Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rachel Rocks

By Nick Paleologos

OK, I admit it. When Rachel Maddow first cracked into a prime time slot on MSNBC, I watched for a little while and thought, geez Louise, are we going to devote every single show to The Gay? More than once in the early days I found myself changing channels while muttering, “I’m liberal. You’re gay. And there’s nothing wrong with either. I get it, already.”

Six years later, however, I swear this bookish newshound in a boyish do is a bona fide American national treasure. What exactly happened to me--an aging boomer--over these past six years? How is it that I now believe the phrase “must-see-tv” might as well have been coined to describe her show? When did 9pm EST become appointment viewing? Why--if I miss Rachel on any given weeknight—am I listening later to the broadcast’s podcast on Stitcher before drifting off to sleep?

Certainly not because I’m feeling that much more secure in my own sexuality. Definitely not because of her nerdy sense of humor--which still rarely lands with me (although I do get a kick out of how much she gets a kick out of her own goofy jokes). When interviewed by somebody else, she’s just ok—not great. As part of a round table discussion, again she’s nothing special. But somehow when that red light goes on at 9pm--and its just Rachel, me, and the news of the day--an incredible transformation happens.

First of all, she never begins in the present. When congress bailed out on the war powers vote, Rachel opened her show in the Gulf of Tonkin—50 years ago. When gun control was on the front burner, Rachel began with congress killing President Kennedy’s bill--which would have outlawed the very gun that ultimately killed him. She does this kind of thing all the time. Rachel Maddow knows how to tell the whole story—which is what true journalism is supposed to be about.

By doing something so basic, so seemingly obvious, as putting each story in its historical context, Rachel stands absolutely alone among network news anchors. No matter where else you go on television, stories are popping in and out of existence like sub-atomic particles. Now you see them. Now you don’t. Who knows where they came from? Or why? No wonder we understand less and less about more and more than we ever have before.

But that’s not all that sets her apart.

On the rare occasions when she does get something wrong, she practically flogs herself on her own show. It’s as if the degree of self-inflicted punishment must be more severe for her in order to preserve the sanctity of the accuracy standard to which she holds everybody else. Whenever she introduces an expert guest by summarizing an issue, she invariably asks, “Did I get that right? Did I leave out anything important?”

Who else does that? Nobody. That’s who.

Even her loopy diversionary segments like “Best New Thing In The World Today,” “Debunction Junction,” and the occasional Friday closer, “How To Mix My Favorite Cocktails” have all managed to grow on me over the years--because what happens in between is unlike anything else available on television for citizens who flatter themselves into thinking they’re well informed.

Let’s clear up one more thing--once and for all. Rachel Maddow is not the Loony Left’s answer to Sean Hannity. She is much more important than that. Both have strongly held (and mostly opposing) worldviews. The difference—which is on stark display every weeknight—is that Maddow actually cares more about getting it right than about being right. She believes the facts should shape her opinion--not the other way around. And that, my friends, is what separates a journalist from a buffoon.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

LABOR DAY: Record Profits Leave Workers With A Whole Lot Of Nothing.

Labor Today
Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge

AUG. 31, 2014
In the months before Labor Day last year, job growth was so slow that economists said it would take until 2021 to replace the jobs that were lost or never created in the recession and its aftermath.
The pace has picked up since then; at the current rate, missing jobs will be recovered by 2018. Still, five years into an economic recovery that has been notable for resurging corporate profits, the number and quality of jobs are still lagging badly, as are wages and salaries.
In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record (in 1965), while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948. Wage growth since 1979 has not kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate coffers, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.
Worse, the recent upturn in growth, even if sustained, will not necessarily lead to markedly improved living standards for most workers.
That’s because the economy’s lopsidedness is not mainly the result of market forces, but of the lack of policies to ensure broader prosperity. The imbalance will not change without labor and economic reforms.
For instance, new research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that from the first half of 2013 to the first half of 2014, hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, fell for nearly everyone. An exception was a small gain for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners, which was because of minimum-wage increases in 13 states this year.
That’s clear evidence that raising the federal minimum wage, while only a first step toward better pay, would have a powerful effect. A lift from the current $7.25 an hour to the modest $10.10 called for by President Obama and Democrats in Congress would put an estimated additional $35 billion in the pockets of affected workers over a three-year phase-in period.
Unionization is also associated with higher wages and benefits, especially for low-wage workers, which argues for greater legal enforcement of the right to organize without retaliation.
Similarly, stronger enforcement of both labor laws and antitrust laws is needed to ensure against wage theft. Once assumed to be mainly an issue of unpaid overtime or other wage violations, wage theft became a white-collar issue this year, when it was revealed that collusion among the biggest companies in Silicon Valley had suppressed the pay of software engineers by an estimated $3 billion.
The pay of middle-income workers has also been diminished. Decades of outsourcing government jobs to the private sector has undercut public employment, once a mainstay of middle-class life, even as evidence has mounted that outsourcing often does not save money or improve services. What’s needed is a systematic review of government contracts with the private sector and a willingness to end those that are counterproductive.
Another threat to middle-class wages is rampant misclassification — of employees as independent contractors and of workers as supervisors — a tactic that employers use to deny pay and benefits that would otherwise be due. In a promising development, a federal appellate court recently ruled that drivers for FedEx in California are employees, not independent contractors, an example of the courts stepping in when the other branches of government have let an injustice persist.
There has been progress since last Labor Day. Mr. Obama has signed executive orders to improve the pay and working conditions of employees of federal contractors. The Labor Department is revising rules on overtime pay; simply updating them for inflation would make millions of additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime.
What is still lacking, however, is a full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy — a change that would be a reversal of the priorities of the last 35 years.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does Any Of This Sound Familiar?

What’s In A Name?

By Nick Paleologos
August 27, 2014

There was this guy named Rick Blair. He died very young--at age 47. During his lifetime, which ended in 1950, he went off and voluntarily lived in a variety of different ghettos under a bunch of assumed names. He also wrote extensively based on those experiences.

His last book, published in England a year before his death, was a real doozy. In it, he imagined a creepy future just three or four decades hence in which any semblance of civil society has been snuffed out by a single-minded minority using their immense wealth and power to re-label nasty things with nice names.

These horrible human beings work inside a giant pyramid called “The Ministry of Truth.” Carved into the concrete on the outside wall of their headquarters are the following three slogans: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; and Ignorance is Strength.

Crazy, huh?

In Blair’s imaginary world, information is filtered through people whose belief that the strong should prosper and the weak should perish is relentlessly pedaled under the “Fair and Balanced” banner.

An immigrant is an “alien.”

Brutal torture is “enhanced interrogation.”

Financial instruments involving huge risk are called “securities.”

Bone-crushing debt is actually a generous gift of “credit.”

Mass murder is “ethnic cleansing.”

Kids killed in a UN sanctuary are “collateral damage.”

Soldiers killed by their own troops are victims of “friendly fire.”

That last one really fractures me. I mean the only thing missing from such a grotesque bit of re-branding is a smiley face on the body bag.

In the frightening world of Blair’s book, rational decision-making by the public is virtually impossible because the plain, unambiguous meaning of practically everything has been intentionally twisted to serve the selfish interests of a privileged few.

The more I think about it, I may have mixed up some of the actual details in my description of Blair's harrowing book---except for the part about a Ministry of Truth. But the rest isn't far off from what he actually wrote. Anyway, you should definitely read it. It is guaranteed to scare the bejeezus out of you even though it was published 65 years ago by a guy from another country!

By the way, this book will make you incredibly grateful to be living in the good old US of A in the year 2014—where the people in power always tell the god's honest truth. Because if they don't, there's hell to pay. And where every single one of us gets a first rate education so we can call things like we see them and let the chips fall where they may.

You’ll have to forgive me for drawing a blank on the book's title because it’s been thirty years since I last read it. But you can look it up under the author’s full name: Eric Arthur Blair. If you can’t find it under his real name, try one of his pen names: P.S. Burton; Kenneth Miles; or H. Lewis Allways.

Oh wait. There was one other name he used.

George Orwell.