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November 26, 2011

i'm not a fan of naomi wolf

A bunch of my friends are linking this on the various social media, this Naomi Wolf "What Occupy Wall Street Wants Revealed!!!" piece in the Guardian.  Actually, the phrase Shocking Truth is dropped, and who doesn't love that?  Well, maybe lot's of people, but I've been loving shocking truths since way back when Leonard Nimoy was hosting "In Search Of..."

And there may be some shocking troofs in there, but this is the one that caught my eye:

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

I won't dispute the reporting in the link there, even though it's a few times removed.  In fact, I'd like to see some research on that.

But to imply that since a House subcommittee has oversight over a federal agency this subcommittee is influencing the actions of the agency — that's just dozy-headed crap.  As spurious, in fact, as me implicating that an author filing an alarmist indefensible column on the SEO topic of #OWS is a naked attempt to appear relevant.  Bush league, right?

So to my friends linking this all over the place, I suggest taking a deep breath.  I say this as a stalwart supporter of the Occupy movement, and one that believes that even in light of the abuses of the police, it's important to keep the eye on the ball.  Conspirifying the (inchoate) message helps no one, and actually hurts, plopping a tinfoil hat on everyone but those trying to sell books.

To paraphrase someone from one of my favorite second-hand stories ever, "I loooove the passion."

Posted by mrbrent at 3:34 PM

November 25, 2011

on black friday

Thanksgiving ran late last night in the Lehigh Valley, and certain family members were contemplating hitting Macy's when they opened at midnight until we drove past Macy's at 11:30: parking lot weekday full, unruly mob clouded around the main entrance.  And then we passed the Target, which was even worse.  Even though they managed a queue, the line snaked around behind the city block-sized store around behind to the loading bays.

I got nothing against the Wisdom of Crowds tending towards dumb-assery, even if it involves pepper spray or the trampling of innocents — ah sweet mystery of life!

Here's what distresses me even more than people do (which is a lot).  So once retail was mom & pop and scattered regional franchises, a generally even playing field.  Then we hit the age of the big box stores, which use the economy of scale to bully manufacturers into lowering the wholesale price, using the margins to undercut both mom & pops and competing chains and generally blighting the earth with their Garish Warehouse Chic architecture and attendant golf-course's worth of parking lots.  That was some pretty bad shit right there, and it's been happening in slow motion for decades.

Now it's now, and the ascendency of the big boxes is unquestioned (except in urban areas, bwoo ha ha ha).  Now you have the three or four big boxes that walk the earth, and they are finding that the Great Recession is not just the whining of Americans, but rather American families, specifically the lower-middle to lower income families that rely on the "everyday savings" of the big boxes, cutting expenses wherever they can.  Such as, shopping at big boxes.

So sales are down!  This affects the bottom line, like the well-being of employees.  (Ha ha only kidding! I meant stock price.)  How to get the shoppers in the store?  Well, why not take a few items and price them below cost, and then turn the traditional shopping day after Thanksgiving into a full-blown holiday, with capital letters?  Maybe after grabbing the $200 flatscreen they might accidentally buy some things at full price?  Or maybe they can so bully the flatscreen manufacturer that they give the flatscreens to the retailer, as the cost of a continued relationship with the retailer.  And it works, the holiday is capitalized.

But now it's a couple years later, and the Great Recession is still on, and shoppers are refusing to comply with the capital needs of the Walmarts of the world.  Well then, more cheaper stuff on BF, and open the stores earlier, like before the turkey is cold.  OK, fine.  It's a logical progression.  But where does it lead?  We already live in a world where it's near impossible to buy, say, a cut of beef from an actual butcher, or a coffee table from a furniture store, but what happens when no one will buy anything unless it's at a BF discount?  What happens when the big boxes start failing because they've trained their customers into expecting unsustainable pricing structures?

Is this the latest greatest American innovation?  The race to the bottom?

Happy Black Friday, everyone!

(The invisible gorilla in the room for this conversation is the Internet, and etailers like Amazon.  They are what will be left.  That's a different conversation.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:22 AM

November 24, 2011

happy giving thanks

This is the second easiest post of the year.  It's Thanksgiving Day, which means that it's all about giving thanks, and this year I am particularly eager to do so.

Family comes first, of course, so I am thankful to all of them, by blood and by marriage.

But they don't come here!  So what I'm really thankful for is that there is someone actually reading what I'm writing.  It feels odd, running a "blog" as we round into 2012, kind of like running a zine in 1999, but here it is.  So: thank you.

Enjoy the American day of consuming mass quantities of food, and if you're going to get into an argument with your friends or family, make sure it's about sports and not about Ron Paul.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:46 AM

November 22, 2011

robert lenzner in a coalmine

This is Robert Lenzner, editor at the Forbes media conglomerate, writing about income and wealth inequality:
Capital gains are the key ingredient of income disparity in the US– and the force behind the winner takes all mantra of our economic system. If you want even out earning power in the U.S, you have to raise the 15% capital gains tax.

I'm used to reading that in certain provinces of the media (Krugman, maybe, or DailyKos, or right here), but to see that under a Forbes masthead is a little bit disconcerting.  And not that conventional business types aren't aware of this, and agree with it in discrete ways, it's just not very often that someone comes right out and says it (and Forbes let's it run).

I usually hate to give away the kicker, but check this:

We have to make up our minds to restore a higher, fairer capital gains tax to the wealthiest investor class—or ultimately face increased social unrest.

Someone out there knows how to make a T-shirt, right?  I mean, I have those magic markers that can write on fabric at home, but my handwriting is poor.

[H/t Matt Langer.]

Posted by mrbrent at 1:44 PM

we have two to five years!!

This is a sentiment that's been making the rounds that I'd like to step on the head of before it spawns: the contention that we have three to five years to turn this country around before it all goes kablooey.  This is of course a Republican sentiment, and it is voiced when discussing the urgency of the 2012 election and/or the urgency of not raising taxes and/or the urgency of sandbagging the president at every opportunity and/or the urgency of legalizing interstate concealed carry permits.  It is invoked a lot, that is to say, and it is used as a rationalization for either behavior or the desired outcome of an event, because how much more can this country take!?!

It's tempting to point to Harold Camping on this one, even though old weird Harold is hardly the first or last man to stake his reputation on the eschaton that did not happen, but the GOP talking point surely does have a whiff of the same addled fatalism.  Not to say that the Right does not have an interest in motivating its base, but in this case (as others) the question becomes, "Just how stupid is the Conservative Base?"

Granted, we are at the precipice of some pretty severe global economic circumstances, but I like to think of it as a precipice that actually lasts three or so years.  But do I think that the country can survive a double-dip global recession?  Yeah, actually, I do, just like we survived the Great Depression (and the two world wars on either side of it), just like we survived the Civil War, just like we survived 9-11, just like we survived everything else.  Call me an optimist, but apparently that's what you get for having ever opened a history book ever.

Actually, I'd say that doubting the durability of the nation, as predicated on something as silly as whether or not Republicans get to sit at the big people table, borders on unpatriotic, which is something that I'm not so concerned with but maybe certain durability-doubting types sweat.

(OK, I admit it, I was reading about Paul Ryan, who cited the deadline — "critical to the American experiment"! — as a reason he wasn't running for president.  As in, he has so much to do as House Budget Committee Chair!  But other leading lights of conservativism are doing it too!  I'm pretty sure.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:20 AM