Dennis Hastert: Likes the Boys

He’s a rapist. Raping rapist. Dennis Hastert: rapist.

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Poor Dennis, he’s so very embarrassed about being caught.

It’s not a big secret anymore that Dennis Hastert is a dirty old man and a coercive rapist and pedophile: pretty much everyone is covering it. What’s sort of news is that we’re not collectively flipping tables over it and just sort of shrugging “LOL those old white guys amirite”. North Carolina’s GOP is more exercised by protecting bathrooms from non-existent predation when apparently it’s more likely their own party members are going to try to rape people under their care. They should be writing laws to prevent themselves from being left alone with kids.

In (marginally more) seriousness, the BBC was rocked by stories of a “Sex Monster” within recent memory, and it’s no great stretch to say that particular scandal involved more higher-ups than it should’ve in any functionally moral society. So… this isn’t exactly unique, in that a (very) influential man high up used his influence to coerce and rape younger folks.

What’s a little more intriguing is that folks are more excited and fearful of the monsters within their midst, but are projecting that fear onto the unknown (such as the transgendered) rather than, say, the old guy with lots of money and friends that runs their town. The fact is that The Other is a convenient foe when you need to whip up the base, and that will ever be true.

In the end, folks will always be more afraid of The Other than someone they know, when it is significantly more likely that The Other is just some marginalized political group convenient to project cultural fears onto, whereas the person you know is actually more likely to be the rapist and pedophile.

Not only that, but ol’ Dennis was caught for trying to move money around, not because he was pinned to a wall by some wronged adult for crimes in the past. Our laws about sexual assault, being what they are, are much more amorphous and difficult to work with than proving that someone tried to bribe you with undeclared money. We live in a society where we haven’t found out a better way to get to the root of these nasty issues without seeing money fly around.

This isn’t a new phenomena: capitalism and liberalism’s obsession with the proper movement of money is the foundation of justice for the otherwise overlooked. Al Capone was caught for tax evasion. Dennis Hastert was caught for moving undeclared cash around. It’s just easier in our legal society to find weird money movements than it is to pursue justice, and that’s just where we live.

The North’s Cruel Hidden Racism

The financial industry isn’t afraid to screw a few points from the weak regardless of where they are relative to the Mason-Dixon line.

I always felt like Randy Newman’s song “Rednecks” offers a harsh but fair assessment of the sneering disdain the North typically has for the South’s brand of racism. I say “brand”, because that’s what it is. Did you know that Chicago is America’s most segregated city? There’s a real cultural ignorance at play with regards to what America has deemed acceptable and unacceptable levels of racism, and the echoes of the Civil War pretty much guide most of it.

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Guess which parts of Philadelphia are largely black/not getting those sweet federal subsidies to build generational wealth

It’s been established that minorities get higher interest rates regardless of income or credit, and that’s a national phenomenon that doesn’t respect the Mason-Dixon line. Chicago in particular has been a hotbed of contract for deed, a method of home purchase that dodges the need for a mortgage with a high-risk loan that doesn’t build equity until the home is totally paid off… a method of home purchasing that minorities have historically pursued owing to the federal mortgage insurance being part of the redlining system, wherein minority neighborhoods were screwed out of the financial help that most of America found and finds necessary in order to buy a home.

So, anyway, here we are in the North, with decades of robbing minorities of the opportunity to build equity by forcing them out of the traditional white financial system. It’s offensive, it’s criminal, and it goes on all the damn time. What’s really gross about this is that post-2008, the libertarian right was pretty convinced that the CRA – the regulatory environment that has been attempting to force banks to not screw minorities over for a percentage just because they can – was actually responsible for (some) of the mortgage meltdown when it turns out that it was the non-regulated, non-CRA banks which were actually out of control.

It feeds fuel to the fire that America has always had a too-casual relationship to its assumed white supremacy. I suppose I should point out that “white supremacy” isn’t being used here as a KKK hoods and lynching environment, but one which simply assumes that white people are just better than minorities. Here, we see it with:

  • The assumption that lending to minorities doomed us all because they can’t be trusted with the same financial instruments as whites
  • They aren’t being screwed by the financial system and so we don’t need a CRA or CFPB, because the invisible hand of capitalism sees no race
  • The invisible hand also is assumed to not take advantage of weak political entities in order to extract rents to screw them out of a few percentage points here and there

I think that’s enough.

The point is that there’s a pervasive, institutional racism in American finance. It’s very real, and while it’s proven easy to shame lynching and hoods into irrelevance, it’s proven much more difficult to shame shady financial practices. That’s a universal truth – financial systems are pretty opaque and play around with layered abstract concepts while having the money necessary to place their opacity beyond easy restraint in a democracy – it’s just that here, it’s doubly offensive in that it’s not just classist, it’s racist.

How Times Have Changed

North Carolina has partially forgotten old racist roots in order to embrace new bigotries

Old rich white men used to lynch people for doing what they’re asking this guy to do.

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Missing the Point of Manufacturing’s Decline

Manufacturing output per American worker is 70% of what it was in 1973

American manufacturing has a peculiar status in American political discourse, in how we’re going to be making great stuff again and the Chinese are screwing us and the unions are dead. It’s a conduit through which a lot of hopes and fears are projected, because it hearkens back to some halcyon time when blue collar workers without college degrees could have a steady job, good pay, a home, and a retirement. It turns out that’s not really the case (if you were manufacturing in the 70s, you’re retiring now, and that means if you’re an average American retiree you’re a lot more dependent on your Social Security check than you thought you’d be in your thirties), but so it goes with myths.

Anyhow, the latest version of manufacturing-as-America comes in The Atlantic in a piece that’s ostensibly about Trump having bad ideas about the economy but is really about how manufacturing is never coming back big in America. That may be, but there’s nothing so fatalistic about it as presented, and let me show you why I think that’s the case:

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This graph presents two lines: in blue is the industrial production of the American manufacturing sector, per worker. We’re adjusting the scale so that this equals 1. So, 1 worker in American manufacturing in 1973 produces 1 unit of worth. Today, that 1 worker creates around 0.71 units of worth. Note that we’re adjusting for inflation here; in nominal terms that worker is creating a lot more dollars, but those dollars are worth less than they were in 1973.

In red, we have manufacturing capacity. That is, how much could we actually produce? Again, this is scaled so that our capacity in 1973 is 1. Today it’s around 0.85, or 15% less than what it was in 1973.

The story here is that the American manufacturing sector is more idle than it was in 1973, and making less real output per worker. Even if capacity was operating at its 1973 levels, we’d still be manufacturing less in terms of real output. We’re simply less competitive.

I don’t have the capacity to go into the why, here, but I will say that manufacturing is America is not beaten down from some unseen hand. It’s simply less efficient than it once was and holds a less imposing presence in the world than it once did. Bringing back high-paying manufacturing jobs isn’t going to do anything, and is sort of nonsensical on its face for Presidents to be talking about unless they’re considering subsidizing manufacturing wages. In the real world, somehow the American manufacturing sector must get more productive and efficient relative to the rest of the world in order to bring back American manufacturing, and that’s an issue that’s much bigger than the sector requiring greater base skill and education in order to be hired. It’s the existing sector itself which needs help and in a deep, structural way, not simply more labor.

The North Carolina GOP Fears the Gays

North Carolina’s GOP candidate for Attorney General has some interesting ideas about being gay, and by interesting I mean dumb.

‘”Go home, tell your friends and family who had to work today what this is all about and how hard we must fight to keep our state straight,” [Buck Newton] said to applause.’ – from Reuters

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COMMUNISM and/or homosexuality is coming for us all!

What a terrifying world it must be to believe that culture is disintegrating in front of your eyes, being torn apart by forces you cannot comprehend and that terrify you with their openly decrepit ideas. It’s generally the same feeling I get when I think about what life would be like with a guy like Buck Newton as my state’s attorney general. Luckily I live in Massachusetts, where our flavor of oppression is much more neoliberal.

Anyhow, imagine the mental gymnastics required to be the state’s representative of the law and also have a literally ignorant disregard for civil liberties. It’s not peculiarly American, but it certainly is the most common kind of fear-driven pearl-clutching reaction to a world confronting you with some kind of strange change you never considered before. The Other! They’re going to destroy us!

It’s such a well-worn trope that it’s easy enough to spot once you’re on the outside of it, but when you’re on the inside – say, when a terrorism victim’s family supports an unhelpful war or the expansion of security at airports or what-have-you – it’s a very, very hard sell. I have compassion for those folks; I’m sure I’m on the inside of some struggles myself, such as my position as an upper-class white male making me more amenable to capitalism than presumably a lot of other people. This is a democracy, and that means that sometimes what you or I might consider to be bad ideas are still the majority will and the representative’s will as well, and while screaming at people can be helpful for various reasons in a larger social context, I’ve always considered compassion and patience more effective in my personal life.

So, let’s just say a prayer for North Carolina that the GOP doesn’t get the Attorney General’s office, and helpfully remind people that being gay is almost certainly not a choice and that laws barring transgender folks from peeing where they’re most comfortable isn’t going to keep anyone straight.

 

Retirement and the American Hustle

Nothing changes unless something changes.

America can’t retire. There just isn’t enough money saved, for reasons like:
  • Decades of stagnant wages
  • Increased healthcare and housing costs
  • Decline of the pension
  • …and most importantly, American optimism
The problem isn’t just personal – it’s systemic. Pensions are underfunded with around $3T of unfunded liabilities – amounts the institutions were supposed to pay into the pensions but didn’t, hoping to get around to it later. They haven’t. It’s only going to get worse.
 
There’s a mismatch between expectations and reality which is pervasive in America, and it goes both ways. Everyone was sold the idea that each generation will be better than the previous, and it’s become so much of a given that no one is really pushing to actually make that happen… they just expect it to happen. Employers don’t pay employees in order to hoard cash and execute stock buybacks to pump their paper worth for shareholders; the wealthy are happy to underfund public education and infrastructure and healthcare because they can get around those hurdles; government expects that everything is going to be fine because markets are magic; employees don’t organize or make demands because they’ve been systemically disempowered and are just happy for crumbs.
 
There’s no architect’s union. No programmer’s union. No barista’s union. The only talk of Social Security is how to cut it. Companies are happy to pay less wages until for some reason no one has enough money to buy their trinkets. Everyone is complicit because no one can take responsibility individually for the entire mess, and there’s not enough social cohesion to make the sort of culture-wide compact to work together to solve the problem. In the end people look to the federal government to either institute some kind of socialist-light response or to back off and just let the market double-down on all the failures they already own. Neither one of those work any more because the aristocracy won, and no one wants to bother with a revolution because things are juuuuuuust good enough to let them ride a bit longer.
 
Something’s eventually going to give.

Bangladesh, Terrorism, and Climate Change

With millions living close to sea level, the disruption of climate change is going to hit places like Bangladesh like a hammer

Bangladesh has had a string of assassinations over the past few months, and it’s part of an even longer trend within the country: bloggers and professors and generally agitating secular folks are turning up dead, hacked apart from machetes. It’s the sort of recurring, shocking event that can create a narrative of a country riven by terrorism, where fear stalks the alleys.

That’s sort of true, and sort of not. Certainly a country where LGBTQ activists are being murdered regularly is some kind of an ugly place, though non-liberal values are to some extent not surprising in such a religious country (most Bangladeshis are Muslim).

However, Bangladesh has a murder rate roughly 2/3 of the United States. Now, I know that the US leads the pack in murder among wealthy nations, but Asian countries just tend to have lower murder rates in general and Bangladesh itself, relative to other less-wealthy countries in the world, is middle-of-the pack. So while these murders are reprehensible and represent a stifling of the sort of debate and discussion that tend to go hand-in-hand with liberty and mass self-determination, they are also part of a larger picture wherein the country is still relatively safe, even with aggressive and violent assassins running around trying to fight social progress by splitting skulls.

What is not safe in Bangladesh, and gets quite a bit less press, is the country’s topography. Check out this map of Bangladesh, and note that its major cities are at least partly beneath the 10m sea level cutoff:bangladesh_10m_lecz_and_population_density1

If there is a recipe for looming threats, that map tells the story. You have high-density locations at very low elevations right next to the coast. The current rate of sea level rise since the start of the 20th century is a bit more than 2mm a year, though that average has been rising in the past few decades and is expected to accelerate due to accelerating global warming, and fluctuations around that average have also been rising due to the increased melting/freezing cycles at the poles due to the increased temperatures.

Given the current population, it is not unreasonable of to figure that by 2100 there will a relocation of 30M+ people into an area already inhabited and high-density, and most of those relocations will have to be repeated in a rolling migration as the cycle continues. That disruption is going to cause more havoc than any murderous religious extremists… but terrorism is a product of fear, and it simply isn’t in peoples’ mindsets to typically consider longer term problems as scary or worthy of immediate action in the face of things like a 0.001% chance of being hacked apart with a machete within the next ten minutes for expressing your mind and hoping for a better future.