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March 04, 2004

Meetings

I'll be out of the studio all day Friday, so this site is concluding its broadcast week early...

Karl Rove is sure a genius

That mission-to-Mars thing certainly ignited the public imagination. And that whole gay marriage amendment business--that's surely done the President a world of good.

And with these new ads, the Boy Genius once again lives up to his well-deserved nickname!

President Bush's re-election campaign on Thursday defended commercials using images from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including wreckage of the World Trade Center, as appropriate for an election about public policy and the war on terror.

Some families of the victims of the attacks are angry with Bush for airing the spots, which they called in poor taste and for the president's political gain.

--snip--

It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people," Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin towers, told the New York Daily News for its Thursday editions. "It is unconscionable."

Two of the spots show the destruction at the World Trade Center and include an American flag flying amid the debris. They also feature images of firefighters working through the wreckage.

"It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place," said Firefighter Tommy Fee of Queens Rescue Squad 270. "The image of firefighters at ground zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics."

In all seriousness, if they think it's a good idea to use the WTC site as a backdrop for ads and later, for their convention, I say let 'em. If Boy Genius thinks it's going to be a good thing for Republicans to come to New York City and trample the ground where so many died--well, let's just say I suspect that'll play about as well as most of his other election-year schemes so far.

Memo to Rush Limbaugh

You might want to stop using that line about how you're "having more fun than a human being should be allowed to."

Just sayin.

Keeping America safe for the yahoos

I've always admired Ted Rall's ability to take what is effectively an alternative/underground cartoon and make it part of the mainstream. He runs in far more mainstream papers than I do (which isn't hard, granted), and until recently, his work was part of the New York Times' online comics page.

Well, now there's a hole where the little Rall icon used to appear. According to Editor & Publisher, the Times has decided to "move in a different direction," which is, apparently, "away from Ted Rall."

Rall's got more about it on his site.

Bringing democracy to corrupt nations

International election monitors are planning to keep a close eye on a nation whose leader has previously shown great contempt for free and fair elections. Story here.

Friedman redux

Continuing this site's recent trend as the scourge of the New York Times op-ed page...

I am the first to acknowledge that I do not have a degree in economics. I am but a simple uneducated cartoonist, trying to make sense of the world as best I can, with the limited gifts I have been given.

Nonetheless, even I can see what's wrong with this:

"We have tied up with several small and medium-size C.P.A. firms in America," explained Mr. Rao, whose company, MphasiS, has a team of Indian accountants able to do outsourced accounting work from across the U.S. All the necessary tax data is scanned by U.S. firms into a database that can be viewed from India. Then an Indian accountant, trained in U.S. tax practices, fills in all the basics.

"This is happening as we speak we are doing several thousand returns," said Mr. Rao. American C.P.A.'s don't even need to be in their offices. They can be on a beach, said Mr. Rao, "and say, `Jerry, you are particularly good at doing New York returns, so you do Tom's returns." He adds, "We have taken the grunt work" so U.S. accountants can focus on customer service and thinking creatively about client needs.

Okay, I want to see a show of hands. How many of you believe that the major accounting firms which outsource their work to India then proceed to tell their CPA's: Go hang out on the beach! Focus on customer service and thinking creatively about client needs!

Because that would be the impetus for the outsourcing, of course. Not to save labor costs--but to give your people more free time to, you know, fulfill their human potential.

Oh, wait. Maybe not.

Look, an intellectual apologist like Friedman can always come up with cheerful little anecdotes to justify this sort of thing, but it's painfully clear to any reasonably bright fifth grader what's really going on. As a wise man once said (at least in the movie version): follow the money.

The reason lies in the numbers; accountants in the United States typically earn $4,000 a month. In places like India it's closer to $400, says David Wyle, CEO and founder of SurePrep, a tax-outsourcing firm based in southern California that's employed more than 200 accountants in Bombay and Ahmedabad, India.

Now of course, the free traders in the audience are already composing lengthy emails about the inevitability of change and the invisible hand of the free market and so on--but here's the problem: the invisible hand only functions efficiently when labor and capital are equally mobile. Unfortunately, here in the real world, pretty much any job can be outsourced, but human beings are still stuck living where they live, in Buffalo, New York, or Little Rock, Arkansas, or wherever they may be. They're not going to move to Bangalore to keep their jobs. And since the cost of living is considerably higher, even in Little Rock, Arkansas, than it is in Bangalore, they simply can't compete, and the invisible hand is transformed into an invisible fist which pummels one side at the behest of the other--not exactly what Adam Smith had in mind. And decades and decades of progress for working people in this country are simply wiped out, as we devolve further and further into a winner-take-all, screw-the-rest society.

Free traders are also prone to ask: don't Indians deserve to make a living? Well, yes, of course. That's just a distraction, another argument from the intellectual apologists, the shiny wand the magician waves to keep your attention away from what he's really doing right in front of your eyes. Corporations are not outsourcing their work out of the goodness of their hearts, out of some innate desire to help people all around the world--they're doing it to save money on labor costs, to wipe out decades of gains--largely the result of the work of the much-maligned unions, which brought an unprecedented standard of living to mid-century working class Americans.

If you truly want to better peoples' lives, you have to start at home. There's a lot of wisdom to the old bumper sticker slogan: think globally, act locally.

(It's the damndest thing, how people who think I am a traitor for expressing insufficient enthusiasm for George Bush's various little wars have absolutely no problem watching their neighbors slide into poverty and despair because someone somewhere is willing to do their job for one-tenth the cost. Patriotism really is in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?)

Look, people can argue in favor of anything. If your landlord decides to quadruple your rent, and you can't find anywhere to live because all the other landlords in town have done the same thing, Tom Friedman could easily argue that those landlords will take the extra money they make, and spend it on fabulous vacations, therefore employing all sorts of travel industry people. Doesn't change the fact that you're living on the street.

And one other thing free traders always bring up is the canard of "retraining." I've been listening to that stuff since NAFTA was first proposed: there's no problem, the workers will just be retrained! Well, I don't know how many former factory workers were retrained for information age jobs like working in call centers (though the number of workers certified for retraining programs by the Labor Dept. is apparently a fraction of the number of manufacturing jobs which have gone overseas), but even if that really did happen, the joke's kind of on those retrained workers, now that the call centers and other information processing jobs are being outsourced as well.

Sure, it may all work out in the long run. But as John Maynard Keynes once noted (and I'm lifting this from somewhere, read it recently but don't remember where), in the long run we are all dead.

But what the hell do I know? I'm just a simple uneducated cartoonist, not a big shot New York Times columnist who gets to travel the world and hear fabulous stories of accountants who spend their time on the beach sipping Mai-Tais, thanks to the wonders of globalization.

Update: sauce for the goose...


(edited, typos, blah)

--------------------

March 02, 2004

Times op-ed page

On one side, David Brooks once again strives to solidify his position as the single most achingly banal columnist working anywhere in any media:

Edwards talks about poverty in economic terms. He vows to bring jobs back to poor areas and restrict trade to protect industries. He suggests that if we could take money from the rich and special interests, there'd be more for the underprivileged.

This kind of talk is descended from Marxist theory, which holds that we live in the thrall of economic conditions. What the poor primarily need is more money, the theory goes.

Imagine suggesting that the poor need jobs to improve their lives. The sheer Marxist lunacy of it all! Good lord, if John Edwards became President, we'd all have to sing the Internationale or risk being shipped off to a forced labor camp!

Fortunately we've got David Brooks to remind us, once again, that what the poor really need are strong family values.

But while Brooks does his Talking Barbie impersonation, ("Math class is hard!"), Krugman is busy on the other side of the page explaining some facts of life:

The payroll tax is regressive: it falls much more heavily on middle- and lower-income families than it does on the rich. In fact, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, families near the middle of the income distribution pay almost twice as much in payroll taxes as in income taxes. Yet people were willing to accept a regressive tax increase to sustain Social Security.

Now the joke's on them. Mr. Greenspan pushed through an increase in taxes on working Americans, generating a Social Security surplus. Then he used that surplus to argue for tax cuts that deliver very little relief to most people, but are worth a lot to those making more than $300,000 a year. And now that those tax cuts have contributed to a soaring deficit, he wants to cut Social Security benefits.

So the poor and middle-classes are being shafted in order to finance a huge tax break for the wealthy. But no matter! As long as everyone has strong family values, I'm sure it'll all work out okay!

--------------------

March 01, 2004

Deadlines

This page will most likely be inactive for a few days, unless Bob jumps in.

...one quick note, though: this bears watching...

--------------------

February 29, 2004

A little bird tells me...

...Michael Moore might be making a surprise cameo appearance on the Oscars (tm) tonight...

--------------------

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