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Tom DeLay responds to recession and unemployment with a boldly imaginative new program: “Get a job, deadbeat.” (A continuing series.)

Steve Benen calls attention to the latest GOP talking point: More people would be working if only they weren’t so lazy!

Yesterday, for example, disgraced former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) argued that unemployment benefits are a bad idea, because, as he sees it, they discourage people from entering the work force.

“You know,” DeLay said, “there is an argument to be made that these extensions of these unemployment benefits keeps people from going and finding jobs.” When CNN’s Candy Crowley described his argument as “a hard sell” to the public, DeLay replied, “It’s the truth.”

Crowley followed up, asking, “People are unemployed because they want to be?” DeLay again said, “Well, it is the truth.”

Benen offers a few examples to demonstrate the sentiment isn’t limited to DeLay. Which, I guess, would make a great deal of sense if the United States didn’t have six job seekers for every job opening. Lots of folks might be inclined to get a job if only there were jobs for them to get!

But this is typical. Republicans have never been particularly good at understanding that you need bootstraps to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. That they still think this is a winning line of argument when unemployment is hovering around 10 percent shows — at the very least — how tone-deaf they are.

Businesses hiring temp workers; will the “real” economy ever return?

I can’t decide if this is good news or bad news:

The hiring of temporary workers has surged, suggesting that the nation’s employers might soon take the next step, bringing on permanent workers, if they can just convince themselves that the upturn in the economy will be sustained.

As demand rose after the last two recessions, in the early 1990s and in 2001, employers moved more quickly. They added temps for only two or three months before stepping up the hiring of permanent workers. Now temp hiring has risen for four months, the economy is growing, and still corporate managers have been reluctant to shift to hiring permanent workers, relying instead on temps and other casual labor easily shed if demand slows again.

Good news? Well, a job’s a job, right.

Bad news? It’s too soon to say, but this recession has felt different than the last few — where the economy more or less returned to functioning as it did before, once growth resumed. This time, I suspect the “before” and “after” photos might look a little different. And I wonder if temp labor isn’t going to be a big part of that.

There’s been a trend in academia, in recent years, of hiring “adjunct” staff to do the teaching work that used to be done by tenured professors. Adjuncts tend to be the temp workers of the academic world: They cost less and have far less job security, but still manage to get a substantial amount of grunt work done. Here’s an article from the summer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that New Jersey’s Burlington County College plans to hire up to 200 new adjunct faculty members, increasing its part-time teaching staff to about 575, at the same time that the college faces a drastic cut of nearly 42 percent from the county and state. The school is responding to significantly increased enrollment and is searching for teachers in all subjects, including math, biology, chemistry and business, said Kathleen Carter, vice president for academic affairs. She noted that it is far more cost effective to add adjuncts than to increase full-time employees, which typically costs about $100,000 in salary and benefits.

“It tends to be a less expensive hire and a more flexible hire,” agreed John Ikenberry, president and cofounder of HigherEdJobs.com, who was quoted in the Inquirer. “Colleges can staff up or staff down, depending on changes in enrollment.”

Back in the non-academic world, the “temp hiring” phase has lasted longer than is typical in most recoveries. Maybe businesses are deciding to make use of less expensive and more flexible hires. If so, this recovery might not result in much more economic security for working Americans.

White House lashes out at “fat cat” bankers; Obama really is just a politician

Liberal discontent with President Obama has been mestastisizing  following Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article and Colbert Report appearance detailing how Obama’s administration is stocked with — and panders to — big-time bankers.

So I can’t say I’m entirely surprised by this:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama and his economic team lashed out at Wall Street, with the president calling bankers “fat cats” who “don’t get it,” in a move that could escalate tensions with the nation’s biggest bankers ahead of a meeting with industry representatives.

“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” Mr. Obama said in an interview to be broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program Sunday evening, according to excerpts made available ahead of the program.

White House economic adviser Larry Summers also voiced aggravation with Wall Street on Sunday. “Here is what I think they don’t get…It was their irresponsible risk-taking in many cases that brought the economy to collapse,” Mr. Summers, who chairs the National Economic Council, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“And they don’t get in some cases that they wouldn’t be where they are today, and they certainly would not be paying the bonuses they are paying today, if their government hadn’t taken extraordinary actions.”

Here’s the thing: Barack Obama and his team have very carefully cultivated an image of being cool and cerebral to the point of detachment. So it’s really unconvincing when he adopts the language of fiery populism — and less convincing when, in this case, his actions don’t quite match up to the rhetoric. More »

The recession comes home for one Philly prostitute

Continuing today’s poverty tour, we get this article in The Atlantic Online about a Philly woman who lost her job and turned to prostitution:

Most of her career, Princess has worked in one office or another–the past five years as office manager for a now-defunct design firm. The slowdown in business over 2008 made her aware that things weren’t going well for the company, so she’d already been cutting back on expenses and saving every extra penny in preparation for that day last winter when her boss called everyone together to announce the company would be closing. “It was sad, but it wasn’t a surprise,” she recalls.

What did surprise her was how difficult it was to find a new job. “There’s nothin out there. Nothing. I put in applications and resumes for every kind of job. Hundreds. But, nothin,” she says. “I tell you, though, now I’ve been doing this a couple months, I’m not sure I’d ever go back to working in an office.”

The way Princess does business seems somewhat unconventional for the sex industry. She charges standard rates for Philly: $100 for a half or $150 for a full hour. (”I hadda research that on Craigslist.”) But she doesn’t work for an escort service, advertise on Craigslist, hang out in high end hotel bars, or walk the streets. She’s totally independent. Her clients come through referrals from friends. Most of them live in her neighborhood; some she has known for years. “I have a couple of regulars, they been wanting me for years. When I told them I’s opening my pussy for business, it was like Christmas had come early.”

Depressing.

(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan)

UPDATE: The photo above is the one that ran with The Atlantic’s article. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that’s not “Princess” in the photo above, but rather a cropped photo of a hot woman in a short dress meant to signal a “hotness” that’s probably somewhat at odds with the reality of the sex trade.

Conservatives respond to food stamps and deepening poverty with a boldly imaginative new program: “Get a job, deadbeat.”

Interesting article in today’s New York Times about the widespread — and growing — use of the food stamp program. Basically, there used to be a welfare stigma attached to the program. But now that lots and lots of people use it  there’s not so much stigma anymore. (The Times doesn’t say this directly, but the subtext is that even white people in the suburubs are using the system now, so it’s OK!)

What jumped out to me, though, was the response of a prominent conservative think tank to this news:

“Some people like to camouflage this by calling it a nutrition program, but it’s really not different from cash welfare,” said Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Food stamps is quasi money.”

Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance. “The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on poverty,” he said.

What is this, the 1990s?

I was against the welfare reform that Congress passed and President Clinton signed during that decade. I thought it would leave millions of people high and dry. While the economy was rolling, I was wrong. There were jobs — even menial ones — out there for the taking. But the economy isn’t rolling anymore, and there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

Unemployment is above 10 percent. The “underemployment” rate — which includes people who’ve given up looking for a job, or people who are working part-time but want full-time work — is above 17 percent.

Despite this, though, conservatives still are on the lookout for welfare queens. From the Times story:

So far, few elected officials have objected to the program’s growth. Almost 90 percent of beneficiaries nationwide live below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four). But a minor tempest hit Ohio’s Warren County after a woman drove to the food stamp office in a Mercedes-Benz and word spread that she owned a $300,000 home loan-free. Since Ohio ignores the value of houses and cars, she qualified.

“I’m a hard-core conservative Republican guy — I found that appalling,” said Dave Young, a member of the county board of commissioners, which briefly threatened to withdraw from the federal program.

“As soon as people figure out they can vote representatives in to give them benefits, that’s the end of democracy,” Mr. Young said. “More and more people will be taking, and fewer will be producing.”

Right. Ninety percent of beneficiaries are below the poverty line, but the one person who owns the fancy car somehow becomes emblematic of the program for conservatives. It was ever thus.

If the economy and jobs situation improves dramatically, we should expect to see a drastic reduction in the number of people using the food stamps program. If not, I can take seriously conservative concerns about creating a sluggish, dependent, democracy-hating citizenry through food programs for the poor. Until then, the conservative response to bad economic times will just look churlish and unimaginative. The problem with the economy is not that people don’t want to work for their money. It’s that the money — and jobs — aren’t there anymore. Republicans should focus their objections on that situation.

AIG’s Maurice Greenberg proves why we can’t let “too big to fail” happen again

Oh lord, this just kind of makes you bleed out your ears, doesn’t it?

Maurice R. Greenberg, who built the American International Group into an insurance behemoth with an impenetrable maze of on- and offshore companies, is at it again.

Even as he has been lambasting the government for its handling of A.I.G. after its near collapse, Mr. Greenberg has been quietly building up a family of insurance companies that could compete with A.I.G. To fill the ranks of his venture, C.V. Starr & Company, he has been hiring some people he once employed.

Now, Mr. Greenberg may have received some unintended assistance from the United States Treasury. Just last week, the Treasury severely limited pay at A.I.G. and other companies that were bailed out by taxpayers. That may hasten the exodus of A.I.G.’s talent, sending more refugees into Mr. Greenberg’s arms, since C. V. Starr is free to pay whatever it wants.

While America generally loves stories of entrepreneurs making a comeback, Mr. Greenberg’s success may be at the expense of taxpayers. People who work in the industry say that if he is already luring A.I.G.’s people, he may soon be siphoning off its business and, therefore, its means to repay its debt to the government.

Just to sum up: Greenberg built a company whose financial practices helped steer the American economy nearly off a cliff. In order to prevent that nightmare scenario, the U.S. government stepped in to save that business — and along the way instituted some reasonable rules for executive compensation because, well, nobody should get rich on the taxpayer dime, right? Well, those rules could drive that company’s execs into the arms of Greenberg and his new business, making it harder for the old company to get back on its feet … and leaving the taxpayers stuck.

Infuriating, isn’t it?

It’s possible that there will be a temptation in Congress and the White House to play whack-a-mole of sorts with this process, making it harder in some fashion for Greenburg and his associates to thrive in their new venture without paying some penalty. That shouldn’t happen: The horse is out of the barn.

Instead, let’s try to prevent a repeat of this whole scenario.

Barney Frank this week is introducing legislation designed to ensure that financial services companies can’t get so big that their potential failure demands a government bailout. I’m not enough of an economist to know if his proposed rules make sense; but the big picture concept is a no-brainer. Does it involve intervening in the markets? Absolutely. But the market can’t expect to have the government — and the taxpayers — ride to the rescue and emerge unscathed.

About the Obama Administration’s executive pay caps

Via Andrew Sullivan, “Going Galt” blogger Alex Tabarrok argues against the Obama Administration’s plan to cap pay at companies still operating on government bailout money.

If the administration actually follows through, most of these executives will quit and get higher paying jobs elsewhere.  Executives not directly affected by the pay cuts will also quit when they see their prospects for future salary gains have been cut.  Chaos will be created at these firms as top people leave in droves.  Will the administration then order people back to work?

Ridiculous. For one thing, the seven big companies that the new regulations apply to are still in business thanks to taxpayer subsidies. Instead, as Sullivan quotes Felix Salmon: “[T]hese guys are effectively civil servants now, and they deserve to be paid as such.”

Second: Cash pay is capped at $500,000. You know what? That’s a lot of money to normal people.

Third: It’s a really awful economy right now. If there were a bunch of high-paying jobs lingering open at solid, non-taxpayer-supported companies, don’t you think top executives who are about to take pay cuts would’ve fled by now? Perhaps there’ll be some movement, but in all likelihood there’s simply not that many lucrative jobs to move into right now.

Finally: The restrictions on pay end, as I understand it, when these companies pay the government — the taxpayers — back. And that’s fine. Until then, I’d rather executives of failing companies not get super-rich on my dime.

Ain’t nobody immune from the newspaper downturn

The New York Times is cutting 100 newsroom jobs.

The rich get richer

It’s kind of difficult not to juxtapose this Wall Street Journal story today…

Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture.

With this one from the New York Times

In recent decades, layoffs were the standard procedure for shrinking labor costs. Reducing the wages of those who remained on the job was considered demoralizing and risky: the best workers would jump to another employer. But now pay cuts, sometimes the result of downgrades in rank or shortened workweeks, are occurring more frequently than at any time since the Great Depression.

Right. The same folks who rode our economy into the ground like Slim Pickens on a hydrogen bomb are actually taking home more money this year. The rest of us — the lucky ones who get to keep our jobs — get to take home less money. I’m not usually one for populist outrage. But I’m feeling a little bit of it at the moment.

Is Mayor Nutter bluffing on the budget?

Over at The Clog, Isaiah Thompson writes that Mayor Nutter won’t really shut down the city and lay off all those cops and firefighters if Harrisburg doesn’t come through on the city’s budget package. It’s a bluff, and everybody knows it:

But there are two problems with the mass bluff – if, of course, that’s what it is.

For one thing, not everyone gets it. And the police officers and librarians and such watching this drama unfold probably aren’t making popcorn for the show: I imagine they’re scared.

For another, it paints the situation as a false either/or situation: either Harrisburg passes our plan or its fiscal doomsday.

There’s a third problem for Nutter, actually, and it’s a huge one for him. What if Harrisburg calls the bluff? After all, it’s getting pretty late in the day for legislators to sign off on the budget package. If they don’t meet Nutter’s deadline, two things can happen:

• Nutter goes ahead with the shutdown and the layoffs, potentially burning himself into the pages of Philly history as the most-unpopular mayor ever. And that would be saying something wouldn’t it?

• Nutter admits he was bluffing, keeps the libraries open and the cops on the job — and immediately loses all credibility forever.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Nutter has put his entire mayorality on the line here. He’s in the corner. The only way he succeeds and lives to fight another day — even with some diminished support — is if Harrisburg approves the city’s budget package, oh, yesterday.

UPDATE: Well, if it’s a bluff, maybe it worked.