Let’s Not Slice and Dice the Minimum Wage

New York Minimum WageNew York state has decided to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021. But only for fast food workers. I don’t begrudge these workers this proposed much deserved raise. But this is not the right way to do this. It is further limited to fast food chains that have at least 30 restaurants in the state. But that too misses the point. This isn’t about soaking the rich. This is about making the economy slightly more fair. People can’t live on the minimum wage. And that means that businesses that are dependent upon the minimum wage are free riders; they aren’t efficient and should either become so or get out of the economy.

But more than this, what’s so special about fast food workers? Are the workers at Walmart any less oppressed? I suspect that the real reason is that the fast food industry doesn’t lobby as well. Given that it is mostly based on franchising, it is easier to push around. But raising the minimum wage throughout the state would likely upset Andrew Cuomo’s core constituency: Wall Street. And we can’t have that. Or at least Cuomo wouldn’t let us have that.

Now we hear lots of happy talk about raising the fast food worker minimum wage putting upward pressure on other wages. That’s no doubt true. But it doesn’t put that much pressure on them. And you know what would be a whole lot of upward pressure on them: raising the minimum wage across the board. This strikes me as the same old thing of the government doing as little as it can to get one particular constituency off its back. But there really is no justification for limiting this move to a particular industry.

Of course, it is hardly certain that this will become law. This may be just another case where Cuomo does something publicly to look good to Democrats, and works behind the scenes to kill it. It is sure to be challenged in court, and the courts have a long history of siding with business — finding all kinds of rights for them, even while workers seem to lack even the most basic rights. We will see. This seems to be a pretty strange policy, and one that can easily be argued is unfairly targeting a particular industry.

But I’m most concerned about what will happen to labor law more generally. Having an endless variety of minimum wages — based upon the industry and the job — will be the same as having no minimum wage at all. Clearly, this is more an indication of our totally screwed up economy. The minimum wage is supposed to be about, well, the minimum: the absolute lowest that anyone should be allowed to work. And I do think that this level should be $15 per hour. But all this is going to do is bring up the wages of some workers. And this will definitely happen: fast food workers will start to be more white and male.

Don’t get me wrong. On balance, this is a good thing. Hopefully, it will make everyone see that we can live with a $15 minimum wage and it will be extended everywhere. But this is a cowardly way to go. And one that may not work out that well.

Country Music and the Politics of Resentment

Erik LoomisMost on the left usually ignores country music, seeing it as a mire of right-wing resentment best avoided, shunned, and ridiculed. This attitude betrays snobbishness toward working class people to the sound of the banjos in Deliverance. There’s no question that country music, like the southern white working class where it originated, has a deep conservatism. The banjo player Earl Scruggs was called the only man in country music who voted for George McGovern in 1972; his old partner Lester Flatt was more typically writing songs about hippies with lines such as “I can’t tell the boys from the girls.” From the string band pioneer Fiddlin’ John Carson playing a role in the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank to the cheap jingoism of Toby Keith and his bro knockoffs, the left has rarely had reason to take country music seriously as an art form that expressed the potential for solidarity.

That doesn’t mean country music hasn’t had its left-populist streaks. Going back at least to Roy Acuff’s “Old Age Pension Check,” a celebration of Social Security that venerates Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the music has occasionally reflected a politics of universal improvement that suggests a bit of class-consciousness. But more often, the politics of resentment has taken over. For all that people have attempted to explain away Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” by saying it tells his father’s side of the hippie story (especially since Haggard was definitely smoking marijuana in Muskogee), “Fighting Side of Me,” his follow-up hit that attacked Vietnam protestors, is just ugly and awful. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the nastiness of the country music response to the protests of the 1960s, which created a whole subgenre of songs dedicated to hating hippies, perhaps personified in Autry Inman’s “The Ballad of Two Brothers,” contrasting an older brother fighting in Vietnam to his worthless hippie brother protesting in the streets, who only learns how he has betrayed American values after the brother dies in Vietnam. During these years, popular country music became a vehicle for expressing white working class contempt for anti-war protestors and hippies, even as hippies such as Gram Parsons broadened its horizons and sympathetic figures such as Johnny Cash complicated its mainstream message.

—Erik Loomis
The Politics of Angaleena Presley’s American Middle Class

Childish Games of the Conservative “Thinker”

Kevin D WilliamsonI remember back when Glenn Beck was a big star with his hugely successful Fox News show. At the time, my father’s girlfriend was dying, and she was addicted to the show. It was obvious that there was a religious aspect to it. She tuned in each day and it was like a gnostic experience to her. She turned on the television, and Glenn Beck revealed secret knowledge to her. He put her entire life’s experiences into a narrative that explained everything. It was a sad end to what had been a fairly interesting life, which included many years going all over the world in a little sail boat.

What makes it most pathetic is that while Beck was a great showman, he had almost nothing with regard to content. He made a great deal out of insights that were not only obvious but meaningless. It was much like watching a child who realizes that “history” has the word “story” in it. While it is true, it also doesn’t tell us much about the word or the world. But Beck was so good at saying it like it meant something, it isn’t surprising that people were fooled. His whole shtick is that any bit of information is just the visible part of the iceberg.

The best example of this was what appeared to be news to him: that Nazism was actually “National Socialism.” This was usually presented very much as Jon Stewart presented him — with intense emotion to the point of stammering. This meant that the actual thing that was terrible about Nazism was that it was a socialist form of government. That wasn’t even true once the Nazis were in power. And this was a major conflict that Joseph Goebbels had — that he felt that Hitler and the Nazi leadership had abandoned that aspect of their movement. Goebbels was a true believer who didn’t understand that it was always and forever about power and only power. (Not that Goebbels wasn’t a truly vile person.)

But it is a curious aspect of conservatives to be so hung up on trivialities. I can call myself George Clooney, but that doesn’t make me attractive. Ideas don’t seem to matter. If my father’s girlfriend appreciated Beck as a gnostic, it is just as true that Beck himself is a gnostic. He has certain set ideas about the world, and by God he is going to find that secret knowledge to prove it. But what’s remarkable is that Beck is hardly alone. There as so many conservatives who seem to be smarter who don’t look any deeper.

A great example of this came out on Monday at National Review — William F Buckley must be fidgety in his grave. Kevin D Williamson wrote, Bernie’s Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism. He noted, “In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust.”

Forget that it is normally the left in other countries, and not the right, that most drapes itself in the flag. Because, you know: Nazism was National Socialism. That’s all that matters. Therefore, if you can call someone a nationalist and a socialist, then you must be calling them a Nazi. In other words: the extent of Williamson’s understand of Nazism is found in the term “National Socialism.” It’s shocking.

But of course, as usual for a conservative, Williamson isn’t interested in making any kind of point. He’s acting like a naughty boy at the back of the class who’s laughing about the spitballs he is launching at the teacher. Or perhaps better would be Beavis and Butt-head, “Ha ha! I called the liberal Jew a Nazi! Ha ha!” Pretty pathetic from a publication formed for the express purpose of giving the conservative movement a little intellectual heft.

But this is what conservatism is in modern America. It isn’t serious. It isn’t smart. It is, more than anything, a kind of identity politics where we are good and they are bad — by definition. Nothing else needs to be discussed. There are serious conservatives out there who do balk at this nonsense. But it is a vanishingly small part of the movement. And I can’t help but think that they only continue to call themselves conservative out of habit.

Newspaper Policies and Newspaper Reporting

Glenn GreenwaldOne of Dean Baker’s many complaints about the media is that it reports budget figures without context. For example, it will report some very big number of dollars in Social Security fraud. But given the enormity of the Social Security program, it turns out that all those dollars are a tiny fraction of the program. It isn’t just that it feeds into the conservative narrative that “the government can’t do anything right.” It is more that it simply doesn’t provide the reader with any real information. The paper might as well report, “Fraud in the Social Security program amounted to twiddle dippity doo da widget time.”

I think that most of the dysfunction of our media can be explained simply by the fact that it is lazy. And I’m not talking primarily about reporters here. They do what they are expected to do. They get the story — such as it is — in the time allotted. In the case of putting budget numbers into perspective or finding opposing opinions, it is obvious that these things get dropped because they would slow things down. And this is the case, even when newspapers explicitly decide to change. There was a moment a couple of years ago, when The New York Times made it policy that it would not present budget numbers out of context. And then, almost without missing a beat, their reporters continued to do it.

Glenn Greenwald pointed out a similar situation with The New York Times — and really the entirety of the press, The Spirit of Judy Miller is Alive and Well at the NYT, and It Does Great Damage. As everyone knows, Miller was the most prominent reporter at The Times to facility the White House’s war propaganda campaign. The high point of it was where Cheney’s office released “anonymous information” to Miller; she reported it; and then Cheney went on television, pointing to The New York Times as proving that he was right.

But okay, after the total catastrophe that was the Iraq War, The New York Times admitted its error and turned over a new leaf. They had a new policy that stated when anonymous sources would be used. And the policy is good. But just as with the no-context budget numbers, The Times didn’t even seem to take a break to read the new policy; they just continued to pump out the anonymously source articles like before.

A great example from Tuesday is, ISIS Leader Takes Steps to Ensure Group’s Survival:

The Islamic State has also studied revelations from Edward J Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about how the United States gathers information on militants. A main result is that the group’s top leaders now use couriers or encrypted channels that Western analysts cannot crack to communicate, intelligence and military officials said.

Now you really have to wonder what the justification was for giving anonymity to a government official for claiming the official government enemy Snowden is the reason that ISIS is so knowledgeable about our spying. That’s the sort of thing that the government wants leaked, and so something that reporters should know not to provide anonymity about. But regardless, the claim is preposterous. We’ve known for a very long time that groups like the Islamic State are very aware of our spying. Greenwald noted how this is exactly what the government has said about leakers going back at least to Daniel Ellsberg. But more specifically, “The Terrorists™ had been using couriers and encryption for many, many years before anyone knew the name ‘Edward Snowden.'”

But Greenwald documents a series of establishment reporters who took this as proof that Snowden has harmed the United States. Even if you thought that was the case, you would think that reporters would be so vested in the philosophy of the free press that they would respond, “Well, this is the price we pay for the free society.” But instead, they are like fascist apologists.

Morning Music: Nanci Griffith

Once in a Very Blue MoonI went through a period when I really liked Nanci Griffith — especially her live album, One Fair Summer Evening. I’ve always liked that kind of alt-country — or at least country music that was homey and not racist and nationalistic. Griffith has always been politically liberal. In fact, I saw her live when when I was in graduate school. I went with a Republican friend of mine, and she was none too fond of some of the things that Griffith had said. It served her right: I could never get a straight answer out of the woman about why she was a Republican other than that her family had always been Republican. That made absolutely no sense to me.

Anyway, I’m especially fond of the song “Once in a Very Blue Moon” — originally off her 1984 album of the same name. It’s a beautiful song by Pat Alger and Eugene Levine. It was eventually recorded by Alger on his 1991 album, True Love & Other Short Stories. It doesn’t much matter who does it — that’s the mark of a great song. You can hear Alger’s version of the song on YouTube. But Griffith really does belt that song out. It’s hard not to love it.

Anniversary Post: Comet Hale–Bopp

Comet Hale–BoppOn this day 20 years ago, Comet Hale–Bopp was discovered independently by Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp. Not much of a rock: roughly 40 miles across. It orbits the sun every 2,500 years in a plane that is almost perfectly perpendicular to the orbital plane of the major planets. But there are lots of comets making their way into our solar system. It isn’t the science that has made Comet Hale–Bopp famous.

The comet became very famous less than two years later when most of the membership of the Heaven’s Gate cult killed themselves. There was supposedly a spacecraft following the comet and the members of the cult were going to get new bodies and relocate there. But clearly, this had nothing to do with Comet Hale-Bopp. They had all been searching for something for a long time and they were going to find it. It’s like what Lou Reed said, “You know, some people got no choice, and they can never find a voice, to talk with that they can even call their own. So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be, why they follow it. You know, it’s called bad luck.”

But happy anniversary Comet Hale-Bopp discovery!