Ghosts in the Making


Summertime in Ferguson

When it was Trayvon Martin, I pitched a fit.

Michael Brown? Not so much.

It’s fair to ask why, and the answer is to simply look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. The twenty-one thousand plus residents have seen their city torn to pieces, body and soul, as protesters and police battle over the murder of an unarmed black man by a city police officer whose record includes being fired as part of another small police department in Jennings, Missouri, that was disbanded by its city council for being so corrupt and generally awful. The town is in chaos; residents are intervening to slow the most vocal protesters, and are also reportedly attempting to prevent media from covering the events. Ferguson has become the latest incarnation of our nation’s sick heritage of deadly racism, emerged as a symbol of our dark slide toward militarized police, and found itself the butt of one of the worst jokes on the planet after a protester tweeted a comparison of the situation there to what is going on in Palestine, and instead of being indignant the Palestinians tweeted back with good-faith advice.

I first addressed the death of Trayvon Martin with friends on March 13, 2012, some weeks after the George Zimmerman stalked and pursued him for no good reason, shooting the seventeen year-old to death and then claiming self-defense. And when I first mentioned it, I did not expect what was coming. Certes, my gorge rose to learn the story, but like so many Americans the idea that an apparently murdered black man will die under the presumption that he needed to be shot just did not seem all that unusual. That is to say, like many I expected Trayvon Martin would become another forgotten lamb.

And, yes, I was wrong.

This time, the nation did not wait weeks. Before the name Michael Brown finished echoing after the first wave of press coverage the town was beseiged by chaos. Screaming and shouting from my evergreen corner of the country really doesn’t do me or anyone else any good.

And, yet, Justice still seems nearly destined for disappointing failure.

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Progress, Sure, but Whence Come We?


“Woo-hoo! I can go to the doctor now? I’m serious. I need to go.”

Jeff Fletcher

Good news isn’t always … happy? … reassuring? It is hard to explain, of course, but amid the vicious politics echoing throughout the Beltway, it is easy to forget minor details such as the notion that there really are human stakes in this fight. As Jason Linkins recently reminded:

[T]he promulgation of an “Obama’s Katrina” metaphor firmly underscores the basic lack of real stakes involved for all of the people having that conversation. Obama is going to live well and without concern for the rest of his life. The vast majority of the lawmakers involved in the ongoing debate over the matter will as well. So will most of the pundits currently batting this meme back and forth. They’ll all be fine. Really, super fine, actually. They’re going to have terrific, largely worry-free lives ….

…. There has to be a great story out there about what life is like for normal human Americans who aren’t affluent political celebrities or who don’t enjoy a luxurious sinecure in Beltway punditry. But the saddest part of all of this is that the Affordable Care Act’s woes have created only a brief interest in the woes of ordinary Americans, and just how terrifying it can be for one’s life to depend on the kindness of insurance providers in the individual market. Right now, if you can proffer a letter attesting to the fact that you’ve lost your health insurance, chances are you can finally get a reporter who had never previously evinced interest in the matter on the phone.

It wasn’t always this way. A July 2009 study conducted by Families USA found that between January 2008 and December 2010, in the teeth of the economic downturn, over 44,000 Americans were receiving notice that they’d be losing their health insurance every week. The same people breaking story after story about those losing their coverage now had better things to do back when it really mattered. As with almost any story that we could tell about the rampant, constant, tragic economic insecurity of the average American, it only seems to swell up as a Thing That Matters when such plight can play a role in the Beltway parlor game of who’s winning and who’s losing.

That’s what makes the whole “Obama’s Katrina” construction such a multi-layer insult to normal people. It makes the assumption that Bush actually suffered some real material loss in the hurricane that hit New Orleans. He didn’t. It further assumes that some similar hardship is coming to Obama’s doorstep. This is only true if we define “hardship” as “no hardship at all.” It glibly trivializes the real people who have suffered in both instances—those who suffered some sort of devastation in the Gulf region, or those who have been dealt a hard blow in the insurance market. Finally, it only underscores the wholly transient nature of the media’s concern for the welfare of ordinary people. If their suffering can’t be translated into a telenovela about the electoral troubles of affluent political celebrities, it doesn’t merit coverage.

And there are important stories out there, good and bad, in the PPACA transition. Stephanie McCrummen provided The Washington Post, this weekend, with just such a compelling story. And, to be certain, it is good news out of Kentucky, but at the same time it’s heartbreaking. Continue reading

Whack-A-Muslim on the Country Club Tip


Oh, the country club set. Who else can bring such proud drama to the American heritage?

An Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a cabdriver says a passenger he picked up early Friday at a Northern Virginia country club accused him of being a terrorist because he is Muslim, then fractured his jaw in an attack being described by Islamic activists as a hate crime.

Mohamed A. Salim says the passenger compared him to the men accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing 11 days earlier and threatened to kill him.

The Washington Post report from Joe Stephens and Justin Jouvenal reports that Ed Dahlberg, of Clifton, Virginia, has through his attorney released a statement asserting his innocence:

Country Club TryptichEd Dahlberg of Clifton, who has been charged with misdemeanor assault, denied hitting Salim in a statement released by his attorney ….

…. Dahlberg’s attorney, Demetry Pikrallidas, said Dahlberg did not assault Salim. Even so, he said, Dahlberg wanted to apologize to anyone offended by his remarks. Dahlberg was profoundly affected by the Sept. 11 attacks, Pikrallidas said, and misunderstood Salim’s response to his questions.

Dahlberg “became rather emotional as the discussion turned to jihad and 9/11, and especially heated on the subject of jihadists who want to harm America,” Pikrallidas said in a statement.

Pikrallidas described Dahlberg as a “hardworking family man and a church-going person” who had been drinking but was not intoxicated. He stressed that Salim’s video shows the ride began with six minutes of friendly conversation.

Perhaps the first thing that stands out is the starkly different claims; Dahlberg did not, according to his attorney, strike Salim. The question therefore arises: When someone asks why you are punching him, if you’re not punching him, don’t tell them that you’re punching him because, “You’re a [expletive] Muslim.”

Just, you know. Simple advice that comes to mind.

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A New View of Austerity?


When it comes to things that bear repeating, thankfully there are bloggers to do the job. After all, if the point doesn’t communicate the first few times, only saturation will suffice. What? Okay, not exactly, but still, there are some things that shouldn’t require such repetition. To wit, Steve Benen:

When a nation tries to recover from an economic downturn, there are a variety of things policymakers have no control over. After the Great Recessions, for example, neither the White House nor Congress could control the Eurozone crisis, a natural disaster in Japan, or unrest in the Middle East.

It’s an unpredictable world with inter-connected economies and volatility often lurking just out of sight. But this realizations only reinforces a lesson congressional Republicans have forgotten: U.S. policymakers should, at a minimum, not make matters worse.

Consider, for example, what unemployment would be if government weren’t trying to create jobs and lay off public-sector workers at the same time.

He’s actually pointing to Phil Izzo’s blog post for The Wall Street Journal, which makes a point that ought to be familiar to all by now:

Federal, state and local governments have shed nearly 750,000 jobs since June 2009, according to the Labor Department‘s establishment survey of employers. No other sector comes close to those job losses over the same period. Construction is in second worst place, but its 225,000 cuts are less than a third of the government reductions. To be sure, construction and other sectors performed worse during the depths of the recession, but no area has had a worse recovery.

A separate tally of job losses looks even worse. According to the household survey, which is where the unemployment rate comes from, there are nearly 950,000 fewer people employed by the government than there were when the recovery started in mid-2009. If none of those people were counted as unemployed, the jobless rate would be 7.1%, compared with the 7.7% rate reported on Friday.

What’s that? Well, it’s one of those weird issues that stays in the background no matter how important it actually is, regardless of how often it is actually thrust into the spotlight.

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A note to Alexandra Petri


A note to Alexandra Petri, when she is done swooning over Sen. Rand Paul:

Rand Paul hits that point, generally speaking, before most people. He hates those squiggly, new light bulbs! His toilet doesn’t work! He wants people to know! Probably the only reason he objected to the pat-down was that the screeners would discover his full-body tattoo of the Constitution in Braille.

But the man has a point.

I know that in America all people are created equal. But I didn’t realize that this meant we all had to undergo this much airport screening. Grandmothers. Granddaughters. People with metal hips who fought in the wars. Sen. Rand Paul.

Okay, so, just so it’s clear: We can all be outraged, now? That is, now that it’s happened to Senator Rand Paul, it’s officially out of hand, now? We can say all this stuff about TSA and not be denounced as terrorist sympathizers, and the like?

I mean, it’s Rand Paul, right? Which means it’s a credible civil liberties issue. Or is that only for the right wing?

Something about nothing, or, the question of advice columns


It is not that I disdain all advice columns, but sometimes I really do wonder about the purposes they serve. For instance, Carolyn Hax, whose column appears in The Washington Post:

Dear Carolyn:

I am 1½ years into a relationship and I have lost my libido. I have gone from wanting sex about three times a week to about once every two weeks. I’m young, I still like my boyfriend and I still find him attractive, but I find myself more interested in falling asleep than any other bedroom activity. Of course, he is still interested in having sex and has started to notice my indifference. I’ve been giving in to keep him happy, but I rarely really enjoy it. I think that’s been making the problem worse. I’m afraid this will ruin my relationship, but I have no idea how to fix it.

Adapted from an online discussion—and perhaps this should be our first clue—the resulting exchange is revealing, including the two cents we hear from other participants. Continue reading

Republicans and Jobs


Brief notes worth remembering:

Paul Krugman, shortly after the midterm election:

Eric CantorSo what’s really motivating the G.O.P. attack on the Fed? Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues were clearly caught by surprise, but the budget expert Stan Collender predicted it all. Back in August, he warned Mr. Bernanke that “with Republican policy makers seeing economic hardship as the path to election glory,” they would be “opposed to any actions taken by the Federal Reserve that would make the economy better.” In short, their real fear is not that Fed actions will be harmful, it is that they might succeed.

Hence the axis of depression. No doubt some of Mr. Bernanke’s critics are motivated by sincere intellectual conviction, but the core reason for the attack on the Fed is self-interest, pure and simple. China and Germany want America to stay uncompetitive; Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House.

GOP stalwart Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and Poppy Bush administrations, as well as former aide to Reps. Jack Kemp and Ron Paul:

Deficits and thh Economy During the Great DepressionIt is starting to look like 1937 all over again. As the table below indicates, the economy made a significant recovery after hitting bottom in 1932, when real gross domestic product fell 13 percent. The contraction moderated considerably in 1933, and in 1934 growth was robust, with real G.D.P. rising 11 percent. Growth was also strong in 1935 and 1936, which brought the unemployment rate down more than half from its peak and relieved the devastating deflation that was at the root of the economy’s problems.

By 1937, President Roosevelt and the Federal Reserve thought self-sustaining growth had been restored and began worrying about unwinding the fiscal and monetary stimulus, which they thought would become a drag on growth and a source of inflation. There was also a strong desire to return to normality, in both monetary and fiscal policy.

On the fiscal side, Roosevelt was under pressure from his Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, to balance the budget. Like many conservatives today, Mr. Morgenthau worried obsessively about business confidence and was convinced that balancing the budget would be expansionary. In the words of the historian John Morton Blum, Mr. Morgenthau said he believed recovery “depended on the willingness of business to increase investments, and this in turn was a function of business confidence,” adding, “In his view only a balanced budget could sustain that confidence.”

Roosevelt ordered a very big cut in federal spending in early 1937, and it fell to $7.6 billion in 1937 and $6.8 billion in 1938 from $8.2 billion in 1936, a 17 percent reduction over two years.

At the same time, taxes increased sharply because of the introduction of the payroll tax. Federal revenues rose to $5.4 billion in 1937 and $6.7 billion in 1938, from $3.9 billion in 1936, an increase of 72 percent. As a consequence, the federal deficit fell from 5.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1936 to a mere 0.5 percent in 1938. The deficit was just $89 million in 1938.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve was alarmed by inflation rates that were high by historical standards, as well as by the large amount of reserves in the banking system, which could potentially fuel a further rise in inflation. Using powers recently granted by the Banking Act of 1935, the Fed doubled reserve requirements from August 1936 to May 1937. Higher reserve requirements restricted the amount of money banks could lend and caused them to tighten credit.

This combination of fiscal and monetary tightening – which conservatives advocate today – brought on a sharp recession beginning in May 1937 and ending in June 1938, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Real G.D.P. fell 3.4 percent in 1938, and the unemployment rate rose to 12.5 percent from 9.2 percent in 1937.

And then there is this, from John S. Irons of the Economic Policy Institute:

The agreement to raise the debt ceiling just announced by policymakers in Washington not only erodes funding for public investments and safety-net spending, but also misses an important opportunity to address the lack of jobs. The spending cuts in 2012 and the failure to continue two key supports to the economy (the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed) could lead to roughly 1.8 million fewer jobs in 2012, relative to current budget policy.

Economic Policy Institute Debt Ceiling Jobs Outlook

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