Friday, November 25, 2011

A possible link?

In the aftermath of a pleasant Turkey Day with family, I have just one brief thought to contribute here today. It was prompted by an article by economic columnist Edward Glaeser in the Nov. 20 New York Times Sunday Review.

Here's the fact Glaeser reported: Between 2007 and 2010, the number of working Americans over the age of 65 jumped by 16%.
Consider the difference between today’s extended work life and the average American work life during the mid-20th century in the midst of what was, in retrospect, a retirement boom. Again, the numbers present a vivid picture: from the ’40s to the ’80s, the percentage of men who were 65 and older in the labor force fell precipitously — from 47 percent in 1949 to 15.6 percent in 1993. By the 1980s, retirement at age 65 was nearly universal for American workers. Today, however, 36.5 percent of 65- to 69-year-old men are still part of America’s labor force. (The number of working women in this demographic is slightly lower.)
Another change: prior to 2001, most of those working past 65 had part-time jobs to supplement their retirement. Since then full-time work has been more common.

Here's my thought: It seems logical that this is a factor in the current unemployment rate for younger workers. If a person retires at 65 and a younger person gets that job, the retiring person does not go into the unemployed statistics. But, if the 65 year old decides to keep working until 68 and the job doesn't open up for a younger person, that younger person might wind up on the unemployed list.

So: why isn't this a factor in the rising unemployment rate and especially in the reported rate of joblessness? I don't mean the main factor, or maybe even a highly significant factor. But why isn't it ever talked about when discussing the job situation?

Glaeser discusses it briefly, only to dismiss the "lump of labor fallacy," in which there is a finite amount of work to be done and delayed retirement robs younger people of jobs. He says that instead older workers can afford to buy more things than retired workers, hence they increase market demand which leads to more jobs for younger people. Thus having more older workers actually increases jobs for younger workers -- so Glaeser says.

I can see that it might work that way in affluent times with low unemployment; but what about when we have a recession? Like now, when we have a shrinking market demand and high unemployment, because people don't have money or are afraid to spend? No market demand, no new jobs. So each job becomes more competitive.

Besides, it seems it would be different if (1) people delay retirement because they still feel like working and it will allow them to afford more luxuries, or (2) people delay retirement because they can't afford basic living expenses on their shrunken retirement fund and savings.

I'm a little hesitant to pit my "kitchen table economic reasoning" against the economic experts. But this makes sense to me.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"What if it had been a 10-year old girl?"

"What if it had been a 10-year old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?"
That is the question that Daniel Mendelsohn asks in an Op-Ed article in the New York Times. Mendelsohn is an author and professor at Bard College whom I have long admired both for his fiction and his critical essays in the New York Review of Books.

Mendelsohn's writes:
"Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl?"

"[T]he mind recoils at the grotesque failure to intervene more forcefully. How could a grown man have left the scene without taking the child with him?"
According to Mendelsohn, it's the underlying homophobia rampant in the sports world that leaves such a question "stubbornly undiscussed." When coaching assistant, Mike McQueary, came upon a senior coach raping a 10 year old boy in the locker room shower, he "left immediately," as he later described it, with his "brain racing" over the quick, tough decisions he had to make.

And the decision he made was to go home and talk to his Dad about it. The next day he told the head coach. It went up the university chain of authority: Head of the Athletic Department, University President. At some point, Sandusky, the retired assistant coach who still had gym privileges, was barred from future use of the gym. In others words: "Just don't do it here."

None of them called the police.
Of course, as Mendelsohn says, the difference is in the gender of the child.
Here's the way I see the underlying (non)thinking:
(1) To report a sexual assault on a little girl is to report a rapist.

(2) To report a sexual assault on a little boy is to accuse this senior coach of having sex with another male.

There's a subtle, but all-telling, shift in where the concern lies -- from the little girl in #1 to the senior coach's reputation in #2.
Or at least that's the emotional connection underlying the denial and cover-up. In fact, pedophilia is a separate phenomenon from homosexuality. The attraction in pedophiles is to a prepubescent child, more often girls than boys. That is what professional investigators have told us; but, at the emotional level, the mind recoils and we hear "male-male sex."

But does that make it less serious, less heinous, for a boy to be raped? Apparently the hierarchy in the athletic department and the university administration thought so. A previous charge against this same coach years before had been dismissed as "horsing around."

It's a terrible thing that happened, and the university failed miserably in handling it. But the very fame of the coach and the football team brings it into the spotlight of frank discussion that is long overdue.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Newt's surge means

I have been so dismissive of Newt and have such an intense dislike of him that I have perhaps not recognized the real meaning of his surge in the polls, preferring instead to see it as just his turn to be flavor of the week.

Now he has edged ahead of Romney in four national polls. Careful analysis (by others) of the data shows that there may be some real substance to his rise. Whether this will overcome his very significant baggage remains to be seen.

Here are some sobering insights from the data:

1. His rise comes mainly from more conservative and Tea Party Republicans, while Romney's support comes from more moderate Republicans and Independents. In a Quinnipiac 1:1 pairing with Romney, Gingrich comes out 10 points ahead.

2. This suggests that if others (Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Santorum) drop out, Gingrich will be the main beneficiary. All of them divide the same voters that Newt is going after.

3. A major finding is that Gingrich comes out way ahead on questions about "knowledge" and "experience." On rating candidates as "most likely to understand complex issues," he leads Romney by 43% to 18%. And he leads Romney 36% to 20% as "most qualified to be Commander-in-Chief."'

4. All this suggests, to me anyway, that people are moving beyond the point where they like the "know-nothing," "say anything" bumblers. Maybe Cain's cluelessness about international relations was too much and made them realize that this is a complex world and the president needs to have some knowledge and experience. Gingrich seems to exude that, even when he is dead wrong.

This is getting scary. He could win the nomination. Aren't these the same people (conservatives and Tea Party-ers) for whom "social values" issues are most important? Of course, Newt has tailored his positions to appeal to this crowd (anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, etc.) -- but REMEMBER, FOLKS, his personal life is anathema to your family values standards.

Here are the signs of hope:

1. The more people know about Newt, the less they like him. Curiously, as long as he's been around, I think he's going through something of the honeymoon period right now. Maybe his negatives will catch up with him again.

2. Newt's irrepressible excesses may do him in. As I wrote in a comment to my "Two Zingers" post yesterday, he's now proposing optional privitization of Social Security (which fell like a lead weight when Bush proposed it). And he's proclaimed that "child labor laws are stupid," and advocated firing the unionized school janitors and letting the kids do the work to earn money.

Think of Newt as a balloon (it's not too hard to imagine his figure floating above a Macy's parade) that gets over-inflated with his "cosmic egotism" to the point that it just explodes.


The War of the Flip-Floppers

Imagine that the Republican presidential nomination comes down to a final contest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (assuming Newt doesn't completely self-destruct through his excesses before then). We would then have a war between two men who outdo each other in changing their positions according to the expediency of the moment.

Both can be said to "have no core." The big difference, as I see it, is that Romney has an inner governor when it comes to rashness. Gingrich does not. He will say anything. I oppose many of Romney's conservative policies, but he would be steady and reliable. Gingrich would be a loose cannon.

His latest headline-grabber today: The Congressional Budget Office is "a reactionary socialist institution." Last week he said the CBO "actually constrains what people are allowed to think."

Compare this to 1995, when he was Speaker of the House and involved in budget negotiations. The L A Times reported at the time that he said the agreement to the use of CBO numbers is a significant step. At the time, he seemed to agree with the general acceptance of the CBO as a reliable source of facts and analysis. And that's when he was actually dealing with them directly as the Republican leader of the House.

In truth, the stated mission of the CBO is to provide Congress with "objective, nonpartisan, and timely analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions on the wide array of programs covered by the federal budget."

A former CBO Director, a Republican, called Gingrich's current claim ludicrous.

Then there is his claim that a health insurance mandate "leads to socialized medicine." In the past, he has advocated a mandate. Now he says, "I was wrong." But he doesn't exactly say what changed his thinking. So it's hard to draw any other conclusion than he's just adjusting his policy according to the voters he's trying to attract.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Fox News makes you dumb

A new poll released by Fairleigh Dickenson University has some really delicious findings:
"Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who don't watch any news at all. . .

"For example, people who watch Fox News . . . are 18 points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all."
And that is after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors. The FDU political science professor who is the analyst for this poll confirms this clear finding:
"There is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don't watch any news at all."
Another interesting finding. On a domestic political question -- the political identity of the protestors in "Occupy Wall Street" -- the group with the highest percent of correct answers was those who watch Jon Stewart's Daily Show.

I love it !!!


Two zingers

OK, so it's been only 3 days since I backed off the fun of ridiculing individual GOP candidates. This one will be very brief. Just two zingers fired off on yesterday's tv news program "This Week With Christine Amanpour," referring to Newt Gingrich:

George Will: Responding to Newt's saying he only gave advice to Freddie Mac "as a historian," George Will (conservative pundit) snapped, "He's no historian !" And then he added that Gingrich is guilty of "absurd rhetorical grandiosity."

Paul Krugman (liberal pundit) was even more scathing: "Somebody said he's a stupid man's idea of what a smart man sounds like." Still, Krugman, conceded, he is more plausible than the other alternatives to Romney.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Change the rules after the fact

So, the Super Committee has thrown in the towel. They couldn't get the job done. The Republicans wouldn't give on increasing revenue and the Democrats wouldn't give enough to suit them on cutting entitlements.

According to the legislation establishing the Super Committee, that will result in automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion, half of which would come from defense and half from domestic programs, but leaving Social Security and Medicare out of it. It also means that the Bush tax cuts will expire, but that means all of them, not just for the wealthy. That was the agreement, that was the pressure that was supposed to make this work.

It didn't. And now Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is wanting to change the rules. He says Congress will have to find a way to limit the cuts in the defense budget. He was one of the 12 chosen to be on this Super Committee.

No wonder it didn't work. They already knew they would just propose to change the rules. Both President Obama and Senator John Kerry (D-MA), another committee member, have strongly opposed that happening.

So nothing actually happened, and now we're back to square 1, with the triggered changes not going into effect until 2013 anyway.

Much can happen in this coming year. An election year.