Monday, August 1, 2016

What Accepting The Lesser Of Two Evils Got Me

<"To The Bernie Or Bust people,
you're being ridiculous!">

"He who would trade his freedom

 for his security
deserves to lose both."

<George Washington>

It’s a mistake to think the lesser of two evils will fix things. A lot of people are in the target hairs of a neoliberalist nightmare. Wars are bankrupting us morally and financially. At least when Republicans are elected, people fight – when Democrats are elected, people are lulled into complacency and fall asleep.”
(Jill Stein, 2016 Green Party presidential nominee)
"If this is Really is the land of the free, then we should be free to cast our ballots for whoever we feel actually represents us."
(Official Bernie Or Bust Facebook Page)

It's not hard to imagine the excitement when Hillary Clinton took the podium last week to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for President. No, I don't mean the voters, as the New York Times acknowledged, with its usual man-bites-dog understatement: "Poll after poll after shows that a startlingly wide cross-section of voters simply do not her trust her" (67 percent, to be exact).

It's not hard to imagine the exultation that sweeps through Clinton: finally, after eight years, she's getting the shot that should have been hers all along, as she and her surrogates see it (y'know, before What'is'name'then from Illinois popped up, and sucked the oxygen out of that scenario). The fat cats behind her campaign's curtain are undoubtedly the giddiest of all, as they begin ticking off the chits they expect to cash in from a Clinton return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Spirited as it was, Bernie Sanders' challenge simply couldn't overcome the terminally binary nature of American politics (chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Coke or Pepsi? Democratic or Republican?), which still poses a major obstacle to upending the "same old, same old" carousel of flat wages, lack of health insurance, and rocketing cost of living expenses that leave most Americans feeling entrapped and embittered. Not that our nation's political class loses any sleep about such matters, as House Speaker Paul Ryan recently observed: "You don't get a third choice."

I originally planned on posting this piece in time for Clinton's nomination. But my near-empty refrigerator suggested that I needed to make other plans, which is why I spent two hours of it at my Friendly Neighborhood Pantry, in temperatures that sweltered into the upper 80s. About 150 of us lined up at 2 p.m., waiting to get a number that we'd need to present when the food truck rolled up two hours later.

For obvious reasons, I avoid this scenario, if I can -- but the phone company also wanted its pound of flesh ($78), which I had to cough up by Friday (7/29). 
Otherwise, I could have bought my own groceries, instead of leaning against a tree, asking myself: how did I get here? How did life get this way? One phrase springs to mind: "The lesser of two evils." But a little background is in order first.

>Bye, Bye, Debbie, Bye, Bye....<

In 1999, my wife and I looked around our crappy North Side apartment, checked out our household balance sheet, and came to a decision, the same one that the Animals celebrated in their classic song, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." In our case, "this place" was Chicago, where the mice had overrun our crackerbox palace, because the slumlord was too chintzy to put a metal plate under the front door....a simple device that would have stopped the rodent army in its tracks. 

We looked at the wannabe hipsters obediently cramming themselves into crumbling apartments and houses, paying way too much for the privilege of living there, growing older and poorer amid stacks and stacks of esoteric books -- the sole item they ever owned in abundance, usually -- and figured, 
get the hell out, or you'll end up replacing them

Thanks to some fast hustling and footwork, I managed to find a small town newspaper gig in mid-Michigan. It paid little better than my suburban Chicago shit job -- a whopping quarter more, to be exact -- but I felt too weary to sweat those particular details. At least, we were getting out of Chicago, so things would get better, right? We chose the lesser of two evils.

Within six months, my initial enthusiasm had collided with the stench of corporate politics and staff turnover. When the head sales rep was suddenly elevated to publisher, the managing editor quit. She didn't like (and/or trust him), and vice versa. Two writers quickly followed. Both ditched the industry for higher-paying teaching jobs outside of it. Hmm, I caught myself thinking, doesn't look like we'll enjoy a long lease on life around here

Still, I figured it was better to gut it out, until something better came along. My wife and I loved the community. I kept doing freelance writing at night, which subsidized day trips to places like Ann Arbor, or Lansing....the chance to eat out a few times a month...and small pleasures like used books, comics, magazines and records. We weren't living it up, but we paying our bills, and we didn't feel overly stressed or besieged.

But those snakes kept poking their heads into our Garden of Eden. Five years after our arrival, the town's economy -- one largely built around mostly auto-related manufacturing -- flatlined, taking 1,000 jobs with it, which was only the beginning. (Our mini-economic tsunami arrived four years before the so-called "Great Recession" of 2008, giving us a glimpse of the collective pain that everybody else would feel.)

Inevitably, that exodus out the door included me. I, too, lost my job amid all these economic convulsions, but -- as lucky would have it -- managed to hook up with our major out-of-county rival, 25 miles away, as a night editor. The pay was essentially the same, and while we had health insurance, the co-pays would notable bites out of what little I'd bring home. Nor did the vacation calendar inspire me to break out the confetti (wow, dude, we get a whole week off with pay -- just like the other place!). But what else could we do? Decent jobs were nonexistent, so if I wanted one, we'd have to move. Neither of us had the will (nor the energy), so I crossed my fingers, and signed on. I chose the lesser of two evils.

My new job didn't pay well, but the atmosphere felt a lot more positive. Unlike the place I'd left, everyone got along better, and even socialized outside of work -- a phenomenon that I'd never encountered before. Besides finishing up the last pages every night, my responsibilities included editing and writing for a weekly entertainment section, which allowed me to keep my pulse on the local music scene (and even participate in it). Life felt good, for awhile.

But  those snakes soon gatecrashed my new Garden of Eden, too. About a year or so later, the publisher called  a meeting, and ran down some figures on a dry erase board. We were losing money, he said, and unless that trend turned around soon, budget cuts would follow -- meaning, staff cuts. I don't recall feeling too shocked or shook up, as I'd seen those rumblings before. (At my last paper, for instance, I remember interviewing a court clerk who said, rather breezily: "I don't know anyone under 35 who reads under a newspaper. Oh, shit, I thought, we're in big trouble.)

Six months later, the string pulled taut again: I got laid off. In one sense, I felt relieved, because gas had shot up to $4 per gallon for the first time. This development proved distinctly unsettling to my coworkers, many of whom drove long distances (like I did). I remember people crying and yelling, "What happened to the national interest?" My wife and I figured I was losing about $10 a day, or $300 a month, before I even got to work. Not exactly a morale booster.

On the other hand, I also felt a distinct lurch in the pit of my stomach. Now what? I welcomed the chance to do things that my second/third shift schedule hadn't previously playing music, getting involved with our local peace and justice group, and helping behind the scenes at a local coffeehouse. My wife enjoyed seeing more of me again, but sooner or later, I figured, all this fun has to stop some time, right? I'd have to hold my nose, swallow hard, know....accept the lesser of two evils.


And that's what I did, once again, in 2006, after riding out my original unemployment benefits (plus two extensions). In an odd twist of fate, a copywriting job had opened up in my old hometown, just as those days of collecting unemployment were drawing to an end. I wasn't sure about making the move, because advertising seemed worlds apart from my chosen field, but I didn't have any other offers. I faced yet another binary choice: sign up now, or see your prospects evaporate under the threat of starvation. What else could we do? We buckled, and swallowed hard....once again....and chose the lesser of two evils.

This time, however, the greater evil pushed back: I wound up being fired after several months, allegedly because I made too many proofreading errors on the rough ad layouts. But I suspect baser motives, since my wife and myself had only just gotten our health insurance. Since then, I've counted at least 17 similar classifieds this company has run, which leads me to believe that turnover is just part of their overall M.O. (Think how much money these outfits save on salaries and benefits, once they send their latest bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newbie away with a giant screw through their back. But I digress.)

Or maybe I should have raised more questions when my supervisors insisted on giving me a three-month evaluation. Or maybe I should have walked out after the second interview, when I was presented a "pay secrecy" policy to sign -- in which you promise not to discuss what you're making, and is typically aimed at union organizing. Or maybe I should have just packed up, and taken the wife back to our previous hometown, once I realized that too many loose lips were lying about too many things for my comfort. Whatever: it's too late to protest these things now. But I really wish I had. And that's why I don't accept the "lesser evil" argument anymore.

Want to have some sick fun online?Try searches like "I'm not with her," "Never Hillary," or, "Won't back Hillary." You'll undoubtedly get variations like, "John McCain with a uterus," "Thatcher in a pantsuit," and jokes like this one: "Hillary has put her foot in her mouth so many times her dentist is also her podiatrist. She has to open her mouth just to get a pedicure." As I've been telling people lately, you'll have to go back to the 1920s, maybe even the 1880s or 1890s, to find a nominee or chief executive-in-waiting who's so widely loathed.

Then again, Clinton often provides ample ammunition. Her acceptance speech was larded with all the bromides you've come to expect from her, whether it's her usual vague promises to stop selling out so blatantly ("I will carry all of your voices and stories with me to the White House"), rally the troops to cure the nation's ills ("We will fix it together"), or somehow, muster excitement about a future that most people no longer see coming ("When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit"). Say what you will about Clinton, she didn't busk it before, so don't look for her to do that now.

All the past week's yodeling about "party unity" misses a crucial point -- that the Clinton and Sanders camps don't have a great deal in common binding them together (if they ever did). It's also worth remembering that Clinton, in 2008, only had to give up the idea she'd make a better president. In 2016, Sanders supporters are being asked to trust someone whose record, quite frankly, suggests a slippery sense of follow-through (at best). 

Take the $15 minimum wage proposal that made the Democratic Party platform. Clinton's mega-donors include the likes of McDonalds and Walmart, two companies with a long, well-documented hostility to such ideas. Does anyone honestly believe that Clinton, if she wins, will really tell them, "Greed should have limits"? If you really think so, I've got a lot of great Florida swampland and foreign lottery tickets that I can't wait to unload.

So, no, from a purely rational standpoint, the "Bernie Or Bust" movement isn't being anymore ridiculous than previous insurgents who prefer to tread cautiously, especially when the wolf tells them: "But we can coexist, man...". Let's state the dilemma in simpler terms. Years ago, I remember a small town mayor who dished out this piece of advice: "A good compromise is one where both sides come out hurting a little bit." Does the recent dog and pony interplay between the Clnton-Sanders camps last week in Philadelphia offer that impression? How much swampland will you buy? How many Nigerian lottery tickets do you need?

What's truly maddening is that the Democratic National Committee leadership doesn't want to acknowledge any of these things -- faced with an avalanche of youthful energy, and long-pent-up frustration, the DNC leadership's response comes to, "So what? Take a hike. We got you this time. Where else are you gonna go?" A party that practically swoons at people's lack of real choices -- is what those Washington, Jefferson and all those other Guys In Stockings And Wigs fought the revolution for?

I think not. But I can safely say this: all the dogged tone deafness that's been displayed by the DNC and its Republican counterparts won't make our problems magically disappear. I am, like millions of other Americans, patching together various jobs and projects to get from today to tomorrow, from this week to next week, from this month to next month, from this year to next year. I have not had health insurance in a decade. I do not expect more from another extended job search than a pile of form letters and resumes that just quietly gather dust. 

I do not expect the donor class to listen, let alone give a shit, about  my troubles. However, like millions of other struggling Americans, I've watched all of our noxious social ills build up steam over than half a lifetime, without letup, without the glimmer of something better coming along the horizon, or without the possibility of a different result, however faint it may seem.

I'm tired of hearing platitudes. I'm tired of being fobbed off with the usual excuses. I'm tired of waiting for something to change, or being told to wait a little longer, because the political realities just don't allow it (as JFK infamously did, when he asked Martin Luther King to put off his March on Washington till 1965, or '66). That's why I don't accept the lesser of two evils anymore, because I know what it got me, and where I ended up. Stand up for a better tomorrow now, and don't let anyone tell you that it can wait. I speak from experience. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (No Third Ice Cream Flavor For You):
Independent Voter Project:
Nearly 8 In 10 Respondents
Do Not Want To Vote For Trump Or Clinton:

Independent Voter Project:
Why Independent Candidates Are Not "Spoilers":

[Dated, news-wise, but contains some good points]

Paste: DNC, Day 4:
The Rise Of The Berniecrats:

Rolling Stone:

The Return Of Lesser Evilism:

Salon: Enough Of The Us V.s Them Binary....

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Writing In Bernie This Fall? What You Should Know

<What's that saying? One picture's worth a thousand words....>

Bernie Sanders's endorsement of You-Know-Who last week certainly turned some heads among those supporters who couldn't fathom his strategy (if you're charitable) or motivations (if you're not) . And, while I share some of those feelings, I don't plan to spend too much time twisting myself into a pretzel over it. After all....if you weren't voting for Clinton before, why would Bernie's endorsement sway you now?

Endorsements are just the political version of the shtick that kept Ed McMahon off the street for decades. This isn't to suggest that Bernie is little better than Johnny Carson's late second banana (who, if I recall correctly, endorsed over 30 products before leaving this earth in 2009). I'm just putting things in perspective. As far as I'm concerned, people who cash all in their chips based on a newspaper's endorsement -- or some thumbs up from a fellow politico -- probably aren't doing their own homework, anyway.

All jokes apart, last week's announcement has prompted many Sanders supporters to ask themselves: should I write in his name this November? As you'll see, that notion isn't as cut and dried as it looks, since it'll depend on your home state's laws. Then there's also that little matter of perception, since -- aside from U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond (1954), and Ohio Congressman Charlie Wilson (2006) -- the list of major write-in victories isn't a lengthy one. It's more like a damp squib. There's a reason why the mainstream media treats write-ins like the drunken uncle who dances with a lampshade on his head on New Year's Eve....but I digress.

<Will Hllary Clinton show herself as the second coming of FDR and LBJ, combined, if she wins? Hey, look....I think I saw 
a pig flying past my window....check it out!>

However, the challenges of raising money -- and your political profile -- aren't enough in themselves to deter everybody. As the link below indicates, nearly 100 people are taking the write-in plunge, from Buddy The Elf (who lists his home as North Pole, AK -- haw, haw, haw), to Darth Vader (Spokane, WA -- Mr. Lucas's lawyers should be calling any day now), to Soul Bunny (Williams Bay, WI: now there's a name I can get behind, possibly), and Tom Brady Sketch (where else.....but Foxborough, MA).

However, as our friends at indicate, your options depend on what we Americans refer to as "The Geographic Lottery" (It Ain't About What You Think, It's Where You Live, That Matters), so let's roll the tape, as they say, and run the highlights:

If You Live In: Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or South're SOL, as these states don't permit presidential write-in candidates of any stripe. California, that hotbed of progressive subversion, is the oddity on this list, because it allows write-ins for primaries....but not general elections. Since Bernie came up short there, you can't write him in this fall, either.

If You Live In: Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, or Washington.....under these states' "Sore Loser Laws," candidates who don't secure their party's nomination can't mount write-in campaigns for the office that they "lost" during the primary. Thus, since Bernie won Indiana, Oregon and Washington, you're free to write his name in there, but not the other states on this list....which went to Clinton.

If You Live In: Alabama, Iowa, New Hamphsire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Wisconsin....these states will accept Bernie as a write-in, even if he didn't run as one. Presumably, you're free to put his name on your ballot.

But now comes the kicker, the other shoe about to drop, the proverbial fly in the ointment, the spanner in the works, because....

If You Live Anywhere're still SOL, because.your write-in vote won't count if Bernie didn't declare himself along those lines by each state's deadline. (For example, Michigan requires write-ins to file declaration of intent forms by the second Friday before the election. The Democratic primary took place on March 8, so he'd have had to file that form by February 26.)

So, in those 25 states (see link below for the complete list), you're free to write Bernie in, but unless he declared himself by the deadline....your local clerk doesn't have to count the vote. 

So where do we go from here, exactly? There's plenty of time to debate that question, but if nothing can see why major candidates don't mount write-in bids (such as the loss of 44 electoral votes from the states that don't allow them). With scenarios like these, there's a reason why you'll often hear that old saying, "It's complicated"....because, in our nation's geographic lottery, it ain't about what you's where you live, that matters. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Put Down Ozzy Osbourne,
You Couldn't Do Any Worse, Right?): Write-In Candidates (2016): 

The Huffington Post:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Race To The Bottom: The H-1-B Blues

It's a big vision in the first world
But no one's seein' the other connection
Somebody's stuck in the fourth world
And the sun's goin' down in the wrong direction

There's a big vision
There's a big vision
In the fourth world

<Screaming Blue Messiahs:
"Smash The Market Place">

If you live in a town dominated by one large corporate employer, like I do, don't blink too quickly....or you'll miss the funny things going down. Though it's theoretically nice to have one company employing hundreds or thousands at a time, that arrangement also carries big drawbacks. The obvious one, of course, is that they can leave (or go under) as quickly as they've arrived.

And once a company becomes entrenched, it quickly morphs into something less desirable: the 800-pound gorilla (think Consumers Power in Jackson, MI). Before long, the corporate gorillas who never stop thinking of how to benefit off the sweat of other begin to exert an outsized influence, one way out of proportion to their actual numbers.

A good example is the battles that communities are often forced to wage against big box stores seeking to avoid paying their share of taxes via the so-called "dark store" valuation method -- one that forced Marquette Township to refund $755,828 to Lowes, and wound up drastically curtailing the local library's hours (among other blowbacks).

As always, it's the taxpayers who foot the bill, with a giant screw driven through their spine. What else is new? (For a snapshot of how this hustle works, see the link below, although I think the blogger's elation is way premature -- it's not dead until the Michigan Supreme Court, to whom the big boxes will surely appeal, shoots down the practice. With a solid Republican majority dominating the court, the big boxes have no reason to break out into a cold sweat just yet. Trust me on this.)

Of course, with disposable property comes disposable labor. One sign, at least in our little town, are the masses of Indians moving into our complex. Unlike many people I know, they don't seem to be going without: they always seem to drive the latest model cars, and never return home without shopping till they drop. The American Dream seems to be working out pretty well for them. (Ditto for the gas station owner whom I saw stepping out of a massive black Hummer in front of the bank last week.) So what's the discordant note in this homespun picture?

They got a big vision,
big vision in the fourth world
Don't miss the connection, 
'cause the sun's goin' down in the wrong direction.

Smash it into tomorrow
Smash it into spite!

Well, as always, I asked around a little bit, and got the answer. Most of them are here on contracts with our town's mega-employer. The main entry point is the H-!-B visa, which allows U.S. companies to bring foreign workers temporarily. The program dates back to 1990, when President George Bush (The Elder) created it to solve a serious shortage of skilled labor....or so he and his minions said.

However, as an article in the Charlotte Observer suggests, the program has become the latest unsavory vehicle for American companies to undercut their own workers by flooding the nation with cheaper outsourced labor. How cheap, you ask? Well, as longtime advocates like U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren have finally admitted, the going rate for a computer services analyst in her district -- which includes Silicon Valley -- is $52,000 for the H-1-B visa worker, versus $92,000 for his U.S. counterpart.  No wonder CEOs are busting such a collective gut.

What's more, as the Observer details, IT workers are often asked to train their replacements before they're laid off for good -- how's that feel before the door smacks against your nether regions? Still, I wonder why people play along with such a dog and pony show. What's the point of greasing your humiliation if your job's gone up in smoke? (Speaking from experience, I wouldn't, and I haven't.)

When pressed, employers naturally claim that they're lacking the labor to get their work done. Of course, this defense is often a dodge, since much of the work being outsourced doesn't always involve skilled labor. As one of the displaced IT workers told the Observer: "The jobs that we're replacing here aren't rocket science. It's database developers, skills you can learn through a four-year any major American university."

This is only one snapshot behind the phenomenon that fueled Donald Trump's rise during this election cycle. The Donald, of course, has zigzagged on this issue -- promising to crack down against H-1-B abuses, on one hand, while holding out some leeway for certain sectors of the economy, like Silicon Valley, on the other -- so I wouldn't look him for salvation, anymore than his (cough, cough, ahem) Democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton.

I'm trying to square all of these images and statistics with a more disturbing one: a good friend whom I've paid to step in whenever my computer starts sending coded messages from another galaxy. He charges by the project, not the hour, and has never had to do anything over. He can explain what he does in a way that makes sense (unlike a lot of IT denizens I've encountered).

He's an unassuming guy who's caring for his mom right now, which is one reason why he's not working full-time....but if he ever did, I'm sure any company would find him an asset to their payroll. But I don't see anybody rushing to offer him a contract, let alone the crumb of a temp job, nor anything similar....and therein lies the problem. And why the groundswell, and the popular outcry against such practices, will only continue to grow. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Start Your Race

To The Bottom Right Here):
: Appeals Court Ruling
Brings An End To Big Box Stores 

Ripping Off Local Communities:

Charlotte Observer:
In Charlotte, Foreign Workers
Replace Americans In Tech Roles:

Professor Norm Matloff's H-1-B Web Page:

Screaming Blue Messiahs:
Smash The Market Place:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

YIKES! Creative Industrial Complex Craps Out Another Lame "List" Article

<The Book Of Lists (Original Edition, 1977)> 

If you're a child of the '70s and '80s, you'll remember when tomes like The Book Of Lists, and its related spinoffs (People's Almanac, anyone?) took the publishing world by storm. Like so many millions of others, I spent countless hours devouring the quirky subject matter of these books. From favorite sex positions, to rogue nations and serial killers, you could get lost on any page -- and, of course, memorize nuggets to give you the sheen of being an expert at something, right?

All the original three volumes are long out of print, though there's bound to be a few floating around on eBay, I imagine. Today's digital era, of course, is a different beast. Fewer people, I suspect, would have the time (or stamina) to slog through the 521-page Book Of Lists, let alone its 529-page sequel, The Book Of Lists 2 (or the truly sprawling People's Alamanc 2, weighing in at 1,416 pages).

Nowadays, we've got something more insidious going on -- the "list" article, which sites like have polished to perfection. But the results are often hit and miss, especially if penned by a representative of the Creative Industrial Complex -- such as a best-selling author, big shot remixer, or cranky blogger for hire -- who often doesn't bother disguising the agenda they're grinding.

Case in point? Today's exhibit ("9 Things NOT To Do With Your Next Song Demo") comes via, the CD/DVD duplication and manufacturing company that now owns the online music store, CD Baby. The overall tone, as one of the commenters (see link below) notes, is "drama-king offensive," such as the first finger-wagging tip against overlong intros: "If every song had 45-second intros, that would be 187 minutes spent waiting for the damn songs to start! Think about it."

As that same commentor retorts: "If it’s that bad, please retire or do something else for a living." The same advice, presumably, applies to tip #4, about putting the artist's name that you're pitchig in the subject line: "
The subject line is how the receiver will find a song among so many emails. That’s called common sense." Glad to see that we've cleared up how that big, bad Internet works, eh?

The best part, however, is the total logic implosion that occurs when Tip #2 (don't submit a poorly produced track) collides with Tip #8 (don't overproduce your demo). So, which is it? Are two Dixie cups and a spool of thread sufficient, or should we consider tossing a kitchen sink or two (sonically speaking) into the rough mix?

As commenter Matt McCourt snorts below, "This whole thing reeks of an ADVERT for a book rather any real tips." He then cites some advice from an exec that seems closer to the mark (" is the song...if it is any good, a boom box recording with you and a guitar will show us that"). Of course, these types of articles are often written in the brain-scrambling "compliment sandwich" style that every hipster loves -- just add a "but" after every other clause, and you, too, can speak the language! (As in: "Hey, kid, I love the song,'s sounding a little dated. Can we get a more contempo feel in here?" You get the idea.)

All this bet hedging often plays out over multiple weeks. For example, I've seen many a self-publishing blog that runs a headline like this: "Stop Presses! Print Books Are Dinosaurs! Embrace Your Inner E-Book Warrior!" Come next week, though, you might see a totally opposing banner headline: "Five Reasons Not To Ditch Printed Books Yet."

In the end, I do what jurors probably do when they're confronted with the farce of dueling experts for hire (Defense Expert: "Mr. Jones's toilet training at gunpoint is the primary factor to understanding why he chopped up his entire family."/Prosecution Expert: "Not a single study establishes a correlation between abusive toilet training and mass murder"). With a shrug, I give up trying to figure out who's right, and go with my gut. Works well enough for me.

The main problem with all these insufferable "list" articles -- other than the logic leaps I've cited -- is that they encourage a lot of formulaic thinking, while devaluing the impact of real writing. I remember coming across Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules Of Good Writing" on a literary blog. His first one is: "Never open a book with the weather." To which one of the more perceptive commenters responded: "What about George Orwell's 1984, which starts: 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen"? I don't think anybody's asked for their money back yet on that one. 

One of my longtime mates put it best, when I told him about my plans to riff on this topic: "Here's the thing with those types of articles....they make it sound like you can mathematize, or rationalize, what's popular, and that's what they play on. the end of the's the public that decides what flies, or what doesn't." Or, in my gut. Works well enough for me. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Take With A Barrel Of Salt, Then):
Discmakers Blog:

The Huffington Post:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ramen Noodle Nation Review: "Evicted" (Matthew Desmond)

"There are losers and winners. There losers because there are winners. 'Every condition exists,' Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, 'simply because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.'"
(Matthew Desmond, Evicted)

If you want an answer to that pesky question, "Why are things so bad for so many?", start by visiting the online pride of Milwaukee: its Consolidated Court Automation Program, which displays evictions and misdemeanors for 20 years (and felonies for 50 years). Let that image stick in your brain for a moment. Got it? Good.

Now replace that picture with a different one: an inner city landlord who lets properties go into foreclosure when they accumulate too many fines or repairs. She escapes liability by registering each property under a different LLC (Limited Liability Company) created online with the city's Department of Financial Institutions.

However, her name never appears on the paperwork, so the city never seems to realize it's dealing with one person who owns multiple properties (an oversight that could be eliminated by changing the LLC rules, and requiring the creator to give their name -- but I digress).  
If this isn't gaming the system -- once the associated costs to the city and its taxpayers are considered -- what it is?

Suffice to say, these details aren't part of Milwaukee's online scarlet letter. It's one of many unsettling details that you'll find in Matthew Desmond's book,
Evicted, which is written in a classic old school approach. The author (who's an academic and social researcher, not a journalist) spent roughly a year getting to know two major landlords -- including the one cited above, who specializes in the inner city, and her white male counterpart, who lords over a trailer park -- and those who rent from them.

What Desmond found, and what the reader will encounter, is a perfect storm of one-sided lawmaking, legal loopholes, and economic forces that leave his subjects living in conditions that might make Charles Dickens blush. Between 2009 and 2013, for example, roughly half of Milwaukee's renters experienced a major housing problem. About one-third lived with clogged plumbing that lasted a day or more, for example. One in five dealt with broken appliances or windows for three days (or longer). Households with African-Americans and children were the most likely to face these problems.

The biggest costs are often the psychological ones, as Desmond suggests -- citing the eight-person family forced to constantly "bucket out" their kitchen sink and toilet, which their inner-city landlord refuses to fix. The experience of "living in degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods sent a clear message about where the wider society thought they belonged," Desmond writes. "People who were repulsed by their home, who felt they had no control over it, and yet had to give most of their income to it -- they thought less of themselves" (p. 258).

At its core, however, Evicted is a simple snapshot of economic power -- who has it, and who doesn't. In Milwaukee, these imbalances seem far more one-sided than most cities, starting in the 1930s, when the death rates for its African-American residents were about 60% higher citywide, due to poor housing conditions....because the provisions of FDR's New Deal didn't apply to them (pp. 251-52). This is not an accident. This is policy, plain and simple.

Conditions grew markedly worse during the 1990s, as the city's industrial base hollowed out -- just in time for the welfare-to-work movement. As a result, 1 in 2 African-American men are unemployed, such as Lamar, a legless ex-veteran who coughs up $550 of his $628 monthly welfare check for rent...leaving him with the princely sum of $78, which he supplements (like many of Evicted's subjects) with various off-the-book endeavors (p. 78). 

As Desmond suggests, America could correct this imbalance with a federal voucher program that would allow renters to stop spending so much money to rent -- which would pump more money into the economy, and make cities more livable again. One in five of renting families in America spends half its income on housing, yet 67% don't get any federal help. This is an unacceptable state of affairs when -- contrary to neoliberal urban legend -- resources do exist to address it.

Of course, when a one-sided marketplace is allowed to fester, new sub-economies spring up to take advantage of someone else's misery, which Evicted also vividly documents. Consider Eagle Moving & Storage, which only did one or eviction moves per week when it started up in 1958. Today, as Desmond reports, 40% of its business comes from eviction moves, fueled by 35 employees and a 308,000-square-foot building that -- wait for it -- that a now-defunct furniture factory once occupied (p. 113).

Eagle makes additional bank by charging hefty storage fees and insurance to store evicted renters' property, which most of them wind up losing. How would you afford additional fees when all your stuff is sitting on the sidewalk? It's a reminder of the one-sided dynamics that spring up when the powers that be figure (rightly, in most cases) that nobody's really paying attention. "Exploitation. Now, there's a word
 that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate," Desmond asserts.."It is a word that speaks to to the fact that poverty is not just a product of low incomes. It is also a product of extractive markets." (p. 305)

The crushing irony here, according to Desmond, is that half of all evictions in Milwaukee are informal ones -- which those on the receiving end prefer, because there's no formal record to stop them from moving into an equally Dickensian space, a situation that's never addressed through the assembly line rough justice dished out by the city's eviction court. "Something 
has gone very wrong with our justice system when it makes more sense for tenants to skip court and quietly move out when their landlord says go than it does for then to plead their case themselves," Desmond states, "which often leads to an order to move and an eviction on their record" (footnotes, p. 398).

However, this problem could be corrected by giving low-income people the right to civil representation -- as they've already done in many obvious places (France, Sweden), and some not so obvious (Azerbijan, India, Zambia), Desmond notes. Putting pressure on the powers that be also reaps some badly-needed social dividends. For example, Desmond's research persuaded Milwaukee in 2011 to exclude 911 calls involving domestic violence, stalking and sexual abuse from its so-called "nuisance ordinance." Otherwise, renters who find themselves calling the cops in those situations would still potentially face eviction -- or homelessness -- by having those crises going on record, and (fucked-up as it is) count against them.

Of course, this problem isn't confined to Milwaukee. Consider Lagos, Nigeria, where 60% of those residents living in Africa's largest city spend most of their money on rent, with the vast majority confined to one-room units. As the world grows more urbanized, and less affordable, Evicted offers a timely reminder to redress the balance -- especially when many of the protections that Americans take for granted nowadays (child labor laws, the minimum wage, workplace safety regulations) only came about "when we chose to place the well-being of people above money," Desmond contends.

Keep those words in mind, and burn them into your memory bank forever. The first step in correcting injustice is the admission that it exists -- which is only one of many reasons why neoliberalism, which has singularly failed in addressing economic injustice, belongs in the dustbin. On that level, Evicted offers an appropriate starting point to marshal our collective outrage, and put it to good use. --The Reckoner

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Cure For Political Codependency (The Hillary-Bernie Endgame)

<Deer in the headlights, or waiting
for her ship to come in? You decide...>

Why is Hillary Clinton struggling so much lately on the campaign trail? The coronation cakewalk that once seemed ripe for the taking now seems more like a sidewalk surfer trying to balance on a banana peel. With five months of this spectacle left to go, it's not a pretty picture.

Well, I'm reminded of a headline from your favorite satirical rag and mine, The Onion: "Hillary Clinton To Nation: Do Not Fuck This Up For Me." The last word in the headline is the key one, isn't it? Though it's no secret that most politicians are self-absorbed to some degree, Clinton seems particularly prone to this malady.

More than most of her counterparts, Clinton relishes talking about her accomplishments, her goals, her ideas -- we even have statistical proof, courtesy of Pacific Standard (see below), whose reporter simply tallied up the percentage of "me" versus "we" statements in her 2016 presidential announcement, versus those of President Obama (2008) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (2016).

Guess what? Clinton's "me" statement score clocks in at 100 percent. By contrast, Paul and Obama scored 45 and 65 percent, respectively, in terms of "we" statements. Though hardly a scientific analysis, it's indicative of something, right? Well, go figure.

"J.R. Ewing said it best: 'Once you give up your 

integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.'"

That said, Clinton's problems run deeper than some journalist's scorekeeping. Some of the most perceptive commentary on the campaign is actually coming from the financial press, whose overlords may have a pretty damn obvious dog in the fight -- as in, "no Hillary, no Bernie, maybe Trump, if he keeps my taxes low to nonexistent" -- but whose writers are scoring some solid bull's eyes.

MarketWatch columnist Darrell Dalmaide doesn't need to count how many times Clinton says "I" versus "we." As Dalmaide suggests, just compare the keynote slogans of Donald Trump ("Make America Great Again") and Bernie Sanders ("A Future To Believe In") with Clinton's ("Fighting For Us") in, "her fighting in the trenches against that right-wing conspiracy." In other words, let Hillary handle the heavy lifting; our job, apparently, is to cheer on her efforts from the sidelines.

Conceptually, this makes for a soggy recipe, particularly when compared to the declamatory style that her opponents favor. So what is Sanders getting right on such a regular basis? The answer, as Los Angeles Times commentator David Horsey suggests, lies in the rationale voiced by one of Sanders's college supporters: "Bernie just says what relates to us. He doesn't try to relate to us, he gets us."

Such statements speak volumes about Clinton's struggles to connect with voters beyond superficial levels. Then again, as Fortune's article notes, we're talking about someone known for micromanaging her image, almost comically so, at times....such as asking to read a high school speaker's comments before one of her own appearances, and so on. Go figure, eh?

As many reporters note (in these links below, and elsewhere), Clinton's aides protest mightily that she gets a bad rap. Yes, they acknowledge, she's a Baby Boomer, leaving her open to brickbats from left and right alike -- because she belongs to a generation often derided as the most narcisisstic, self-serving, solipsistic lot seen in recent memory. Behind the scenes, she's warm, thoughtful, and caring. If only she didn't keep such a protective force field around her at all times. And so on, and so forth.

Of course, all these lamentations mean little if that force field doesn't come down. Judging by Clinton's dogged insistence on sticking to her stolidly conventional script -- show us those tax returns now, Herr Trump -- we shouldn't be holding our breath.

So where does this leave Sanders's coalition, then and now? As we had into the final week or so of primaries, I'm not sure it changes a damn thing. Once again, the adults in the room are muttering darkly as they close ranks, and move once more to herd all of us disobedient children back into line. Instead of buzzwords like "Yes, We Can," we get: "Anything's better than Trump!", and, "We can't let that old man blow up the party!"

As the last statements go, the answer to the first one isn't so clear-cut -- recall how many millions rejected Hillary for Obama in 2008, precisely because they felt it was time to shut the book on the Clinton legacy for good. That our system can recycle Bushes, Clintons and other political dynasties like them over and over, without missing a beat, only underscores the need for dynamiting the status quo sky high.

As for the second statement, I'd retort that the Democratic Party has done a pretty good job of blowing itself up without Sanders's help. That trend gathered steam during the 1990s, as Democrats finally cracked the DNA behind the money chase that their Republican rivals had played so much better for so long. However, instead of soliciting support, Democratic elders opted to take hostages in murmuring about "the lesser of two evils." Alas, all the promises of meeting complaints halfway -- or any way at all, for that matter -- typically evaporated with the next election cycle.

This is the logic of political codependency at its most warped and unresponsive. Like an alcoholic's or drug addict's long-suffering partner, we're asked to look the other way and shut our eyes, cross our fingers and hope against hope that tomorrow will miraculously get better, as the dysfunctional behavior that makes us so miserable rolls on. As Sanders suggests, in responding to questions about whether he plans to blow up the Democratic convention:

"So what? Democracy is messy. Everyday my life is messy. But if you want everything to be quiet and orderly and allow, you know, just things to proceed without vigorous debate … that is not what democracy is about."

If you're stranded without health insurance, or struggling to patch together several part-time jobs, I suspect that statement will resonate pretty strongly. And that sentiment, I suggest, is why Hillary is still struggling to close the deal....and why we shouldn't let up in the struggle for a better tomorrow, minus the alibis that got us in this mess. A future that's free of political codependency? How crazy does that sound? Go figure. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry Up & Read 'Em
Before Those Endgame Credits Roll):
Fortune: Emails Reveal How Carefully

MarketWatch: Hillary Clinton Needs
To Talk About More About Us,
And Less About Herself:

Pacific Standard:
Hillary Clinton Talks About Herself A Lot:

The Onion: Hillary Clinton To Nation:

USA Today:
Nixonian Palace Guard Now Protects Hillary:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Just Meant to Weed You Out

In this video, the young man, is right about how the technology has ruined applying for the jobs, where there is now no face to face contact and where resumes are thrown out if they don't match criterias exactly.  What kind of bean counter came up with a computer system to judge human candidates. He is also correct about the email marketing scams and the obstinate gate-keepers. The human element definitely has been taken out of the equation. You don't get to physically get to talk to the decision makers. He is right about that. He is right about the BS and hoops they force you to jump through. This got worse, I noticed this years ago and so has my husband, where you are spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. This is what has been getting a good job like winning the Lotto! The job market is broken, the entire hiring and firing system needs rehauled, and this even beyond the economic aspects of all the outsourcing and other problems.--The Squawker