take away the tax-exempt status of religious organizations.  In the real world, of course, you're unlikely to find any politician willing to endorse ending religious tax breaks; but that doesn't make it a bad idea.

Religion and politics are inseparable.  Both are systems of social control, evolved to limit certain individualistic behaviors by defining them as deviance: the immoral and the illegal largely overlap.  It follows that every sermon is political speech: no clear line ever has separated Church and State.  Religion has been integral to American politics since the arrival of the Puritans, entangled in every major political debate.  Inevitably, a contribution to a church is a political contribution.

Property tax exemptions for religious organizations deprive local governments of revenue, subsidizing church members at the expense of everybody else, irrespective of need; and the deductibility of donations lets individuals use government funds to advance sectarian ideologies.  Granted, the only feasible path to reform is to make all charitable contributions non-deductible, but given the political abuse of 503(c) corporations and similar manipulations, the time for genuine "tax simplification" has arrived.  Donors will have to give out of genuine altruism; religious donors, perhaps, to avoid joining godless progressives, and anybody else who doubts their "truth," in Hell.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wage Growth

Some economists are pretending to be amazed by the extent to which wage growth is lagging behind economic growth.  With the unemployment rate under 4% —full employment, by all historical standards — employers are supposed to be competing for workers by offering higher wages. They're not doing that, for two main reasons: they don't want to, and they don't have to.

The "free market" model never had much relevance to the real world, and today it is less predictive than ever.  This is especially true of labor markets, distorted by decades of neoliberal policy under Republicans and Democrats alike.  Corporate combination goes virtually unchecked, and when a few major players dominate an industry, they don't have to compete, even with no active collusion.  If any single company offers higher wages, the others have to follow; so nobody begins a process that would result in higher labor costs for all.  They may compete for a small number of high-value, highly specialized employees, but the bulk of their labor force is completely fungible.

Even outside the oligopolies, though, workers have become largely interchangeable in most job areas, especially in lower-wage occupations.  Much is made of technology's potential to replace jobs, but its greater impact may be in how it makes jobs easier, reducing the skills needed to do them.  At the same time, higher educational attainment is expected of today's workers, so jobs once done perfectly well by high school graduates now employ people with bachelor's degrees.  A tight labor market is not really a problem when almost anybody can do the job and somebody is willing to take it.

A substantial slice of corporate profits in recent decades came from suppressing labor costs: part-time jobs with "flexible" hours, "gig economy" contract workers, and legal restrictions on labor unions all facilitate the ongoing transfer of wealth from the many to the few.  Any economist claiming wages soon will "catch up" with corporate profits is either a liar or a fool.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bully Diplomacy

I hate bullies; but even more, I despise those who succumb to bullying.  Now that bullying is America's official, default foreign policy, I only can hope that its intended victims have the courage to resist.

Iran, of course, has no choice but to resist: it is not about to "negotiate" regime change, and nothing less than that will satisfy the Tr*mp gang (which includes Bibi and MbS.)  The courage will have to come from Europe, and how much courage European leaders can muster remains to be seen.

Despite the easing of sanctions under Obama, US investment in Iran was minimal following the nuclear agreement: US companies continued to be limited by other sanctions protocols, and benefits to the Iranian economy fell far short of what Rouhani and his moderates hoped to see.  Europeans were less restrained, so the impact of US withdrawal from the deal depends on European willingness to go along.  It still remains to be seen what secondary sanctions the Tr*mpistas decide to impost on European companies that remain in Iran.

While secondary sanctions against US "allies" would be economically damaging, Macron and Merkel might be willing to endure them for the political advantage that might entail.  Anti-Americanism is a tried and true means of garnering nationalist support, so a "principled" stand against the Tr*mpians well might draw away supporters of the National Front in France and the AfD in Germany.  Suing the US at the WTO would be a good start, but withdrawing their ambassadors to the US in protest would be a sure bet for solidifying voters behind them.

If any diplomatic intelligence remains in the Tr*mp administration, secondary sanctions against the Europeans will be minimal, and the denuclearization of Iran can continue.  If the yahoos prevail, though, we only can hope Europe finds the courage to resist.