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Amway Journalism

Corey Pein   July 28, 2014
Pictured: a very good business plan. / Photo by SEOPlanter.

Like uninsured New Agers afflicted by terminal illness, journalists facing the collapse of their industry are turning in desperation to faith healers, quacks, and hucksters of all sorts.

The new media charlatans’ latest cure-all is a toxic concoction of marketing-seminar bluff and hypnotic technobabble. They call it “entrepreneurial journalism.” They’re even selling it on college campuses now. According to the label, this new blend is an invigorating panacea for a distressed profession. All claims remain unverified.

At a basic level, entrepreneurial journalism means going freelance and devoting countless hours to Twitter in order to promote your Personal Brand™. At its most ambitious, it means leveraging a foundation grant or a venture capital seed round into perpetual paid speaking invitations and, with luck, entree into the exclusive grifterhood of future-of-media experts. 

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 28, 2014
This man is not a weed billionaire. / Photo by Ian Sane.

• Today in Billionaires: Vincent Mehdizadeh, the inventor of a marijuana vending machine, has become legal weed’s first billionaire; read Adweek‘s interview with Mehdizadeh, in which he insists on referring to pot as “the medicine.”

• Today in Billionaires Bonus: the New York Post has the sordid tale of construction billionaire Bruce Elieff’s lawsuit against his ex-girlfriend. Elieff apparently gave her $850,000 for tuition and medical bills while they were dating, and he’s now suing her for the money, saying the money wasn’t a gift, it was a “short-term loan.” The girlfriend and her lawyer call it “sour grapes” after she gave birth to twins by another man. (Movie rights soon?)

• Today in Oh Great: British doctors have found that working in rotating shifts, rather than consistent daytime “office” hours increases one’s risk for type 2 diabetes. Apparently it’s all about keeping regular sleep-wake cycles.

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The Baffler’s Week That Was

The Baffler   July 25, 2014
An illustration from Issue 25.

What a Week This Was, Bafflers. By now you have probably noticed that we launched our brand new website featuring all 25 issues of our head-spinning salvos, which you can browse by issue or search through using this handy dandy index.

So for the first time all in one place, we’re offering:

Salvos by Steve Albini, Nicholson Baker, Ana Marie Cox, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Thomas Frank, Jim Frederick, James K. Galbraith, Tom Geoghegan, Jennifer Gonnerman, David Graeber, Naomi Klein, Chris Lehmann, Christian Lorentzen, Ben Metcalf, Evgeny Morozov, Andrew O’Hagan, Alex Pareene, Jed Perl, Rick Perlstein, Kim Phillips-Fein, Jeff Sharlet, Matt Taibbi, Astra Taylor, Maureen Tkacik, Tom Vanderbilt, Matt Weiland, Keith White, and Slavoj Žižek.

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Tax Inversions and the Dems Who Love Them

Jordan Fraade   July 25, 2014
Amsterdam photo by  Diziet "I Like Toast"

Corporations are people, my friend. Just like human people, they will go to absurd lengths to reduce their income-tax liability, and just like human people, they can move to another country if the one they live in doesn’t suit them. So in that sense, when the generic drug company Mylan announced that it was renouncing its U.S. citizenship to become reincorporated in the Netherlands, it was just another example of a growing trend of so-called “tax inversions.” The method is fairly simple: American companies acquire foreign firms, and then reincorporate in those firms’ home countries to take advantage of their lower tax rates.

Business as usual, right? But a bizarrely obsequious piece on the Mylan move by Andrew Ross Sorkin caught the eye of National Journal’s Ron Fournier because of one intriguing detail: The CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of a U.S. senator, Joe Manchin. “This is the sort of story that makes blood boil in populists,” wrote Fournier, and even for Fournier’s many critics, it would be hard to argue with his basic conclusion that the system is rigged. For a CEO to wax poetic about her patriotism (Bresch’s company owes its revenue to Americans’ out-of-whack healthcare spending), complain that she can’t get an audience in D.C. (her father, again, is a senator), and then bolt for European shores for a marginally lower tax rate (to the land of un-American things like bicycles and euthanasia!)—this is the stuff that stereotypes about horse-trading and hypocrisy in our capital are made of.

Manchin, it must be said, has criticized his daughter’s actions. In an interview with Fournier, he said he’d support a bill to ban tax inversions. And after Mylan first announced its plans to move, Manchin said he was “disappointed,” though he did it in a way that implied he’s more disappointed in us for not cutting corporate tax rates further. But while Fournier identifies the chicanery of this whole situation, he doesn’t go further, to ask why Manchin’s daughter can make this sort of arrangement so easily.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 25, 2014
White people at work. / Photo by Sophia Jones.

• Here is a tale of a journalist and a programmer who set out to make an interactive graphic of diversity in top editorial positions in American newsrooms, and failed. “As it turns out, there isn’t really enough data to make an interactive graphic about diversity among top newsroom editorial positions that doesn’t make you have to squint to see the racial breakdown in the first place—because there isn’t really any racial diversity at all,” writes Manjula Martin at Scratch Magazine. “The results are barely improved when it comes to gender.” (Via Poynter.)

• A scathing column by Julie Burchill in The Spectator invites us to “Meet the new faces of nepotism: The old paths to the top for working-class children–sport, music, acting, writing–are increasingly closed.” Now more than ever, talent and hard work aren’t the most important ingredients for success; having been born to the right parents is, Burchill argues.

• ”Joblessness may kill you, but recessions could be good for your health,” says “science.” Okay, sounds good!

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Why Aetna Should Pay Reparations

Hannah K. Gold   July 24, 2014
A 1775 ad placed by a New Jersey slave owner looking for a slave who had run away, and offering a reward for his return. (Via public domain.)

“This is a civil rights bill—this is reparations,” Rush Limbaugh said of the Affordable Care Act back in 2010. As you might expect, he didn’t mean it in a good way. Limbaugh’s ability to condemn the Civil Rights Act and reparations in a single breath is an achievement of insolence. But though Limbaugh can get down with the dirtiest of this country’s democracy-loving dirtbags, that doesn’t mean his views should be dismissed as “fringe.” A large portion of America has more obliquely expressed this same fiercely ideological, race-based fear of the ACA’s promise to serve up genuine health care justice. Study after study of Americans’ attitudes toward health care reform show this much.

Fast-forward to May 2014, when the dialogue about reparations began to sound quite different. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his blockbuster essay for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” re-opened and re-shaped the discussion around the possibilities for political and economic reparations for black Americans. “As surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society bridging it will require the same,” Coates wrote.

Still, while progressives may be making ideological strides when it comes to framing the conversation about racial justice (whether or not it ever results in material restitution), conservatives own the health-care-as-reparations narrative, hands down. But they shouldn’t, seeing as how twenty-four states are refusing to expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA, which also happens to provide the loophole. This gap affects an estimated 4.3 million people—mostly in states with Republican-controlled legislatures—and has a disproportionate effect on poor people of color.

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Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   July 24, 2014
Photo by Mikey

• Today in Billionaires, from the Guardian: The UK’s National Union of Journalists has dubbed Richard Desmond “Britain’s Greediest Billionaire” after the media company he owns proposed to cut a third of all editorial staffers from the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday.

• Today in Billionaires Bonus, from Forbes: Singapore real estate magnate Zhong Sheng Jian gives us all a “tip for success,” and you may not be surprised to hear that we must #innovate or #die.

• Speaking of which, “Texas Gov. Rick Perry has distributed $205 million in taxpayer money to scores of technology startups using a pet program designed to bring high-paying jobs and innovation to the nation’s second most-populous state,” reports the Associated Press. “But a closer look at the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, one of Perry’s signature initiatives in his 14 years as governor, reveals that some of the businesses that received money are not all they seem. One actually operates in California. Some have stagnated trying to find more capital. Others have listed out-of-state employees and short-term hires as being among the jobs they created.”

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Geoff Dyer’s Idle Days at Sea

Bijan Stephen   July 23, 2014
DyerBook

Over the arc of his long career, Geoff Dyer has cultivated a certain style. If reviews are to be believed, his carefully crafted technique is a higher achievement than the substance of his books themselves. In his latest book, we finally see its limitations, as we watch the book collapse under the weight of his own style and the burden of his chosen subject.

Another Great Day At Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush (Pantheon, 208 pages, $24.99) is ostensibly an account of a fourteen-day ride-along on the Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier in its title. Dyer’s sojourn takes place in 2011—around the time the Arab Spring came to Bahrain, referred to here as “the beach”—in some classified location within the vast blueness of the Persian Gulf.

Dyer has two Sancho Panzas with him, a photographer whom he dismissively refers to as “the snapper” and Ensign Paul Newell, a shipmate. The plot is unsurprisingly sparse—it turns out that a military aircraft carrier, when not at war, is a dull place to be—and goes like this: Dyer arrives onboard, where each day he’s taken to a different part of the ship, from the gym, to the brig, to the flight deck, to the morgue. The book sees him roaming relatively freely, interviewing crewmates on their lives and histories and feelings and dreams. The cumulative effect is hazy, unmoored—the ship an unchanging, gunmetal sameness painted onto the equally constant sea.

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