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The Morning Grumpy – 5/24/13

24 May

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.


1. As you may know, I am a regular contributor to another local website, Trending Buffalo, where I record podcasts (like this one) twice each week with Brad Riter and Alan Bedenko. The operators of TrendingBuffalo have taken it upon themselves to hand out some awards, but unlike the Artvoice or Buffalo Spree awards, the #Trendees will reward local people and business who use social media to make Buffalo a more interesting place to live. I think it’s a cool idea and if you have the time or interest, I’d like to encourage you to vote. Everyone likes lists and awards, right?

2. Last night, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner and the Buffalo zone chairs voted to endorse Mayor Byron Brown as the Democratic candidate in the 2013 Mayoral election.

Democrats Endorse Brown for Mayor by 1east161st

Since being elected as the County Democratic Chairman, Zellner has made continual efforts to repair burned bridges between the ECDC and Mayor Brown, resulting in this endorsement. While party unity is nice (tenuous as it may be), it’s still disappointing that Brown is the presumed winner of the primary. As such, it was a no-brainer for Zellner to endorse the Mayor as a means to improve his bona fides as a unifying presence in the party. I mean, what was he going to do, endorse the alleged sexual harasser for the job? Come on.

Anyhow, Brown has done a solid job of making it appear that there is a lot of progress without actually accomplishing a lot.  He’s a nice and pleasant enough man, but those who pay attention know that Brown is running a secretive administration that fights real transparency at every turn and has been more focused on the centralization of political power than progress.  His Citistat program is a joke, based on garbage data going in with garbage analysis coming out.  Personnel scandals, missteps, podium abuse, economic development corruption, alleged FBI investigations into misuse of HUD monies, and a tendency to assemble task forces (in lieu of taking direct action on issues of import) have been the hallmarks of this administration.  I could go on and on, but let’s just say there’s no there, there.

Brown’s record is one of efforts taking precedence over results, which after three terms of Tony Masiello’s one-two punch of failure and incompetence seems like progress to most residents of Buffalo. Buffalo is at a crossroads where a dynamic leader with big ideas could implement generational change, but instead we get crumb-hoarding and petty political battles.

Let’s cut to the chase, while Byron Brown is the human equivalent of a long nap, unless he gets caught with a dead girl or a live boy in the next three months, he’s going to coast to victory. The announcement of his aforementioned primary opponent was met with an audible yawn in most corners of the city and Brown’s Republican opposition has secured neither the endorsement of his own party nor made any tangible progress in fundraising. So, hooray, Brown has been endorsed for another term.

3. Are we nearing the end of broad-based employment in retail stores?

Throughout the 20th century, American stores were the locus of low-skilled employment. The total retail workforce tripled between 1940 and 2000, and for much of the century, the sector employed more people than construction and health care combined. Even today, the two most common occupations in America, by a wide margin, are retail salesperson and cashier. Last year, 7.6 million people held those jobs—more than the total number of workers in Florida.

Retail still employs one in nine working Americans, and retail jobs have grown since the bottom of the Great Recession. But we might be witnessing the moment when it passes over the mountaintop. Between 1950 and 1990, retail employment grew more than 50 percent faster than the general workforce did. Since 1990, it’s grown 50 percent slower. Retail now employs fewer people than it did in 1999. And those people work significantly fewer hours, too.

If so, what does that mean for the economy?

Standard economic theory suggests that, in a smoothly functioning economy, low-skill jobs really do grow on trees, and are largely fungible—it’s the steady loss of middle-class jobs we should worry about. Retail jobs aren’t going suddenly, cataclysmically extinct; they’re likely to decline slowly.

Yet there is a worse scenario, in which the squeeze in retail work intensifies competition for other low-skill jobs, pushing down wages at the bottom and pushing some people out of the labor force entirely. This possibility should not be dismissed too readily.

Think about what happens to the low-skill labor market in 20 years, where will they go and what will they do?

4. Six facts lost in the IRS scandal nontroversy about the agency “targeting” conservative ideological groups that were among those which poured over $256 million into last year’s elections.

1. Social welfare nonprofits are supposed to have social welfare, and not politics, as their “primary” purpose.

A century ago, Congress created a tax exemption for social welfare nonprofits. The statute defining the groups says they are supposed to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” But in 1959, the regulators interpreted the “exclusively” part of the statute to mean groups had to be “primarily” engaged in enhancing social welfare. This later opened the door to political spending.

So what does “primarily” mean?  It’s not clear. The IRS has said it uses a “facts and circumstances” test to say whether a group mostly works to benefit the community or not. In short: If a group walks and talks like a social welfare nonprofit, then it’s a social welfare nonprofit.

This deliberate vagueness has led some groups to say that “primarily” simply means they must spend 51 percent of their money on a social welfare idea — say, on something as vague as “education,” which could also include issue ads criticizing certain politicians. And then, the reasoning goes, a group can spend as much as 49 percent of its expenditures on ads directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate for office.

Read the whole article before commenting, please.

5. If corporate profits are at an all-time high, why are corporate taxes at a 60-year low?

Business profits are escaping U.S. corporate income taxes in three big ways. First, business is literally moving away from the U.S., as multinational companies have expanded abroad.  Second, large companies are wise to the tricks they can use to move income through foreign subsidiaries that avoid America’s high statutory rate. Third, smaller companies are finding ways to avoid corporate taxes, altogether.

Also, if profits are up and taxes are down, why won’t the “job creators” quit it with their god damned whining already?

Fact Of The Day: “Smound” is a recently discovered perception, created from the convergence of scents and sounds in the brain. It explains why popcorn smells better in movie theater or a song can bring a rush of scent memory.

Quote Of The Day: “Faith: not wanting to know what is true.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Video Of The Day: “Bank” – Kid Snippets

Song Of The Day: “Freddie’s Dead” – Curtis Mayfield

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