Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Sacred Oath of Hypocrisies

In writing the last post I came across this quote from former Chief Justice William Rehnquist writing for the majority in a case that, in part, challenged the use of school vouchers at parochial schools in Ohio:
"The incidental advancement of a religious mission, or the perceived endorsement of a religious message, is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits."
I was struck by the logic of the argument here: that since the government isn't giving the money directly to the parochial school, the possible religious proselytizing that may result is on the person going to school, not the government, because the government responsibility "ends with the disbursement of benefits". And Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas, the only conservatives of that year who remain on the Court today, all signed off on the opinion. The argument itself is flawed to me, or else why bother codifying laws against criminal facilitation, conspiracy, or being an accessory? Still the way Kennedy phrased it, basically saying "this is how I want it and so this is how it shall be" is particularly royal. So neat.

Except that, according to conservatives now, when it comes to vouchers to individuals who need health insurance who might use some of the money to purchase legal abortion, suddenly the government's role does not end with the disbursement of funds, because even if it gives money to recipients without directing what health services that money is to be spent on, somehow it becomes culpable, and meow meow meow. And the Constitution. And also Henry Hyde. The difference, of course, is that the government wouldn't have been giving those vouchers with the knowledge that they would be used for abortion, but with the knowledge that they could be, in some circumstances, some day, by some people. The difference is that while there is precedent for a Constitutional prohibition against supporting a particular religion via government monies, there is no similar law telling government not to support the public health via monies. Rather, the Constitution specifically states that the government has the power to lay and collect taxes to provide for the general welfare of the United States. And if you're going to object on the grounds that the money is used to snuff out human life, you better do something about the money the government uses to put people to death in the name of the State--including "innocent life".

Not that they should lose any sleep over it. The Supreme Randians have demonstrated in the past they are not above doing a 180 so they can flog their own ideologies, so it will be interesting to see, should this issue come before them, how they manage to argue themselves out of the precedent they set in 2002.

The Long, Long Subversion of Public Education

Everybody talks about education, but nobody really wants to do anything about it. From Walter Karp's 1985 essay and review, "Why Johnny Can't Think":
The public schools of America have not been corrupted for trivial reasons. Much would be different in a republic composed of citizens who could judge for themselves what secured or endangered their freedom. Every wielder of illicit or undemocratic power, every possessor of undue influence, every beneficiary of corrupt special privilege would find his position and tenure at hazard. Republican education is a menace to powerful, privileged, and influential people, and they in turn are a menace to republican education. That is why the generation that founded the public schools took care to place them under the suffrage of local communities, and that is why the corrupters of public education have virtually destroyed that suffrage. In 1932 there were 127,531 school districts in America. Today there are approximately 15,840 and they are virtually impotent, their proper role having been usurped by state and federal authorities. Curriculum and text. books, methods of instruction, the procedures of the classroom, the organization of the school day, the cant, the pettifogging, and the corruption are almost uniform from coast to coast. To put down the menace of republican education its shield of local self-government had to be smashed, and smashed it was.

The public schools we have today are what the powerful and the considerable have made of them. They will not be redeemed by trifling reforms. Merit pay, a longer school year, more homework, special schools for "the gifted," and more standardized tests will not even begin to turn our public schools into nurseries of "informed, active and questioning citizens." They are not meant to. When the authors of A Nation at Risk call upon the schools to create an "educated work force," they are merely sanctioning the prevailing corruption, which consists precisely in the reduction of citizens to credulous workers. The education of a free people will not come from federal bureaucrats crying up "excellence" for "economic growth," any more than it came from their predecessors who cried up schooling as a means to "get a better job."

Only ordinary citizens can rescue the schools from their stifling corruption, for nobody else wants ordinary children to become questioning citizens at all. If we wait for the mighty to teach America's youth what secures or endangers their freedom, we will wait until the crack of doom.
And to his list of ineffectual "reforms" we can add charter schools and school vouchers. Although supposedly intended to give poor kids a shot at a decent option in the face of failing public schools, studies so far indicate that the majority of charters perform either no better or even worse than the public schools they are supposed to supplant. No, the real winners in the charter school shell game are the owners and investors, who game the system for tax breaks and siphon off badly-needed public resources, and whose millionaire/billionaire sugar daddies are using all the influence their bucks can buy to destroy the public system and turn education into just another part of their portfolios. And as for school vouchers, a GAO study found very limited to no improvement in student performance, while the amount of a typical voucher ($2-3K) against the typical cost of a private school ($8549) makes it difficult for a poor family to find a school they can afford.

It's bad enough that we have to battle the business model schools are being held to as it is; when you throw in the deliberate sabotaging of the system with charters and vouchers, the picture that emerges is of a nation that is in no way interested in real education for its citizens, but rather only business opportunities for the wealthy to create obedient wage slaves and money-making investments in a rigged system. As for the ordinary people who really just want their kids to learn to read and write? Well, they've been hypnotized for so long by the sparkly promises of the snake oil salesmen of the Cato Institute and their local pols that they're ready to swallow anything with a pleasing label. Hope you're enjoying that American stereotype of rugged individualism, because from here on out, you're on your own. Better learn how to install your own water treatment plant while you're at it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Future Belongs to Wuss

The Third Way's solution to handling liberals:

But yet I know, where'er I go, that there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth

An antidote for last night's spectacle: the real state of the Union. A collage by Thom Yorke and Talib Kweli via Marc at Pandagon:

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Guilty

In the New York Times today, David Leonhardt comes very close to having an epiphany, at least what passes for epiphany at a news organ addicted to tales of over-the-top weddings and how much house $3 million can buy. Why, he wonders, does the recovery remain so jobless despite a rising GDP, high corporate profits, and a hard-working, efficient workforce?
But beyond these immediate causes, the basic structure of the American economy also seems to be an important factor. This jobless recovery, after all, is the third straight recovery since 1991 to begin with months and months of little job growth.

Why? One obvious possibility is the balance of power between employers and employees.
Yes, he comes close, he's practically sitting on it, but then he backs off like a mule at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Because what he sees there is a truth that clearly scares the bejeezus out of him, as you can tell by his verbal scuttle away from the brink. Unions have withered, he says, courts are business-friendlier, and "many companies can now come much closer to setting the terms of their relationship with employees." But since when was this not mostly true? To work in this country means not only acceding to an employer's schedule and accepting his wages (excepting in cases where unions have forced codification of basic human rights into federal law), but also absorbing a thousand smaller humiliations: random drug tests for jobs that entail no safety issues or probable cause, bullying disguised as supervision, requirements of specific off-the-clock behavior in the name of health insurance cost containment that are reminiscent of the days when single women could not be seen with men on pain of termination. Employers have the power. And employers, especially today, represent the group most responsible for the jobless situation: the wealthy.

But watch his gyrations as he works assiduously to avoid the word and the blame that goes with it. He repeats that favorite koan of supply-side Econ 101, that "only by lifting economic growth will we put people back to work". Yet his own graphic shows that as GDP has risen since 2008, the number of employed continued to plummet, and has now, at best, merely stagnated at an incredibly high level. So whose growth is it we're talking about? Certainly not the unemployed masses, or those lucky enough to find work after a layoff at half their previous wage or worse.

Then he posits that "policy makers could also help the unemployed by spreading economic pain more broadly among the population." He doesn't explain exactly who this population is that should have some pain, but given that the poor have always felt it, and the middle-class has been having its share for years, it really only leaves one group...who shall remain nameless, thank God, or someone from the Business Section might get his nose out of joint.

He lauds Germany and Canada for averting layoffs by job-sharing and cutting wages and hours, while wondering why Americans, whose average wages have risen faster than inflation since 2007, still retain such high numbers of unemployed. But that "average" wage is skewed by the wages of the top few into irrelevance, if not falsehood. Inflation has been almost extinct, so anything that exceeds it, exceeds it by a pittance. Both Germany and Canada have strong unions and workers whose actual wages are better than those of Americans. And unlike America, in both countries credit never took the place of the real earning increases that a fairer distribution of employer profits would have allowed, so the phenomenon of debt carried by American workers to negate their declining wages did not undermine their economies to the same extent.

He also lauds Germany for its work-sharing program, while ignoring the fact that Germany has had a power-sharing tradition of workers sitting beside management on the boards of its companies since the end of WWII, a tradition specifically engineered by policy-makers from the U.S. In our lifetime power between workers and bosses in Germany has never been the kind of unequal feudal arrangement we have in the U.S. The fact that Germany has performed so well over the decades, and taken so little relative pain since the crash, has a great deal to do with the fact that employees had some control over the natural rapaciousness of the moneyed class, yet Leonhardt has to take a crack at unions in the U.S. anyway:
One problem is that too many labor unions, like the auto industry’s, have been poorly run, hurting companies and, ultimately, workers.
One problem is that unions had nothing at all to do with Detroit's management into oblivion, which occured not once, but twice (first in the 70s. They had nothing to do with management decisions to put allthe eggs into the SUV/truck basket while doing relatively little R&D and long-range planning in preparation for a paradigm shift that anyone who follows the oil business could see coming down the pike for decades. Without the kind of genuine power-sharing inherent in the German approach, unions have relatively little power over a company. They don't set its goals, and they don't make decisions in the boardroom, and those are the kinds of things that really determine whether a company succeeds of fails.

And then he finally goes there:
The list of promising solutions to the jobs slump can go on and on. Reforming the disability insurance system so it does not encourage long-term joblessness would help.
Yes, this idea that the disabled are dragging us into the pit has gained traction lately, and when you run out of other targets, you have to dig deep to avoid naming the guilty. I would suggest that Leonhardt take some time from his busy day and read Charles Pierce's horror story "The Era of Big Government Is Over And Marcus Stephens Is Dead", of how that same system, pummeled by lies from Right back in the 90s, murdered a young boy to prove it wasn't allowing the lazy little goldbricker to steal from the coffers of his betters.

You want things to change? You really have to learn how to name names.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Self-Satisfaction of Retroactive Accomplishment, Periodical Edition

In 1963, The Atlantic ran the text of MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Here they reprint it on the occasion of the day. Given the direction the magazine has taken over the past 12 years, the reprint dramatically illuminates the change. Once upon a time they took such a man seriously, despite the smears and libels against him by the regressive elements of the nation. Now, they publish work on behalf of those very same regressive elements. If a man like King were to appear tomorrow, they would send their smallest thinkers to McArdelize him, and question how serious such a leftist rabble-rouser could be.

What Self-Centered Men Have Torn Down, Men Other-Centered Can Build Up

In celebration of Martin Luther King Day, a portion of his Nobel acceptance speech:
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Implausible Deniability of the Clueless Nation

What's the point of this, may I ask, other than to rouse the rabble into righteous indignation?
TUCSON — Law enforcement officials said Friday they have multiple photos of Jared L. Loughner posing with a Glock 9mm pistol next to his naked buttocks and dressed in a bright red g-string. It is the same model of weapon as the one the police say Mr. Loughner used last Saturday to kill six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and to wound 14 others, including an Arizona congresswoman. The photos were turned over to the police by Walgreens, where Mr. Loughner had taken them to be developed. In some of the photos he is holding the gun near his crotch, and in others, presumably shot in a mirror, he is holding the gun next to his buttocks, the police said. It was not yet clear when the photos were taken or whether Mr. Loughner had ordered prints.
Goddammit, what does the Times pay these people for? I want to know whether he ordered prints!!! And what did he pay? Is it cheaper to get juvenalia developed in Walgreens, or should I be taking my ancient reproductive methods to the CVS? What's the point of specious public speculation on the mindset of a would-be assassin if they can't even tell us whether he got them on sale?

But hey, now we've got some sensational material to seed the public imagination, and keep the cuckoo clocks spinning another 24 hours, chirping out bad guesses as to what made him do it?

Listen, we don't need to know what motivated this poor sap, or what his sexual kinks were. All we need to know is we can chalk up another spectacular fail for the nation's pitiful mental health system, and for the usual suspects around Loughner who remember in hindsight that he was "scary", and "creepy", but never quite scary or creepy enough to do anything about at the time. How many more times do we have to be told by neighbors that the suspect was a quiet guy, who kept to himself, but seemed nice enough; or by old girlfriends that they would never have believed he had it in him, or that he freaked them out but not enough to worry about;  or by teachers that he was a loner who drew funny pictures?  When is "Whooocouldanode?" finally going to replace "In God We Trust" on our currency, or the universal sign for "clueless schmuck"  replace the stars and stripes on our flag?  Because our dismantling of the safety net for the mentally ill certainly had nothing to do with this, did it?  And we're all too good as Christians to have sat on our haunches watching American Idol while we let this happen.  Shit just happens, doesn't it?  But it happens over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Logical Conclusions: Episode 1

Ross Douthat starring in "Logical Conclusions":
The theory: "When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost."

The logical conclusion: "The fools and zealots behind Radio Rwanda should not be held responsible for the actions of highly suggestible people doing what they were told to do by fools and zealots."
But don't touch that dial, because right after that is everyone's favorite fool and zealot, Glenn Beck, starring in "I've Got A Paradigm!":
"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. ... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

It's Not The Ideology, It's the Humidity

Since the violence in Tucson yesterday, much of the talk on both left and right has centered around the ideology of the shooter, and many have suggested holding off on making conclusions until more is known about him and what he believes. There is also much discussion about how he appears to be mentally ill, and how important that might be in determining why it happened and what preventative means might be explored because of it. Ultimately none of this matters.

First, there are many, many people with mental illnesses in the country, but very few are violent or prone to violence. You could hardly argue that a person with agoraphobia, or OCD, or disabling social anxiety, should be automatically denied the right to own a gun. On the other hand, many violent individuals who should never be allowed to carry a weapon go about threatening and attacking others (especially their significant others) with impunity, simply because they lack a diagnosis, in turn because we accept a very high baseline level of violence as normal behavior in this culture.

Second, it is that acceptable high level of violence in our culture that has allowed the gun lobby to insist that any constraints on the right of the citizenry to own and carry weapons is a tyrannical leftist plot, intended to enslave the proud patriots and noble hunters whose 2nd Amendment rights are the only thing standing between those sovereign citizens and monarchist liberal totalitarianism. In fact, the NRA is nothing more than a flag-draped whore shilling for an industrial lobby with tentacles across every nation in the world, whose main work is to ensure eternal war at every level and thus eternal profits. It is this monster that has so overpowered our government that now not even sensible gun control is allowed. It is this shambling beast that has encouraged countless Republican candidates to lean on the implied threat of firepower and the vicarious mantle of power and manliness that is lent when appearing in campaign flyers with an arsenal. And it is the regulatory capture of our law-making that enabled Jared Loughhner to spray 20-30 rounds into a crowd with such lightening speed that no one could stop him until at least 6 were dead and 19 wounded.

Finally, it is the violent rhetoric and implication inherent in our political dialogue that lowers the bar against acting out violent impulses. Anyone can point to any number of blogs and websites and say, "It's the fault of both sides. Look, look at how violent the right-wing and left-wing posters and commenters become on the web!" But the facts show us that it's not both sides, and it's not blogs, most of which attract relatively little audience. It's the major political celebutantes of one side of the ideological spectrum, those with followings of millions who have access to national public forums, it's the leaders and aspirants of one political party specifically, who regularly throw off these kinds of violent wisecracks and then when something happens, retrench with specious defensiveness, claiming that no one could have predicted such a tragedy.

So when someone starts trying to sidetrack the discussion with questions about the shooter's ideology and mental state, don't fall for it. None of that matters. What matters is that we have a political party and its fellow travelers who regularly use the language of violence to refer to those who oppose their philosophies. And we belong to a nation that will soon accept the selling of rocket launchers to 10 year olds as part of the growing reactionary consensus of Constitutional interpretation.

The final, and saddest, irony of it all is that this sickness is spreading, and the chickens are roosting. It was by a Glock similar to the one she herself owns that Giffords was shot through the brain. And it wasn't so long ago that she herself was shouldering a weapon to establish herself as manly enough to sit in a chair and vote, although it left the orcs at the NRA unimpressed.

This is how it begins, and this hothouse atmosphere is what makes it grow.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

"...You Must Move On or I Will Bury You"

Thinking of the shameful battle that has raged over illegal immigration, and how fear of brown interlopers has gotten all conflated with fear of brown terrorists in the skies, and how nativism is undergoing a resurgence but not a facelift--the face of it is as ugly as was 130 years ago--made me think of the video below.

And I was thinking, too, of how the right has ginned up a panic over Obama giving their land back to the Indians; how the inherent, deep-seated guilt borne of 500 years of genocide and theft had rendered the descendants of the imperialist class nearly blind with rage at the idea of returning stolen goods, no matter how hare-brainedly false the whole story is.

Humanity is a thieving hive of tribal dominations, small clubs compelled by aggression and power-seeking to endlessly visit torment on each other by any means at their disposals. The hypocrisy of powerful elites quailing at the idea of eating even a little of the shit they force down the gullets of the weak or of losing a tiny bit of the power structure built on the bodies of millions of ancient victims is no surprise. They know what they themselves would want to do if the roles were reversed, and rightly fear. But human nature being what it is, such changes would only alter the power ratio, not the individuals themselves, and that's what is standing in the way of a human evolution. We are a bloody race, and no one has clean hands, no matter what their color, creed, or homeland. When given the chance to exercise power, the powerful take what they want, eliminate the competition, write the laws, and re-write the history. But there's always blood in the water, even for the victors.

Oh, and Happy New Year!