Real Workers – Not Women or Immigrants

Sorry Rosie, but you're not a real American
Sorry Rosie, but you’re not a real American

In today’s Wall Street Journal, there is an op-ed discussing the myth of the stagnating middle class. The argument is, while middle class incomes have not risen in 50 years (in real dollars), are middle class folk like you and me better off today than we were 50 years ago? The answer to this question is incredibly difficult to answer, and depending what you think a high quality life is, then it could easily go either way. For instance, if your goal is to graduate high school, get a job that can support a family and buy a house, then no – you are probably not part of the middle class that is better off today versus the middle class 50 years ago. However if your goal was to go to college, marry a career driven person, and combined work 100 hours a week to pay off a house you can’t really afford – then yes, you probably are way better off.

That’s my shallow analysis. For an even shallower analysis, lets quote the article:

{..} the average hourly wage is held down by the great increase of women and immigrants into the workforce over the past three decades. Precisely because the U.S. economy was flexible and strong, it created millions of jobs for the influx of many often lesser-skilled workers who sought employment during these years.

Since almost all lesser-skilled workers entering the workforce in any given year are paid wages lower than the average, the measured statistic, “average hourly wage,” remained stagnant over the years—even while the real wages of actual flesh-and-blood workers employed in any given year rose over time as they gained more experience and skills.

If I am reading that right, then the authors here are insinuating that an increase in lower-wage jobs are hurting the middle-class income argument by lowering the average hourly wage. But if there is an increase in lower wage jobs, doesn’t that mean there is a decrease in higher paying jobs? Probably. So what the authors here would define as middle class is simply different on how other economists would define as middle class. All in all, it’s a pretty weak argument because it fails to mention two very big pieces of the big picture, health care costs and housing costs (SPOILER ALERT: they’re way higher today!)

Now onto more important matters from the op-ed, specifically the quote above where they are also insinuating that woman and immigrants are not “actual flesh and blood workers” – glad I’m not a woman or immigrant. So to all you white males out there looking to put your wives in place, be sure to show them a copy of the Wall Street Journal next time you get into a fight over the legitimacy of how hard you do/don’t work at your real job. Be sure to mention that it is your flesh and blood that is creating a stronger middle class for the real America, and isn’t being American what it is all about?

Why Obama Never Needed The Trillion Dollar Coin

"I wonder if the office vending machine accepts one of these.."
“I wonder if the office vending machine accepts one of these..”

If you listened to our latest podcast (and I’m sure you didn’t), you could have heard what we at the Step Aside Show think of the whole trillion dollar coin debate. To quickly reiterate, the trillion dollar platinum coin would be minted and deposited at the treasury so that the treasury could continue to pay the government’s bills. Usually, the government would borrow the money to pay its bills, however our government has a “debt ceiling” and they can only borrow so much before congress votes to increase the ceiling. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know Dick Sharpe thought this was a great idea, a way for Obama to completely ignore the GOP and keep the government at work. I on the other hand disagree immensely.

The reason I disagree is quite simple: the debt ceiling exists simply so that the government (mainly the executive and legislative branch) can keep spending under control, so the government does not borrow too much too fast. In theory, this is a good idea because no entity should ever be in a position to borrow too much money in too short a period of time, that’s how people get into trouble. However, when it comes to government, this ceiling is merely symbolic. At the moment, the US government is running a budget built on natural deficits, meaning the laws the country has enacted up to this point cost the country more money than the government is taking in. The fault of this deficit can be blamed on A LOT of people, including past Presidents, wars, greedy bankers, the unemployed, poor/old people, etc. Regardless of fault though, the bills the government has to pay are simply that, bills that have to be paid. So, should the president really use a trillion dollar coin?

No. Why you ask? Because apart from being a completely ridiculous idea, it undermines the government greatly. It’s basically a huge overstep of the executive branch if the president can avoid hitting the debt ceiling simply by printing new money within the system. Some argue that printing the coin increases inflation, which depending on your economic philosophy may or may not be true. Let’s pretend that it doesn’t increase inflation (which I actually believe wouldn’t), it’s still a terrible idea because of the moral principle of the debt ceiling’s intentions.

Funny enough, two pundits I follow very closely – Jon Stewart and Paul Krugman – got into a bit of a spat over the whole ordeal. Stewart essentially takes the side that the idea is ridiculous while Krugman seriously believe Obama should absolutely use the coin to avoid economic problems. I bring this up for no significant reason other than the comedy involved.

Ultimately, Obama’s strategy thus far is perfect in my opinion, and if it wasn’t for re-election hopes in 2011 is something he should have done the first time he needed to raise the debt ceiling. Obama is telling Congressional Republicans that there will be no negotiation, and that if the Congress does not act and raise the limit, the government shutdown that will result will be on their hands, not the president’s. Many thought this was a huge bluff by the president, however I’m willing to bet it’s not a bluff Republican congress people are willing to call. Just today, news of a minor lift in the debt ceiling is being discussed, and leading the discussion is the Any-Rand-loving-conservative Paul Ryan. And if they don’t raise the ceiling, then let the government shut down and watch how fast the citizens of the country start to rise up against the government. It could be exactly what this country needs right now, even though it is certainly not what the economy needs right now. I’ll say that the state of politics in this country is far worse right now than the economy, and if one was in dire need of serious improvement, it’s our government. And what better way to improve government than pissing off a lot of citizens.

v for vendetta 2

Modern Slave Labor: Unpaid Internships

unpaid-internship
Who wouldn’t?!

My one-year subscription to the Wall Street Journal is coming to an end, which has put me in a bit of a funk. Despite what some of you may think, I really enjoy the paper. Its news article are short, concise, and quite accurate. Unlike other third rate news outlets (CNN, Fox News) they actually wait for facts before posting something on its site. And while I’ve enjoyed the newspaper as a source of information, I’ve had a field day berating the op-ed section and its writers. Well since this may be my last for a while, I better make it count.

Former media executive Steve Cohen is an ignorant asshole. Yes, he may have been a successful executive at one point in his life, however on the subject of unpaid internships, yeah – an ignorant asshole. You see, Mr. Cohen writes in this WSJ op-ed that the value of an internship is in the experience gained. Because of this experience, it does not matter that one will not be paid for services completely irrelevant to ones field of study. He is apparently an expert on the subject because he recently graduated New York Law School and in the process “worked” multiple internships, unpaid of course (as did his son at a national magazine – a nice irrelevant fact pointed out in the article). And he has no complaints, because while he spent the majority of his time making copies, the experience was well worth it.

Here’s the problem Steve (can I call you Steve?), you have a lot of money and live a privileged life. You can easily afford to work somewhere for free because apparently you are at a point in your life where you can go back to school, work multiple full-time unpaid internships, and support your son who is also working for free. I’m not trying to take a stab at your successes in life, I’m sure you worked hard and earned every penny, but this does not make you an expert on the inequality of unpaid internships. Sorry, it just doesn’t, not even close as a matter of fact.

First, lets put aside the argument that the experience is the salary – because I agree with this. Proper internships can be invaluable in experience. This is not the problem with unpaid internships, the real problem is the lack of equality. There are students in this world that cannot afford the luxury of accepting an unpaid internship, believe it or not. Some students have to work full time jobs just to get through school, so they cannot possibly afford the time needed to work a full-time, unpaid internship. Now, you may think equality is not that important, I disagree. Equality is important for two reasons 1) if the pool of potential interns opens from those who can work for free to those who can and cannot, then employers can be sure they are getting the best available talent for a given role and 2) those potential interns that could not have worked for free now have an opportunity they could not have obtained otherwise. We live in a country of opportunity, yet if we don’t pay people to perform a job, then we are essentially limiting that opportunity to a certain class of people.

Now, you may make the argument from the employers perspective that they don’t care about the talent of an intern necessarily, because frankly they are only being brought on to perform mundane tasks, like making copies. So why should they care about the talent quality of students? Well, I would compare this to slave labor. Sure, it’s not a perfect comparison; after all the students wouldn’t be performing tasks against their will. However, from the employers perspective, they are gaining a service they would normally have to pay for simply by calling a mundane job an internship. In this case, the employer doesn’t have the interest of the intern at heart, they are merely looking for a way to get a job done at the lowest possible cost.

Ultimately, we can break down the argument into two very simple goals for our country: do we want to be the country of opportunity or a country of maximizing the cost of work?

Washington Gridlock Explained

jb
Compromise does not work in Washington, as demonstrated by this man, John Boehner

If the fiscal cliff debates have taught me anything, it’s that John Boehner is fucked. Republicans and Democrats mostly want the same things:

  1. Kick the defense budget debate into 2013 and end automatic cuts
  2. Kick other government spending cuts into 2013 as well, avoid cuts to government workers
  3. Permanently adjust the Alternative Minimum Tax rules so inflation is always accounted
  4. Raise government revenue

It is item number 4 that is the big problem. Both sides are OK with reducing tax reductions (like charities) for all Americans, which is speculated to raise between $400-800 billion over 10 years. The difference is Democrats want to raise additional revenue on those who make more than $250,000 a year, and Republicans don’t want to raise any additional revenue from taxpayers. Here is where things get really funny.

John Boehner created a fallback plan, “Plan B” where he will allow tax increases for those who make more than $1 million a year. Obama and almost all Democrats denounced this plan and said they would not pass it. Boehner, insistent on this compromise went ahead and tried to pass it in the House, as kind of a political theater to show there was interest in this bill. The only problem, Republicans didn’t want this either! Tax increases on those who make more than $1 million won’t fly past Republicans.

Additional to this clusterfuck, Obama has compromised and agreed to increase the income from $250,000 to $400,000, which the Republicans obviously denounced because it is an increase on taxes for citizens. However, Democrats are complaining that Obama pledged that taxes should go up on incomes greater than $250,000 – not $400,000. So Obama’s party is pissed that he’s breaking a campaign pledge. Now Obama has to fear that his own party will not be willing to pass this legislation, since it is not what he promised.

Ultimately, there will have to be compromise. Obama has the least to lose really – he’s already been elected to the last 4 years of his political career. Boehner is fucked though. His willingness to compromise on taxes is going to kill him in his party. To get a bill passed, he and a few other Republicans will have to give in on tax revenue to while getting the Democrat minority in the House to pass the bill. Democrats will ultimately compromise on Obama’s compromise, because backing the President is the best thing for their party. Democrats have the most to gain if we go over the cliff, because if there is not compromise, then taxes are increased for ALL incomes – which means Republicans have a lot to lose if there is no compromise. The big question is if a few key Republicans are willing to swallow their pride and raise rates for the minority of citizens, so the majority can keep their current tax rates.

The Biggest Problem with Meaningful Gun Legislation

Thanks to this man, idiots all over Facebook are using the phrase "cold dead hands"
Thanks to this man, idiots all over Facebook are using the phrase “you can take my guns from my cold dead hands” – the same idiots that loved Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes’

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, pundits, politicians, bloggers, and Facebook friends are talking about gun control. Some are saying that it is too soon to have a discussion on gun control – that is a highly hypocritical position to take though. The people that say it is “too soon” are the same people that demanded answers from Obama hours following the Benghazi crisis. Tragedies are tragedies, and there is no time limit before the factors of such events should be discussed, no matter how badly your personal beliefs may be impacted.

No, this is exactly the time gun control should be discussed. If it is not discussed now, it will continue to fall to the wayside as it has for the past decade. It’s incredibly obvious to most Americans that *something* should be done to try and avoid future mass killings – however the limits of what that something is needs some serious focus. This should not be a discussion what we think might work, or how we can continue to preserve the “liberties” of our country’s citizens by protecting the 2nd Amendment. Instead, our leaders should be looking at countries around the world, and improving on systems of gun control that work far better than ours. The United States ranks 12th in terms of gun-related deaths per population, the only Western society in the top 15. Our allies in England still have the freedom to own firearms, and are far less likely to die in a gun related homicide (The US has about a factor 7500% more gun related homicides than England – that is not a typo).

The biggest problem facing meaningful legislation in the United States is the National Rifle Association. The NRA is by far the most powerful and influential lobby in Washington DC, as determined by a survey of lawmakers in Washington. If you’re wondering where the organization gets its money, well that’s a question nobody can answer. You see, the NRA is setup as a 501(c)(4) organization, the same as the Super PACs that spent billions of dollars in our last election. This means that the organization can collect unlimited amounts of money from anonymous sources and spend it freely. It’s widely speculated that even though the NRA collects small amounts of money from it’s 4.4 million members, the majority of its income is raised from gun industry corporate partners.

If you think the NRA is capable of rational debate and conversations, think again. Since the shooting last Friday, the NRA has declined comment of any kind. They have even shut down the social media arm by blacking out its Facebook page and stopped tweeting. In 2008 when President Obama reached out to NRA president Wayne LaPierre, LaPierre responded with “Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” The NRA is not in the business of rational discussion – it’s in the business of keeping its constituents happy. LaPierre earns close to $1 million dollars a year from the organization, and since it’s his job to force the legislation that keeps the gun industry moving, you can bet that’s what he’ll do – regardless of how many innocent first graders die.

And if you happen to think the Newtown tragedy was enough to overpower the grasp of the NRA on politicians, you guessed it, think again. Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have reported that Senator Joe Manchin, a gun advocate Democrat from West Virginia has come out and said that reform must be looked into, but must be done with the NRA at the table. Manchin says “I’ll go over and sit down with them and say, ‘How can we take the dialogue to a different level?” It is the epitome of “democracy for sale” when our leaders cannot make a decision for themselves without first consulting a lobby. There is a certain irony when our leaders are “fighting for our freedoms” while they are not free themselves when it comes to making a decision to better our society.

Apple to Manufacture PCs in the US – Big Mistake

This is how PCs are made!

Apple has recently announced that it will move manufacturing production of one of its PC lines exclusively to the United States in 2013. The speculation is the iMac line, as some of the newer units have already been labeled with “Assembled in USA”. The cost of this move is going to cost the electronic behemoth $100 million. Even though it is a wonderful PR move for Apple, it reeks of financial disaster. Investors already know this, which is why the stock dropped 5% the day before the announcement. It’s a terrible idea for two reasons: 1) this will undoubtedly lower the margin of profit per PC or it will 2) raise the price of PCs. Apple already charges a premium on its PCs relative to the rest of the commercial computer industry, so raising its prices could be harmful. Not raising the prices of the PC line will lead to smaller margins, which will hurt Apple’s bottom line. Throw in the $100 million capital to jump start this effort, and you are creating some real pain for investors.

On the contrary, Apple has so much cash that it uses 100-million-dollar-bills as toilet paper. Apple also makes the majority of its money from iPods, iPhones, and iPads – so sacrificing one of its desktop production lines for good PR might actually make it a pretty reasonable marketing move. All in all, the move will probably end up being a wash for the company and have very little or no impact on the company. So… sorry for wasting your time reading this post. Email your rage at stepasideshow@gmail.com

The Tax Battle and the Consequences for Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist

The last few weeks and for the next couple of weeks the pundits of the world will be talking about the speculative congressional/White House fiscal deal and its consequences on the Grover Norquist Republican tax pledge. Democrat pundits are giddy because it could be the end of irrationally not raising taxes while Republican pundits are trying to say its not a big deal if revenue is raised by closing loopholes and ending tax incentives; as long as rates are not increased. It’s all very annoying and stupid, let me tell you why.

Grover Norquist is the president of a *lobbyist* group called Americans for Tax Reform. He formed it 20 years ago after George H. W. Bush promised not to raise taxes, but then went ahead and raised taxes. Norquists thought was that if he could get every elected republican to sign his pledge, then taxes will not be increased because they would have the backing of his lobby. It’s a brilliant financial move on his part: reach out to wealthy political donors and tell them “I stand for never raising taxes” – pretty easy sell really. Then, offer all this donor money to campaigns, as long as the person running for office signed the pledge – easy sell for the person running for office too. The problem is, the elected officials really wanted to live by this pledge because at the time, they thought it was a good idea. However, a lot of them are now realizing it was unrealistic because its simply not fiscally responsible to only ever lower taxes.

So, now pundits are having a field day because they can talk about what the consequences of a signed deal will mean for Grover Norquist. Democrats think it is the end of the tax pledge days and Republicans are hoping Norquist does not take a serious blow if tax rates happen to go up January 1st. Well let’s put all the speculation to bed right now, because I can see the future and I know exactly what will happen regardless of the details of a potential fiscal deal: nothing will fucking change. That’s right, you heard it here. You know why nothing will change? Because business will still be booming for Grover Norquist. There will still be rich people that will want to donate to his lobby because they do not want more taxes. And new Republicans running for office will still sign the pledge because then they get those fat lobby dollars. Pundits will continue writing about Grover into the new year and speculate his future, all the while his bank account will continue to grow and remain secure. Sure, he might lose a few big donors in the process because some Republicans will break the pledge, but they will be easily replaced by new donors.

The sickening thing here is not the outcome of any fiscal scenario – it’s the fact that everyone knows Grover Norquist runs a lobby, that Republicans get into its pocket if they sign a pledge, and in doing so it completely effects the legislation they are willing to pass. It has NOTHING to do with what is the right thing to do with the country and EVERYTHING to do with where their campaign contributions are coming from. And this is just a public pledge; imagine how many under-the-table pledges exists between lobby’s and candidates on both sides.

Sheldon Adelson – A Strange Rich Dude

.001% of his wealth is more than I will make in my lifetime

Sheldon Adelson is the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. In other words, he’s worth about 22 billion dollars. Adelson is also famous for giving a lot of money to republican elections – A LOT! In 2012, his political donations topped $100 million, twice as much as 2008 and half as much as he plans on spending in 2016. Now you would think if someone is willing to throw so much cash at a losing effort (7 out of 8 of the candidates he backed, lost – including Mittens) that he must be a crazy conservative nut job. Well, that might not be the case. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Adelson claims to be pro-choice on abortion, pro-stem cell research, and even pro socialized health care. So then why would a man with such liberal viewpoints be giving so much money away to republican campaigns? Only one reason: he’s anti-union. Yes, those pesky groups of organized workers that fight for basic rights in the workplace, that is the reason Adelson donates so much of his hard-earned cash to conservative campaigns.

It seems strange to me that Adelson could be so left of the GOP base in terms of healthcare, particularly in the 2012 election, and still have contributed 9 digits to republican campaigns. It makes me wonder if he possibly takes those left positions to make himself look more grounded than he really is. That, or he is just another rich nut-job who really hates unions.

Return of the King (of the Assholes)

Someone should throw McGurn into the volcano of Mordor

In this weeks Wall Street Journal op-ed, King Asshole William McGurn returns with a strange story of how food stamps are bad. You see, it all started a couple of weeks back while McGurn was channel surfing and stumbled upon a TV show on MTV about a woman who’s partner just up and abandons her. She lives in a nice apartment in New Jersey, however, she cannot afford the rent on her own. “This wasn’t your caricature “taker”—the woman had a real job.” McGurn says about the woman. McGurn then says the woman’s situation provokes two questions:

First, how could her boyfriend just abandon his sons without having to pay child support? Second, what is the conservative response to a woman who finds herself in this situation?

The first question is stupid – some people are assholes (McGurn is exhibit A on that point) and will simply do asshole things – like abandon children. It truly sucks, but it does happen. However, he reveals later in the article M. Night Shyamalan style the answer to his first question:

As it turned out, the reason her partner could abandon those two young boys is because they weren’t his. He’d been supporting another man’s children, and apparently decided he’d had enough. The conservative might feel vindicated here: Had the mom been married to and living with her children’s father, chances are she and her boys would not find themselves so vulnerable.

Yes, you conservatives can now rest peacefully knowing that the man that left her wasn’t even the father of the children, so that makes her situation way less forgiving. All she had to do was marry the father and live happily ever after, but some how she fucked up and she should be shamed into having to get food stamps to support her children. Or better yet, not provide food stamps at all, because starving children is the best lesson learned for any parent.

McGurn’s second question is just as interesting in my opinion, and basically goes unanswered.  “What is the conservative response?”. McGurn doesn’t explicitly answer this question, but it’s very implicit that the response is to abide by the strong conservative values of living a “normal” life where women marry men, have children, and support their families effortlessly because of the conservative lifestyle they have chosen. Basically, the woman from his story deserves what she gets because she couldn’t hold down her man. The solution to her present problem is to not have fucked up previously. You have to love a political policy that says the solution to your problem is to not have had a problem in the first place. Brilliant.

McGurn goes on to discredit college loans, housing subsidies, and minimum wage as dilemma’s also hurting society. And he’s quick to throw in that the solution is “surely not to embrace higher taxes for the rich” because higher taxes hurt investments. Of course they do, just ask Warren Buffett.