Thursday Links: Buffett, Chicago/Illinois, Atlanta Teachers

20150201-DSC_035

Here are today’s topics, in no particular order:

(1) Warren Buffett, the Greedy Grandfather of Omaha:  Joe Nocera had a puff piece in the New York Times last March invitingly called  How Warren Buffett Does It, discussing the magic of Buffett’s “value investing.” Thankfully, lots of the online comments called b.s. on Nocera, pointing out the unseemly sources of some of Buffett’s wealth. Several comments mentioned the great work of David Cay Johnston, in whose 2012 book The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” and Other Tricks to Rob You Blind Buffett makes several appearances. (Find Steve Pressman’s review of The Fine Print from our Nov/Dec 2012 issue here; check out DCJ’s 2011 Tax Analysts piece, Warren Buffett Wants Your Taxes, on Buffett’s tendency to divert tax dollars into his own pocket; read Dean Baker and David Cay Johnston, in an October 2012 FDL Book Salon on The Fine Print).

Now two more bits of evidence about how Warren Buffett really does it:  First, Naked Capitalism republished Raúl Ilargi Meijer’s Automatic Earth piece, Warren Buffett Is Everything That’s Wrong with America, about Buffett’s plan with Brazilian 3G Capital to merge the food giants Heinz, Kraft, and Oscar Mayer. Here is the money quote: “Buffett, the supposed genius, can only do these deals because nobody demands anybody to pay for the externalities that arise as a result of Warren pushing crap posing as food upon the American people. And then when he’s done getting even richer off of poisoning your kids, he’ll donate billions to their well-being.”

The more shocking recent piece comes from Daniel Wagner and Mike Baker, written for the Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle TimesWarren Buffett’s mobile home empire preys on the poor, with the subtitle “Billionaire profits at every step, from building to selling to high cost lending.” This investigative report is about how Clayton Homes, which is owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and which in turn owns a chain of mobile home companies with different names, helps push people into high-priced mobile-home mortgages through predatory lenders also owned by Clayton itself. And Berkshire Hathaway has its hand in the mobile-home manufacturing business too, so the whole predatory web funnels profits from people of modest means into the billionaire’s pockets.

I think it’s time to take to Twitter and ask @WarrenBuffett and @claytonhomes how they respond to the charges made in Daniel Wagner and Mike Baker’s piece Warren Buffett’s mobile home empire preys on the poor.

(2) Chicago and Illinois:  The main election result in Chicago, Rahm “Mayor 1%” Emanuel winning re-election (spending some ten times what his run-off opponent, Jesús “Chuy” García, did) was super-depressing, but even worse, for me, was the fact that Chicago’s UNITE-HERE Local 1 endorsed Emanuel (though with some laudable push-back from other unions in the city, who gleefully mocked the #RahmLove hashtag on Twitter, and by former UNITE-HERE staffers, according to Micah Uetricht’s post, Over 40 Former UNITE HERE Staff, Volunteers Rebuke Union for Endorsing Rahm Emanuel, at Working In These Times.

Just before the elections, Naked Capitalism’s Lambert Strether had a post, Rahm Emanuel and Rick Perry Hold Public in Bipartisan Contempt, about how Chicago’s Emanuel and Texas’s Perry have figured out how to dole out multi-millions of dollars to companies (campaign donors, surely) with no bidding process, no transparency, and no accountability (e.g., about whether the companies create jobs they are supposed to create.

There was at least one (possible) positive outcome to the elections in Chicago, as Kari Lydersen reported, also at Working In These Times: On Chicago’s Southeast Side, Union-backed Sue Sadlowski Garza May Have Defeated a Rahm Emanuel Ally.  Sue Sadlowski Garza was one of several teachers to challenge pro-Rahm incumbents, but I think the only one to get to the run-offs, and she was just a few votes ahead last I checked, but hopefully she will prevail.

And Chicagoans also have to worry about Governor 1%: Bruce Rauner. In great interview from a while ago on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News, longtime lefty union organizer Jane McAlevey talks about Gov. Bruce Rauner’s attack on public-sector unions in Illinois, and about how the reactionaries like Rauner have an analysis of power that they pursue with precision, and the left needs to get one instead of floundering around. She made similar arguments in a piece in The NationWe Need Syriza in Illinois.

There was a lot of fuss on The Facebook among progressives about the so-called “religious freedom” law in Indiana, and rightly so. Mainstream and right-wing commentators claimed that the Indiana law was the same as the federal law and the law in a bunch of other states–but they were wrong. (David Brooks, unsurprisingly, was one of those to get it wrong (here).) The two best pieces I saw on this were from Garrett Epps in The Atlantic (What Makes Indiana’s Religious-Freedom Law Different?), and from Bill Black at New Economic Perspectives (The Homophobic Law and the Indiana Governor Who Dares Not Speak Its Purpose, plus this post responding to criticisms). Indiana has no LGBT anti-discrimination law, for one thing; but Bill very usefully points out how the Indiana law pointedly drafted to be extreme. (What I thought was the really wacky part of the law was the provision that allows you to make up your own religion: “Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, ‘exercise of religion’ includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”

But once you listen to Jane McAlevey on Rauner’s coup in Illinois, you’ll wish there were as much of an uproar on social media about what’s going on in Illinois as there has been about what’s going on in Indiana.

(3) Atlanta Teachers vs. Wall Street Bankers:  Bill Black had a great post on New Economic Perspectives (cross-posted on Naked Capitalism) about the recent sentencing to prison of teachers who changed their students’ high-stakes test scores: We Send Teachers to Prison for Rigging the Numbers, Why Not Bankers? Bill focuses on all the investigative and prosecutorial resources that went into the cheating scandal, when massive bank fraud is considered too difficult to prosecute. David Dayen made similar points at The Fiscal Times (The Biggest Outrage in Atlanta’s Crazy Teacher Cheating Case), but he emphasizes (what I’m betting Bill would agree with) that it’s not obvious the teachers should have been prosecuted at all.

And there was this really wonderful unsigned (as far as I could tell) post at the Crunk Feminist Collective website: Teachers Are Not Magical Negroes–an homage to teachers who encourage Black students to succeed, connecting their struggles to the Atlanta cheating scandal (or the scandal of the harsh punishment those teachers received). Money quote: “We treat smart Black kids and dedicated Black teachers like magical Negro unicorns that can individually save the world when the truth is that we need massive dedicated resources and structures to support us. We put students and teachers in impossible positions, berate them daily, and then wonder why our school systems are struggling. If we really believe that black lives matter, they need to matter in the classroom and in the schoolhouse too.” (For an explanation of the “Magical Negro” trope, see this entry at the wonderful and often radical TV Tropes site, or this Wikipedia entry.)

–Chris Sturr

Wednesday Links

Heilbroner

Here are some items I’ve been meaning to post:

(1) ASSA Protests:  My last post mentioned the planned protests at the ASSA;  there was a bit of a buzz about the protests at the conference, and there was pretty impressive coverage in the Washington Post:  The protesters who are trying to upend the ‘fantasy world’ of economics, with the subtitle: At a gathering of America’s top economists, a small group of students is battling for the soul of economics.  The protesters, mostly grad students in economics, did projections like the one in the image above, and did aim to “disrupt” some of the sessions, including some involving Greg Mankiw, Larry Summers, and Carmen Reinhart. (It’s pretty hilarious to read Reinhart claiming that her session was heterodox in the Post article.) Mankiw’s blog had an odd post titled “An Odd Question,” in which he spoke of hecklers, one of whom apparently asked a question about Mankiw being funded by the Koch brothers. But one of the organizers of the protests, Keith Harrington, said that the hecklers weren’t from the protesters. Mankiw’s blog doesn’t take comments, so Keith emailed him this:

Thank you for sharing the Washington Post article about our initiative on your blog. Since there is no place to leave comments on any of your posts, I just wanted to send this quick note pointing out that the heckler that you mentioned was not a part of our group. We made a point to only challenge you and your colleagues on the substance of your work and viewpoints, and to avoid any purely provocative, conspiratorial commentary such as the Koch Brothers remark.
Sincerely,
Keith Harrington

Mankiw’s response:

Thank you for your note.

Greg

Polite, but not so self-reflective.  Reminds me of the response I got when I emailed James Poterba about a weird remark he made at an American Academy of Arts & Sciences event in 2010 (recounted here).

(2) Let Us Now Praise Corporate Personsby Kent Greenfield in the Washington Monthly. ARthur MacEwan raised some of the same issues on corporate personhood in an “Ask Dr. Dollar” column a couple of years ago: How Important Is Citizens United?.

(3) Political Cartooning Is Almost Worth Dying For, by the wonderful Ted Rall in the LA TImes, about the horrific Charlie Hebdo attack.  (Hats off to all the Twitter folks who have been pushing mainstream outlets to cover the #NAACBombing.)

(4) Piketty Responds to Criticisms from the Left, an interview by Potemkin Review.

(5) Several Items on #BlackLivesMatter and the NYPD that I’d meant to mention here but hadn’t had time: Andy Cush at Gawker, The NYPD Is an Embarrassment to the City of New York; Ari Paul at Jacobin, Smash the Lynch Mob;  Corey Robin at his blog, A Weimar-y Vibe (about the NYPD and PBA/Patrick Lynch after the shooting of two NYPD officers); Max Blumenthal at Alternet (nice redesign!), Emails and Racist Chats Show How Cops and GOP Are Teaming Up to Undermine de Blasio; and flawed, but worth reading, Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, The NYPD’s Work Stoppage Is Surreal (<–this one from Taibbi was itself kind of surreal, for his saying he “understood” (i.e., sympathized with?) why the cops are mad at de Balsio, and that de Blasio’s reference to his son Dante was “clumsy”–which led to an unfortunate Twitter fight between Taibbi and Blumenthal). And two segments from Doug Henwood’s wonderful Behind the News have been great on the Ferguson/#BlackLivesMatter protests:  the interview with Alex Vitale (second half of the December 4 show), and the interview with Kevin Alexander Gray (first half of the October 30 show).

That’s it for now.