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Higher education and the robber barons of the new gilded age

[ 2 ] July 26, 2017 |

Erik’s post about the manful exertions of the Koch brothers to save the youth of Utah from the tentacles of communistic propaganda in the guise of economic research reminded me of a project that seems worth undertaking: A survey of exactly what has happened to college and university endowments over the past 50 years.

Here are a few stats.

Between 1966-67 and 1980-81, the per-student value of American higher ed endowments fell by almost half, from $10,422 to $5,418 per student (all figures in 2017 dollars). This was a product of two factors:

Enrollment almost doubled.

The combined real value of higher ed endowments actually declined slightly.

The second factor was in turn a product of two developments: First, the period between the mid-60s to the early 80s was a really bad time for American financial markets. Between 1966 and 1981 the S&P 500 produced a cumulative overall return of -15% (this is with all dividends re-invested), and bonds got slaughtered in the 1970s as well. Second, to a significant extent rich people weren’t feeling the love for universities during this time, and didn’t open up their pocket books as a result.

Anyway, since by the 1960s a non-trivial number of institutions had begun to depend on endowment income to fund a non-trivial portion of their operating expenses, this trend was becoming a big problem, budgetarily speaking.

Luckily for university administrators and the deeply tenured neo-liberalism prosperity was just around the corner: for the past 35 years higher ed endowments have been on quite a tear. The total value of those endowments is at this moment probably about $550 billion, which is to say 8.5 times greater, in constant dollars, than it was in 1981. This works out to $27,500 per student.

Now this wealth has been, to put it mildly, far from evenly distributed: a few institutions have made out like robber barons, and a couple of hundred others have done OK, but the vast majority of American higher ed gets little or nothing in the way of endowment income.

There’s a lot to say about all this, but what I’m wondering/blegging at the moment is: are there any historical studies that focus specifically on the role the original gilded age captains played in funding the American higher ed system at that time? Obviously several of these people (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Mellon, Stanford etc.) decided to throw a lot of money at the colleges and universities of the time. Why and to what effect?

I’m asking because it seems clear that something at least somewhat similar has been going on for the last three or so decades, with all kinds of implications for the production of knowledge (or “knowledge”) within the contemporary American university. Thoughts and suggestions on the subject?


If the Answer is a Specific Leader, It’s the Wrong Answer

[ 92 ] July 26, 2017 |

I don’t want to be unfair to Damon Linker’s argument here, where he notes the tepidness of the DNC’s “Fair Deal” proposal and says that what the party really needs is Bernie Sanders as its public leader. And maybe it does need Bernie as its public leader, although the fact that large number of party activists hate his guts is not maybe the greatest thing. But I have to say that I find the tendency on the left to attempt to find the one true leader a real problem. Moreover, whatever the situation, if the answer is “we need this person to lead us,” it’s the wrong answer. Any political situation needs to have the possibility for many leaders. Yes, it was great in 2008 to get a really skilled politician as the Democratic candidate, even if that included fooling large parts of the left that he was a transformative figure when instead he was someone who would gut teachers’ unions and push the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bernie is not Obama, not in pretty much any way. That might be good and that might be bad. But what Democrats need is a number of capable and quality leaders who can articulate a conversation in a positive way. Whether they have that or not is unclear, but Bernie is a problematic enough political leader that I pretty strongly believe he is not the path forward for the left at this time. He’s part of the solution, but no one should be more than part of the solution and that includes messaging. Linker himself admits at the end of the piece that the message is more important than the messenger and that’s important to keep in mind, even if we need do seem someone of charisma (or more ideally, multiple people) to help deliver that message.


[ 130 ] July 26, 2017 |

Dylan, probably

Edit courtesy of Shakezula:

I don’t know if you know this or not, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders just hosted a press briefing where she proceeded to read a letter from a totally-not-made-up little boy named “Dylan” who’s nickname, we learned, is “Pickles.” Total Real Pickles asked Trump hard-hitting questions like “Why don’t people like you?” and “How big is the White House?”

She read it, then took questions from reporters. She did not answer any of them. Not one. Not one…with any sort of discernible, direct answer. In short, if it wasn’t about Pickles, Sarah just wasn’t having it.

She wouldn’t answer questions about the military’s transgender policy, she wouldn’t answer questions about Trump’s fraught relationship with Jeff “Ah, Do Declayah!” Sessions, she even refused to answer some fairly innocuous questions about tax policy. Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn’t answer questions. She reads letters from little boys named “Pickles.” This is where we are now.

Easy. Easy Like Sunday Morning.

[ 39 ] July 26, 2017 |

Mitch McConnell is acting as if the votes of the “moderates” in his conference can be purchased for virtually nothing. And all signs suggest that he’s correct:

With the resurrection of Obamacare replacement, GOP leaders had to decide what the latest version of the bill would look like. Because they opted to forgo a Congressional Budget Office score, this version would need 60 votes. Since that would be impossible to reach, this version would be more of a symbolic gesture. But it would set the terms for the intra-party debate the rest of the week as GOP leaders hashed out a final iteration behind closed doors. On Saturday, conservatives got a commitment to include Cruz and Lee’s amendment to allow insurance companies to sell plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s mandate. (That would send the exchanges into a “death spiral,” but never you mind.) Paul also got what he wanted: a vote on a clean repeal of Obamacare.

What did the moderates get for their votes to proceed? A Portman amendment to the bill restoring “a small portion of the Medicaid cuts” to go with previously added and similarly pitiful funding to treat opioid addicts. Both were token gestures, yet Portman voted yes. A month ago, Heller said he would not vote for the bill because of its steep Medicaid cuts. The cuts remained largely intact, yet Heller voted yes. A week ago, Capito said she would vote for the bill only if there was a replacement plan “that addresses my concerns.” No one knows whether there will be such a plan, yet Capito voted yes. (Heller, Capito and their defenders will say that it’s just a procedural vote to begin debate, not on the bill itself. But Heller and Capito both specifically said they would vote no on that motion.)

The two biggest votes of TrumpCare involved the Republican leadership betting that “moderates” could be bought off for nothing or, if absolutely necessary, pennies on the dollar. So far, they’re batting 1.000 and AFICT there’s no reason to think the streak won’t continue. And all evidence suggests that the media will continue to present reactionaries like Portman and Capito as moderates even after they inflict untold misery on their constituents, so win/win!

And of course there’ll be xenophobic torture porn

[ 39 ] July 26, 2017 |

Where the blame lies – Grant E. Hamilton
Library of Congress

Before emitting this morning’s anti-transgender edict, the Cretinous Clementine warmed up with some scare-mongering about immigrants.

President Donald Trump compared America to a nation under wartime occupation that needs to be liberated from illegal immigrants during a “Make America Great Again” rally in Ohio Tuesday night.

Trump said illegal immigrant gang members are like “animals” and that they’re not using guns to kill people “because it’s too fast and it’s not painful enough.”

He claimed gang members will “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”

Add The infliction of excruciating pain the ends in death to the IOKIYAR list. If these alleged girl-torturing gang members would put away their knives and support policies that increase teen pregnancy and reduce access to health care, the GOP would welcome them with open palms.

Trump said that “people are screaming from their windows, thank you, thank you to the border patrol and to General Kelly’s great people that come in and grab these thugs and throw them the hell out.”

It’s hardly unique to tRump, but his style of lying involves constantly one-upping himself with increasingly outrageous whoppers. I imagine that if he had stuck to this topic, the audience would have learned about the month-long battle, complete with tanks and burning 60 lbs. bags of drugs launched from trebuchets, between High Quality General Kelly and the massed forces of MS-13. Followed by flowers and candy.

As an aside, I think Orange Droolius’ rallies are too short. I think he ought to be allowed to talk at his supporters until he’s ready to shut up. That would teach them.

“We’re liberating our towns, and we’re liberating our cities. Can you believe we have to do that?” he asked.

Let’s see. Lips are moving, so the answer must be No.

And of course there’ll be a base-pleasing hint of head busting for MAGAmerica. And it can double as plausibly deniable encouragement to go out and attack people who don’t look MAGAmerican.

Trump said that this is not being done “in a politically correct fashion. We’re doing it rough.”

Meanwhile, back in reality.

By and large, those arrested under Trump’s executive orders have been undocumented immigrants who have not committed a violent crime.

Between January 22 and April 29, ICE made 10,800 “non-criminal arrests” compared to just 4,200 during the same period in 2016. There are many examples of families who have been separated in these instances.

The only thing people should be screaming from their windows is Abolish ICE.

Beloved Puppet of Republican Leadership Offers More Meaningless Words

[ 82 ] July 26, 2017 |

A true profile in courage again speaks up when it counts:

So, so courageous! Bucking a president of his own party, yet! So mavericky!

Why, it was less than a decade ago that LBGT people were formally barred from serving openly in the armed forces. In 2010, Congress finally acted to end this disgraceful policy. Why, even McCain’s good friend and fellow preening asshole Joe Lieberman decided it was time to do the right thing. How did this courageous defender of the dignity of LBGT Americans vote? Let’s see…

Really, his comments today are almost as impressive as the time McCain delivered a speech piously defending Senate procedure after casting a decisive vote to allow a process that blew basic procedural and democratic norms to smithereens, and then voted for legislation he claimed in the speech he would not vote for. I remember it like it was yesterday!

America’s telemarketers and Florida real estate salespeople must be rushing to get the contact info of all of the many members of the press who are still buying McCain’s bullshit. I mean, really.

…via Alex Saltzberg in comments, I was actually too generous to Saint McCain. He literally <em>led the opposition to DADT repeal:

During the debate, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and his party’s presidential candidate in 2008, led the opposition to the repeal and said the vote was a sad day in history. “I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage,” Mr. McCain said. “And we could possibly and probably, as the commandant of the Marine Corps said, and as I have been told by literally thousands of members of the military, harm the battle effectiveness vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”

He and other opponents of lifting the ban said the change could harm the unit cohesion that is essential to effective military operations, particularly in combat, and deter some Americans from enlisting or pursuing a career in the military. They noted that despite support for repealing the ban from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, other military commanders have warned that changing the practice would prove disruptive.

To be clear, I believe in taking yes for an answer. If McCain actually acts to overturn Trump’s ban — such as inserting an amendment in the defense bill — I’ll praise him. But his words alone mean nothing.

Abolish ICE

[ 70 ] July 26, 2017 |

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a fascist police force engaging in widescale ethnic cleansing of the United States. Now that Trump and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (and I don’t care that Trump is bullying Sessions. That racist elf deserves everything that happens to him) have given ICE agents free run to be the racist strike force many of its employees want to be, they have acted wtih impunity. Because these victims of these fascists are poor, live in the shadows, and often don’t speak English (or even Spanish as many are indigenous), the mainstream reaction against Trump has put this issue too much on the backburner. But on the ground, it is horrifying.

Example A:

A 42-year-old Los Angeles pastor with two U.S. citizen children was detained by immigration authorities on Monday morning.

Noe Carias is the lead pastor at an Evangelical church near Echo Park, a position he has held for a number of years. He is originally from Guatemala and has been in the United States since he was 14 or 15, according to his wife. Carias was reportedly detained during a court appearance Monday during which he had been hoping to receive a stay of removal. His deportation order reportedly dates back to 1994 or 1995, according to advocates for the family. He previously received a stay of removal in 2014, and that same stay was extended in 2016.

“He has a U.S. citizen wife and he has two little children,” pastor and community organizer Martin Garcia told LAist. “They own a house, and at this moment the whole family is going to crumble because he was the economic support for the family. It’s going to have an impact.”

“We consider this unfair according to the promises of the administration,” Garcia continued. “They said that they were only deporting people who had major crimes—bad hombres—but not really people without any criminal record.”

“My husband is not a criminal,” Carias’ wife, Victoria Carias, told LAist outside of the Federal Building while her two small children played nearby. “He’s been a good citizen.” Advocates for the family say that Pastor Carias does not have a criminal record.

Example B:

Example C:

The New Yorker‘s Jonathan Blitzer has been in contact with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent since March in an attempt to learn what the agency is like under President Donald Trump. This week, the agent decided that he’d seen enough and had to blow the whistle:

At first, the agent spoke to me on the condition that I not publish anything about our conversations. But that has changed. Increasingly angry about the direction in which ice is moving, the agent agreed last week to let me publish some of the details of our talks, as long as I didn’t include identifying information.


The agent’s decision to allow me to write about our conversations came after learning that ice was making a push, beginning this week, to arrest young undocumented immigrants who were part of a large wave of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border in recent years and who, until now, had been allowed to live in the U.S. Rather than detaining these young people, the government had placed them in the care of families around the country. Most of them are trying to lead new lives as American transplants, going to school and working. ice now plans to pursue those who have turned eighteen since crossing the border, and who, as a result, qualify for detention as legal adults. “I don’t see the point in it,” the agent said. “The plan is to take them back into custody, and then figure it out. I don’t understand it. We’re doing it because we can, and it bothers the hell out of me.”

The policy he’s talking about was announced last month and immediately denounced by immigration advocates.

The agent went on, “The whole idea is targeting kids. I know that technically they meet the legal definition of being adults. Fine. But if they were my kids travelling in a foreign country, I wouldn’t be O.K. with this. We’re not doing what we tell people we do. If you look next month, or at the end of this month, at the people in custody, it’s people who’ve been here for years. They’re supposed to be in high school.”

This revolting ethnic cleansing conducted with a government-approved fascist terrorist force has to be the top target of resisting Trump. Or a top target at least. We must not only demand that this stop, but that ICE should be disbanded and reconstituted with a different mandate and under a much more accountable authority. So long as we do not speak out against this agency and its agents on an individual agents if we know who they are, then we are culpable with the ethnic cleansing of our nation.

The Minimum Wage

[ 196 ] July 26, 2017 |

This is a good overview of where we are at now with the minimum wage. Like everything else, it is a tale of two parties with no room for compromise.

At the national level, the Democratic Party has also adjusted its minimum-wage policy, albeit more slowly. During his 2008 presidential bid, Barack Obama advocated for a federal increase to $9.50 an hour by 2011, which then was a fairly radical proposition. By the beginning of his second term in 2013, he called for a $9-an-hour minimum wage, which congressional Democrats increased to a slightly more ambitious $10.10. With a Republican-controlled House, however, this was mostly an exercise in political messaging. By 2015, congressional Democrats were officially calling for $12 an hour, while more progressive members voiced support for a $15 federal minimum wage. That was a dividing line in the Democratic presidential primary between Hillary Clinton, who backed $12 an hour, and Bernie Sanders, who supported $15.

Today, in the political wilderness, Democrats in Congress have made a $15 minimum wage the cornerstone of their economic agenda. For now, that simply means that the two political parties are more polarized than ever on the federal minimum wage. While the odd Republican or two has quietly come out in favor of a modest increase to the federal minimum wage, Republican leadership has unilaterally kept any minimum-wage legislation from even being debated.

And then there is the Party of Plutocracy.

John Boehner once said back in 1996, “I’ll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum-wage bill.” That existential opposition has hardly softened during Boehner’s speakership. Nor has it softened under the leadership of Paul Ryan, who consistently trots out his softer, though equally pernicious, talking points about how minimum-wage jobs are meant as entry-level steps for teenagers—like his first job at McDonald’s in the mid-1980s—on their way to higher-paying jobs, and are not meant for those who need to support families (though the vast majority of minimum-wage workers are, in fact, not teenagers).

Republican hostility to minimum-wage increases of any size are seen most vividly in the states where the GOP is in full control and uses its power to wage a war on minimum wages. As of now, 27 states have laws that preempt cities and counties from instituting minimum wages higher than the state’s. After the majority-black city of Birmingham instituted a $10.10-an-hour minimum wage in 2015, Alabama’s majority-white (and majority Republican) legislature quickly passed a law banning local minimum-wage hikes, thereby forbidding the struggling black workers in the state’s largest city from getting a raise.

More recently, in early June the GOP-controlled Missouri legislature passed legislation that would undo St. Louis’s new $10 minimum wage. Republican Governor Eric Greitens said he’d allow the bill to become law without his signature—almost literally taking money out of St. Louis minimum-wage workers’ pockets.

A couple of thoughts here. First, despite the long history of conservatives demanding state sovereignty over many matters because those governments are easier to control than either localities or the federal government, it would not surprise me in the least to see an increasing move by conservatives to claim that minimum wages should not only not be decided by municipality, as has happened not only in Missouri and Oklahoma, but in supposedly liberal Rhode Island, but that it should not be decided by state at all. This is speculation on my part, but I look at Idaho, with most of its population within 50 miles of Washington and Oregon, two states with much higher minimum wages than that cauldron of frothing reactionaries. Low-wage employers in Idaho have been getting destroyed because they refuse to compete with their higher wage neighbors. Of course they could just raise their wages and to some extent this has happened, but there are lots of Idaho residents working in Pullman and Spokane and Ontario, Oregon. Given the utter lack of even pretending to be consistent any longer, I strongly believe a move toward federalizing the minimum wage is likely as states such as California, Oregon, and Washington push their wages higher.

Second, there is no good reason at all for Democrats to compromise with Republicans on this issue at this time. Like every other issue, middle ground has disappeared, largely because of Republican fireeating. Like on gay marriage, where either you believe it should exist or you don’t and no middle ground really exists, with Republicans now largely opposing the entire idea of a minimum wage and wishing they could repeal it or declare the Fair Labor Standards Act unconstitutional (and don’t be surprised to see a real move toward this by the courts in the next decade, as I strongly doubt Alito or Gorsuch actually sees the FLSA as constitutional, even if they might not say that now), compromise is pointless. You either believe in economic justice or you don’t. While we can argue about what the minimum wage should be among ourselves, there is no purpose having this conversation with corporations or their political lackeys. That’s a very different thing than not bringing minimum wage increases before voters in red states, as such bastions of Maoism as Nebraska and Arkansas have seen voters approve wage hikes in recent years.

Thus, there is no reason to not base our economic message as an expansive welfare state not only includes a robust minimum wage, but a federal guarantee of a job, the forgiveness of student loan debt, and universal Medicare. Sure, the rich might not like it and that matters in the Citizens United era more than anytime since the first Gilded Age. But we are in a nation now of stark choices. Playing reasonable moderate to attract a shrinking number of “moderate” voters makes little political sense. Republicans understand this and act accordingly. We need to give the Americans a stark choice between the New Gilded Age and a robust nation that serves the needs of the working and middle classes. A high minimum wage is only the start.


[ 24 ] July 26, 2017 |

Not the dumbest Republican. But he tries harder!

Blessed are the merry pranksters. Because we could all use a laugh right now.

Last week, US Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry took a phone call from two men he thought were the Ukrainian Prime Minister and his translator. But the 22-minute-long phone call was actually two Russian pranksters, Vladimir “Vovan” Kuznetsov and Alexei “Lexus” Stolyarov, otherwise known as the “Jerky Boys of Russia,” in the style of an American prank call duo from the 1990s, according to Bloomberg.

The Washington Post confirmed the conversation with the Department of Energy. In audio originally posted on a Russian website and reposted elsewhere, the dialogue touched on a Baltic Sea pipeline that would pump Russian gas, as well as an expansion of coal and oil and gas interests in Ukraine. Early in the conversation, Secretary Perry tells the pranksters that “the [Trump] administration is broadly supportive of sanctions against Russia at this particular point in time,” and later he offers that “negotiation is always possible” on coal exports to Ukraine.



[ 235 ] July 26, 2017 |

Here we go.

There was a nine minute gap between the first and second tweets, suggesting to me that Trump was enjoying the drama that he was creating by destroying lives and careers. Helpfully, RAND has a report indicating that all of this is bullshit.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 113

[ 13 ] July 26, 2017 |

This is the grave of Matthew Brady.

Probably born in 1822 in New York (there is a bit of conflicting testimony about both facts, with some believing he was born in Ireland), the young Brady studied locally to become an artist. But in 1839, he met Samuel F.B. Morse, who had brought daguerreotype technology back from France. Brady began working on this and became an American leader on the developing art of photography. He soon started teaching photography classes in New York. Opening his own studio in New York in 1844, Brady became the day’s leading photographer of the wealthy and powerful, a sort of Gilbert Stuart for the early photographic age. If a president or a business leader or a general wanted their photograph taken, it was Brady they went to. Brady photographed every president or ex-president at some point between John Quincy Adams and William McKinley except for William Henry Harrison. This includes the photograph of Lincoln used for the $5 bill and the very late life images of Adams and Andrew Jackson.

When the Civil War began, Brady wanted to travel with the Army to photograph it. Having friends among the powerful, he got the support of Winfield Scott and Lincoln agreed, with one stipulation. Brady would have to fund it himself. This would eventually prove his undoing. Brady’s mobile studio produced thousands of amazing images. Among those images he and his team of 17 assistants photographed was the dead at Antietam, which brought the horrors of the war home to American readers for the first time and helped define the conflict as the war went on. He created over 10,000 plates during the war. They were expensive. He spent over $100,000 and went into debt to do it. He did this on faith that the government would buy them at the war’s conclusion. That was a mistaken belief. He had to sell his studio and declare bankruptcy. Congress did finally grant him $25,000 in 1875 but that was not nearly enough to clear his name. Brady died in 1896 in the charity ward of a hospital after, by now blind, he was struck by a streetcar. The remaining veterans of the 7th New York Infantry paid for his burial out of appreciation for the work he had done to commemorate them and other Union soldiers.

Matthew Brady is buried at Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

In Praise of TV’s Female Villains

[ 37 ] July 26, 2017 |

Strong female protagonists are so much more fun when there’s a strong female baddie for them to fight.

Game of Thrones fans keep cheering about the positive turn for many of the show’s female heroes, which is good because the show has a bloat of villains in it. But this change of direction for the show would mean much less if those female heroes weren’t also battling female villains. For the record, I consider the Dornish ladies even with all their (alleged) battle prowess to be “baddies”, although they pale in comparison to Queen Cersei.

Even in more progressive circles, we associate women and femininity with peace and harmony. While it may be empirically true that women largely do not engage in the same kind of violent brutality that men do, we are not naturally averse to violence. So when I see this reflected on television, I get excited. Obviously, I’m not cheering for the female villains to win but there is some liberation in recognizing that women are capable of achieving that level of power too.

What frightens me so much about The Handmaid’s Tale is less the Mike Pence type male Commanders, but the women they’ve all employed to keep the other women in check. In the course of the show, we find out that the role of the enslaved handmaids was first truly envisioned by “domestic feminist” Serena Joy. the tragic irony of course is that women were returned to domestic roles by the Commanders, and thus Serena Joy loses any ability she had to influence the direction of the new fundamentalist state of Gilead.

Also, I think every woman has met an Aunt Lydia or been terrorized by one. Some old crone who tells you that everything about you is dirty and wrong and that they must correct you. If you’re a scheming male misogynist, you give those women the weapons with fair certainty they’ll never use them on you.

Another show I really enjoy, Orphan Black, is consistently great at delivering these female on female struggles. It cannot be overstated how incredible Tatiana Maslany is all of the roles she takes on as the clone. Most of her clone characters are good guys, but one of them is definitely not on board with Clone Club. Season 4 also introduced a new female villain in addition to the Rachel clone plus the gray character of Rachel’s long thought dead mother. The entire season was just women fighting other women and it was glorious.

For a return to real life, check out some of my favorite anthropology texts on female combatants that show a complexity of motivations for violence.

Bush Wives and Girl Soldiers, Chris Coulter

Female Genocidaires during the Rwandan Genocide: When women kill, Leila Fielding

Girls with Guns: Narrating the Experience of War of Frelimo’s “Female Detachment”, Harry G. West (one of my SOAS lecturers!)

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