These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.
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Dark Side of Free Trade
By BOB HERBERT
The classic story of the American economy is a saga about an ever-expanding middle class that systematically absorbs the responsible, hard-working families from the lower economic groups. It's about the young people of each successive generation doing better than their parents' generation. The plotline is supposed to be a proud model for the rest of the world.
One of the reasons there is so much unease among voters this year is the fact that this story no longer rings so true. Books based on its plotline are increasingly being placed in the stacks labeled "fantasy."
The middle class is in trouble. Globalization and outsourcing are hot topics in this election season because so many middle-class Americans, instead of having the luxury of looking ahead to a brighter future for the next generation, are worried about slipping into a lower economic segment themselves.
This is happening in the middle of an economic expansion, which should tell us that the terrain has changed. In terms of job creation, it's the weakest expansion on record. The multinationals and the stock market are doing just fine. But American workers are caught in a cruel squeeze between corporations bent on extracting every last ounce of productivity from their U.S. employees and a vast new globalized work force that is eager and well able to do the jobs of American workers at a fraction of the pay.
The sense of anxiety is growing and has crossed party lines. "We are losing the information-age jobs that were supposed to take the place of all the offshored manufacturing and industrial jobs," said John Pardon, an information technology worker from Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Pardon described himself as a moderate conservative, a longtime Republican voter who has become "alienated from the Republican Party and the Bush administration" over the jobs issue.
Mr. Pardon does not buy the rhetoric of the free-trade crusaders, who declare, as a matter of faith, that the wholesale shipment of jobs overseas is good for Americans who have to work for a living.
"There aren't any new middle-class `postindustrial' or information-age jobs for displaced information-age workers," he told me. "There are no opportunities to `move up the food chain' or `leverage our experience' into higher value-added jobs."
The simple truth, as Mr. Pardon and so many others have found through hard experience, is that enormous numbers of well-educated, highly skilled white-collar workers are having tremendous trouble finding the kind of high-level employment they've been trained for and the kind of pay they feel they deserve.
The knee-jerk advocates of unrestrained trade always insist that it will result in new, more sophisticated and ever more highly paid employment in the U.S. We can ship all these nasty jobs (like computer programming) overseas so Americans can concentrate on the more important, more creative tasks. That great day is always just over the horizon. And those great jobs are never described in detail.
These advocates are sounding more and more like the hapless Mr. Micawber in "David Copperfield," who could never be swayed from his good-natured belief that something would "turn up."
We've allowed the multinationals to run wild and never cared enough to step in when the people losing their jobs, or getting their wages and benefits squeezed, were of the lower-paid variety. Now the middle class is being targeted, and the panic is setting in.
No one really knows what to do — not the president, not John Kerry or John Edwards, and most of all not the economists and other advocates who have been so certain about the benefits for American working men and women of unrestrained trade and globalization.
What happens when the combination of corporate indifference and the globalized pressure on jobs and wages becomes so intense it weakens the very foundations of the American standard of living?
The fact that this critically important issue is finally becoming an important part of the national conversation is, to borrow a phrase used in another context by the chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, "a good thing."
Perhaps an honest search for solutions will follow.
By Rick Silva
Plunderphonics goes online in the zeros. If the Internet is the new street, than the cutup or bootleg is the sound pouring out of the boomboxes. Uploadphonix, the uploading of bootlegs and cutups, is the first musical movement born post peer to peer sharing technology and in large part, because of it. On the surface uploadphonix seems to use the net only as a convenience of distribution, but really it is a movement of creative exchange and reestablishing the aura that is lost in all pop (by pop I mean popular; heavy rotation, unavoidable) music. In uploadphonix bedroom remixers offer up their sacrifices to the web in hope that the web will return to them creative responses and inspiration.
In file sharing music is still king, and outside our homes in the telephone lines above our heads and under our feet spiraling bits of coded music pump nonstop from modem to modem. If we could tap into one of these phone lines and somehow decipher the packets of bits we would definitely "hear" music. The music of this conceptual internet tap would no doubt have a pop flavor to it; when we search for Britney on Morpheus, within a few minutes we get the prompt "You have received 2000 responses for 'Britney' would you like to continue searching?" whereas when we search for Steinski, we're lucky if we get one hit. But the collective music of the internet would not be just Britney or Eminem songs as we now know them; because these packets are downloading at speeds ranging from 14.4 kbs to 8 mbps, the sounds we would hear would be sped up and slowed down at amazing rates, and the output would sound less like pop and more like a crash of superimposed stretched and shortened pops.
But the mp3 formats all those long and short versions of a 3 minute pop song back to its original self and the Internet disappears, or disapeers, except in the bootleg. The remix makes all those simultaneous and sidereal downloads unstable again. It big-wave-samples an Outkast a capella over an unsuspecting Kraftwerk beat, speeds it up and/or slows it down to taste, adds a filter, and then is ready to serve. In the bootleg, one song exists in many forms or multiple songs exist in one. This phenomenon is not new to music; from John Cage's Fontana Mix and Miles Davis' tape reel cutups, to Steinski and Double Dee, John Oswald's Plunderphonics and Negativland, to the recent IDM modifications of Kid 606 and Knifehandchop. But the difference is that online the goal becomes community as well as communication. Online, the shape of song is outlined by an underground buzz of links and blogs. Boomselection.net is a gathering of laptop personas that consistently release block party quality bootlegs. Boomselection dabbles in most types of bootlegs, some are lengthy tracks that dissolve somewhere between a dj scratch sample album and the soundtrack to a cheerleading routine like Bit Meddler's ten minute "Shitmix 2000" which recycles 90's pop classics from Vanilla Ice, C&C Music Factory, Milli Vanilli and others into a glitchy raucous, and other tracks like "One Hundred Reasons To Be Sad" by Sad push it farther by mixing 100 different dance tunes into 15 minutes of four on the floor double takes reminiscent of Evolution Control Committee's classic "Chart Sweep". Other tracks like "99x," that overlay Nina's two versions of "99 Red Balloons" (German and English releases) over one another feel more like a conceptual sound art piece. For the most part the bootlegs take two songs and mix them together, they live in that space where most dj's live and good ones get paid for, the beatmatch. In a recent post to boomselection an assignment was given out, a call to remix eminem's latest track was followed by a link to the mp3 of the acapella version. A week later boomselection released a subsite dedicated only to the Eminem remixes because the response had been so positive. In the digital dancehall style of battleofthebeats.com the tracks were rated and posted. The number one track was number one mainly because of its amazing turnaround time. Within 10 minutes of the assignment someone had turned in a bootleg. The remixer took 10 minutes to download the a capella, find a track roughly the same bpm, sync it, record it, encode it to mp3, ftp it, and mail out the link. Other tracks followed that overlaid Eminem styling over M's "Pop Music," "Come on Eileen," and Timo Mass' "To Get Down" to name a sampling. The first example shows us the artistry of response, the duty to post as quick as possible something creative, making always with sharing in mind. The latter examples all try and outwit each other, which beat, tone, breakdowns best gels with Eminem's flow, who gets the rewind (or rescrub)?
Two weeks before the release of Eminem's album "The Eminem Show" a copy leaked onto a peer to peer share site. Fans were happy but Eminem and the record company were losing thousands of dollars every hour, so the record was released to record stores one week earlier than scheduled. Uploadphonix works on a different kind of economy, it's an exchange of creativity using the language that the media won't let us escape, the pop song. It takes out the top 40 overkill and gives a song an aura again, the bootleg becomes a hard to find, an underground rarity that oscillates between art and kitsch, an "avant pop" as Mark Amerika calls it. Uploadphonix adds an "and upload" to the end of Amerika's art of "surf, sample and manipulate." It becomes a tight spiral outwards of creativity that makes a music in tune with the ideals of the internet, a soudscape to fit the netscape. Proof that in the future all art works will come with a soundtrack.
© 2002, 21C Magazine
Why Your Job Isn't Moving to Bangalore
By JAGDISH BHAGWATI
Published: February 15, 2004
Greg Mankiw, head of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, has been widely criticized for telling reporters the simple truth that "outsourcing" of jobs is beneficial to the United States economy (even though he hedged his comment with a "perhaps"). John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, described executives who import services — such as using lower-paid workers in foreign countries to handle customer-service calls and Internet queries from American consumers — as "Benedict Arnold C.E.O.'s."
In objecting to moving service jobs overseas, Senator Kerry is wrong on two counts. First, his economics is faulty: the practice only adds to the overall economic pie and improves the competitiveness of American companies. In a world economy, firms that forgo cheaper supplies of services are doomed to lose markets, and hence production. And companies that die out, of course, do not employ people.
Second, Mr. Kerry is making a political error. By playing to the understandable but incorrect fears of American workers that outsourcing is "taking away" jobs from Americans, he is painting the Democratic Party into the wrong corner on trade issues.
As Bill Clinton showed the country, there is a way for politicians — even Democrats — to explain the benefits of free trade. They could start by explaining that service imports fall broadly into two types. The first is made up of the simple, labor-intensive services like answering complaints, solving basic computer problems by taking customers through defined steps on the phone, or interpreting results of routine medical tests.
Putting these jobs overseas is, in economic terms, no different than importing labor-intensive textiles and other goods. In the 1980's and 90's, labor unions warned that imported cheap goods from the Far East would depress our wages and labor standards. But, as virtually any economist who has studied the empirical evidence of the last two decades knows, the overwhelming cause of wage stagnation in manufacturing has been automation within America, not pressure from cheaper imports. The same dynamic applies today — with the technological change affecting service jobs rather than manufacturing.
The second, newer type of outsourcing involves American companies that do highly skilled research and development work abroad. Craig Barrett, chief executive of Intel, has said that American workers face the prospect of 300 million well-educated people in India, China and Russia who can "do effectively any job that can be done in the United States." But such concerns seem exaggerated. There is little evidence of a major push by American companies to set up research operations in the developing world. I have taught hundreds of fine foreign students in the last few years, but only a small fraction are at the level of proficiency that Intel looks for in its research programs. And a cursory look at American immigration shows that the best students in high-tech fields come from just a handful of world-class institutions in those countries.
Unfortunately, the issue is further confused by claims that American jobs are being "transferred" abroad. This is usually not the case. When I came to my university 25 years ago, I got a secretary. Today, the new hires get a computer instead. In India, where a secretary costs a small fraction of what one would in New York City but a computer costs more, any Indian professor who asked for a new laptop would probably get a secretary instead. It is simply a matter of economic reality in both places. The hiring of the secretary in India should not be seen as "transferring" a job out of New York.
The fact is, when jobs disappear in America it is usually because technical change has destroyed them, not because they have gone anywhere. In the end, Americans' increasing dependence on an ever-widening array of technology will create a flood of high-paying jobs requiring hands-on technicians, not disembodied voices from the other side of the world.
Jagdish Bhagwati, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor at Columbia University, is author of "In Defense of Globalization."