Through the Mansions of Fear, Through the Mansions of Pain

I’ve been talking with my brother, who’s a Democrat in a deep red state, about our common disaster. One of the topics has been the working class. He sent me this piece on fundamentalism in rural America. Read the whole thing, but the gist of it is that fundamentalist, white America cannot be swayed by reason, by populism or by anything else. I accept that thesis:  the White Fundamentalist Working Class (WFWC) is, for the most part, lost to the Democratic party.  Nothing we can say to this group will register because the constant diet of bullshit from Fox and the pulpit of their local church drowns out reason about a social safety net and real opportunity. When ~80% of evangelicals vote for Trump, it’s clear that these sheep will vote for Satan if he said he’d punish sluts while quoting a couple of bible verses.

That said, I think we need to separate the White Working Class (WWC) from the WFWC.  Obama was elected with a significant number of WWC votes. House districts, and some Senate seats, will swing only if we can swing some of the WWC back to the Democratic column.  Erik Loomis is right:

Where the economic anxiety debate legitimately matters is not in long-term Republican counties. It’s in traditionally blue counties in swing states that swung sharply to the right in the last 4 years. Erie County, Pennsylvania went 48-46 for Trump. He won by 2000 votes. In 2012, Obama defeated Romney 57-41 in Erie County, winning by 19,000 votes. Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by about 68,000 votes. It is counties like these–blue-collar union counties with long histories within the Democratic Party, histories that lasted long after LBJ delivered the South to the Republicans in 1964, long after the Reagan era, that voted for Barack Hussein Obama twice. The critical question is why did these people switch their votes at this time. This is where a discussion of economic dislocation and hopelessness plays an important role. It must play an important role. These are voters that Democrats can probably get back without appealing to racism, which it absolutely must never do. That’s the debate we need to be having. Economic issues need to be taken seriously as part of that debate.

Paul Ryan is about to hand us a golden opportunity to talk about economic issues – like how you will die on the street at age 66 of curable cancer after your privatized Medicare vouchers run out. There’s a segment of the WWC that can be swayed if we can package up that issue in a simple, powerful way.



Easy Marks

The economically insecure rubes who are voting for Trump will never figure this out:

Plenty of blue-collar workers believe that, as president, Donald Trump would be ready to fight off U.S. trade adversaries and reinvigorate the country’s manufacturing industries through his commitment to the Rust Belt. What they likely don’t know is that Trump has been stiffing American steel workers on his own construction projects for years, choosing to deprive untold millions of dollars from four key electoral swing states and instead directing it to China—the country whose trade practices have helped decimate the once-powerful industrial center of the United States.

A Newsweek investigation has found that in at least two of Trump’s last three construction projects, Trump opted to purchase his steel and aluminum from Chinese manufacturers rather than United States corporations based in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. In other instances, he abandoned steel altogether, instead choosing the far-less-expensive option of buying concrete from various companies, including some linked to the Luchese and Genovese crime families. Trump has never been accused of engaging in any wrongdoing for his business dealings with those companies, but it’s true that the Mafia has long controlled much of the concrete industry in New York.

***

When Americans like Trump purchase their steel through Ossen, they are providing financial benefits to an array of Chinese companies and even the government. For example, Ossen corporate records show Chinese banks provide all of its short-term financing in the form of loans that almost all mature after one year, and then are replaced by new loans; most Chinese banks are arms of the state, tightly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, and provide financing to companies that are competitors to American manufacturers in other industries. (For example, the Chinese companies that manufacture suits and ties for the Donald Trump Signature Collection also obtain loans from mainland banks; Trump has said he has been forced to use the Chinese for his clothing lines because no American company makes those kinds of products anymore. That is not true—for example, all Brooks Brothers ties are made in New York, while about 85% of the company’s suits are made in Massachusetts.)

Another recent Trump building that has used metal from China is Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, which opened in 2009. For that project, Trump obtained loans from Deutsche Bank and three hedge funds that in turn used financing from George Soros, the business magnate who is the subject of many conservative conspiracy theories and is portrayed as a threat to the Republican Party.

The building required tons of aluminum and Trump elected not to purchase the metal from Alcoa or any other similar American producer, but instead turn to a subsidiary of a Chinese aluminum manufacturer. Because American businesses have been turning to cheaper aluminum from overseas, the industry is collapsing. For example, in just the last two years, more than half of the country’s aluminum smelters in states like Ohio, West Virginia and Texas have closed as a result of being undercut on price by competition from overseas.

It’s the same long con Republicans and some Dems in WV have been running on the coal miners here fort decades. Just scream “BRING OUR COAL JOBS BACK” loud enough and no one will pay attention to what they are actually doing.



Gimme Brains for Breakfast Baby

Jump

Holy shit, Senator Elizabeth Warren apparently murdered a bankster in the Senate today:

I’m honest to goodness physically aroused.



Brexit: “I Want My Country Back”

I owe some commentor a hat tip for this rather-too-close-to-home rant. Laurie Penny, in the New Statesman:

So, here’s the thing. This was never a referendum on the EU. It was a referendum on the modern world, and yesterday the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out, out, out, and today we’ve all woken up still strapped onto this ghost-train as it hurtles off the tracks. Leave voters are finding they care less about immigration now that their pension pots are under threat. Maybe one of the gurning pundits promising them pride and sovereignty should have mentioned that, but they were too busy lying about the NHS. The curtain has been torn away and now we all have to look at the men behind it. They are not good men.

Anyone feel like they’ve got their country back yet? No? That, after all, was the rallying cry of the Leave campaign – the transatlantic echo of “Make America Great Again”. There’s a precedent for what happens when svengalis with aggressively terrible haircuts are allowed to appeal to parochialism and fear in the teeth of a global recession, and it isn’t pretty…

There are huge areas of post-industrial decline and neglect where people are more furious than Cameron and his ilk could possibly understand, areas where any kind of antiestablishment rabble-rousing sounds like a clarion call. In depressed mountain villages and knackered seaside towns and burned-out former factory heartlands across the country, ordinary people were promised that for once, their vote would matter, that they could give the powers that be a poke in the eye. Westminster may have underestimated how very much it is hated by those to whom mainstream politics have not spoken in generations…

In the meantime, the cackling clown-car drivers rolling this catastrophe over the wreckage of civil society are already cheerfully admitting that they lied about their key campaign statements. No, there won’t be £350m more to spend on the NHS, whatever Farage wrote on his battle bus. It turns out that the reason you can’t get a GP appointment isn’t because of immigration, but because the Conservatives have spent six years systematically defunding the health service and cutting public spending to the bone. Brexit will mean more of that, not less…
Read more



Overnight/Early Morning Open Thread

England Prevails! Or not. The Invisible Hand is weighing in now.

 



Open Thread: John Oliver Is AWESOME

As explained at Slate:

On Sunday night John Oliver staged what he described as “the largest one-time giveaway in television show history,” giving $14,922,261.76 to nearly 9,000 lucky Texans. Or maybe not-so-lucky Texans, at least until Sunday: The money came in the form of forgiveness for out-of-statute medical debts, debts so old they could no longer be recovered in court. It was part of a lengthy investigation into the shady ethics and questionable practices of debt buyers, companies that buy up debts for pennies on the dollar and go to great, sometimes illegal lengths to collect them…

The broader case Oliver is making is that the entire debt buying industry is corrupt and underregulated, not just the most laughably incompetent collectors. It’s difficult to argue after seeing his footage of the Debt Buyers Association’s annual conference, in which trade group members scoff at the idea of their debtor’s legal rights. But the strongest argument Oliver makes that the industry needs work is that they let him become a part of it. Without too much hassle, he was able to set up his own debt collection company and purchased a portfolio of nearly $15 million in Texas medical debts. (Total cost: less than $60,000.) Then, with the press of a giant red button, he forgave all $15 million. As best as the staff of Last Week Tonight could figure, this gives Oliver the record for largest giveaway (previously held by Oprah Winfrey for giving her audience cars). Given the misery debt buyers and collection agencies cause, it’s hard to imagine any late-night host doing more concrete good for such a small cash outlay—but here’s hoping they make a competition of it.

Oliver’s deft at turning jokes about what’s actually a horrific situation: America’s self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe have birthed an entire industry based on screwing every last penny out of the victims of medical catastrophes. I cannot believe this is the best and highest purpose for the richest, most advanced society on the planet.



Smarter to be Lucky Than Lucky to Be Smart*

Years ago, a NYC cabbie gave me this sage piece of advice: “The only way to get crosstown during rush hour is to be born there.”

Apparently this is truer than it seemed at the time. Economist Robert Frank has a piece in The Times detailing the strong link between luck and success:

One’s date of birth can matter enormously, for example. According to a 2008 study, most children born in the summer tend to be among the youngest members of their class at school, which appears to explain why they are significantly less likely to hold leadership positions during high school and thus, another study indicates, less likely to land premium jobs later in life. Similarly, according to research published in the journal Economics Letters in 2012, the number of American chief executives who were born in June and July is almost one-third lower than would be expected on the basis of chance alone.

Even the first letter of a person’s last name can explain significant achievement gaps. Assistant professors in the 10 top-ranked American economics departments, for instance, were more likely to be promoted to tenure the earlier the first letter of their last names fell in the alphabet, a 2006 study found. Researchers attributed this to the custom in economics of listing co-authors’ names alphabetically on papers, noting that no similar effect existed for professors in psychology, whose names are not listed alphabetically.

Particularly interesting that bit about econ departments, given that many economists no doubt consider themselves exemplary Rational Actors.

Much of this will be familiar to those who have read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers. But it can never be said enough–especially as the people who most need to hear it are the ones most resistant to hearing it. Sadly, the problem isn’t just whiny billionaires; the article’s comments section is filled with a lot of, “Yes, but I work harder than all those other guys.”

*The bloody-but-wise Charlemagne, from the original cast album of Pippin.