Mark Cuban’s Pathetic AT&T Commercial

Mark Cuban“You should negotiate more stuff; you’re pretty good at it.” It’s supposed to be funny. You see, he’s Mark Cuban. He must be a great negotiator: he’s a billionaire! And he’s on television! I don’t especially know what to think of the guy. Pretty much all of his money comes from Broadcast.com — a company that he and Todd Wagner are generally given credit for starting, even though they were just the money guys and it was really all Chris Jaeb’s concept and implementation. But that’s pretty typical of the business world. I think it is actually because the business types know that what’s really hard is coming up with a new idea, they tend to push it aside.

Regardless, Cuban got all his money by selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo! at the height of the dot-com bubble when it was certainly way overpriced. But this isn’t an indication that Cuban is a good businessman or negotiator; it just shows that he was in the right place at the right time. This was, after all, the time of Pets.com. One thing we know about Cuban is that he is ethically challenged, and this has doubtless served him extremely well in business.

Normally, I wouldn’t have anything to say about Cuban — he’s just another example of how capitalism doesn’t work as it has been sold to Americans for the last two centuries. But I’ve been forced to watch these terrible AT&T commercials that feature him. Here is the shortest edit that I’ve been able to find:

I suspect that people are supposed to know him from that great pox on American television, Shark Tank. And so based upon the highly asymmetric “negotiations” on that show, it’s supposed to be a real thigh slapper. But what most comes across to me is just how self-impressed Mark Cuban is. And that’s always what comes across from Mark Cuban. That (and no sense of honor) seems to be all that he brings to the world — and sadly, this is more than enough. As Dean Baker and Karl Bode have recently noted, he’s not the sharpest of thinkers. But that’s why he writes for The Huffington Post — they love rich know-nothings.

But I find the commercial fascinating in that it seems to show that Cuban might be just self-aware enough to feel the need to star in a commercial that flatters him. Somewhere inside he must think that he’s a fraud. But it could be simpler than this. One thing that has been especially clear over the last several decades is that being rich is not enough for these people. They also must be loved. They must constantly be told that their wealth is a sign of their greatness. What is the point of having the economic power of a god if people don’t also treat you as a god? This is one reason that I believe in confiscatory taxes: no one should be allowed to be this rich because it makes them nutty. If Mark Cuban needs his boots licked, he can hire a boot licker, we don’t need our politicians and journalists doing it for free.

You have to wonder why is he doing this AT&T commercial. And the only reason I can think of is that he’s doing it because it flatters him. And he needs to be flattered: all the time and on a very big stage. And that is so pathetic that it actually makes me feel sorry for him.

Away From Racism Toward the New Classism

Our Kids - Robert PutnamIn the 1970s, the two-tiered family structure was closely correlated with race, but since that time it has become increasingly associated with parents’ social class more than race… College-educated blacks are looking more like college-educated whites, and less-educated whites are looking more like less-educated blacks…

In the 1970s, there were virtually no class differences in how much time a child got with mom or dad. By 2013, however, the average infant or toddler of college-educated parents was getting half again as much Goodnight Moon time every day as the average infant or toddler of high-school educated parents… Rich kids get more face time, while poor kids get more screen time.

—Robert Putnam, Our Kids
Quoted in Immobile in America

Now You’ve Done It: Dean Baker Is Angry

Dean BakerDean Baker is not the kind of guy to use expletives. Tuesday morning he posted, The Problem Is Not the Specter of Deflation, the Problem Is the Inflation Rate Is Too Low. And right out of gate, he wrote, “Okay, this is no longer amusing. Can we stop the nonsense about deflation? It doesn’t make a f***ing bit of difference whether prices are rising at a small positive rate or whether they are falling at a slow rate, except for the fact that the inflation rate is lower.”

I have to admit that this one took me a little while to get my head around. And it was almost certainly Dean Baker who straightened me out about it. The problem seems to be that people think of the inflation rate as some number at which prices are going up. But that’s only true in a statistical sense. Imagine if the economy had only ten products in it — all costing the same amount and representing the same amount of purchases. If six of them went up 10% in price and four of them went down 10% in price, there would be a modest positive inflation. (If my figures are right: 2% inflation.) Now suppose that it was the opposite: six of the items went down in price and four went up. In that case, there would be a modest negative inflation — or deflation. (If my figures are right: -2% inflation.)

Baker’s point is that crossing over the zero doesn’t matter. Having a -0.01% inflation rate is not especially worse than a +0.01% rate — or at least it isn’t any worse than a +0.01% rate is compared to a +0.03% rate. This is actually really important. The reason is that people have this tendency to think that everything is just fine as long as we don’t cross over into negative territory. But the truth is that very low inflation tends to cause economic stagnation just like negative inflation.

Dean Baker HulkI remember many years ago, when I was a libertarian, reading people arguing for the gold standard. (In my defense, I was never keen on the gold standard.) But there was this reasonable sounding argument for why the money supply didn’t need to increase: if the economy grew, the existing money would just grow in value. Wouldn’t you like it if the money in your wallet got more valuable over time?! Well sure. But it would be terrible for the economy as a whole and it would mean a lot of people would be unnecessarily unemployed. If people know that their money is going to be worth more in a year, they have an incentive to put off even necessary purchases.

The same is true if they know their money is going to be worth the same amount. Except, as Dean Baker pointed out, “for the fact that the inflation rate is lower.” And this is the reason that I think the Federal Reserve’s 2% inflation target is too low. I think it should be 3% or even 4%. I don’t have any data to back that up. But neither does the Fed’s 2% target; it is just something that Alan Greenspan pulled out of the air, as far as I can tell. I just think the 3-4% range is low enough that it wouldn’t get out of control, but high enough to keep the economy pumping so that people had jobs.

Regardless, just remember: -1% inflation is worse than +1% inflation — but only in the same way that +1% inflation is worse than +3% inflation. Crossing the zero doesn’t mean anything special. So don’t make this mistake. You’ll make Dean Baker angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Republicans Weren’t Always Bad; Your Point?

Voting Rights Act - The Nightly Show

Although I think that The Nightly Show is good and getting better, Larry Wilmore still annoys me a lot. I’m not sure if he and his staff are ignorant about certain things or if they are just pandering. I think it is the latter. Regardless, I don’t like it. On Monday night’s show, he briefly discussed the fact that by and large, the Republicans were a no-show at the Selma 50th anniversary celebration last weekend. And he got around to presenting the statistic above: the Republicans were more supportive of the Civil Rights Act than Democrats were. Wilmore was making the point that since the Republicans were a major part of the constituency that pushed for civil rights, they ought to be part of the celebrations.

The statistic he picked was a bit of a deceptive choice, given that he was talking about the Voting Rights Act, not the Civil Right Act. And I know the reason why: Democrats voted for the Voting Rights Act at roughly the same rate as the Republicans: 78% to 85%. And it was only that far apart because of the Senate; in the House it was even closer. But I take the point: in the early and middle 60s the Republicans were the party of civil rights. As I’ve discussed before, Martin Luther King Sr was a Republican at that time. So okay, the Republicans were better at that time.

But that’s not true anymore. Those 40% of Congressional Democrats who voted against the Civil Rights Act? They are now in the Republican Party. In 1960, 32% of African Americans voted for Richard Nixon. But just four years later, only 6% voted for Goldwater. The arc of history may be long, but Republicans were bending toward white identify politics really fast. And modern Republicans like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner know this. They know that African Americans are not going to vote for them in sizable numbers and they don’t care about it.

I always find it amusing that Republicans hearken back to the days when they stood for things that they most clearly don’t stand for now. Political Parties change. The Democrats used to be a terrible, racist party. Even after the Democrats stopped being a terrible party, they remained a racist party for a long time. But that doesn’t mean that modern day Democrats are racist. And it doesn’t mean that modern day Republicans support civil rights just because historically they did.

And what is especially bad is that the Republican Party has become so dependent upon their bigot base that now they can’t even risk being hypocritical. Just 24 Congressional Republicans went to Selma this weekend. As I discussed that day, that represented just 8% of the Republican caucus. That is in comparison to at least 32% of the Democratic caucus going. I don’t especially like the question, “What have you done for me lately?” But in this case, it is fair to ask, “What have the Republicans done for civil rights over the last fifty years?” And the answer is that the Republican Party has done everything it can to make things worse. And now they aren’t willing to even fix the Voting Rights Act, which ought to tell you all you need to know about how today’s Republicans would have voted on the law if they had been around fifty years ago.

Larry Wilmore seems intent on not pushing these issues very far. And interestingly, most of that show was about the Apple Watch and not Selma. It allowed Daymond John to come on and provide some apologetics about his support for sweatshop labor. Racism in America was originally and explicitly about economics. So it all tied together — not that The Nightly Show even tried to do that. But the power elite and the Republican Party can’t be too upset with what the show is doing.

Morning Music: Liza Minnelli

New York, New YorkThere is a joke (maybe a running joke, I can’t remember) in Arrested Development where Liza Minnelli makes a bitter remark about the song, “New York, New York.” You see, everyone thinks that it is a Frank Sinatra tune. But of course, it isn’t. It was written for New York, New York, the film Martin Scorsese made after Taxi Driver. It tells the story of a violent jerk who is not Travis Bickle.

I saw the film in 1978, and the only thing I remembered about it was the song. I had to look up the plot of it on Wikipedia. Now, I could provide you with the song from the film — it’s on YouTube. But really, I don’t think it is very well directed — or at least, I don’t think it has aged well. Anyway, I think it is better to see an actual live performance of it. And the title of this one is appropriate: it is the best that I’ve heard:

Birthday Post: Billie Thomas

Billie ThomasOn this day in 1931, Billie Thomas was born. Who?! One word: Buckwheat. He was the best known of the black Our Gang kids — and one of only a handful who anyone could name. He started in the role at the age of three. And he continued in the role to the end of the series in 1944. At this point, the character of Buckwheat has kind of a bad reputation because of its being a racial stereotype. That may well be, but at a time when America and its military were segregated, I think Buckwheat was an overall positive character in the series. And it was a hell of a part, and Thomas was great in it.

After Our Gang, Thomas had a reasonably good life by the standards of the people who had been in the series. If you’ve ever researched it, you know that by and large, they had fairly terrible lives. But Thomas went on to become a film tech for Technicolor. But he did share one thing with his colleagues: he died young. In 1980, he died of a heart attack. He was just 49 years old.

Here is a little bit of Buckwheat in the early years when the character was still a girl:

Happy birthday Billie Thomas!