Sick Leave and Retirement Are Not “Social Issues”

The Post has another Annapolis preview this morning, this time following the “x things to watch for” rubric. In this case, the lucky number is 7.

Pretty much what you’d expect, with Hogan/Busch relationship, Baltimore, and the eight senators and delegates running for other offices in the April primary (not sure why “more than half a dozen” is the reference, you’d think “eight” would be both more precise and use fewer words) on the list. 

No sign of Todd Eberly in this article, but one item on the list makes no sense whatsoever. Number 4 is entitled “Hogan’s response to social issues,” which would be a wonderful topic of discussion. For example, does Larry Hogan support HB16, a bill by Delegate Ric Metzgar that would allow discrimination against LGBT individuals under the guise of “religious freedom”? 

The problem is that two of the three issues Ovetta Wiggins discusses (paid sick leave and retirement plans) are not, under any rational definition, social issues. A June 30 Vanity Fair article entitled “What Will Be The G.O.P.’s New Social Issue?”by the generally annoying Michael Kinsley explicitly distinguished “social issues” from “economic” ones:

Abortion, marriage equality, gun control, drugs, prayer in the schools, affirmative action, the “War on Christmas”: these are all classified as “social issues” (as opposed to economic and foreign-policy issues) . . .

This is a common sense distinction familiar to anyone who’s followed politics for more than, say, ten minutes. Paid sick leave and retirement issues are bread and butter economic issues. They relate to the wages and benefits and conditions of employment of ALL workers. They will be heard by the House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis, if some external indicator was needed. They may be excellent indicators of something – economic justice/inequality, for instance – but it defies explanation to cast them as “social.” It’s not even remotely a close call.

 Unless, of course, the idea is to use “social” as a signifier for “controversial,” in the hopes of giving encouragement to opponents of the proposals for paid sick leave and worker retirement accounts (“oh, well, it’s one of THOSE issues. They’re SO divisive. Sigh.” I don’t know what Ovetta Wiggins’ views on the subject are, but the Post as an entity is and has been for many years – decades, in fact – openly hostile to labor and workers’ rights. Seen in this view, what we have here – perhaps – is the subtle hand of management tweaking a subhead to disparage and denigrate an issue that is vigorously opposed by the Fred Hiatts and Charles Laneses of PostWorld (not to mention owner Jeff Bezos, but the Post’s elitist hostility to workers rights long predates his arrival, so he gets a pass for this discussion).

It’s kind of sad, but reading the newspaper has become an intelligence agency exercise in decoding the preferences of the people doing the writing. I think I liked it better when our overlords and social betters just whacked us in the head with a 2×4. At least we knew where we stood then.

The E-Trade Baby Is Not Having A Good Week

The stock market has hit what investing professionals like to call a rough patch – the market is down over 1600 points in the past three days. There’s no reason to panic, of course, say the professionals – the fundamentals of the market are sound, stay the course, maybe even buy some more stock.

Here with an opposing view is the E-Trade Baby, who is clearly not having a good week.

Over the last weekend and today, the US Stock Markets plunged, losing over 1600 points in three days. This along with the worldwide markets including China, Hong Kong and other Asian markets. Meanwhile, financial experts tell us all to “not panic” and that all is well. I think I even heard someone say “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”

Five years ago, as the economy was recovering, the E-Trade baby was showing America just how easy investing was. So simple a baby can do it, right? Well, nowadays it seems the E-Trade baby has hit hard times.

Check out this footage taken as his world crashed around him HERE;

Since that fateful day (last Thursday) … some reports tell us the baby has gone on a binge, joined a right wing militia and has gone “off the grid.” Some are saying he is conspiring with El Chappo and has vowed to bring him the head (and hair) of Donald Trump. Still others are saying that rumors that he has been spotted at a hippie commune deep in the Rocky Mountains and has simply “checked out” are true.

Regardless of which is true, one thing is for sure — the stock market broke this beautiful child and turned a sweet innocent baby into a “corporate killer.” The last several years saw him gobble up whole market sectors with just a click as he mercilessly played the market like it was his own personal symphony. Some on Wall Street are not sad to see him go. No one would be quoted or appear on camera speaking out against this ‘Baby Baron of Wall Street’ but off the record we heard horrible tales of intimidation, abuse and dirty diapers.

Hogan Regulation “Review”

This is right out of the decades-old, Ronald Reagan-inspired right wing playbook. It’s about to be Christmas in July for businesses in Maryland. At least Larry Hogan got the right wording on the new signs.

Vowing to free Maryland businesses from what he called “nonsensical, out-of-control” regulations, Gov. Larry Hogan launched a commission Thursday charged with reviewing every rule on the state’s books with an eye to streamlining or eliminating them.

The Republican governor, following up on campaign promises, told reporters that his new Regulatory Reform Commission will make recommendations to eliminate regulations that discourage businesses from coming to or staying in Maryland.
“We promise a top-to-bottom review of all regulations and policies to make sure that Maryland can once again operate under a fair, accountable and balanced regulatory climate,” Hogan said. He said the panel will target rules that are outdated, failed to meet their goals, or are poorly drafted or implemented.

Unlike some other attempts at regulatory boondoggle, Hogan isn’t even pretending to any kind of balance. All bidniz, all the time, forever and ever amen.

Critics objected to the composition of the 10-member panel, which is made up almost entirely of business interests. Six of the members, including co-chair James A. Soltesz, were identified as chief executive officers of companies and a seventh as president. The other co-chair is Baltimore securities lawyer Abba David Poliakoff of the firm Gordon Feinblatt.

The other members include a representative of the agricultural community and Hogan transition chief James T. Brady, a former secretary of business and economic development.
The group included no representatives of labor, environmental organizations or nonprofits — groups that typically seek a role in how regulations are written and enforced. Aides to the governor said more people might be added.

In response to concerns about the makeup of the panel, Hogan’s spokesman was blunt:

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor wants a panel that reflects the business interests.

“It represents the governor’s point of view,” he said.

Well, there you have it. Boss Larry is happy, so everybody else should either go along or shut up.

One more front has just opened up in what promises to be an all-out war between Hogan and the General Assembly. Expect fighting to be intense, and the casualties to be heavy.

Recommended Viewing As The Market Reopens

The only thing more entertaining than the train wreck of panic that is CNBC is mixing it in with episodes of the new HBO show The Brink, a very funny comedy about a crisis between the U.S. and Pakistan starring Tim Robbins and Jack Black.

Right now, as funny as The Brink is, CNBC IS giving it a run for comedy supremacy. Watching the two together is enhanced comedy, on an exponential scale.

Annnnnd the CNBC nightmare is finally over. The NYSE is open again. I’ve never seen so much relief that a market is open in my life.

And after two hours of making the case that there would be a huge volume of shares traded, the CNBC goofs are now in universal agreement about what a good thing it is that the volume is so modest. Whatever happens, it’s good for the market, good for business, and good for America. God bless us one and all.

3 Hours, 9 Minutes

Listening to the mindless CNBC talking heads squabbling among themselves over whether the NYSE shutdown is a “glitch” or a “catastrophe” is equal parts amusing and horrifying. “All is well” is running neck and neck with “the market is CLOSED, guys” for dominance.

We’re all doomed.

2 Hours, 18 Minutes And Counting

The stock market is still down, and we’ve heard from a combination of (1) the NYSE, (2) the blithering idiots at CNBC, (3) the FBI, (4) the SEC, (5) Homeland Security, and (6) right now, the White House.

Cutting through all the bullshit, one of two things is happening. Either things are really bad and all the above entities just won’t say so, or they have no idea what’s going on. The message continues to be “it’s a technical problem and there’s no indication of a cyber attack or any larger problem.” We shall see.

CNBC just now is beginning to express a new concern. If the NYSE doesn’t reopen before the end of the day and there’s no “market close” as a result, things start getting weird with tomorrow’s market open. “Volatility” will be the word of the day. The market normally closes at 4:00. So they’ve got a little over two hours to get this figured out. If they can.

The Things I Do For You

I’ve been watching CNBC for about 45 minutes now, trying to get more information on the NYSE shutdown, and I’m convinced that for every minute I watch, I’m taking a month of brain function off the end of my life. And that goes triple when the most annoying man in television, Jim Cramer, starts yapping. I hope you appreciate this sacrifice on my part.

Bottom line: there is a desperate and palpable need to express over and over again that everything is fine. They really have no clue, but by God, they’re going to keep talking, even thought they have nothing to say. And it will all be fine, we’re sure. Repeat endlessly until the market restarts, which after 76 minutes it still hasn’t. The endless loop of happy – and desperate – talk therefore goes on.

NYSE and WSJ Servers Down

Stock market trading suspended as of approximately 11:30 a.m.

Trading in all symbols was halted on the New York Stock Exchange floor Wednesday due to an apparent technical issue.

“NYSE/NYSE MKT has temporarily suspended trading in all symbols. Additional information will follow as soon as possible,” the NYSE said in a statement on its status page.
The exchange was investigating the issue that caused the halt, Reuters reported, citing a source. Trading stopped around 11:30 a.m. ET.

Not to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but this kind of “technical issue” just doesn’t happen. It’s happened once or twice to NASDAQ, but never on the NYSE. I blame Michael Lewis‘ book Flash Boys for knowing more than I ought to about how these markets can be manipulated and hacked for private gain. It’s worth the read.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the Chinese stock market has been in free fall for the past month, down over one third.

With all due respect to Chris Van Holllen’s impressive fundraising numbers, this is now the story of the day. Do not for one minute believe the flacks who will soon be out to tell you that the problem was a router or a glitch in the system. They know no more than you or me, but they have a strong interest in “all is well.” I have a very strong feeling that it’s not well at all.

Income Inequality: We Suck

Some depressing and telling facts came to my attention today, courtesy of Delegate Andrew Platt’s tweet this morning.

platt tweet 050515

He’s referring to this New York Times story. which reports the findings of a large and detailed study that calculates the effect that growing up in a particular county has on income results for children after they reach adulthood. The interactive part of the report is fun to play with, but the statistics are awful.

For you social science geeks, the actual 88 page report from which the NYT article and data is drawn is here.

To the data! For all kids from families in the 25th percentile for income, growing up in Montgomery County, for example, has a positive impact on income of $2,740 or 10%, better than 79% of all counties. Not bad – but not great, either, for a county that prides itself on helping people rise up from poverty.

But let’s look at Baltimore in a little more detail. It’s a disaster, particularly for boys. In Baltimore, for all kids whose family income is in the 25th percentile, there’s a negative impact to growing up in Baltimore of $4,510, or 17%. For boys, it’s even worse – an astonishing negative impact of $6,830. or 28%. For girls, the negative impact is $1,490, or 5%.

As the Times notes:

The feelings heard across Baltimore’s recent protests — of being trapped in poverty — seem to be backed up by the new data. Among the nation’s 100 largest counties, the one where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is the city of Baltimore, the study found.

The city is especially harsh for boys: Low-income boys who grew up there in recent decades make roughly 25 percent less as adults than similar low-income boys who were born in the city and moved as small children to an average place.

The single worst place in the entire country to grow up poor. Think about that for a second. That’s appalling.

A couple of other recent reports add to the depressing reality. According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Maryland in 2013 ranked 50th (ahead of only the District of Columbia) in the ratio of our minimum wage to the median wage actually paid here. The ratio here was 31%. The national average, by comparison, was 39%. That means Maryland is the most difficult state for someone earning the minimum wage to live in. Not a distinction we should be proud of.

By comparison, in 1979, Maryland’s minimum-to-median wage ratio was 46%, and the national average was 51%. This is a national problem, but it’s worse here than anywhere else.

A final note on our sad tour through the economic data. A March report from Pew shows that from 2000-2013, the percentage of Maryland residents falling within the definition of “middle class” dropped by almost 7%, and the percentage of households spending over 30% of their income on housing rose from 28% to 35%, an increase of 25%.

pew data 050515

So to summarize: if you’re poor and you’re trying to escape poverty, Baltimore is the worst place in the country to live. Our minimum to median wage ratio is the worst in the country. And more and more people are falling out of the middle class and spending more and more on housing costs. You think that this is a separate issue from what’s going on in Baltimore right now? I’m sorry, but you’re being naive. It’s all part of the same problem.

Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country – dwell on that for a second – but the disparities that come leaping off the page of the data I cite here make clear that we are in crisis. Only a privileged few are sharing in the bounty of that wealthy status we like to crow about. Until we find a way to spread that wealth around, to invest in places like Baltimore and other communities – including right here in “rich” Montgomery County – that desperately need the help, we are not living up to our ideals. And that’s not acceptable.