Union Busiting: No News; Stock Market: Big News!

United SteelworkersThe American steel industry is still highly unionized. And the United Steelworkers (USW) union is coming to the end of its current contract at the beginning of next month. As a result, the steel businesses are doing everything they can to break the unions. Hey, why not? That’s the American way, right? The rise of unions, wages, and the middle class was just an aberration that went totally against the true nature of America, which is the extreme inequality and strife of a banana republic. And we are almost there. As I note often, most people who aren’t in unions have given up hoping they will one day be in one, and instead focus on being angry at the few people who are still in unions.

Allegheny Technologies Inc (ATI) is trying to bust the union in a big way. According to USW, “More than 2,200 members of the United Steelworkers have been locked out of their jobs by Allegheny Technologies since August 15, 2015. Workers have offered to continue working while negotiations proceed, but ATI’s management team has rebuffed the offer and demanded that the union submit to deep concessions before allowing workers back to their jobs.” Charming. But that’s the way it is in modern America. There is no sense of community, and now CEOs are applauded for destroying thousands of jobs.

I’ll make a guess that this is the first that you’ve heard about this. It certainly is the first that I’ve heard about this and these people have been kept from working for two weeks. But I know something that you have heard about: the big stock market plunge earlier this week. Oh. My. God. You would have thought that Armageddon had arrived and Jesus was riding a horse through Galilee wielding a sword — lopping off the heads of nonbelievers everywhere.

My understanding is that a big part of the stock crash was automatic, computer trades. These are really a pox on the world. They don’t do anything. The purpose of the stock market is to get capital to where it is needed. It is a special kind of bank. But these micro-trades are just a way that people use the system to siphon off money from other traders. In other words: it is just a way of making less capital available to do its work in the regular economy. As Dean Baker wrote this last week, The Stock Market Is Not the Economy. So really: who cares?

Of course, sadly, we all care! That’s because what is happening in the stock market is crammed down our throats. The S&P 500 went down 12% (and then almost immediately gained it all back, but let’s table that for now). Did that mean that the US was going to produce 12% less steel? Certainly not. It meant that a bunch of rich people whose wealth doesn’t represent much that is real were going to be slightly less rich (for a day or two). Meanwhile, ATI is advertising for scabs to replace the workers they refuse to use:

Must be able to lift up to 50 lbs and work in a standing position for entire shift (12 hours/day) in a high heat/temperature manufacturing environment. Workweek is 84 hours/week.

Previous experience in a metal manufacturing or processing facility is required. All positions require working for unknown duration and are temporary. THIS IS A LABOR DISPUTE SITUATION — EMPLOYEES WILL BE TRANSPORTED ACROSS A PICKET LINE.

But this isn’t news because people like you and me are being badly hurt. But if a rich person gets a hangnail, well, stop the presses!

What Americans Want on Both Sides

David Cay JohnstonThose turning out to hear Sanders and Trump may not understand the economics of aggregate demand and the government policies that prompt their anxiety. However, they do know that 35 years after Ronald Reagan won the presidency with promises that lower income tax rates and the handcuffing of government regulators would make America prosper, the results are dire: falling incomes, flat to falling wages except at the very tip top, a severe narrowing of asset ownership, slow job growth, and job insecurity — all while the rich get ever richer.

Thus while Sanders and Trump draw people with very different perspectives, in many ways their underlying appeal is similar. They both speak to anxieties about jobs, pay, and Social Security, even if they propose divergent solutions. Sanders, 73, promotes democratic socialism, under which government regulates business for the public benefit and provides education, more Social Security, and other services that reduce individual economic vulnerability. Trump, 69, promotes a government that would block offshoring jobs, round up undocumented immigrants in the US to open more jobs to Americans, and protect Social Security and Medicare benefits to reduce the individual economic vulnerability of citizens only.

Numerous polls show broad agreement across the political spectrum on economic issues that vex people. Vast majorities want to increase Social Security benefits, reduce offshoring of jobs, close corporate tax loopholes, and impose higher income taxes on those making more than $1 million annually (a position that even millionaires favor).

This broad agreement means that except for those in Congress who would block it, plenty of room exists to build a larger, more solid American economy.

—David Cay Johnston
The Antidote to Economic Anxiety Is Better Government

Why Wouldn’t Evangelicals Like Trump?

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigElizabeth Stoker Bruenig asks a good question, Why Is Donald Trump Winning Over Evangelical Voters? The truth is that evangelicals are not actually more interested in Trump than other Republicans. Still, it is telling. And they have other good choices. They have Ben Carson, a man who got through college and medical school while still believing the universe is only 6,000 years old. They have a minister (who is friends with the writer of “Cat Scratch Fever”). They have the guy who said, “And it’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins.” She noted, “And yet, with all of these perfectly serviceable choices, evangelicals still appear curiously interested in Trump, whose Christian bona fides add up to exactly nothing…” Yet it is Trump they prefer.

Bruenig has a curious answer to the question. She thinks evangelicals have spent so much time getting lip service from the Republican Party, that they are revolting. They like the fact that Donald Trump isn’t offering them anything, because they know that nothing is what they are going to get regardless. I love this theory, but I think it has a huge problem: it depends upon the idea that the Republican Party has used evangelicals and given them nothing in return. That just isn’t true. In fact, it isn’t close to true.

Donald TrumpOn the federal level, conservative Christians got the Defense of Marriage Age and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The entire country has turned against the Christian conservatives on LGBT issues, but that is hardly the fault of the Republican Party. And the Republicans have done everything they can to counter Obergefell v Hodges — which would now require a Constitutional amendment. And on the Supreme Court, Republicans have put on four extreme social conservatives. On the state level, abortion has been effectively made illegal in many places — all thanks for the Republican Party.

I think the answer to Bruenig’s question is much simpler: there isn’t anything different between evangelical and non-evangelical conservatives. The evangelicals may whine about the gays and about abortion, but they primarily care about one thing: those people. They want to “get” those people because those people are the reason that their lives are so bad. It’s a great irony, of course, that what has most hurt the lives of these conservative voters are the policies of the party that gets them to vote for it by promising to get “those people.”

For years, I’ve been writing about the fact that for the vast majority of people religion is nothing more than a cultural signifier. I know that Bruenig takes religion very seriously herself. And so she doesn’t want to think that for most Christians, their religion is just a reflection of them being the right kind of people. But it’s true. And there is another irony, because Mexico (and when conservatives talk about immigrants, they always mean Mexicans) is more religious than the United States. Meanwhile, Canada is much less religious than we are. But they are okay. I wonder why that is? I don’t mean to suggest that it is racism; I mean to say it right out: it’s racism.

So it doesn’t even make much sense to ask why evangelicals like Donald Trump. They may be evangelicals, but that doesn’t mean that they are religious in the way that the early Christians would have understood the word. But that’s okay, because the evangelicals would have hated the early Christians as much as they hate the Mexicans today, even though some, I assume, were good people.

See also: Why Donald Trump Appeals to Evangelicals.

Peggy Noonan Thinks She Has a Latino Friend

Peggy NoonanPeggy Noonan seems to think that Donald Trump can win the Latino vote, America Is So in Play. She thinks this because she spoke to a Dominican who listens to a Hispanic radio station and people called into say how much they liked Trump. I guess it isn’t quite as bad as Thomas Friedman thinking globalization is good because a cab driver in Dubai complained about regulation. Still, it’s pretty dumb. But I’m not interested in that. Trump, Noonan, Hispanic radio stations. I’m interested in one sentence from Noonan’s article, “My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store.”

I’m a friendly guy. I’m also polite to a fault. But my friends are people I have over for dinner. We go to see movies. We exchange email. When I’m almost dead in the hospital, my friends come and visit me. I buy them (or their kids) presents — at least when I’m not too poor. So unless Cesar is such a person in Peggy Noonan’s life, and he just happens to work the deli counter at her neighborhood grocery store, he isn’t her friend. The conversations she has with him always involve a deli counter between them and what they talk about is equivalent to, “How ’bout them Mets?!”

Noonan of course thinks that Cesar is her friend because she could, if she wanted, invite him to a dinner party and because she is a minor celebrity, he would probably come. But she never would do that. He isn’t part of her class. And imagine if it were reversed. If Cesar asked Noonan over for dinner: it would just be weird. Noonan would probably start going to a different neighborhood grocery store and Cesar might well get fired.

I have some experience in this regard. For years, I stood behind a deli counter where I had many pleasant conversations with people who were overwhelmingly of my own class. Yet I never referred to them as “friends.” Well, that’s not exactly true: sometimes my friends came into the deli, but that’s obviously a different matter. But I have more recent experience with my older sister who has spent almost her whole working life as a grocery store clerk — which just so happens to include a lot of time working behind the deli counter.

My sister will often tell me stories about the people she serves. She refers to them in a general sense as “the regulars.” If she is referring to a specific person, she will say something like, “There’s this one customer who I really like.” Never, in a decade and a half of listening to my sister have I ever heard her refer to a customer as a “friend.” It would seem bizarre to her for a simple reason: if she stopped working at the store, she would never see them again. In fact, she talks about how older customers sometimes disappear and she assumes they died. It’s sad that people die, but it is different when friends die.

What Noonan’s claim about her “friend” Cesar reminds me of is the master who thinks, “Of course my slaves love me!” It is a delusion that only those with power have. If Cesar were her actual friend, she wouldn’t only have conversations with him when she “went by” the deli counter at her neighborhood grocery store. I’m sure if you asked Peggy Noonan, she would say, “Some of my best friends are Latinos!” What she means is, “I’m friendly with a number of Latinos who are paid to serve me.”

Morning Music: Charm City Devils

Sins - Charm City DevilsCharm City Devils are not exactly my kind of band. But I appreciate standard hard rock in the tradition of Blue Öyster Cult or early Black Sabbath. But maybe it is more correct to say that Charm City Devils are more like the very early Nirvana. Regardless, back in 2012, they recorded a cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow” off their album Sins. And I really think they make it their own.

Given most of us around Frankly Curious are a bit long in the tooth, I’d be curious to hear what others think of it. “Man of Constant Sorrow” is a great song that really can work in any format at all. It’s just a question of performers deciding that they want to do it. And as much as I love the Dan Tyminski version of the song, I’m glad to hear very little of it in his version.

Anniversary Post: Last Beatles Performance

The Beatles at Candlestick ParkOn this day back in 1966, The Beatles played their last commercial concert in Candlestick Park — right outside San Francisco. And can you blame them? If you’ve ever listened to those early live concerts, they are mostly just girls screaming. Also, and I don’t want to hammer this too hard, the music isn’t that great. Given the environment, you can’t exactly complain. Their voices sound like they are blown out — especially John’s. And most of those early songs don’t do that much for me.

They had the opportunity to stop performing and it was a good idea to do it. Of course, I’ve never cared that much for live popular music. Jazz is a different matter where any given performance — wherever it occurs — can be something very special: unique. A good example of this is Flamenco Sketches from Kind of Blue. The first take of it (which was put at the end of a later release of the album), just isn’t quite right. That’s jazz.

But with pop music, the songs are all set. There is very little interaction between the performers. And guitar solos? Maybe — sometimes. But certainly The Beatles were not better live. In fact, if you ask me, Paul was the only interesting musician of the bunch. John and George were capable. And Ringo was and still is a joke.

But here’s the performance. I don’t recommend it:


And before any fans complain: it did say “last commercial concert.”

Mr Peabody & Sherman

Mr Peabody & ShermanWhen Mr Peabody & Sherman came out last year, I was torn. On the one hand, I am still a huge Jay Ward fan. And when I was a kid, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was my favorite thing on television, and “Peabody’s Improbable History” was my favorite part of it. But on the other hand, I now find “Peabody” the most annoying part of the show. What’s more, there was 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle — a film I can’t criticize too much because the first half hour was so bad that I stopped watching it.

Mr Peabody & Sherman is not a bad film. But why do people claim that it “stayed true” to the original cartoon? It did not. For one thing, the film is sentimental and the shorts were most definitely not. The ending where Peabody finally says he loves Sherman made me want to vomit. Peabody himself comes off more like Snoopy as “Joe Cool” than the original Nobel Prize winning dog. But most of all, there were the puns. I can hardly blame the writers for coming up with really good puns as opposed to the horrible puns in the show. But Sherman doesn’t get the puns in the movie, whereas Sherman getting the puns is absolutely critical to the show.

There is a fundamental problem with turning something like “Peabody’s Improbable History” into a feature length film. The episodes are meant to be at least somewhat annoying. This is why Sherman’s understanding of the puns is so important. He acts as a surrogate for the audience. The puns are coming. The puns are bad. And we need an ally — someone who shares the groan with us. And remember: many “Peabody” episodes are nothing but setups for Peabody’s final pun. He didn’t build the WABAC machine to entertain Sherman, but just as an outlet for his nasty pun habit.

Another problem is that these films almost always get too involved with being action films. That’s fine. But why use such pure characters as Peabody and Sherman? Well, we know the reason. Hollywood wanted to use the brand and then apply its usual boring storytelling approach to it. In this case, the film would have been better off doing something along the lines Time Bandits, because at least it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to force a prolonged third act action sequence.

Ultimately, Mr Peabody & Sherman works on its own terms. But it manages to destroy everything that the original was. It was most definitely not “true” to the original. I’m not sure that a feature length film could be true to the original. But strangely, the live-action films Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle work surprisingly well. Maybe it is because they are by definition different. They don’t try to compete with the originals on their own terms. Because frankly, that’s impossible.


The Myth of Objective Journalism

Glenn GreenwaldThe worst aspect of these journalists’ demands for “neutrality” is the conceit that they are actually neutral, that they are themselves not activists. To be lectured about the need for journalistic neutrality by Politico of all places — the ultimate and most loyal servant of the DC political and corporate class — by itself illustrates what a rotten sham this claim is. I set out my argument about this at length in my 2013 exchange with Bill Keller and won’t repeat it all here; suffice to say, all journalism is deeply subjective and serves some group’s interests. All journalists constantly express opinions and present the world in accordance with their deeply subjective biases — and thus constantly serve one agenda or another — whether they honestly admit doing so or dishonestly pretend they don’t.

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. As BuzzFeed’s Adam Serwer insightfully put it this morning, “‘Objective’ reporters were openly mocking Trump not that long ago, but Ramos has not reacted to Trump’s poll numbers with appropriate deference… Just a reminder that what is considered objective reporting is intimately tied to power or the perception of power.” Expressing opinions that are in accord with, and which serve the interests of, those who wield the greatest political and economic power is always acceptable for the journalists who most tightly embrace the pretense of “neutrality”; it’s only when an opinion constitutes dissent or when it’s expressed with too little reverence for the most powerful does it cross the line into “activism” and “bias.”

—Glenn Greenwald
Jorge Ramos Commits Journalism, Gets Immediately Attacked by Journalists

Draft Biden?! Give Me a Break!

Joe BidenI hate writing about the game aspect of politics. I don’t really care who is winning in the polls — at least not at this point. I don’t even much care who is running for office. The truth of the matter is that if the Democrats win the presidency next year, it will be a good thing — no matter who it is. And if the Republicans win, I think it will be a catastrophe. But at this point there really is nothing to talk about. And the fact that the mainstream press is obsessed with the “horse race” is just an indication that it can’t be bothered to care about actual policy.

But over the past week, I’ve been hearing a lot about Joe Biden. And it seems to have reached a peak. According to many, Joe Biden is going to jump in the race and beat Hillary Clinton. Or something. Yesterday, Bloomberg published, Biden More Competitive Than Clinton Against Leading Republicans: Poll. One poll means nothing. One poll at this point in the race shouldn’t even be reported. And one poll that compares one actual candidate with someone who is not running should send the reporter to a very central level of hell.

Has everyone forgotten how great Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings were when she wasn’t running for president? The mechanism here is so simple that even Washington reporters should be able to understand it. While someone is not a candidate, no one goes around bashing them. Reporters aren’t following them around and looking for any possible scandal. I assure if Hillary Clinton were having an affair with her videographer, we would know about it. But Joe Biden could be doing the same thing and we wouldn’t know, because no one is looking.

None of this is to say that Joe Biden isn’t secretly running for president. But I think the odds of him running without Clinton dropping out are between zero and a number slightly higher than zero. Even the Bloomberg article was subtitled, “A solid majority of Democrats still want Clinton to be their nominee.” So what is this all about? Well, I can tell you this: my father came to me today and told me he thought that Joe Biden was going to be the Democratic nominee. I knew where that was coming from, Krauthammer: A Biden-Warren Ticket Would Be Perfect For Democrats, Ensure 12 Years Of Liberal Rule. Because if there is one thing that Charles Krauthammer cares about, it is what is best for the Democratic Party.

And that’s what I think this is all about. This is the Republican Party machine pushing articles to lazy Washington reporters (a redundant phrase, I know) about how Clinton is going down. And it is possible if the Republicans got to choose the Democratic presidential nominee, Clinton would go down. Just the same, if the Democrats got to choose the Republican presidential nominee, Trump would win big. And what does any of this mean for the presidential primaries? Nothing.

There are a number of liberals who I read who seem to like the idea of Biden being the nominee. I like Biden. I like Clinton. I really like Sanders. And I’d vote for any of them running against any of the possible Republican nominees. But what exactly does Biden bring to the general election that Clinton does not? All I can think is that he isn’t plagued by fake scandals. But of course, if he did become the nominee, he too would be plagued by fake scandals. The draft-Biden campaign is really more like the draft-anyone-but-Clinton campaign. And we saw this with Romney in 2012. In that case it was Republicans doing it, but this time it is — Oh, wait! — Republicans doing it again.

Fed May Raise Rates Because They’re Cowards

Janet YellenI don’t understand the Federal Reserve. For at least the last year, economists everywhere have been wondering if the Fed is going to raise interest rates. You see, there are many people who are concerned about inflation. And they think that the Fed’s “easy money” policy is going to cause inflation. Now, most of these people are the kind who have been hiding double eagle gold coins under their floorboards ever since Obama was elected president. But the people at the Fed — who seem to be smart and reasonable people — go along with this kind of thing. And it makes no sense.

Let’s assume that inflation in the United States really got out of control and shot up to 5%. There are a couple of things about that. First, a 5% inflation rate for a year or two might actually be good for the economy. But if the people at the Fed didn’t accept this, they could bring that inflation down quite fast by raising interest rates. The only reason there is so much concern about inflation is that it might take a few months to get back down, and that money that the rich would be losing! Can’t have that. What we can, however, have is millions of extra people out of work, because they just don’t matter.

The Federal Reserve’s inflation target is 2%. That means that it should be around 2% — sometimes above and sometimes below. Wanna know what it has been for the first six months of this year: -0.1%, 0.0%, -0.1%, -0.2%, 0.0%, 0.1%, and 0.2%. So the inflation rate for the first half of 2015 is -0.02%. That is far below the Fed’s target. People should be screaming about the inflation rate being too low because it discourages purchases and keeps the dollar too strong against other currencies, thus making our exports less competitive. Some people are concerned about that. But mostly, the concern is that the we are going to turn into Zimbabwe with hyperinflation!

Mark Thoma — a great economist who is not prone to hyperbole — has an idea as to why the Fed might raise interest rates even though it is clearly the wrong thing to do, As Stocks Lurch, Fed Ponders Twist of the Dial. As I’ve said, I’d be very happy if inflation went up — even as high as 5%, although 3% to 4% would be better. But if inflation does go up — even to the supposed proper rate of 2% — the power elite of this country will scream and blame the Federal Reserve. On the other hand, if the Fed raises rates and millions of people lose their jobs, well, that isn’t necessarily the Fed’s fault. There are a lot of reasons that the economy fluctuates.

Do you get that? We may see the Federal Reserve raise interest rates. This will have the effect of putting many people out of work and lowering the wages of many more. And this will all be done because the people on the Federal Reserve are cowards. Of course, the Very Serious people — people like William Saletan — will applaud them and claim that they are being “brave.” That’s because there is nothing more brave to the power elite and their apologists than to make the weak suffer.

Morning Music: Dan Tyminski

Man of Constant SorrowAt this point it seemed that anyone you think might have been tempted to cover “Man of Constant Sorrow” has. Of course, you knew that after Judy Collins did it everyone would have to. What I think is strange is that it really wasn’t picked up by punk bands. (But just wait until tomorrow before correcting me!) The truth is that musically, punk and folk aren’t that far apart.

Which brings us to the version in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It was recorded by Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen, and Pat Enright, with Tyminski on lead vocals. But here Tyminski is with Alison Krauss and Union Station doing the song live:

In a sense, I think this version kind of destroys the song in the same way that Jean-François Paillard’s version destroyed Pachelbel’s Canon. It is so powerful that everyone will agree that it is the way that the song ought to be performed and people will stop trying to innovate. Of course, there will always be the iconoclasts who insist that Emry Arthur or Sarah Ogan Gunning had it right all along and the song will be plopped on the end of a disc. But to really please an audience, it’s going to have to have that three-part harmony and the prominent banjo. It will be just like that damned pizzicato counterpoint in “Pachelbel’s Canon.”

Anniversary Post: Slavery Abolition Act 1833

The Black Man's LamentOn this date the British Empire abolished slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. It was a long time in coming. In fact, slavery was illegal in Britain itself from 1772 onward. I’m mostly interested in it because of the effect of the abolitionist movement in Britain on the Revolutionary war.

I find it constantly amazing to look at the lies I was told growing up. I’m a good example of the “whistleblower mentality.” Studies show that whistleblowers tend to be the true believers who find that they’ve been lied to. Growing up, I believed all that garbage about the United States standing up for democracy and all the myths about people founding America for freedom and how we had to break with Britain because of a lack of representation. (That last one is a hoot!)

None of this is to say that there wasn’t a lot of noble idealism that built the United States. But there was a lot of vileness that built it too. I’m fine with that. I just don’t like to be lied to. And I think it makes the nation worse. It is what allows Chris Christie to run his television commercials claiming that the nuclear deal will give Iran nuclear weapons and to generally dehumanize other countries.

As Dylan Matthews wrote last month, the American slave population was not in favor of independence. They understood that they would be better off under British rule. He also quoted Simon Schama as saying that the Revolutionary War was “first and foremost, mobilized to protect slavery.” And the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 is a good symbol of that. It doesn’t mean that the Brits were great and we were horrible. But it does mean that slavery was far more important to our economy than it was to theirs. And so they stopped doing what everyone must have known was wrong.