"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister
"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
- Daenerys Targaryen
"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"
- Tyrion Lannister
"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."
- Jorah Mormont
"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."
- Tyrion Lannister
"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."
- Michael Barone
"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker
Saturday, December 08, 2012
Maybe the unions need a wider supportive movement to survive and that simply is no longer there.
Krugman is pessismistic.
Friday, December 07, 2012
Okay, something I'm putting in my book queue is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a real-life female Richard Castle.
I read the latest Entertainment Weekly and they were slightly, sort of promoting Flynn who once was a TV critic for the magazine. The noire mystery is a best seller and is being made into a movie by Reese Witherspoon who loves the book.
I'm irrationally jingoistic about my generation and hometown and Flynn is about my age and lives in Chicago with her lawyer husband. In EW she writes that she thought Jonah Hill and "21 Jump Street" were hilarious and it was one of the funniest movies of recent memory. On her website, she says as a critic her favorite series was "The Wire" and is currently a "Game of Thrones" junkie. So I'm looking forward to checking out her book(s).
"It took far too long for the unemployment rate to start falling, and it has been falling far too slowly. But “unemployment should be falling faster” is not a crisis."Spoilers.
Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly was really good. You'll like it better if you're a fan of Quentin Tarantino and "The Wire" as I am. The reviews haven't been as good as I thought the movie deserves. Maybe it's the liberals who see it as bashing Obama's hopey-changey talk, but I didn't see it that way. To me, Brad Pitt's character Jackie is agreeing with Chris Haye's thesis* that America's meritocratic system and elite have failed. America is all about getting paid and nothing about solidarity. To use Jared Bernstein's terminology, Obama is saying America's tradition is WITT (We're In This Together) while Pitt's Jackie asserts that it's YOYO (You're On Your Own) and all about business and getting paid. So I don't see the film as a critique of Obama (whose favorite character on the Wire was Omar) in the tradition of the Thaddeus Stevens ultra types like Duncan Black, Digby, Firedoglake, and Crooked Timber. Obama's speeches appeal to people who want to believe the US isn't a class society and that the elite isn't corrupt, but in passing real-world health care legislation, for example, he was able to engage in successful Lincolnesque politicking and horse-trading and didn't just relay on inspiring rhetoric.
The plot of the movie involves the heist of a mob poker game. A low level gangster (Vincent Curatola's Johnny "The Squirrel" Amato) gets the idea to rob one because the mobster who runs it (Ray Liotta's Markie Trattman) once ripped of his own game and then later bragged about it. For some reason he was given a pass and people now attend his games again because of the understanding that if he did it again he'd be dead and who would be stupid enough to do it again? Trattman doesn't come off as that stupid even if he was stupid enough to once brag about his first heist. Anyway, Amato's idea is to hold up the game since Trattman will get blamed and he wants to do it quickly before anyone else gets the idea. He asks a young ne're-do-well Frankie played by Scott McNairy to find a partner to do the job and then they'll split the proceeds.
The movie works because McNairy is a good actor and Frankie is well written. Pace Felix Salmon, Frankie is in constant crisis and can't get a good job despite the fact he's not that bad a guy. He's not a good guy though, being in and out of jail and ultimately agreeing to do the job. He brings in his only friend/acquaintance an Aussie junkie named Russel played by Ben Mendelsohn. Amato doesn't like the junkie but he's in a rush.
Frankie displays his naivite by repeatedly saying that Amato and Russell haven't been bad to him. And since that's the case in the YOYO world of gangsters he inhabits he feels he needs to stick up for them in turn. So he seems sort of redeemable in his naivite, if only he didn't pull an Omar and rob some mobsters.
Enter the hitman Jackie played by Pitt. He's been hired by the mob to figure out who ripped off the game and then kill them. Just as Trattman once bragged about robbing his own game, Russell the junkie unwisely brags about his successful robbery. So Jackie quickly finds out who he needs to kill. (Why are criminals so often so stupid and indiscreet?)
The mobsters who attend the various games around town believe Trattman did it again. So Jackie advises his mob contact and paymaster (played by Richard Jenkins) to kill Trattman also, just to get the games going again. Jenkins's middle-manager mobster agrees. Trattman knows Jackie, so Jackie brings in another hitman named Mikey played by James Gandolfini to kill him.
Mikey makes a nice contrast to Jackie Mikey is rude to the "help", i.e. waiters and hookers, and stiffs them on tips. He's a miserable mess after years of being a hitman. Jackie on the other hand makes an effort to be courteous and polite to Felix Salmon's second class citizens. His thuggish driver tries to steal the tip Jackie left for a waitress which pisses him off. Yet he's a killer. And yes he believes America isn't a family or one society, but rather a business of transactions and YOYO morality. Yet Jackie spares an effort for Salmon's luckless second class Americans. He would rather "kill them softly" at a distance than be sadistically up close and personal about it.
To me it seems like Jackie is upset at the end because he was forced to kill the naive Frankie up close after spending some time with him. He rants at Jenkin's corporate paymaster, the symbol of our YOYO system and its meritocratic elite. Maybe he'll end up miserable like Mikey and he's also upset because he understands that possibilty.
Pace the liberal movie critics, I believe Jackie isn't so much upset at Obama as upset at his situation at the end of the movie: seeing his future self in Mickey; having to kill the naive luckless Frankie up close and not softly, and finally the aggravation of being nickle and dimed by the meritocratic elite via Jenkins. That's the last straw. Obama's pieties just set him off.
*Throughout the movie, set in the fall of 2008, television and radios play in the background reporting news of the meritocratic elite's epic failure: the financial crisis and credit crunch. The name of the city where the movie takes place is never mentioned, but the film was shot in New Orleans even though George Higgins's book was set in Boston. Filmmaker Dominik also has a radio commentator expressly link the financial crisis with the poor execution of the Iraq war, which is Hayes's thesis: Our elite suck.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
They both work in the fast-food industry — Mr. Carrillo at a McDonald’s in Midtown Manhattan and Mr. Williams at a Wendy’s in Brooklyn. They both earn a little more than $7 an hour. And they both need food stamps to survive. Last Thursday, both did something they had never done before: they went on strike.
On a full-time schedule, they could make a little over $18,000 a year, just about enough to keep a family of two parents and one child at the threshold of poverty. But full-time work is hard to come by. With fast-food restaurants increasingly using scheduling software to adjust staffing levels, workers can no longer count on a steady stream of work. Their hours can be cut sharply from one week to the next based on the business outlook or even the weather.
More than two million workers toil in food preparation jobs at limited-service restaurants like McDonald’s, according to government statistics. They are the lowest-paid workers in the country, government figures show, typically earning $8.69 an hour. A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning research organization, concluded that almost three-quarters of them live in poverty. And they are unlikely to have ever contemplated joining a union.
If unions alone may be powerless, the thinking goes, they can be powerful as part of a broader social movement. “We need workers to come together in formations they haven’t done before,” says Mary Kay Henry, who heads the S.E.I.U. “The tipping point is the entire low-wage economy.”
The odds that organized labor can tip the scales remain long, however. The S.E.I.U. did organize many janitors, but it did not stem the decline of unions across the economy. Despite the victories, janitors in the United States today earn about 10 percent less on average than they did in 1990, in inflation-adjusted terms.
Still, if employers can’t be swayed to take on more responsibility for the welfare of their workers, the burden will fall on taxpayers. To put it succinctly, the bottom 40 percent of families earn less than they did almost a quarter of a century ago. If that trend continues, we may need a much bigger government.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
I liked the "Sopranos" but wasn't a hard-core fan. However I was a big fan of the "The Wire," "Deadwood," and "Battlestar Galactica." "The Shield" and "Homeland" are also good. My one or two readers will know I'm a big fan of "Game of Thrones," "True Blood" and "The Walking Dead."
OTE readers know I worry about the advent of the “shampoo economy:” bubble, bust, repeat.
The last few business cycles both here and in other advanced economies have been characterized by this pattern. To be clear, economies are cyclical…that’s a given. But nowhere is it written—well, outside of Minsky—that the cycles have to be driven by debt driven asset (or investment, as in dot.com) bubbles that are particularly damaging when they inevitably burst. (And Minsky didn’t believe financial busts were inevitable. He believed the bubbles naturally grew out of diminished risk adversity as the business cycle heats up, but could be adequately regulated.)
Monday, December 03, 2012
Part of this is an underlying trend away from reliance on the corporate income tax as a source of revenue. But a big part of this is the cyclical weakness of the labor market. In a full employment economy, workers get antsy and start to threaten to quit unless you pay them more. If your business happens to be doing poorly, you probably can't afford to pay them more and either they leave in search of better jobs and you go out of business or else you offer a raise you can't afford and you go out of business. But if your firm is doing well, then you respond to employee antsy-ness by sharing some of the spoils. That's why the profit share of GDP plummeted during the boom economy of the late-nineties.
In today's economy, by contrast, outside of a handful of sectors people are going to have a very difficult time credibly threatening to leave and get a better job elsewhere. So if sales rise, that goes into profits rather than being recycled out as wages. In theory, profits should finance investments and therefore ultimately boost economic activity. But excessively tight money at the Fed has kept the profits/savings/investment link out of equilibrium leaving us with high unemployment, low wages, and high-but-unproductive profits.