December 2015 Archives

freelancers

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Freelance writer Michael Danielson writes that the Right won the Great Recession, using himself as an example. "I've done OK," he admits, "But I'm one of the exceptions"

But on behalf the rest of the freelancers, temps, hustlers, "contingent workers," or whatever ya'll decide to call us, I'd like to share something with those of you who are still in a cubicle farm, those of you who have retired and don't have to worry about a job, and those of you who are in the top X% and think that Americans are making less money because they're lazy. The reality is that the gig economy sucks balls. Big, sweaty Bantha nuts. And it sucks on every level, for every freelancer -- the only winner in the gig economy is Conservative America. Here's why:

1) Gigs Often Pay Less Than Minimum Wage

2) Freelancers Have To Work Their Asses Off Just To Find Their Next Job

"So if you spend half your time looking for a gig, and the time you do spend working, you barely make minimum wage, you have to spend twice as many hours as an entry-level high-school kid to make the same amount of money."

3) 1099 Workers Pay More in Taxes, But Get Less Benefits

4) The People Who Profit From The Gig Economy Are Already Rich

"In the end," he concludes, "being a freelancer means being exactly what the Libertarian/Tea Party/Extremist Republican crazies want you to be:"

"independent" so that they don't have to give you a goddamn thing, "hard-working" so that you'll contribute to the wealth of the owner class by producing value far, far beyond what you're getting paid for, and "responsible" enough to get up and do it again the next day because you know there are people counting on you. (It also means not being exactly what they don't want you to be, which is "valued," "socially connected," and "able to get up the energy to participate in the effort to turn this country around.")

The right wing won the economy when everything collapsed -- 40% of the American workforce working for peanuts while the almighty owner class pockets the extra dollars is, after all, exactly what every conservative economic policy ever is designed to accomplish. And conservatives have the unmitigated gall to keep bitching even though they got exactly what every single one of the ideas they support was aimed at achieving.

He also reminds us that "just by being fully employed, you're already in the top 60% of the American workforce."

Amanda Marcotte examines conservatives and cultural hegemony:

Conservatives love decrying liberals for "political correctness" and "oversensitivity," a particularly poignant form of hypocrisy since liberals could never reach the levels of whininess and hyper-sensitivity to perceived insults that the right wing coughs up daily. Doubly so when it comes to anything that a celebrity says.

Freaking out on celebrities allows conservatives to double down on their sense of victimhood -- not only do they get to feign offense, they also get to wallow in how supposedly unfair it is that the giant liberal media conspiracy is oppressing them by allowing celebrities to say progressive things in public.

"However wrong they may be on nearly everything else," she continues, "conservatives are right to understand that celebrities and entertainment culture go a long way in defining what is mainstream American culture:"

Clearly, conservatives are threatened when celebrities espouse progressive values -- or at least, toss an irreverent jab at conservatives who take themselves way too seriously. And they should be! The ability of conservatives to maintain cultural hegemony is, in fact, threatened when celebrities speak out against them. [...]

That sort of thing can open the door to more questioning and thinking, and give them a path out of their repressive culture. And that's why so many conservatives are dog piling, trying to silence celebrities who do something like this.

low-information loser

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Trump's status as the GOP's "low-information" candidate seems secure:

We have all heard about low-information voters. Well, Donald Trump is a low-information candidate -- as we have seen on a range of issues from his not understanding our military's nuclear triad to his earning Politifact's award for "lie of the year" based on his parade of inaccurate statements made during his campaign.

The latest episode comes in Trump's use of the word "sexism." Trump tweeted over the weekend that Bill Clinton has "demonstrated a penchant for sexism" after Hillary announced Bill would be helping her campaign.

Trump's various tweets alleging sexism versus Bill bring to mind the famous line from the movie "Princess Bride." In that classic comedy, Mandy Patinkin's character challenged another's incorrect use of a word with the statement: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

From his remark about Carly Fiorina: "Look at that face. Would anybody vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!") to his tweet that "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America," Trump embodies GOP sexism. (CNN notes that "Of course, no one is saying that Bill Clinton's past infidelities are off limits. But how are they Hillary's responsibility?") It's just another example of how Republicans are wrong about everything:

In fact, I'd apply that label to all the Republican candidates for 2016, those still in the race and those who have dropped out. This low-information issue is fed by Fox News, which not only doesn't actually present its viewers any "news" but doesn't present them with any facts.

Getting back to Trump, the article continues by pointing out that "he purposely appeals to low-information voters, who revel in ignorance, who celebrate emoting over thinking, hate over love, fear over understanding:"

So let's dispense right here with the idea that there are any moderate, what we would call "sane" Republican candidates. There aren't. They all want to bomb people into the stone age or until the sand glows, put troops on the ground everywhere we can get them, and pay for it by cutting taxes to billionaires and corporations. In other words, repeat the ruination wrought on us by George W. Bush in 2008.
The concluding exhortation is spot-on:
The Republican Party has made politics a celebration of literally knowing nothing about anything, but feeling very strongly about it. And they want to run the country.

America deserves, and must demand better than that.

The Guardian looks at Trump's flip-flop on wages being too high, and cites this recent Tweet:

"Wages in are [sic] country are too low, good jobs are too few, and people have lost faith in our leaders. We need smart and strong leadership now!"

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2015

Brad DeLong's take on Piketty vs. Piketty observes that "two lines of criticism suggest that Piketty may be wrong, both with respect to the normal characteristics of a capitalist economy and where we may be headed when it comes to inequality."

"The modern champion of the first line of attack," DeLong writes [as mentioned here and here], "is Matthew Rognlie:"

The standard bearer for the second line of criticism is none other than Piketty himself - not in anything he has written, but in how he has behaved since becoming a celebrity and a public intellectual.

Piketty's book encourages a passive response. It portrays the forces favoring the formation of a dominant plutocracy as being so strong that they can be countered only by world wars and global revolutions - and even then, the correction is only temporary.

But Piketty is not behaving like a passive chronicler of unavoidable destiny. He is acting as if he believes that the forces he describes in his book can be resisted. If we look at what Piketty does - rather than what he writes - it seems evident that he believes we can collectively make our own destiny, even if the circumstances are not what he, or we, would choose.

The wealthiest, meanwhile, make their own destiny by saving billions in a private tax system:

Operating largely out of public view -- in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service -- the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government's ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

"Two decades ago," the article continues, "the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes:"

By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.

The ultra-wealthy "literally pay millions of dollars for these services," said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, "and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes."

Here is where the politics gets lopsided. "While Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged to raise taxes on these [wealthy] voters," the piece continues, "virtually every Republican has advanced policies that would vastly reduce their tax bills, sometimes to as little as 10 percent of their income:"

At the same time, most Republican candidates favor eliminating the inheritance tax, a move that would allow the new rich, and the old, to bequeath their fortunes intact, solidifyin [sic] the wealth gap far into the future. And several have proposed a substantial reduction -- or even elimination -- in the already deeply discounted tax rates on investment gains, a foundation of the most lucrative tax strategies.

"There's this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it's that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy," said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. "That's why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it's so hard to close them." [...]

"We do have two different tax systems, one for normal wage-earners and another for those who can afford sophisticated tax advice," said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego who studies the intersection of tax policy and inequality. "At the very top of the income distribution, the effective rate of tax goes down, contrary to the principles of a progressive income tax system."

20151230-toptaxrates.jpg

The Federalist's Samuel Gregg claims that Tocqueville opposes Sanders and socialism, writing that "perhaps it's time to be attentive to great nineteenth-century French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville's highly critical opinion of socialism." Gregg describes Sanders' socialism and suggests that "it's precisely such 'moderate' versions of socialism that were the primary object of Tocqueville's worries:"

Tocqueville's first reproach was that socialism--whatever its expression--has an inherently materialistic understanding of humans. "The first characteristic of all socialist ideologies is," Tocqueville insisted, "an incessant, vigorous and extreme appeal to the material passions of man." [...]

Second, Tocqueville observed that all forms of socialism are inherently hostile to private property: an institution he considered indispensable for civilization. After explicitly referencing Proudhon's outright anti-property stance, Tocqueville claimed that "all socialists, by more or less roundabout means, if they do not destroy the principle upon which it is based, transform it, diminish it, obstruct it, limit it, and mold it into something completely foreign to what we know and have been familiar with since the beginning of time as private property."

"Here it's worth quoting Tocqueville at length," writes Gregg:

A third and final trait, one which, in my eyes, best describes socialists of all schools and shades, is a profound opposition to personal liberty and scorn for individual reason, a complete contempt for the individual. They unceasingly attempt to mutilate, to curtail, to obstruct personal freedom in any and all ways.

"Tocqueville's assessment of socialism is surely dead-on," he continues:

Even its most sophisticated contemporary advocates believe that governments must assume perhaps indirect but undoubtedly more control of people's lives in the name of essentially materialist conceptions of what matters in life.

Looking through Sanders' speech, one can't help but think he believes that the vast majority of America's economic problems will disappear if more people have more stuff and are less economically unequal. There's very little recognition, for example, in his remarks that poverty has in many cases extra-economic causes, most notably family breakdown, single-parent households, and mental illness. Addressing these issues requires much more than just giving people more material things, and often has little to do with economic inequality. They often require moral, even spiritual solutions.

We all know that there is a hierarchy of needs, but what Gregg ignores is that material needs have primacy. If someone freezes to death in the streets, or starves, or loses a limb due to an untreated infection, those "spiritual solutions" will never get a chance to prove their value.

What, exactly, makes Tocqueville an expert in socialism is a question that Gregg never answers. Another intriguing question is why conservatives treat Tocqueville as an all-purpose wise man, while denigrating the insights of contemporary French writer Thomas Piketty.

Digby's piece on the terrifying fall of Ann Coulter starts with the 1998 to 2005 time period:

She was famous for her cleverness in hating and baiting liberals. And in those heady days of conservative apotheosis, with sex scandals, stolen elections, terrorist attacks, unnecessary wars and liberalism on the run as never before, Coulter was the most deliciously vicious of all the haters.

One example is Coulter's screeching about the "American Taliban:"

"When I said we should 'execute' John Walker Lindh, I mis-spoke. What I meant to say was 'We should burn John Walker Lindh alive and televise it on prime-time network TV'. My apologies for any misunderstanding that might have occurred."

(How the assassination of a conservative religious radical would intimidate liberals was never quite made clear...) Although Coulter's books Slander and Treason were "cited by numerous critics for their many inaccuracies," writes Digby:

She was riding high, perhaps the most famous polemicist of her day, the scourge of liberals everywhere and the fantasy of young conservative men's dreams. And then suddenly, she was nowhere.

After her recent failures--such as being excluded from CPAC in 2015--Digby writes that Coulter "seems to think she's being ignored because of her strong opposition to immigration:"

Her latest screed is called "Adios America: The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole," and it is predictably horrifying. She appears to have lifted many of her ideas from white nationalists and anti-immigrant extremists and has moved from being a right wing polemicist to openly proselytizing for white supremacy.

New York Magazine's Annie Lowrey "thinks Coulter is pretty much an act that's gone sour in the age of polarization and she may be right:"

But I think it's something else -- she just isn't all that shocking anymore. And the reason is that, after all these years -- through which she and her fellow right-wing bomb throwers have been poisoning the discourse and polluting our politics with the most egregious dehumanization of just about everyone on the planet who doesn't look and sound like them -- nobody is listening anymore.

Today, Ann Coulter is just political white noise. Sure, she'll sell her books to the small group of people who can't get enough of her bilious humor and hatred but her days of being a mainstream pop culture phenomenon are over. Everybody's heard it all before. There's almost a whiff of noxious nostalgia about it now.

H/t to Bisexual Books for quoting desiree-rodriguez:

Another conversation on bisexual representation cropped up today on Gail Simone's (Secret Six, Birds of Prey) twitter feed this morning. Namely that Midnighter...should be biphobic.

The argument was made that biphobia is a real issue many face within the queer community-which is completely true.

As an aside, isn't Midnighter canonically not biphobic? I may be wrong, but hasn't Swift and/or Jenny Sparks been shown as bisexual in their history without biphobic response from their teammate?

I don't know, but might have to investigate. [Note: I did look it up: Sparks and Swift are both bisexual, and had a brief relationship with each other. I didn't have time to research any responses from Midnighter, though.]

This Women Write about Comics piece on Gail Simone, Midnighter, and biphobia is also a worthwhile read:

There is a very obvious need and justified desire to see more prominent bisexual characters and better bisexual representation in our media. If there are those arguing against that, well, they're probably biphobic. But these stories shouldn't be shoehorned into a story simply because it's popular and handled messily within that story. If anything, such a story should be told from the perspective of a bisexual character.

Simone tweeted:

Biphobia and bi-erasure are legitimate topics for covering in a comic, absolutely. https://t.co/E1bRSDrC8j

-- GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) November 24, 2015

liars

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Trump critiqued Hillary's truthfulness:

"She lies like crazy about everything, whether it's trips where she was being gunned down in a helicopter or an airplane," Trump said. "She's a liar and everybody knows that."

Trump's remarks about Hillary refer to the Bosnian "sniper fire" incident that I mentioned a few years ago.

Perhaps Trump's memory is better than he gets credit for--though certainly not as good as he touts it as being.

Fox and fascism

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Jeffrey Tayler shows how American Atheists president David Silverman is taking the fight to the enemy--in this case, Bill O'Reilly. Tayler notes that "when the Fox News talk show host referred to him and American Atheists as a 'merry band of fascists,' Silverman came close to - but only close to - losing his cool:"

"Fascists? Fascists? You call me a fascist?"

"Absolutely!" replied O'Reilly, showing no regard for the definition of fascism.

"I am a patriot, sir," fired back Silverman, "who's taking the craziest notion that everybody in this country is equal and that the government has to treat everybody fairly. That's fascism?"

O'Reilly tried to talk over him and misstate Silverman's argument, but Silverman retained his sang-froid and actually out-bullied O'Reilly: "We demand equality from the government and it's our constitutional right and you should be demanding it along with me!"

Tayler makes an observation about Sanders:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, said Silverman, professes to be a non-religious Jew, but holds that his religion is really "'we're all in this together'" which sounds "pretty humanistic." According to Silverman, "He's clearly an atheist."

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