Dying Parents

Samuel Richards Evangeline detailIf you really want to understand me (And why would you?) you would first need to understand that I have no idea who Christina Aguilera is. Well, that’s not exactly true. Based upon my research for this article, I have come to think that she is a singer. But I don’t care. I’m sure she’s either some American Idol screamer or Justin Bieber technological phenomenon. That is to say that I’m sure she is just another example of everything that is wrong with our culture. I’d be pleased if I were wrong and if I am, I’m sure I’ll get mail telling me that, “No! She’s great. She’s a modern fucking Janis Joplin.” But I doubt it.

Anyway, this morning I got this tweet:

So I clicked. The alpha and omega of Google searches? I’m a sucker for a good techno come on. And what I got was this:

Google image search: dying grandparents

If you can’t make it out, click on the image to see it in all its glory. But you don’t really have to. It is a Google image search of “dying grandparents” and pretty much all the results are pictures of a blond woman I have since learned in Christina Aguilera.

This all goes back to June when the Huffington Post reported, Christina Aguilera Snubs Dying Grandparents, Says Estranged Uncle. Apparently, she hates all of her family. I don’t know. I don’t care. But it does kind of sum up even the best search engines. A search for “dying parents” really shouldn’t bring up a bunch of pictures of a young singer. Oh well.

At least you got to see a detail of Samuel Richards’ Evangeline Discovering Her Affianced in the Hospital. See the whole thing on Wikipedia!

Corporations Game Obamacare

Red LobsterHere’s a question for you: am I wrong to say that companies that care only about profits, and not about employees, are assholes? Before you answer: no I am not. Companies that care only about profits, and not about employees, are assholes. This is at the core of my hatred of the existence of corporations. I think we should make them illegal. I realize this would be hugely disruptive, but unlike free trade agreements, getting rid of the corporation would have great long-term benefits.

Thus it is with Darden Restaurants. It is the corporation that owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Typical of the anti-human thinking of a corporation, it decided to look into the possibility of making all their employees full time so that they wouldn’t have to provide them with healthcare. All they would have had to do was contact the “people” at Walmart who are experts at keeping employees just below the number of hours they need to get healthcare.

This is typical of how corporations not only screw their employees, but also the government. Under Obamacare, those part-time Darden employees will still have to get insurance. And almost certainly they will not make enough to buy it themselves. Thus the government will pay for what (in our fucked up society) is an employer’s responsibility. So we all pay higher taxes, the people eating at Red Lobster get slightly lower prices, and the Darden owners make more money.

This is not free market capitalism!

There is good news, however. The word got out about Darden’s evil plan and there was a backlash against it. Sarah Kliff reported earlier this week, “Darden Restaurants, the company that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, revised earning projection downwards today.”

Yesterday, she reported on how it is hard for companies to do this kind of thing. If hundreds of chains did it, where would people go for their disappointing dining experiences? But I think there is something important here that she doesn’t acknowledge: companies will continue to work to get around the law, just not in a wholesale way.

And this is another problem with the twisted compromise that is Obamacare. By withholding one extra hour of work from an employee, a manager will be able to save a thousand bucks. And so managers everywhere will do it. It would have been best for employees and the businesses they work for to have had a single payer system. But of course, we couldn’t have that because there was one industry that would have been harmed. It is like reverse Christianity: we all suffer for the sins of the insurance industry.

Trade Agreements Not So Effective

Paul KrugmanThis morning, Paul Krugman maked a general argument following from what was, frankly, a rather technical article that Dean Baker posted yesterday. It has to do with the widely held belief that free market treaties are just great for the economy. For the record, my belief has always been that these treaties are great for business owners, but when it gets down to actual workers, it is not good.

Let’s look at it this way: inputs and outputs. A free trade agreements does indeed increase exports. But it also increases imports. The only way that such agreements can help workers in general, is if unused worker resources are used. Thus, the perhaps 6% of the labor force in the United States that wants to work but can’t find a job could be put to work. But a free trade agreement is only going to take advantage of a small part of that potential. In Baker’s article, he showed that a free trade treaty with the European Union would increase GDP by less than 0.1%. Note that history shows that this increase in GDP would probably not go to workers.

To me, this is easy. The best way to fill that 6 percentage point hole (or 2.5 or 3.5) is through government stimulus. Not only would this put people to work directly, it would be a direct stimulus to the economy. The only reason to be against it is for ideological reasons, like (to take a totally not random example) you want to destroy the government.

Krugman says that free markets don’t do much one way or another:

There’s an especially strong tendency to mythologize the power of free trade. Not that open world markets are a bad thing; they’re definitely a force for good, especially for small, poor countries. But my experience is that the less somebody knows about international trade, the more likely he or she is to imagine that modest moves toward or away from protectionism will have huge effects.

But one thing is clear: these treaties can be very disruptive to the economy and thus to workers. The question is naturally raised: what are we making worker jobs more insecure for? We know that it isn’t because it will have a great effect on the economy. I’d say it is because it would have a great effect on the bank balances of the super rich.

Pun Virus Spreading at Young Turks

The Young TurksThe Young Turks is a hugely popular internet based news show. It is very good and I like to stay up on what they are talking about. In general, I find them very well informed on issues and their positions are fairly compatible with my own, even if they tend to be a tad more conservative. There are two people on the show who can rightly be called stars Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian.

Uygur is a barrel chested Turk who immigrated to the United States as a kid. He is the kind of guy who, if he were conservative, I would hate. He’s loud mouthed and angry and very, very male. And as it turns out, when he was in college, he was conservative. Somewhere along the line, he grew a brain. But let’s be clear: Uygur would be perfectly at home in the Republican Party of 1970. He is what I call an old Republican: a New Democrat.

He gets a lot of claims to the effect that he is a liberal extremist. This is due to two things. First, the radical departure of the Republican Party for la-la-land over the last 30 years. Second, he states his fairly liberal views loudly and with passion. For a conservative, this is SOP. When a liberal does it, he must be an extremist. Cenk Uygur is not an extremist.

Except in one way: his humor. Uygur has an extreme case of Unfunny Guy Likes to Make Up Groaners syndrome. You don’t have to watch much of The Young Turks to find him making a clearly planned pun at the end of a story. His colleagues duly groan and even tease him for this. And that, of course, is the humor of such puns: “guy makes bad joke” is a classic genre. No one gives him more grief than Ana Kasparian.

Whereas Uygur hosts the political part of the show, Kasparian is the host of the social part of the show—still with a political slant. For example, Uygur did a piece on Israel withholding tax revenue from the Palestinians over the UN statehood issue. Kasparian did a piece on the cop who gave the shoes to a homeless man and all the follow ups. Most of all, however, she complains about Uygur’s terrible puns.

Then yesterday, Ana Kasparian was presenting a story about John McAfee, the founder of the anti-virus company. He’s been avoiding the police since they’ve wanted to talk to him about the murder of his neighbor. (For the record, I doubt he did it; is it surprising that an anti-virus guy would be paranoid?) She covered the whole thing and then added, “I’m also happy that he didn’t have a heart attack or some kind of virus.” And she was every bit as pleased with herself as Cenk generally is.

It’s sad, really. But I recommend watching at least their YouTube Channel.

Good Jobs Report Because Obama Was Re-Elected

BLSThe jobs report was released this morning. The headline is good: 146,000 jobs were created and unemployment dropped to 7.7%. But you really can’t trust the headline. I start most mornings by reading Paul Krugman, but this morning, I went directly to Dean Baker. In a sense, Baker is the most important economic writer we have. He is a total buzz kill. So on the one hand, if there’s bad news hidden in the jobs report, he will know it. On the other hand, if he’s optimistic, it’s time to sell those government bonds and buy some real estate! (Or something. Don’t take investment advice from me or you’ll end with my portfolio: .)

Unfortunately, there is no word yet from Baker. So I went elsewhere. I knew WonkBlog would not let me down, and indeed, Dylan Matthews provides the usual competent overview of the numbers (Brad Plumer also has a good overview):

  • 146,000 jobs created in November;
  • Unemployment dropped to 7.7%;
  • September-October jobs created revised down by 49,000 total;
  • Labor force participation is generally stable at 63.6%;
  • Job creation is all in the private sector, public sector losses.

This last bit of data is important. Check out this graph below from the BLS report. The red bars show net private sector jobs added or lost during a month. The blue bars show the same thing for public sector (i.e. government) jobs.

Public and Private Jobs Added and Lost

Notice that other than during the census in 2010, the government has been shedding jobs. And yet, to listen to Republican politicians or Fox News reporters, you would get the impression that the government has been on a hiring spree. This is why it is important to look at the data. But it raises an important question: how can the country have an honest debate about policy if one of the major parties is consistently dishonest?

To this data, Brad DeLong provides more details from the report. He notes that there are three ways to look at full employment. Compared to the employment peak of 1999, we are 6 percentage points below full employment. (Those were great days!) Compared to the computed economic potential in the mid-2000, we are 3.5 percentage points below full employment. Or now, due to the movement of the Beveridge curve[1], we are 2.5 percentage points below full employment. As DeLong notes, it doesn’t matter how you look at, we are well below where we should be.

But let us not be too gloomy. At least Obama was re-elected. With the unemployment rate improvement and the previous job numbers revised down, you can imagine what Republicans would be saying now if Romney had won, “Employers are feeling more comfortable about the future now that they know Romney will be president; that’s why they’re hiring!” This may seem like a silly thing to suggest, but in Romney’s 47% talk, he said exactly this. He claimed that the markets would rally based on nothing but the idea of his awesomeness:

If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the president’s going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy. It depends of course which markets you’re talking about, which types of commodities and so forth, but my own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back and we’ll see—without actually doing anything—we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.

So let’s be grateful that at least we won’t have to hear this kind of rubbish for the next 4 years.

[1] Leave it to Brad DeLong to offer up a concept like the Beveridge curve without providing even the smallest amount of condescension for the non-economists who read him. (This is a big part of why I no longer read him every day.) The Beveridge curve is a graph that plots unemployment versus the job vacancy rate. For example, right now there is high unemployment and a small vacancy rate. What is important is that the unemployment predicted by a given vacancy rate can be changed by a number of factors: long-term unemployment, labor force participation, skills mismatch (generally a conservative canard, but not always).