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February 2010 Archives

February 1, 2010

Our own Joe Sixpack speaks

"Be thankful for little things," my alcoholic purplish bubble of a neighbor likes to say as he passes me an unopened beer over the fence. I send this along in that same spirit. It's the estimable Henwood Doug, Father Smiff's idea of an economist. Doug is being interviewed conspiratorially by Franz Frank, and as we zoom in, M. Poule is clearing away some mental debris left by the fizzle of POTU Obama's stimpak:

"It's more about quality than quantity. On paper, the StimPak is quite large. Of course, it'd be nice if it were larger, but as far as these things go in our imaginatively parched times, the size isn't bad. But a fundamental problem with it is that the Dems didn't want it to be seen as some New Dealish government jobs program-they bragged about how it was going to be about creating private sector jobs, which are somehow "realer" than public sector ones. I guess that means it's realer to be a food stylist than a teacher.... "
Later Franz asks him, approximately, "Why in God's name did those White House numbskulls fire off this wet squib?"


"Their own predilections, and the configurations of elite and popular sentiment-though their predilections and elite sentiment overlap considerably. The Obama people like The Market, and want to nudge it into creating more private sector jobs. Elite opinion has always hated public sector jobs... Anything that lessens the disciplinary sting of unemployment, like WPA-style jobs, makes them worry about the workers getting too confident and too demanding.... there's a bias among neoliberals, like Obama & Co., that sees public sector jobs as phony and private sector jobs as real."
Yikes... they had to drag poor Doug out of his steam bath to give us this Garfield the Cat act? Why any fee-simple green goo-goo with a paper spike for a head could have... No, I can't bring myself to mete out the rough and proper justice here. I'll just leave you with my favorite line:
"Cash for clunkers was a horrible waste of money. It was financed by raiding funds originally intended for alternative energy research."
If this pearlike major brain can't see that his Park Slope take on that majestic piece of corn-plaster showmanship is precisely why "the configuration of popular sentiment" growls and bares its canines whenever it can at passing by pwog ponderations like this... well then... oh, why bother... one either gets it or... one just plain don't.

To cop an adios often favored by SMBIVA's own Madame Xeno, the mordant dryad of Dry Gulch, Oregon: I need one those neighborly beers myself right about now.

Torches and pitchforks

Your louche commentator here can hardly claim to be a one-man weather station or fire warning system or for that matter even a trend spotter, but why oh why has more not been made of last week's Oregon tax hike on the silk hat set?

Those fearless tribunes and heroes of mine, the Nerf Stalinists, had this to say about it a while back:

"Oregon voters delivered a "tax the rich" message yesterday, voting to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent cuts in public education and other social services... The tax-the-rich measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio, The Oregonian reported. They drew strong support throughout the state, including in areas considered more conservative. Turnout was estimated at a substantial 60 percent.

The vote is particularly significant because Oregon is known as an anti-tax state. It has capped property taxes and voters have rejected income tax increases twice in recent years, according to The Oregonian. It is one of only five states without a sales tax."

Attention must be paid here, no?

Now two types of state-level electoral events have cheered me in recent memory: the hikes in the minimum wage in several states, and now an actual real live class tax fight, won by the smurfery!

PS to Oregon resident Madame Xeno: there is a space reserved for you at the head of the comment table.

Grading on the curve

Land sakes! Mark Engler, the Doogie Howser of the pwog empire-watch crowd, gives the Obama admin a "D" -- yes, a "D" -- for its "handling" of the Honduran coup.

A "D"! What the hell? They deserve a brass plaque somewhere inconspicuous in the Captive Nations Hall Of Shame. Mark hizzseff answers the uproar:

"Why not give Obama an “F”? Some progressives, disgusted by the White House response, may be tempted to contend that it reflects a Latin American foreign policy that is even worse than that of President George W. Bush’s.

This would be an error. The stances of Bush appointees such as former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich -- who lauded the coup as a necessary measure against the “expansion of Chavist authoritarianism” -- shows that the position of the last administration would likely have been far worse than that of the present one.

But the prospect that things could be even grimmer than they are now does not mean that the White House deserves passing marks for its efforts."

Amazing, eh? In Engler Academy, Obamanauts only get an F if they do worse than the Cheney gang. Who set those goal posts for ya, Mark? The Council on Foreign Relations? The Central Intelligence Agency?

Speaking of THE Company, dearest Mark figures the Hondo topple wasn't "a CIA black ops mission." I guess if it had been CIA, it woulda pulled a gentleman's "C".

February 2, 2010

Critical support

The criticism is negligible, but the support is critical.

Bipartisan agreement on child abuse

My rabbi Doug Henwood has a good memory. He writes:

The difference between the parties


Education Secretary Duncan calls Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans schools

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it forced the community to take steps to improve low-performing public schools, according to excerpts from a television interview made public Friday.


Wall Street Journal - December 5, 2005

The Promise of Vouchers
Milton Friedman

Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.

February 3, 2010

If they're so dumb -- why are they rich?

I give thanx for a link, to a piece by Chris FLoyd, embedded in a generously brief post by my own personal rabbi of marx-sizzle-ism, the cranberry muffin king among list-masters, Lou Proyectile. 'Cause here is the ultimo locus-loco of the "Uncle's Borg cubes sap our humanity" riff. Title: "The Limited Minds of the American Elite":

1) Project and prospect:

"We could easily dismantle the empire -- carefully, safely, with deliberation -- over the next ten years. It is a reasonable, moderate, serious option. It would not require violent revolution or vast social upheaval...Such an alternative is entirely achievable, by ordinary humans; it would require no divine miracles, no god-like heroes to bring it about."
Vision of the chance to make America anew:
"Dismantling of America's global military empire -- and its global gulag -- would save trillions of dollars in the coming years. Not only from direct military spending, but also from the vastly reduced need for "Homeland security" funding in a world where the United States was no longer invading foreign lands, killing their people, supporting their tyrants -- and inciting revenge and resistance.

This would release a flood of money for any number of "new domestic initiatives," while also giving scope for deep tax cuts across the board. Working people would thrive, the poor, the sick and the vulnerable would be bettered, businesses would grow, opportunity would expand, the care and education of our children would be greatly enhanced [but] those who have feasted so gluttonously for so long on blood money would not be quite as rich as they are now."

2) The jinxers:
"Such a society is precisely what our elites cannot -- or, to be more accurate, will not -- imagine. Because, yes, it would "erode" their "influence" around the world to some extent. Although they would still be comfortable, coddled and privileged, they could no longer merge their individual psyches with the larger entity of a globe-spanning, death-dealing empire -- a connection which, although itself a projection of their own brains, gives them a forever-inflated sense of worth and importance... our elites.. can no longer fathom life without the exercise -- and worship -- of unrestricted power that empire entails. They will not accept -- or even contemplate -- any alternative to it."
3) The challenge:
"Empire -- the imposition of dominion by violence and threat of violence, and the financial and moral corruption this breeds, the malevolent example it sets at every level of society -- is the canker in the body politic. Until it is dealt with, there will be no healing, no hope, no change -- just more degradation and disaster all down the line."
No doubt it would be a great thing if Uncle took the Chalmers Johnson opt-out route. But there is no discussion of how the rest of the globe might reconfigure itself after Uncle walks away from his empire role -- apparently in ten annual steps.

Say we accept this Gedanken Swedenizing of Norte America for a moment. Uncle Sven's neat new inward-looking gig would not spell an end to global empiring, would it? Peripheral national liberators would still find their task unchanged -- they would in the end succeeed only by playing off the contradictions between the successor "great powers".

Now to the pious reform of the metropole named America itself. Goo-goo strugglers, prepare yourself: we can at best only impede the borg machines. We cannot choose to dismantle the borgs by means of majority rule. It's against the laws of Clio.

If it looks to some of us hopeful sorts like it might happen anyway, bet on this: Clio will soon enough show us otherwise through her faithful agents, our guardian class. They are a global sort now, unlike their great- great- grandfathers. They are not narrow nationalists and the love of global "influence" -- let alone the joys of a psychic "merge" or "projection" -- has nothing fundemental to do with it.

Their global perspective is an operational necessity; their corporate imperial state a global sine qua non. To them, the loss of the borgs would mean a loss of unimpeded corporate empire, a loss of freedom to span the globe in search of higher returns.

In the end, obviously, this means a loss of wealth, and what's more, given their Faustian spirits, a loss of the potential for even greater wealth. They will see to it we don't vote this away, and if necessary, kill lots of us in the process. That is one civil war the bad guys would win under today's conditions.

The end of Uncle's primo earthwide status would directly and seriously dwarficate our the wealth prospects of our home-grown hegemons, our very own guardian class. One has only to look at Spain and Britain to see that.

Besides, the cost to us residents here, us weebles along for the imperial ride, is prolly minimal, looked at systemically after all the adjustments are taken into account. The cost of maintaining the borg cubes is shared throughout the world market's interconnected parts of the globe. And these world markets were and are Uncle-rigged affairs from Day One, created modified and maintained to yield advantages that way way more than pay back Mr Hegemon for his blitz machines.

Final big point: the domestic welfare of substantial hunks of the the primo nation's toiling oppressed and exploited masses can be lifted up, goo-goo style, as part of an opportunistic package deal, like the one struck in the early 50's between the soon to be moiged CIO and the corporate industrial sector; or in the 70's between law-abiding Southern black communities and new-South whitey.

Where are we now in the reform/reaction cycle? The Reagan revival has lead by means oblique to its opposite, praise Clio. Now whether this means we're headed into maybe something big like a New Deal II, or just a very old oft-told and retold story called "muddling through"...

We'll just have to go out there into the thick of it, and see what we can make of the opportunity -- eh, strugglebugs?

February 4, 2010

Fish in a barrel

This, like most of my posts, prolly comes more from left field than left wing, left out than left bank... but here goes.

I think the north hemisphere's greater left wastes too much energy pasting America's vicious clever spitefully greedy familiar, li'l Generalissimo Mini-Me Israel. The zionic rattlers are all long since so utterly exposed, what more might one say? The nasty little imp ain't gonna go away, no matter what we do.

Surely the whole business is like the perfect fast bag at the gym -- soft to the knuckles but durable and able to rattle around and back at you just as fast as you can punch it. Better even than a tar baby because one gets in as many hard licks as one wants.

February 5, 2010

Drop in the bucket

Ferdinand Trumka claims we need to generate 10 million jobs -- give or take one or two. If so, what in ballpark numbers oughta be the size of Stimpak II?

I'd say well in excess of 1.5 trillion dollars over four quarters. But citizens, be warned: though "Democrats from the president on down say jobs are their No. 1 priority", here's the House bill of December vintage. It's ten sizes too small, and that's before the Senate gets a whack at it.

Okay, so what's the size of the recent turbocharged Obama job package? Does anyone know? Does anybody got a number or should I say a grouping of numbers on this? Like a dollars-in package with a spread and schedule set of numbers... plus a bit of multiplier magic, as those numbers work their way through the markets and end up producing a time-scheduled set of jobs-out numbers?

I'm laying down a benchmark here: if after all is said and done the input number is much more than 100-150 billion, I'll eat my big toes.

I see this steady message for at least the next year from the frontier of recovery: "The stag continues. All engines... half steam ahead!"

It's Bedlam out there

One of luxury fringe effects of SMBIVA-ism... we can talk sensibly about the GOP. Enter the recent much footballed Kospoll on Repub mind sets -- here's the lede take of some fireworks peddler calling itself Sam Stein over at Arianna's bath house:

A new poll of more than 2,000 self-identified Republican voters illustrates the incredible paranoia enveloping the party... The numbers speak for themselves -- a large portion of GOP voters think that President Obama is racist, socialist or a non-US citizen...
  • 39 percent of Republicans believe Obama should be impeached
  • 36 percent of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the United States
  • 31 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a "Racist who hates White people"
  • 63 percent of Republicans think Obama is a socialist
  • 24 percent of Republicans believe Obama wants "the terrorists to win"
  • 21 percent of Republicans believe ACORN stole the 2008 election
  • 23 percent of Republicans believe that their state should secede from the United States
It then quotes the fearless uberpimple of the kos-hive himself, summing it all up:
"This is why it's becoming impossible for elected Republicans to work with Democrats to improve our country...

They are a party beholden to conspiracy theorists... They think Obama is racist against white people and the second coming of Lenin. And if any of them stray and decide to do the right thing and try to work in a bipartisan fashion, they suffer primaries and attacks. Given what their base demands -- and this poll illustrates them perfectly -- it's no wonder the GOP is the party of no."

Would that the Dem pwog-base could be so chilling, eh?

Okay, okay, don't task me with the Orthrian symbiotics of all this: the loons are on the march... we all must rally round the Magic Negro or we'll have Squadristi in the streets of our cities. What outfit have you chosen?

My man!

Nothing very political about this post.

I've been reading up on John Milton lately, in aid of a literary project that may or may not bear any fruit. The guy has always been a hero of mine and with every passing year I love him more. He too lived from dark days into hopeful days and back into dark ones, like my generation, but he never lost the faith.

I took my old tired tattered copy of The Student's Milton off the self tonight to look something up. It's a book I bought forty years ago, and it's still in great shape. Appleton-Century put out a sturdy product in those days. The paper isn't brilliant white any more, but it's not all yellow and brittle, either, and the binding is still keeping the pages together. You open it up and it lies flat and nothing cracks.

I opened it up about halfway through -- then the phone rang. I put the book down on the kitchen table. Went and answered the phone, and when I came back the book was lying open to the last chapter of Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, not my favorite of Milton's prose works. But this was the first sentence my eyes lit upon. He's talking about Gratian, the canonist, "the Tubalcain of scholastic sophistry", and his brother-canonist Lombard,

... whose overspreading barbarism hath not only infused their own bastardy upon the fruitfullest part of human learning, not only dissipated and dejected the clear light of nature in us, and of nations, but hath tainted the fountains of divine doctrine, and rendered the pure and solid law of God unbeneficial to us by their calamnious dunceries.
I was having a good time until I got to "calamnious dunceries". At that point I started laughing so hard I was writhing in my chair and tears of mirth blurred my vision. Calamnious dunceries! Doesn't that describe nine-tenths -- or more -- of what we read and hear?

Great man, that Johnnie Milton.

February 6, 2010

Piling on

Above is the man that out-Nixoned Nixon, Albert Shanker; and here is Shanker's latest avatar, Randi Weingarten:

According to a union barking device from captive think tank EPI, she wants:

"contracts that include systems for fair and balanced evaluation of teacher performance (including, but not limited to measures of student achievement); and for the speedy removal of ineffective teachers, with simplified due process rules, when appropriate support fails to correct inadequacy."
Very un-Shanker-sounding, eh? Well, get a load of why: this could add 20% more teachers to any staff. Note the words "appropriate support":
"Evaluation of teachers, including the mentoring of novices and of veterans in need of improvement, requires the employment of many additional supervisors of teachers. Call them master-or mentor-teachers... Schools today are under-administered. Frequently, one principal supervises as many as 30 teachers. No principal can evaluate and mentor this many... The reason we have such terrible "drive-by" teacher evaluation systems, with principals taking perfunctory peeks into classrooms, is that principals have no time (or training) to do it right.

No other profession operates with such inadequate supervision. Can you imagine a nursing supervisor overseeing 30 nurses? A newspaper editor overseeing 30 reporters? A law firm partner overseeing 30 associates? Even an assembly line can't rely on only one foreman for 30 workers."

Prepare yourself:
"Management theorists recommend that no leader should have more than 5 direct-reports. The failure of public education to organize itself around this common-sense principle is the roadblock to fair and balanced evaluation. "

"Blaming teacher unions for this failure is demagoguery...Administrations don't propose such systems mostly because they are very, very expensive."

Do we need another crankup in the teacher-to-victim ratio? A win for the union, yes. For the actual teachers, maybe not, and for the much abused pupils, almost certainly not.

Personally, I'm all for it, up through grade 6 anyway. Lower school teachers are hot --

... and I bet mentoring teachers are even hotter!

February 7, 2010


Al Schumann writes:


His schtick is comparing Obama's left-liberal critics to unhinged wingnuts. To pull that off, however poorly, he reaches for the wingnut guide to bad faith rhetoric and selects at random.

I take a morbid interest in the ways pwogs treat each other. What differentiates them from paranoid, back-biting sectarians is an easy accommodation with institutional authority. They take comfort in revealed proprieties, provided there's broad institutional support and enforcement, the same way religious authoritarians take comfort in the revealed wisdom of theocrats. They're both dependent on the presence of cops and pervasive systems of control. They can't generate an individual conscience. They have no heuristics for determining right and wrong outside the vulgar collectivist process. The lower functioning ones, like The Poorman, are spitefully contemptuous of the relatively enlightened high church proceduralism favored by their grown up, successfully individuated brethren, e.g. Glenn Greenwald. They fidget in rage and denounce them as no better than they ought to be.

This accommodation makes it possible for them to function in oligarchic systems. They'll always get smacked around by the wingnuts, however, because they're "better" at accepting the revealed legitimization they get from institutional authority. They can grudgingly accept an electoral victory that elevates a Bush or a Reagan. They'll behave themselves. The wingnuts of course immediately start acting out when they feel a threat to their brand ascendancy.

It would be difficult to find people less suited to any form of liberal democratic republicanism. Greenwald's careful skepticism and painstaking explanation of due process enrages them.

February 8, 2010

Mind-forg'd manacles?

I hate to report this, but the Father Scruffle Smiff 'just walk away hoss' spiritual revival movement has not as yet really caught fire. Seems way too many folks are still not taking the rational option of strategic default.As an inquiringly-minded NYT columnist notes:

"Millions of American homeowners are “underwater,”... In Nevada, nearly two-thirds of homeowners are in this category. Yet most of them are dutifully continuing to pay their mortgages, despite substantial financial incentives for walking away from them"
Don't ya just hate to read stuff like that? What in hell explains this hypertrophied sucker play? I hope not some misplaced community enforced morality... but i dunno. And guess what In states with non-recourse mortgages, it's even worse, 'cause the rubes paid for a walk-away option. Again, the NYT:
"In a report prepared for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Susan Woodward, an economist, estimated that home buyers in such states paid an extra $800 in closing costs for each $100,000 they borrowed. These fees are not made explicit to the borrower, but if they were, more people might be willing to default, figuring that they had paid for the right to do so."
That is, you have a blanket license at any time for any reason to default on a non-recourse loan. You paid for that right up front. "They" of course can shut off the damn credit spigot on ya for it... but that only means something if the spigot's presently turned on for you in the first place.

Speaking of hidebound prig-sticker morality, here's my idea of a real asswipe doing a no-harm no-foul flyby on this whole business. It's from the industrious quill of none other then Mr Mark Thoma of the Thomatic poisoning site 'Econo Mist View':

"I think that people in non-recourse states understood the option a bit differently... If medical costs wipe you out, if the demand for the widgets you produce falls permanently causing you to lose your job and also have trouble finding a new one, or if other things out of your control cause you to be unable to pay your mortgage, then you won't lose your car, furniture, heirlooms, etc. in a forced liquidation to pay of as much as possible of the remaining balance on the housing loan. Non-recourse protects you fro losing everything. But a change in the price itself wasn't part of the deal. You get to keep the upside, but have to eat the downside-that's how it worked and you knew that going in. At least, that's how I always understood the implicit deal (enforced in part by a fear of losing access to credit in the future, social norms, etc.).... Following this implicit rule lowers costs for everyone..."
What a goodie goodie dupe sap guff of a call that is. What a rubber hammer of pettifogging conformity. Mr Thoma... may you live forever... totally underwater.

February 9, 2010


"Banking is based on trust. The banks get our paychecks and hold our savings; they know where we spend our money and they keep it private. If we don't trust them, the whole system breaks down. Yet for years, Wall Street CEOs have thrown away customer trust like so much worthless trash."

Liz Warren, here testifying to the erect size of Jamie Dimon's accounting tool, may be a Nader for household usury, if she keeps up the evolving pace of her rhetoric and the quality of her public revelations. Example, from a necessarily indirect link to a recently published tollgated Wall Street Journal op-ed:

"Wall Street executives explain privately that they cannot get rid of fine print, deceptive pricing, and buried tricks unilaterally without losing market share.

Citigroup... in 2007... decided to clean up its credit card just a little bit by eliminating universal default—the trick that allowed it to raise rates retroactively, even for consumers that did nothing wrong. Citi's reform resulted in lower revenues and no new customers, triggering an embarrassing public reversal.

Citi explained sheepishly that credit cards were now so complicated that customers couldn't tell when a company offered something a little better. So Citi went back to something a little worse."

Wall Street geek sand-burr James Kwak on same:

"For all of our beloved rugged individualism (and our individual right to handguns), it doesn’t do much good when you’re up against your credit card issuer. "
(Warren's entire op-ed below the fold. Juicy stuff.)

Continue reading "Vultures" »

Teabaggers and other poor souls

The laff-riot cartoon above nicely sums up the Pwog critique of "Teabaggers" and similar fringe right-wing formations and individuals: they're naughty Bad Seed children with unevolved apelike crania -- the very opposite of the Pwog, who in his own mind is thoroughly grown up, polite, well-taught, deeply interested in learning, and plays well with others, not to mention possessing a nice high Cro-Magnon brow. (This Pwog self-image seems rather inaccurate to me on a number of counts, but that's a topic for another post.)

One of my lefty mailing lists has been much preoccupied with the Teabaggers of late. Concern has (of course) been expressed that the Brownshirts are on the march, and Kristallnacht is right around the corner. Other voices have advocated some missionary work among the heathen:

Should we use such [Teabagger] myopia, with all its implications of race and class, as an excuse to avoid meaningfully engaging with the people who are mired in it? And if we do so, in a consistent way across the board, what can we really expect to be left with?
One of the other correspondents on this list, a guy whose contributions I usually like -- call him Helmsby -- responded to the observation above:
There are 300 million people in the United States. There is no organized left. There is not even a loose or unofficial coalition of leftist groups in the U.S.

Therefore [to] say "we" should or should not do this or that are serious nonsense.

...There are more than enough people in the U.S. whose passive opinions are rather far left to make a large public splash, potentially affect some public policy, if they were to achieve any sort of coherence as an actual "we." Why is no one interested in them?

[T]here is and will remain a solid far-right core and there is and will remain a substantial number of close sympathizers on the right... [T]hey can be instantly mobilized because the media will help them....

And if leftists keep agonizing over that core on the right, then leftists will be wasting their time. It is not going to get worse than that core except under extrordinary conditons, and nothing leftists, organized or unorganized, can do will decrease that core or change it. It is simply part of the social landscape you have to live with without going apeshit about it.

This seems like awfully good sense, I'd say.

Teabaggers and Limbaughgers and the like have been a source of interest to me for some time. I sorta think I know what makes them tick. They're pissed off -- as who would not be? -- but they're also compliant and respectful of authority and rules; worshipful of power and secretly afraid of it, in spite of the 1776 iconography.

They feel -- again, as who would not? -- rather powerless, so by the law of opposites they identify with power -- with the very power that keeps them powerless, in fact.

Often enough, because of their compliance and law-abidingness, they feel morally superior to others, but at the same time they're pretty sure that the morally inferior others are laughing at them, and probably having a better time, too -- drinking and catting around and probably living in rental housing, and doing a midnight flit when the landlord becomes exigent.

The crucial problem is that because they're underlyingly so compliant and conformist in their thinking, it's impossible for them to direct their anger at its proper targets -- they're unable even to name those targets, and so all kinds of whimsical scenarios and fantasy foes are dreamed up to expend the anger on -- like Obama the "socialist".

You see this personality type a lot among the sons of a certain type of overbearing father. The son is in fact crushed and cowed and can never get out from under Dad's shadow, but at the same time he worships Dad and would like to be like him, and often enough adopts Dad's bluff Sir Oracle manner, though in a brittle and unconvincing way.

(If this description seems to apply to Pwog Naderbaiters too, there's something to that. Maybe that isn't another post after all.)

Anyway, I conclude that folks who are excited and energized to any great extent by all that talk-radio baying and barking are people with rather badly wounded personalities, people suffering from understandable fury and frustration but also deeply cowed. The contradictory elements of their natures are pulling them in so many different directions that they have to construct an imaginary world to live in, peopled by mythical entities whose outlines match the oddly-shaped mental space that they have left for a foe -- the strange little interstitial spandrel where anger and hatred are not forbidden, and therefore can only be compulsory.

Pwog hatred and fear and overestimation of these poor souls requires some explanation, too, of course.

It's not a mirror-image relationship, though the family resemblances of the two sides are hard to miss. Pwogs too are enamored of the Bad Dad who keeps them in a cage, and pride themselves on the self-emasculation of Crackpot Realism. Pwogs too are under the harrow and pride themselves on their ability to stay there, stoic and uncomplaining.

Pwogs don't generally think that Teabaggers are having a better time than they are, though. And they don't think other people are laughing at them (though some of us are). Pwogs think they're the ones who are laughing, and they're the ones having the better time. Whether they really are or not -- whatever "really" might mean in this context -- is anybody's guess.

Teabaggers believe in imaginary entities -- like creeping socialism in the United States. Pwogs don't believe in imaginary entities, exactly, but they treat hypotheticals as if they were real: If we could just get a veto-proof Pwog senate! (If pigs could fly, we could have Buffalo pig wings.)

What both sides have in common, perhaps, is an excessive ability to believe what they've been told. Teabaggers believe all that stuff about spending and waste and balancing the budget that they heard from Bad Dad, and Pwogs believe what they were taught in civics class -- by a different, surrogate dad, but no less bad: an institutional rather than a personal Dad.

Pwogs and teabaggers -- a case of two maimed, mutilated, limping Calibans, each seeing his own ravaged face in the mirror of the Other?

There's more to be said on this subject, but maybe this is enough for one evening.

February 10, 2010

It's, like, so totally your state of mind, dude

If I understand correctly, the angry-angry people are wrathfully enraged (and irate!) because their mental condition keeps them from seeing the ponies. Some will always reject the principles of ponyism, which trickles down into actual pony-related manifestations. They do this because they are permanently pissed off pouty persons. Some will feel better about themselves, and thus less inclined to negative nellyism, in a few years—maybe three or ten or whatever—when ponyism has had a chance to improve the material conditions in which they spend their bloodthirsty ire-drenched days. A few, a precious few, want to see the ponies and they're trying to see them, but the visions are interrupted by howling mobs of pony-lynching cretins.

A careless reader might mistake the telepathic exegesis for the crackpot fulminations of the former administration, now consigned to the ideological dust bin of history by that momentous moment in which blah blah blah. Anyway, they hate Obama and that's insane because the dead pony is all Bush's fault. And Reagan's. And the Republicans'. With just a little bit of blame accruing to Robert "Bobby the Terrible" Rubin. However it's no use explaining this to people who are hatefully-hateful.

Another precinct heard from

Alternet has joined the ranks of Walkaway advocates:

The homeowner relief plan adopted by President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has not been working for a full year now. What's worse, as the program is currently structured, its chief benefits accrue directly to the nation's largest banks.... If you owe more than your house is worth, just walk away.

"The rational thing for these people to do is to send the keys to the bank and say, 'Good luck,'" says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research. "Every month that you keep that person in their home paying that mortgage, that's a gift to the bank. So if you could keep a lot of people from sending their keys to the bank, and keep sending their checks instead, that helps the banks directly."

...[T]he "relief" offered by the plan is actually worse for a lot of borrowers than outright foreclosure.... HAMP attempts to keep people in their homes by reducing how much they have to pay every month.... But buying a home is so expensive, especially at bubble-level prices, that even borrowers receiving this aid could usually rent a comparable home for less....

The average underwater borrower today owes about $70,000 more than their home is actually worth, according to CoreLogic. Since 10.7 million mortgages are currently underwater, the banking system could see losses of up to $749 billion from problem mortgages—and the number gets much bigger if home prices decline further, [so] with HAMP, we've... encouraged borrowers to waste their money on irrational payments.

Icing On The Cake Dept.: Baker also thinks house prices are still heading down:
Housing Market Prepares for Renewed Plunge Following Removal of Supports The Mortgage Bankers Association’s purchase mortgage applications index fell by another 3.3 percent last week and continues to run substantially below the depressed levels of January 2009. This indicates that housing purchases still are not recovering from the slump that followed in the wake of the original November 30th ending date for the first-time buyers tax credit. It seems virtually certain that prices will soon begin to decline again as the market will finish shedding the 15-20 percent of house price valuation that is attributable to the bubble.

...The tiered index provides evidence that is consistent with the first-time buyers credit being a major factor in the recent price increases. In most cities, prices for houses in the bottom third of the market rose much more rapidly than the price of houses in the middle and top third....

In addition to the end of the credit, the lower end of the market will also be hit by the tightening of standards by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Just call me Ignatz von Schadenfreude. I'm loving this.

But as noted in an earlier post, the Great Walkaway hasn't materialized yet, alas. And some of the comment thread to that post suggests some reasons why: the houseownership fetish still has a strong grip on people's minds, and plenty of people believe that the rental options are all unsatisfactory, for one reason or another.

As a lifelong renter, I tend to think this latter belief is pretty much superstitition, but perhaps there are places where there's some truth in it. That wouldn't be too surprising, since policy for decades has contrived a fantastic Rube Goldberg machine of perverse incentives to chute us poor lambs into the mortgage abattoir, and a relentless barrage of propaganda and marketing has brainwashed us into believing it's a nice place to be.

As a result, rental housing has been comparatively starved of investment, and renters as a class have become a less important political constituency.

If the Walkaway does materialize -- and I sure hope it will -- it's probably the sort of thing that will exhibit avalanche dynamics. One minute the snowy mountainside lies tranquilly shining in the sun; next minute it's boulders and uprooted trees and a cubic mile or two of wet heavy snow heading for your ski chalet.

February 12, 2010

Tenure committees everywhere: Be afraid

The intense sturdy suspect shown above is Dr. Amy Bishop, a "Harvard-University trained neuroscientist", according to the Huntsville Times. Dr Bishop is said to have shot up a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, after being denied tenure. Personally, I would have thought twice before voting against this lady.

(The campus was subsequently placed "on lockdown", as nearly every news outlet reported with lip-smacking relish and righteous approval. Does anybody else remember the milieu where this phrase originated?)

Kate Dailey, a blunchkin at Newsweek's site, observes:

... shootings on college campuses have become all too common.... universities have been the backdrop for some of America's most notorious shooting sprees.
Hmmm. Wonder why?

Dailey goes on to quote a colleague:

Women, says [Jack] Levin, [professor] of [sociology at] Northeastern, are more likely to turn their anger inward and commit suicide rather than homicide. When they do turn violent, either against themselves or others, they're less likely to use a gun.
Apparently it's becoming more of an equal-opportunity country. Black guys can become Leader of The Free-Fire Zone, excuse me, Free World, and female Harvard PhDs can go strapped into Alabama faculty meetings.

La Dailey sorrowfully opines:

it's human curiosity to speculate—as if by mastering the details, we can make some sense out of senseless violence.
"Senseless" is of course a classic case of the unexamined assumption, unless you believe all violence is senseless, and I bet Kate doesn't. Having spent some years on the inside of the credentialling sector myself, I'm surprised this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. I guess that's because these poor folks are mostly so crushed and over-socialized that they can only respond to the capricious sadism of their senior colleagues by trying harder.

Will this incident have a chilling effect on tenure committees? On faculty meetings? Will the tenured elect start wearing flak jackets on campus? Will you have to pass through an X-ray machine and submit to a pat-down before you can attend the English Department's sherry hour?

One can only hope so. Lockdown U, rah rah rah!

February 13, 2010

The wisdom of crowds

There's a site, youwalkaway.com. It's a thoroughly commercial undertaking, whose proprietors are betting on what I called in an earlier post the "avalanche dynamics" of mortgage serfs deciding to lay their burdens down.

Don't you love entrepreneurship?

youwalkaway.com cites -- alas, without a link -- a story in the Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics which reported that

Researchers have found that homeowners start to default once their negative equity passes 10% of the home’s value. After that, they “walk away massively” after decreases of 15%. About 17% of households would default — even if they could pay the mortgage — when the equity shortfall hits 50% of the house’s value, they found.

[And] there is a multiplication effect, where the social pressure not to default is weakened when homeowners live in areas of high frequency of foreclosures or know others who defaulted strategically... The predisposition to default increases with the number of foreclosures in the same ZIP code.

There's your avalanche dynamics. The snowflake next to you moves, you move. Maybe youwalkaway.com made it up. I hope not, though.

* * * * *

I deeply love the folks who read our stuff and comment here. Comments are what keep me going. So it always seems horribly ungrateful to argue with commenters, much less use them as grist for the mill. But this is one case where I feel like abandoning the usual reticence.

A good many of our commenters on this topic seemed to be doing what I think of as the Apologia pro Catenis Suis -- my chains are so strong, so drop-forged, so trebly-welded, that I can no other. Yes, I'm a prisoner of my underwater mortgage, but if I were to walk away and rent, my landlord would take advantage of me, and maybe he wouldn't even rent to me anyway, and in any case my neighbors would be nasty undesirable people.

I have a kind of unnatural hypersensitivity to euphemism, and so the comment that put me over the top tonight, and drove me to bite the hands that feed me, psychically speaking, was this:

The few lucky people with mortgage defaults in their history who have signed leases in my market recently have agreed to a premium on rent and had to make an exorbitant security/damage deposit.

Most of them end up in much more economically challenged sections of the city.

What sent me round the bend was the prim phrase "economically challenged."

Aren't we all? What does this phrase mean? In monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon, doesn't it mean "broke"?

That's just what these underwater mortgage slaves are. They made a big speculative bet on their house, it didn't pay off, and now they're broke.

Welcome to the club. It's not so bad, actually. Once we drop the pretence of being better than the next guy, we can have some good times.

February 14, 2010

Bobby's children saddle up

Yes that's our man Reich up there, toying with us like Truman Capote -- Bobby Reich, author of The Work of Nations, a smash hit among pwogs all these many long years ago. Do you recall Reich’s solution to foreign competition? Here's a recent paraphrase:

"...investments in the productivity of Americans...early childhood education for every young child, excellent K-12, fully-funded public higher education, more generous aid for kids from middle-class and poor families to attend college.."
But alas, this once-admired paradigm now seems fit for nothing more than bitter satire. Poor Bobby; his vision has come a cropper. Take this pwoggie whine:
"I possess so many degrees from the most prestigious universities in this country (U. of Chicago, Brown, and I was also an exchange scholar at Harvard), and at this point I can’t get a job in this country to save my life."
It's not all whining by our forward-looking high-ed friends. My Lord, the pwog wing of the professional class seem about ready to rumble in the streets with...corporate America! Among other things, they're fed up with Bobby's pat "more and higher education is the answer", when it clearly isn't.

Yes, for real: the free class, the creative class, the symbol-working class, the merit class! -- gets it, at least in part. And why not? The latest decade produced a new wrinkle in blowback from our limited-liability cross-border four-corners-of-the-earth project. After nearly 40 years of wage-bashing high jinx aimed largely at Joe and Jane Sixpack, they evolved a new feature this past decade, a species of globalization aimed more or less directly at them there professionals themselves. They're now hiring third world brains with market-class professional skills, built cheap and ready to live cheap -- cut-price human capital.

Hence the unspoken, unspeakable, politically incorrect but heartfelt cri in the coeur of every Norteamericano meritoid: "Damn it, hoss...the WOGs are everywhere we wanna be these days." The integument of cosmopol-think has burst asunder; time to look at the dwindlin' pay envelope... just like any old redneck with a union assembly job.

Where I found that opening quote, I also found some considerable crosstalk on this very point. Pwog pwofessionals are abuzz with indignation. Just listen:

"[We're]...caught in the paradigm shift between education as a ticket for entry and a refrain from larger and larger numbers of graduating college seniors who wonder ”Now that I have my degree, where is my career?”"
Have they priced themselves out of the career markets? NO!
"...[we] have been priced out. By companies willing to pay people who went to free universities and live in economies where one can survive on far less than here. "

"For years we have been hammering into everyone’s heads that education is the path to success. This has led thousands of people to take on debt they will never be able to conquer because when they enter the job market with their newly minted degrees there are no jobs available to them."

"Corporate leaders gripe about a shortage of US visas, and of having to find talent overseas, in countries whose labor forces are larger than the US’ entire population. They are forced to find workers who scramble over each other to win business contracts that pay a sum that might buy a week’s groceries in the US."

"The populations of the two most populous countries, India and China, outweigh the US population by eight times. Their workforces outnumber US workers by ten times. Yet, their average GDP per capita is about a tenth of the US’."

Wow! where's the open-borders small world, after all, in this? Yikes! Sounds more like the Klan on the march!

Goes to show ya -- all this Sunday-supplement altruism and fellow-human handwringing turns to white-sheet action quarters once your own ox gets gored.

So the oviousl leftie answer is: time to struggle! Time to form a broad-based job-class united-front movement. Let 50 snare drums rattle, 50 brass bugles blare! Here come da merit class auxiliary, on the class march with horny-handed hoi polloi, for the first time since FDR got a hand job. And they ain't in a dialoguin' mood either. No more "let us sit down in peace with the corporate corsairs and reason together". Nope, that's out with this wild flier crowd:

"Corporations will not be willing to lose their certain short-term gains in order to reap uncertain long-term growth. That is why their interests are not part of this equation."
Okay, it ain't Marx. But it might be movement material.

Cosmic constants

Simon Johnson, who despite his fresh educated-rube's face, prefers playing Old Testament prophet, put aside his usual thundering against the Shylocks of Wall and Lombard Street to compile this economic tour d'horizon for our congressional caretakers. It ain't Jeremiah but it is B-plus work.

Upshot? Pretty simple: the emerging giants, India and China, remain the darlings on the MNC dance cards, whereas old Europe is quagmired worse than Norte-Amigo and we all may hit another global contraction this fall.

Sounds good, eh? In fact it's "very nicely played indeed", if you happen to be a Plutonian lady or gentleman anxious to see the hi-fi Laputa sailing through blue skies again over Whole Earth, incorporated. Give or take a few scares, all's well up ahead if you're one of those, like Tim Geithner or the Calydonian boar, Larry of Harvard Yard, who have the privilege to presently manage this cautious restoration project.

As to the problematic progress of us OECD joblingers: try another planet, lugheads.

For the ADHD clique here's Doctor Johnson's quite exciting coda:

"The most worrisome part is that we are nearing the end of our fiscal and monetary ability to bail out the system.

In 2008-09 we were lucky that major countries had the fiscal space available to engage in stimulus and that monetary policy could use quantitative easing effectively. In the future, there are no guarantees that the size of the available policy response will match the magnitude of the shock to the credit system... Much discussion of the Great Depression focuses on the fact that the policy response was not sufficiently expansionary. This is true, but even if governments had wanted to do more, it is far from clear that they had the tools at their disposal – in particular, the size of government relative to GDP is limited, while the scale of financial sector disruption can become much larger...We are steadily becoming more vulnerable to economic disaster on an epic scale."

"Fiscal space"? As in -- "the size of government relative to GDP is limited."

Really? Yup, sez Simon. I'm glad no one told FDR that in 1940.

NB: "We are steadily becoming more vulnerable to economic disaster on an epic scale." Closing out with that piece of meaningless high-C gibber proves one thing for sure: In the end -- if you want to stop the show -- nothing, nothing at all, beats a hi-fi agitprop-induced bout of pure catatonia.

Possible headline of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow:

Globe's Economy Suddenly Totally Collapses

Manhattan: After years of teetering and tottering, yesterday at 3:37 pm he world's economy imploded to form a hypermassive black-hole singularity, which immediately sank to the center of the earth and now appears to be devouring the physical mass of the planet.

Viewing the wreckage from his tower window, one Wall Street regular observed: "Guess that system of chrome steel skyhooks we built just couldn't hold 'er up any longer."

Surely there is a limit there somewhere? I mean the system can carry only so much virtual debt weight, right? There must be a brick wall at the end of the universe, a limit to the cumulative indebtedness it can owe to... itself?


February 15, 2010

Nervous Nellies

Noticing the Hellenic crisis allows me to whack a particularly fatuous instance of the perennial debt-bombing siren-sounders -- in this case the paleolithic Brit hysteric Nellie Ferguson, shown above doing an imitation of Tony Soprano doing an imitation of Nosferatu.

Here's Nellie sounding the general all-points alarm:

"It began in Athens. It is spreading to Lisbon and Madrid. But it would be a grave mistake to assume that the sovereign debt crisis that is unfolding will remain confined to the weaker eurozone economies... it is a fiscal crisis of the western world."

"The Obama administration’s new budget blithely assumes real GDP growth of 3.6 per cent over the next five years, with inflation averaging 1.4 per cent. But with rising real rates, growth might well be lower. Under those circumstances, interest payments could soar as a share of federal revenue – from a tenth to a fifth to a quarter."

Imagine! a quarter of the federal budget, interest payments! But, err, to whom will Uncle pay this? Apparently not China:
"The Chinese have sharply reduced their purchases of Treasuries from around 47 per cent of new issuance in 2006 to 20 per cent in 2008 to an estimated 5 per cent last year."
Yikes! At that closing speed, can near-zero great-Han participation in new Uncle issues be far off? And from there, what time till the politburo, by not rolling over their holdings, goes effectively out of the dollar? It might be particularly fast 'cause them damn heathens have bought short, mostly.

Nellie -- always the empire man -- has a nice quote on this very point from no less than Larry S, the Calydonian boar hizseff:

“How long can the world’s biggest borrower remain the world’s biggest power?”
There's one problem with hauling that juicy quote in here: Larry means borrowing from foreigners, like China of course; and as much as Nellie might want to place Uncle in an extravagent inescapable squeeze play, Uncle just plum ain't there. Fiscal deficits are a free lunch these days. Why if more and more deficits is what's called for -- why then, far from an inevitable rundown and tag-out, uncle can keep piling up deficit after deficit even as the foreign holders of Uncle's debt contract their holdings as much as they please. If that starts to happen and if it looks to be affecting interest rates and crowding out productive domestic investments... well the fed can just buy up the deficits all by itself.

And furthermore -- if indeed the foreigners stop buying our public debt issues, you can expect the dollar to tumble, and like the 7th cavalry riding to the rescue, a lower dollar will cause our trade deficit to evaporate automatically, and just as automatically reduce the necessary size of any full-employment federal deficits!

We citizen chumps really need to see all this as clearly as possible, 'cause the phonus balonus keeps on gettin pitched right at us. Here's another example from hissy boy Nelly:

"The long-run projections of the Congressional Budget Office suggest that the US will never again run a balanced budget. That’s right, never. "
Yeah, okay, Nellie... and so what?

If you want to play this game, here's the key ratio: the long-run ratio of debt to GDP == (deficit /gdp) x (gdp/gdp growth ) => debt growth /gdp growth.

First choose a long-run average rate of deficit as percent of gdp, i.e. the forever-after average fiscal deficit rate. We're at 10-12% or so now, in the depths of a recession; but what is the likely upper bound average deficit forever? That number -- whatever it is -- plus the assumed average rate of gdp growth -- both let us say in current ie nominal not constant dollars -- is anyone's guess, but I'll use a highball set of numbers just to prove my point.

Say we have an 8% average forever deficit to gdp ratio -- the euro zone, that bastion of hard money, seriously disapproves long run average fiscal deficits above 3%. But I'm being a wild man here. And say we have a a modest 5% average forever gdp growth rate -- maybe 2.5% inflation, 2.5% real growth. Then the final ratio of debt to gdp will be as 8 is to 5, right? it's that simple: the debt total will be 1.6 times the current gdp, about twice what it is today here, but very near several Euros and below Japan's.

Since Father Smiff can't understand anything numerical without a graph, here are some pictures for his benefit:

So what is the assumed long interest rate (R) paid on the public debt? Multiply whatever rate you choose by the debt to gdp ratio and you have the debt service steady-state "burden" on the economy. In our example, 8(R)/5. If R is a fairly high-side reasonable 6% we get an 9.6% of gdp burden.

If the federal tax take keeps to its present 19% of gdp, servicing the debt will take about half the tax collections; but with another 8% of gdp each year coming into the federal budget, debt servicing becomes 36% of it. Now yes, Aunt Polly, that's a big number indeed. But it's forever, right? So we have plenty of time to find a unique tax base to extract these service payments from.

Say we effectively tax only the wealthy few for this 8% of GDP. If they own half the wealth and wealth is 4 times GDP, then big deal -- an average 4% wealth tax equivalent on the holders of the top half of our national wealth. Sounds like fun to me!

All this was well understood 65 years ago, at least, and these numbers I've used are not way-off estimates of the possibles for the next 30 years.

And remember, my fellow radical imps, we haven't yet used the fiscal monetary "nuclear option": a transition to all public debt held if necessary by the Fed itself; or another non-nuke WMD, namely Uncle's monetary agents running a faster long-term inflation rate while holding the nominal rate of Fed notes at that same target rate, effectively zeroing out the real rate of riskless return.

Poof! Inflation taxing away the public burden of the debt incubus! Yes, the inflation tax, bane of the goldbugs, that invisible built-in adjuster called the changing cost of "living". Not so much fun, that, as taxing the plutonians, but easily adjusted to, once you real producers of real stuff are made aware of the gig.

* * * * *

Now comes Simon Johnson, respected, credentialed, tenured, and once highly-placed global hi-fi technocrat, suddenly turned rogue lion in the street, who's been roaring "cut the big boys down to size" -- and coming from his desk, that has some purchase, as they say. But on today's topic, where does he stand?

Unfortunately, he's as orthodox a poison peddler as Fred Thompson. No free-lunch deficit guy he... not like your pal Owen here.

"No country can go on issuing... debt without consequence", simple Simon says. Ugh, how banal, what typical high-perch crapola.

"The macro situation remains stable only as long as foreigners buy and hold... government debt.... This is a major economic and national security risk.... Unsustainable debt dynamics can undermine us all."
Horsefeathers never were piled any higher than that, and it's all based on the slipped-in assumption that deficits are not sustainable. That assumption, as we've just seen, is pure voodoo hoodoo, once you fling off the sober taken-for-granted unexamined constraints like sacrosanct personal wealth holdings and higher than rock-bottom inflation rates. (You can go down the litany of bourgeois sancta-sanctorum at your leisure.)

Once you can adjust your currency or your inflation rate or your tax targets freely and democrataciously, it's child's play... which brings us back to the playpen du jour, the Hellenic contretemps and the deathly grip of the euro.

One fact spells doom here: Greece has no currency of its own to adjust, so it and Spain and Portugal and my dear Ireland, since they're all similarly shackled, must adjust their price and wage levels instead. Translation: a protracted interval of joblessness, dearth, and misery, so long as the all-powerful "reformed Reichs" to the north of the zone refuse to step up their own rates of price level change.

Just goes to prove... a world without Uncle would find plenty of vicious corporate pricks left on the planet ready able and wildly willing to play sadistic global Procrustes. Andrew Mellon lives and his name is Trichet:

Paul Krugman has been on this beat for a while now:




February 16, 2010

Too good not to be true

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, shown above apparently receiving a suitably dubious assessment, is an occasional source of innocent merriment here, so it was with the greatest pleasure that I saw this item at The Nation -- yes, The Nation:

The Nation is excited to announce that our March 8th issue (which goes live at TheNation.com next Thursday) marks the debut of Melissa Harris-Lacewell's new column, Sister Citizen. Harris-Lacewell has been a regular blogger here at TheNation.com for the last year, writing on topics ranging from President Obama's Nobel prize and racial profiling to healthcare reform and the death of Michael Jackson. One of the nation's foremost scholars on politics and race, Harris-Lacewell will now be one of The Nation's regular print columnists.

Harris-Lacewell's column shares its title with her forthcoming book, Sister Citizen: A Text For Colored Girls Who've Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn't Enough, and will explore the changing meanings of race, gender, faith and citizenship in the 21st century.

"Sister Citizen"?! Verily, verily I say unto you, you can't make this stuff up. And that subtitle! And the idea of a "scholar" on "politics and race"!

Here's a sample of the great scholar's prose, taken at random from the "archive" of her Obamafan maunderings on the Nation's blog:

A contemporary State of the Union address is less an assessment of our national circumstances than it is a collective Rorschach test: an inkblot given meaning by the viewer more than by the subject. The televised pageantry of applause and ovations has little to do with the President's articulation of a policy agenda and far more to do with how his partisan allies and opponents read the electoral viability of his phrases.

President Obama's address on Wednesday night felt like a heightened version of this classic psychological evaluation....

Obama loyalists saw a return of their favorite version of the President: relaxed, persuasive, rhetorically tough and clear....

Cringing Leftists were disappointed by his deficit hawkishness, unconvinced by his promises to leave Iraq by the end of summer, and irritated by the brevity of his argument for repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Applause and ovations! That Melissa -- no base uncovered.

My lefty mailing lists were as delighted by this news as I was. A sample of the reactions, under the topic heading "Terrible Political Writer Gets Promotion":

  • I'd rather them bring back Hitchens even if he devoted his column to explaining why Paul Wolfowitz is a revolutionary, and we reactionaries. She's writing at a level slighty higher than that of your average high school newspaper.
  • But not nearly as much fun as your average high-school newspaper. And in high school you couldn't get away with that incredibly repellent authorial persona of hers -- smug, censorious, and infinitely pleased with herself.
  • And just why are so many of you reading enough of her to know just how bad she is? Surely there are better ways to spend your time. :-)
  • Some of us are just connoisseurs of crud. There are some things that are just so extravagantly bad that you just have to look - again and again. MHL is one of those.
  • Rubbernecking. The same impulse that makes one slow down on the highway to take in all the gruesome details of some three-car ragu hashed up against a bridge abutment.
  • This is the one who writes like a ham sandwich, right? No wit, no style, no depth, no likable persona.... Is she sleeping with someone? Is she doing the column for free?

February 18, 2010

Race Department. Dr. Agassiz speaking. How can I help you?

In another thread here a side discussion emerged about "studies" departments and staff in the universities -- Women's Studies, African Studies, Queer Studies, etc. The immediate occasion was an individual described as a "professor of politics and race" at some college in New Jersey. I wrote:

To demand that historians, say, should start paying attention to formerly ignored historical subjects was a great thing. To demand that universities should have "departments" and "majors" for these things, however, reveals some of the limitations of a radicalism whose world is the campus -- particularly since the topics in question were defined in a way derived from the conventional worldview. There's History, which deals with the Duke of Wellington, and then there's African Studies, which is not my department, as Wernher von Braun says in the Tom Lehrer song.

And it gave the credentialling sector bureaucrats a glorious opportunity to professionalize and regulate the study of these topics. Are we well served by having the highly-credentialled and boneheaded Meshuggah Lacey-Bracegirdle set up as an anointed authority on "race" -- whatever that is -- rather than just discussing it amongst ourselves?

My problem with "race" as an academic subject is partly that it's a bogus concept -- there is no such thing as "race", as Ashley Montagu explained a long time ago.

The history of the concept, and the grisly stuff it justified, is something that historians study -- or ought to study. Critique of the concept, as pseudo-science, is something that biologists do or ought to do. But a Professor of Race Studies? It's like having a Professor of Phlogiston Studies.

To which a number of other contributors responded along the following lines:
I personally think that Smith's contention that race and politics aren't subject suited for scholarly work speaks more about him than [the topic of the original post].... [I]f Smith doesn't find politics and race compelling, fair enough, that may be his preference, but I think to imply that they aren't valid subjects illustrates that he clearly isn't the brightest bulb.
Careful reading, I think, will reveal that this response is directed at something I didn't say. But let me restate it, because I think the matter deserves some consideration.

"Race" as a concept is purely a social construct; there's no entity in the outside world that corresponds to it. It's a fairly recent invention and has pretty clear roots as both reflex of, and justification for, certain human institutions (like slavery and colonialism).

Certainly the concept calls out for criticism -- thoroughly destructive criticism, in fact, since there are lots of people out there who still think that the human species is divided up into "races", and this belief, conscious or unconscious, still has considerable malign power.

There's a historical critique of the concept of race. There's a scientific critique. There's the organizer's critique -- it divides people mentally who need to be united in practice. No doubt there are plenty of others.

But none of these critiques require you to be a race specialist: they require you to be a historian or a scientist or an organizer. If you are none of these things, your critique is going to be rather feeble, because you don't have the knowledge you need to make it stick.

And I would go farther. To occupy a chair of "race" means that your livelihood depends on the continuation of the problematic of race. Demolish the concept, and Othello's occupation's gone. So having professors of race studies or whatever you call it tends to reify and hypostatize the concept, not destroy it.

Far from advancing the critique of racism or male chauvinism or whatever, these "studies" mostly just keep making soup out of the same old bone -- the soup, in this case, being a thin gruel of dull jargon-crammed papers in journals nobody reads, and panel appearances at conferences that only your fellow-inmates attend, and sometimes, if you're very lucky, an appearance as designated liberal-schmiberal on a TV show or a newspaper Op-Ed page. And now -- from The Left! -- Dr. Melancthon Carruthers-Akimbo, whose most recent book is Everybody Play Nice.

None of this is to say, for example, that the bloody history of race theory and racism isn't worth telling, or that the different mechanisms of socialization for women and men aren't worth examining and analyzing. But I'm pretty skeptical that anything too trenchant is likely to emerge from the "studies" world.

Specialists by definition know little about anything outside their "field". Now the "field" of the "studies" is coextensive with the problem. The problem constitutes the conceptual universe of the "studies". There's no που στω, no Archimedean point outside, from which to get a purchase on the problem.

And then of course there's the fundamentally timorous and conventional groupthink which mostly characterizes academic life -- with a few honorable exceptions.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the limitations of "studies" types is their near-universal diehard adherence to the Democrats. Anybody who can't develop a critique of that manifestly played-out old institution isn't likely to have much success with a bigger tougher enemy.

February 19, 2010

Die Krötekapelle

* * * * *

My man Simon Johnson, he of the weak fiscal knees, is back in form here as he unloads on a lead soloist among the chorus of hypocritical Euro-toads now croaking over the rumbling Greek sovereign bond volcano, and particularly upon one dark Teutonic ogre named Axel Weber, the jowly scowly man shown at left apparently driving home a mordant point with ye olde skunk eye.

Why him? Beacuse this legendary back room Issimo is a man of steely credit grip and utterly "insider-only" moneymaking; and unfortunately he is waiting in the wings to become the next Kaiser of the Euro zone, succeeeding the toxic troll Trichet.

Heeere's Simon:

"... As Mr. Weber aspires to European-level leadership, here is the big issue. Is it his intention to manage the currency zone to suit the preferences of the core nations (i.e., Germany), while letting those on the periphery be whipped around by policies that are not suited for them?... German officials [like Weber] are keen to criticize the southern periphery of the eurozone, but let’s face it – eurozone monetary policy was highly procyclical (exaggerating the boom and the bust, e.g., in Spain), and regulators looked the other way as northern/core banks extended credit to the Mediterranean and East European neighbors.

The upside benefited German exporters; the downside is now being laid entirely at the door of “profligate” nations... Germany and Mr. Weber have been central in building a version of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system within Europe. The entire burden of adjustment is placed on deficit countries (talk to Greece); it is considered beyond the pale to even suggest that German fiscal policy may be too tight, that Germany needs to expand domestic demand, or – heaven forbid – that Germany’s intention to export its way back to growth (with a current account surplus, in their view) is not exactly a model of enlightened economic leadership.... On top of this, and unlike Bretton Woods, there is no mechanism for adjusting exchange rates within the currency union."

Simon makes nice fun of Axel's role in the vast coverup (sorry... sublation) of German bank hyper-leveraging, or rather hyper-losing, in the recently hyper-popped civilized land lot credit frenzy.

Oh little ones of Greater Sweden, rise up! join your Latin brothers and sisters! Stop this Kraut mug on his brutish progress to the throne of torture and bondage. You too have nasty chains to break. Look closely, comrades -- the links are right about your throats.

February 20, 2010

Mommy wants you to be comfortable

Right in the middle of a spate of Uni-bashing, this came across my screen, on a dead-languages mailing list I subscribe to:

"Teaching Difficult Subjects in the Classics Classroom" An APA(*) 

We propose a workshop with 5 brief presentations (10 minutes) on 
particular situations, with materials to help faculty in the 

This workshop would follow up on the very successful roundtable 
and workshop on teaching rape at the 2008 and 2009 APA meetings; 
we would like to broaden the discussion out at this time. Ancient 
texts raise a variety of issues--slavery, infanticide, adoption, 
abortion, rape, abuse, incest, sexuality--that may be difficult 
to discuss in a classroom where some students will have had 
personal experiences that might make them uncomfortable. 
And since the whole goal of a Uni education is to make people comfortable, in every sense of the word....


(*) American Philological Association.


Joel Surnow is no John Milton, but the producer of "24", America's favorite torture show, seems to be taking a good whack at a favorite liberal icon, or rather iconostasis, the Kennedys. Here's Alternet, waxing wroth:

Outraged Citizens Campaign Forces History Channel to Rethink Miniseries About the Kennedys
Robert Greenwald launches growing campaign that calls historically revisionist series backed by a producer with ties to Roger Ailes, "right-wing character assassination."

Media observers are abuzz with talk of a History Channel mini-series called "The Kennedys." While the scripts for the eight-part show, slated to air in 2011, are still unfinished, that hasn't stopped 40,000 people from signing a petition calling the series "right-wing character assassination" and "politically motivated fiction."

One would kinda like to know who the 40,000 "outraged citizens" are, and how they got mobilized. Greenwald, a documentary filmmaker and stalwart committed Democrat, seems to have started the ball rolling.

Apparently Greenwald got hold of the scripts somehow; they include a scene of Mattress Jack boinking somebody -- not Jackie, apparently; someone named Judy -- in a swimming pool:

.... when a Secret Service agent comes to deliver time-sensitive information from McGeorge Bundy, his security advisor, the president doesn't stop what he's doing as the agent delivers the news.
I don't know anything at all about Judy, but I remember McGeorge Bundy. I have to think that Jacko made the right choice.

Apparently there's also a scene in which Jack mulls the possibility of walling off East Berlin, before those nasty old Soviets had the idea. This is certainly not something I ever heard before, and could easily be made up out of whole cloth. But then on the other hand, if it turned out that Jack & Co. gave the idea some thought, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Anybody know where this might have come from?

Just goes to show: liberals are the real conservatives(*). All these plaster deities to venerate!

Even so, it's hard to imagine a less suitable object of veneration than the Kennedys, and Green Beret Jack in particular -- an unscrupulous mendacious chauvinist demagogue who ran in 1960 on the basis of a mythical "missile gap"; a dedicated warmonger who immediately cranked up military spending after a long period of diminution under his predecessor; a grandiose parvenu who puffed up the imperial iconography of the US presidency to unheard-of levels; the father of the Vietnam war, and the architect of the still-enduring Cuban embargo.

You would think a "progressive" like Greenwald might have something better to do than burnish and defend this grotesque and bloodstained legacy.

But you would be wrong.


(*) And so-called conservatives are anything but. That's another post, however.

February 21, 2010

Tenure in trouble?

The tenured faculty of Florida State may become the air traffic controllers of this brave new age of job massacre: the university is going to lay off 21 tenured and 15 additional tenure-track faculty.

Now that's big news in the academy, no doubt, but... oh the inhumanity of it all!

Actually I take a certain glee in seeing those feudal rights sliced away, and them enoromously swelled and stuffed heads stripped down to prole-ized proportions. Naturally the profs' "union" has stepped forth handsomely to do mortal combat with these bloodthirsty bureaucrats of the gown:

"United Faculty of Florida, the union representing FSU's faculty, is challenging the termination of tenured members and hopes to have an arbitration hearing this spring."
An "arbitration hearing"! Why that's but one small step from storming the Winter Palace. Man, if I was organizing that fightback, I'd have the central admin building set on fire by marauding gangs, like the Reichstag or die tryin', with a torch still burnin' in my cold dead hand. But in their higher wisdom united faculty has choosen the legal route.

I wonder -- can the tenured be saved by legal means only? I don't have a copy of the FSU faculty contract, but here's what I suspect is fairly typical relevent contract boilerplate language. It's from a AAUP contract -- the big prof union -- covering the duly credentialed and honored and honorable scholar gents and ladies of science at Deeetroit's Wayne State:

"Faculty Layoffs

1. Normally, part-time faculty will be laid off first followed by lecturers. In unusual circumstances when special experience is essential to the unit, a full-time or fractional-time faculty member may be laid off, while the part-time faculty member is retained. If the budgetary constraints prove it impossible to staff the range of courses with the full-time and/or fractional-time faculty, then the full-time and fractional-time faculty may be offered the opportunity to teach the courses on an overload basis without additional compensation rather than to use part-time faculty during the academic year."

"Fractional" vs part-time -- nice distinction, eh? But here comes the by-the-book chopping-block rankings:
2. Additional faculty layoffs shall occur in the following order:

  • (a) non-tenure-track faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University,
  • (b) untenured faculty on tenure track by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University,
  • (c) tenured faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University.
Sounds like the tenured oughta get protected till all else are gone, eh? But watch this -- the contract goes on:
"For purposes of this paragraph, untenured lecturers and senior lecturers with more than seven years service shall be treated as tenured faculty."
Sounds like nice modal lingo. I wonder how easily it can pivot both ways? If tenure-type status can be extended in some aspects and contexts to the non-tenured, might not tenured status similarly be abridged in certain aspects and contexts? Imagine we merge all trackers with tenureds and throw out the high-cost top dogs, keeping the trackers.

Length of service? There's gotta be loophole language in there somewhere. As my dear Fieldsian dad used to say, "Don't sign anything without loopholes 'less yer signin' it with [non-whites]." (He hailed from a bygone era, my dad.)

So a way around may exist somewhere -- probably does, in fact. Maybe this cloudy passage in the Wayne State contract contains the makings of such a loophole, or at least close enough to cover an arbitrator's ass:

"... It is understood that in a viable, complex and multifaceted University, it may be necessary to adjust programs and staff through normal attrition. Historically, this adjustment has been accomplished by not renewing term contracts in specific units, departments or schools/colleges. This provision and accompanying procedures do not apply to this historic practice."
With a few jiggers and pops, maybe instead of extending the rights of the tenured to the non-tenured, the university, in order to "adjust staff" by means of un-historic practice, might simply subject the tenured to the peremptory treatment doled out to the untenured, and/or bust the ranking system or re-organize departments, etc.

The last seems to be in the works at FSU:

[A] 15-person department... [was] being eliminated... FSU decided to merge oceanography, geological sciences and meteorology.
The yolk of many a tenured egghead may yet flow across the campus of dear old Kudzu U.

February 22, 2010

My man

A kind reader passed along these links to a recent speech, at MIT -- I don't know the circumstances -- by the droll and insightful Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report:

Part 2:

Hyperion to a satyr

Speaking of people I admire:

After the depressing news of Melissa Harris-Lacewell's elevation to columnist at The Nation, now comes the other shoe, dropping with a dismal thud: the indispensable Alex Cockburn's column in the magazine is being cut back to once a month. The outfit really seems bent on suicide.

If you feel like warning the lemmings away from the cliff, write to editrix Katha Pollitt: kat@thenation.com.

February 23, 2010

Walk away, with a vengeance

A kind reader passed this along:

22 February 2010

To:  Michael J. Smith and Owen Paine

Now we're really talking!


You can just walk away.  But then again, you
can get a bulldozer and leave the bankster with
just the raw land to play with.

Let Paulson and Bernanke securitize that!

Climate orthodoxy: random thoughts

Apparently if you're an angel, you don't need to have your steering oar in the water, in order to steer. I could use some crew like that on my little boat.

A recent discussion here about Alex Cockburn -- who is of course a notorious and much-execrated "climate-change denier" -- has motivated me to try and organize my muddled thoughts on the subject (climate change, I mean, not Alex Cockburn).

I've helped build some computational models myself, and have opened and examined the innards of others. These experiences have taught me that models are tricky things.

They're highly dependent on the parametric assumptions that go into them, for one thing. Those assumptions usually seem reasonable, and when the modelers are honest, which they mostly are, the assumptions are nearly always at least as justifiable as the contrary assumptions would be, absent any real evidence either way. But still, you're out on a limb -- an apparently thick solid limb, maybe, but a limb nevertheless.

Then there are the dynamical components -- the rules that derive one quantity from another at each iteration of the computational process. Typically these are abstractions from observational data -- nice smooth mathematically concise functions that fit the noisy data you have pretty well, and are often further justified by physical models of the phenomena in question. You can usually make a good case for these, but here again, they represent a methodologically necessary simplification of the actual world, where many different forces interact, often in a chaotic and/or path-dependent way.

None of this is to say that the climate-change models are worthless or wrong. Personally, I think they're more likely to be right than wrong, at least to a first approximation.

But there's plenty of scope for skepticism. It's not a nutty stance to take the models with a grain of salt. People who reproach Cockburn for his skepticism usually end up citing the expertise and knowledge of the modellers, and asking what the hell qualifies Cockburn to talk about atmospheric physics. And to be sure, aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus -- Alex has been known to put the occasional foot wrong when he ventures onto the treacherous turf of, say, thermodynamics.

But the argument from authority is not only logically weak, it ought to be repugnant to anybody on the Left. (Liberals, of course, love and revere authority, but who cares about them?)

The authorities and the institutions that support them are highly susceptible to groupthink, enforced orthodoxy, agenda-driven ideation, and unexamined, even unconscious, assumptions. History is full of cases where the expert consensus was dead wrong.

The of course there's the awkward fact that the earth has seen many cycles of extreme temperature variation, which as far as I know, climate science has yet to convincingly explain. This rather substantial lacuna in our understanding of the phenomena in question doesn't tend to bolster the authority of the authorities.

* * * * *

Personally, I'd like anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to be true. Unlike Alex, who loves to ride around in old gas-guzzler American boat-cars, I'd like to plow under three-quarters of the pavement in North America, and scrap nine-tenths of the cars. When people express worries about global warming, it offers an opening for my always-ready anti-car, anti-house, anti-suburb Jeremiad. But these various anti's of mine don't arise from a concern about global warming. They have a quite different basis, and they've been among my articles of religion from long before anybody was worried about global warming.

Doesn't the same hold for many of us? AGW is, for us, a convenient truth, Al Gore notwithstanding. As Dr Johnson said, I know but two causes of belief: evidence and inclination. Few of us have really investigated the science; but for many -- myself among them -- the inclination to believe is very strong.

* * * * *

Let's think about the politics of the thing. Ask people why they get so mad at Alex for his denier-ism, and they'll tell you, It's so important! Something must be done!

But is it not perfectly plain that in fact nothing will be done? There's no movement to assist or impede, no progress for Deniers to hold back. All respectable opinion agrees that AGW is real and a serious problem, and yet it is clear that the elites are quite determined to let it happen, if it's going to happen.

Oh, it's a convenient way of getting nuclear power started up again, and creating modest but pleasant pools of public largesse for certain sectors of industry. Cap-and-trade is yet another wonderful opportunity for plunder by the Visigoths of Wall Street. But you won't be seeing a carbon tax -- the only policy lever yet discussed which has any chance of making a difference, as far as I can tell; you won't be seeing any noticeable disinvestment in road- and car-building, or corresponding increase in transit construction or operating subsidy; you won't be seeing any changes in zoning laws or any less encouragement for house-ownership and green-field sprawl development.

In fact the battle against global warming was over before it began, and global warming won. That being the case, what does it matter whether one admits or denies the phenomenon? Isn't the question... academic?

* * * * *

Yet people go purple in the face nowadays when you mention Alex Cockburn to them, and they sputter -- if they're not too enraged for articulate speech, at all -- "That Denier! May his name be blotted out!"

Whence this emotional investment in the topic? People don't get nearly as mad as this about ongoing things that are actually and unquestionably killing real people in large numbers every day. But AGW, though somewhat conjectural and certainly not an immediate problem, is a subject that even liberals -- maybe even, especially liberals -- get tremulously passionate about.

In a sense, it's a perfect liberal issue. It's not -- at least, not the way it's usually posed -- a class issue; it's not workers vs. bosses. To be sure, if it happens, the wretched of the earth will be made a lot more wretched, and the highly comfortable little less so, if any. And this fact is occasionally mentioned in polemics on the subject. But it isn't the reason why liberals are so keen on it, I think.

It's the sort of thing our institutions ought to be able to deal with, if they worked as advertised. Come, let us reason together, and then appoint a panel of experts to execute. Science has spoken, and now the apparatus of technological rationality must be put in gear.

But technological rationality is spinning its wheels on this matter; and Science is the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Why?

One liberal answer is, in effect, demonic possession. There are some powerful villains -- not, Lord knows, the elites in general -- who are too stupid or greedy or bloody-minded to acknowledge the problem. These Bad Unreasonable People are like some sort of infectious agents in the body politic, interfering with its proper functioning and blocking the efforts of Good Reasonable People like Al Gore. This sort of dualism between the enlightened and nice people, and the unenlightened and nasty people, is very dear to the liberal heart. (Needless to say, the Bad Unreasonable People are mostly Republicans, and if not for them, it's quite certain that the Good Reasonable Democrats would do the right thing.)

The other liberal answer is that people in general are just no damn good -- all those porcine dolts out there with their SUVs and jet-skis just won't be parted from their vulgar amusements and comforts. If only people in general were more... more... well, more like us. This picture, too, is never far from the merit-class mind.

The answer that can't be entertained is the structural one: the idea that our society, as presently constituted, is going to take us all right over the cliff because it can't do otherwise.

February 24, 2010

Spectral Evidence

“So you can communicate, but the communications are censored,” Justice Ginsburg said. “You can be a member, you can attend meetings, you can discuss things, but there is a certain point at which the discussion must stop, right?”

Ms. Kagan responded, “The discussion must stop when you go over the line into giving valuable advice, training, support to these organizations.”

Ms. Kagan gave examples of prohibited conduct. A lawyer would commit a crime, she said, by filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a terrorist group. Helping such a group petition international bodies is also a crime, she added.

Justice John Paul Stevens asked if there was an authentic risk that Mr. Fertig would be prosecuted were he to make a presentation on behalf of the Kurdish group at the United Nations. He seemed to expect a negative answer.

But Ms. Kagan would say only that the matter would involve a “prosecutorial judgment.”

Via Who Is IOZ?

Increase Mather ultimately questioned the use of spectral evidence out of fear it could be influenced by demons. Demons being all demonic and evil and all, that makes a certain amount of sense. False witness and leading people into it are right up Satan's alley. What a pity the Obama administration is less enlightened than Increase Mather. He, at least, could find grounds to question "prosecutorial judgment".

Step right up

Mr Obama has set up a commission to look into long run fiscal expenditures. I'm reminded of the infamous "Committee on National Expenditure" set up by that mercurial Welsh elf Lloyd George in 1921, headed by one Eric Campbell Geddes -- he of "We shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak!"

In the event, that most nasty of nasty butcher-boy ops proved a very clear turning point in the then fast-gathering British public senility, recommending drastic cuts that were eagerly followed and effectively crimped any post-war slump recovery, leaving mighty Britain at 10% unemployment for the rest of the decade.

Of course, later in '25 came the far better-known crimp -- the golden pound cake cooked up by Stanley Baldwin and run through the ovens by party turncoat Winston Churchill. But in fact it was Geddes and his axe that done the foulest dirtiest deed, setting the precedent to be so scrupulously followed: all that needless spilling of boob-class blood over a few hollow accounting scruples.

Quite a show really -- 'til upstaged by a little thing called the Great Depression. After that one got in a few licks, everyone and her brother suddenly knew just exactly what manner of ultimo brutality the "profits system" was really capable of inflicting on its overmilked wage bovines, while His Majesty's government -- now headed up by Laborites -- stood stoically in place, adhering strictly to sound fiscal discipline.

Cynically Self-Involved

Jackassery from NPR.

Now I understand why MJS hurled his radio out the window. Only the most morbidly self-involved could worry about their moral character, and through immediate unsubtle extension everyone else's, while watching corporate sports spectaculars on television. Only the most morbidly self-involved could, further, fret about the morality of allowing themselves to be manipulated by a medium that is completely dedicated to manipulation.

The spectacle of liberal agonizing is disgusting; every bit as foul as conservative moral panic.

I'm happy to say I can help. The NPR media personalities' feelings of self-loathing are entirely appropriate. They're valid. They should loathe themselves—because they are, in fact, loathsome—and if this causes them agony, then so much the better. Suffering may help purge the moral toxins. But they have to take personal responsibility. They can't expect to keep receiving free excoriations forever. And they have to punish themselves where there's no risk of collateral cultural damage. I suggest they get it all out of their system on The Nation cruise.

February 25, 2010

Steady as she goes, helmsman

These are old graphs, but they really bear constant reiteration, as Br'er Barack lets slip the moment to hogtie these filthy bastards:

Chart of finanacial profits and pay

Big Brother, B.Ed.

Item in a news roundup from Alternet:

Schools Accused of Spying on Kids Through Webcams

... Lawyers for Harriton High School student Blake Robbins plan to ask a judge Monday to order the retention of all data on 2,300 laptops issued to students by the Lower Merion School District, near Philadelphia, the Associated Press reports.

The Robbins family launched the lawsuit after an assistant principal confronted Robbins with evidence of "improper behavior in his home," and showed him a picture from inside the home, taken by the webcam.

This follows pretty naturally from the idea -- which the culture seems, strangely, to have accepted -- that the schools should be total institutions, charged with forming kids' attitudes and character, as well as teaching them to read. How, after all, can this mission be discharged if kids are allowed to escape the Panoptical eye for sixteen hours out of the 24?

One interesting wrinkle:

Internet privacy lawyer Parry Aftab told ABC that the school district may have crossed the line from education to policing.

"Schools have very limited authority under the Constitution to deal with things that are off-premises after hours and have nothing to do with the school itself, so in this case I think the school was out of bounds, literally," she said. "Schools are schools, police are police, and they never should meet."

So let me get this straight -- snooping on the kid through his computer's webcam would have been OK, if it were the police doing it? And this from a "privacy lawyer"?

Oy veh.

February 27, 2010

More on race, class, and the Unis

I'm soooo out of touch...

... that I was unaware of the work of Walter Benn Michaels, until a link to a very nice review he wrote came flying through the fog and filthy air of one of my Lefty mailing lists.

Though I hate to say anything good about a professor, this is one of the exceptions. Michaels' essay is very on-point to some recent discussions on this site (here and here). Excerpts:

...[T]he fight for gay rights has made extraordinary strides in the 40 years since Stonewall. And progress in combating homophobia has been accompanied by comparable progress in combating racism and sexism. Although the occasional claim that the election of President Obama has ushered us into a post-racial society is obviously wrong, it’s fairly clear that the country that’s just elected a black president (and that produced so many votes for the presidential candidacy of a woman) is a lot less racist and sexist than it used to be.

But it would be a mistake to think that because the US is a less racist, sexist and homophobic society, it is a more equal society. In fact, in certain crucial ways it is more unequal than it was 40 years ago.... In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4.... A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.

An obvious question, then, is how we are to understand the fact that we’ve made so much progress in some areas while going backwards in others. And an almost equally obvious answer is that the areas in which we’ve made progress have been those which are in fundamental accord with the deepest values of neoliberalism, and the one where we haven’t isn’t. We can put the point more directly by observing that increasing tolerance of economic inequality and increasing intolerance of racism, sexism and homophobia – of discrimination as such – are fundamental characteristics of neoliberalism. Hence the extraordinary advances in the battle against discrimination, and hence also its limits as a contribution to any left-wing politics.

...American universities are exemplary here: they are less racist and sexist than they were 40 years ago and at the same time more elitist. The one serves as an alibi for the other: when you ask them for more equality, what they give you is more diversity.

I'm off to buy the guy's book.

About February 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in February 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2010 is the previous archive.

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