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Archive for February, 2012

Church and State

[ 48 ] February 28, 2012 |

Rick Santorum:

But Mr. Santorum accused “our culture, our education system’’ of falsely “teaching our children that separation of church and state” is mentioned in the Constitution.

The Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Snowe

[ 69 ] February 28, 2012 |

Looks like the Tea Patry has chased her off. Good; would seem like an almost certain Dem pickup, and it’s not like having someone who added a moderate patina to the Republican Party while voting like Jeff Sessions on most crucial issues was doing any good.

Liberals and Gay History

[ 85 ] February 28, 2012 |

This Frank Rich article on liberal hypocrisy and gay history really annoyed me. Not that Rich is wrong–liberals have not supported gay rights until very recently. But, well, duh? Is anyone questioning that? Am I somehow supposed to be surprised or outraged that Reuben Askew supported Florida’s anti-gay campaign in the 1970s? Isn’t that akin to being surprised that a southern Democrat would support segregation in 1957?

I’m not sure what Rich is trying to say here. Are liberals making a claim to having been pro-gay 20 years ago? He talks about Bill Clinton whitewashing his own past. Well first of all, Bill Clinton is barely a liberal. Second, Clinton is whitewashing his past because he knows he was wrong. And isn’t that good that he knows he is wrong?

Gay rights is the great success story of the early 21st century. We aren’t all the way to equality yet. We aren’t even close to that. Yet I remember 20 years ago this spring my home town of Springfield, Oregon being torn apart by anti-gay ballot measures that would fail miserably today. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no more and gay marriage has become legal in several states. All polls point to growing support for full equality. The Santorums of the world may be outraged, but they are increasingly a minority, not a majority.

This is all awesome. But at the same time, it means that it is not only not surprising, but entirely predictable that mainline Democratic politicians would not be out in front on this issue 20 years ago. Unless Rich is damning all of liberalism for being squishy on equal rights generally, and Rich is most certainly not condemning liberalism, I don’t really see what his point is. It’s worth noting liberalism’s traditionally weak position on gay rights and reminding us of that history, but there’s not the ah-ha moment Rich thinks he provides.

But then that’s Rich’s entire journalism career.

Essentially, I feel Rich is updating the argument that Democrats aren’t the party of civil rights because Robert Byrd was a KKK member in 1946.

New Front in the War on Labor

[ 52 ] February 28, 2012 |

It is my contention that we will see bills in the next 5 years that outright ban unionization, even in the private sector. And even I am too pessimistic, we will certainly see a strategy from Republicans not so different than their abortion strategy–define the laws down so narrowly that very few people will be able to join unions. I’m not sure what the labor version of Virginia’s state-supported sexual assault law would be. Some sort of Clockwork Orange-style montage for anyone who signed a union card?

Anyway, the latest front is in Georgia. As Sarah Jaffe reports, the Georgia legislature is looking to ban picketing. Creating lovely new laws such as “conspiracy to commit criminal trespass,” the bill specifically goes after organizations picketing outside people’s homes. It turns out that the 1st Amendment has a clause that ensures “the resident’s right to quiet enjoyment” of their home. I’m sure the extremely principled men of the Supreme Court will find a constitutional justification for this new right, at least when applied to plutocrats!

In addition:

Along with the attacks on unions and other protest groups’ right to peaceably assemble, the bill also includes a slew of provisions to make it clear that the already right-to-work-for-less state isn’t going to make it easy for workers to join unions. “Right-to-work” already makes sure that workers don’t have to even pay their share of the costs of representation, despite requiring the union to bargain for all employees in a union shop. The new bill would reiterate this, and require private employers to post notices in the workplace reminding workers that they have the “right” not to join the union. (In other words, it mandates anti-union information being posted in the workplace; management will no doubt be happy to comply.)

It also requires workers to certify in writing every year that yes, they really do want their boss to deduct their union representation fees and dues from their paycheck.

Blech.

The Rick Smith Show also had a story on this, interviewing Ben Speight. Good stuff.

The Iraqi University System

[ 28 ] February 28, 2012 |

Hugh Gusterson has an excellent article on the collapse of the Iraqi university system from 1991 on:

While American troops guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior but ignored cultural heritage sites, looters ransacked the universities. For example, the entire library collections at the University of Baghdad’s College of Arts and at the University of Basra were destroyedThe Washington Post‘s Rajiv Chandresekara described the scene at Mustansiriya University in 2003: “By April 12, the campus of yellow-brick buildings and grassy courtyards was stripped of its books, computers, lab equipment and desks. Even electrical wiring was pulled from the walls. What was not stolen was set ablaze, sending dark smoke billowing over the capital that day.”

At the same time, the United States stripped Iraq’s universities of their leadership. In his first executive order PDF as the new head of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, Paul Bremer removed members of the Ba’ath Party from senior management positions at all public institutions. Since one had to join the Ba’ath Party — whether one truly supported the party or not — in order to get ahead in Hussein’s Iraq, this order had the effect of removing most of Iraq’s senior university administrators and professors overnight. In the words of journalist Christina Asquith, after this purge, “half of the intellectual leadership in academia was gone.” Control over Iraq’s universities now lay in the hands of Andrew Erdmann, a 36-year-old American, well-connected in Republican Party patronage networks, who was senior adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Education. Erdmann spoke no Arabic and had no experience in university administration.

In September 2003, Erdmann was succeeded by John Agresto, the former president of St. Johns College in New Mexico and a conservative opponent of multicultural education in the US culture wars of the 1980s. Agresto was picked to run the Iraqi university system because he was friends with Lynne Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. He too spoke no Arabic and, when the Post‘s Chandresekaran asked what he had read to prepare for his assignment, Iraq’s new top educator said he decided to read no books at all about Iraq — so he would have an “open mind.”

Grak. Read the rest; Iraq went from having one of the best higher education systems in the region to one of the worst.  Many of the problems are attributable to Hussein, but the invasion itself and attendant disruption caused other problems, and the occupation authorities made the situation systematically worst.  One of those “stupid policy, conducted stupidly” situations.  A university system cannot, of course, be rebuilt from scratch; Iraqis will be enjoying the legacy of this destruction for a very long time.

 

Update (djw) Another important chapter in John Agresto’s contribution to higher education in Iraq: AUI-Sulaimaniya.

Law Deans in Jail

[ 15 ] February 28, 2012 |

ken lay

“Law Deans in Jail” is a new paper by two Emory law professors. The abstract:

A most unlikely collection of suspects – law schools, their deans, U.S. News& World Report and its employees – may have committed felonies by publishing false information as part of U.S. News’ ranking of law schools. The possible federal felonies include mail and wire fraud,conspiracy, racketeering, and making false statements. Employees of law schools and U.S. News who committed these crimes can be punished as individuals, and under federal law the schools and U.S. News would likely be criminally liable for their agents’ crimes. Some law schools and their deans submitted false information about the schools’ expenditures and their students’ undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Others submitted information that may have been literally true but was misleading. Examples include misleading statistics about recent graduates’ employment rates and students’ undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data’s accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors.

(It will be fascinating to discover what law review has the guts to publish this extraordinary article).

What Cloud and Shepard have done is quite simple: They have assembled a collection of by-now well known facts regarding the fraudulent practices — ranging from deeply misleading reporting methods to outright lies — employed by law schools, and have taken the radical step of assuming that these schools and their agents (deans and other employees) will be held accountable for their conduct under the law. Their conclusion is that, at a minimum, there’s a very good argument that a lot of people ought to go to jail. (The authors also make a strong argument that USNWR and its agents should also be subject to criminal liability for both encouraging and enabling these fraudulent practices).

Now on one level it’s “obvious” that Cloud and Shepard are not making a “serious argument.” By a serious argument I mean an argument that seems plausible to Very Serious People. But seriously, the conduct of law schools in general and law school deans in particular in recent years is an excellent example of the extent to which the American elites simply don’t believe that the laws actually apply to them. Even though we have 2.4 million people in prison and jail in this country on any given day (if you’re an African American male between the ages of 20 and 34 there’s an 11% chance that you’re behind bars this morning), the idea that Very Important People could go to jail for no better reason than that they broke the laws of this country is, from the perspective of those people, an almost literally unthinkable idea.

I mean we’re talking about people who went to The Best Schools and clerked for the United States Supreme Court, and have the personal cell phone numbers of Extraordinarily Important People — the next level up — in their IPhones. Surely Cloud and Shepard cannot be serious. Yes, it would appear that in a narrow “technical” sense, a bunch of felonies were committed (note the careful use of the passive voice), but surely there’s a broader legal principle at stake here.

Surely.

Your Point Being?

[ 41 ] February 28, 2012 |

I dunno Newt, I’d have to say “would make Andrew Jackson enraged” is pretty much a minimum qualifying standard to be president of the United States in 2012.

Sacrifice for Thee

[ 12 ] February 28, 2012 |

Ah, Mittens, a man with the courage to ask the most vulnerable to make sacrifices in order to finance upper-class tax cuts.  Finally, a man willing to speak hard truths.

Although at least he didn’t seem to, in the current Republican fashion, pretend that he was calling for “shared sacrifice.”

Can Global Warming Denialism Prevail in the Courts?

[ 27 ] February 28, 2012 |

Excellent post by Plumer about the challenge to the EPA’s authority to issue regulations pertaining to greenhouse gases.   If outright denialist arguments don’t prevail, they could succeed in getting the regulations made impractical enough that Congress is likely to withdraw authority.  (Something they haven’t done, it’s important to add when considering arguments that the EPA is exceeding its authority, since the Supreme Court confirmed the EPA’s authority to issue the regulations in 2007.)

It seems relevant to note here that Obama is likely to be the first president in several decades not to get a nominee to the D.C. Circuit confirmed, and not for a lack of vacancies.   And while Senate obstructionism is certainly a major part of the story, Obama’s unwillingness to make this a priority (especially with the possibility of major new legislation ended by the 2010 midterms) is very strange, and is likely to have deleterious long-term effects.

A Tough Month For ’80s Canadian Icons

[ 4 ] February 28, 2012 |

There was an obituary in the Times today for Neil Hope, the actor who played the sometimes homeless alcoholic character Wheels on the low-tech, every-episode-a-special-episode 80s Degrassi series.   Apparently the character’s demons and struggles were in some measure based on the actor’s. The really sad part: he passed away in 2007, and “[f]amily members, who declined to be interviewed, found out about his death only recently.”

Where’s Harvey Keitel when you really need him?

[ 106 ] February 27, 2012 |

reservoir dogs

Chapter CCLXVI in Tales From the New Gilded Age:

A banker left a 1% tip in defiance of ‘the 99%’ at a Newport Beach restaurant the other week, according to his dining companion and underling who snapped a photo of the receipt and posted it to his blog, Future Ex Banker. (Update: the blog is now offline.)

In posting the photo, the employee gave some background on his boss and the receipt:

Mention the “99%” in my boss’ presence and feel his wrath. So proudly does he wear his 1% badge of honor that he tips exactly 1% every time he feels the server doesn’t sufficiently bow down to his Holiness. Oh, and he always makes sure to include a “tip” of his own.

The “tip” of his own in this case was to tell the server to “get a real job.” Pleasant.

The whistleblower’s Future Ex-Banker blog (now offline) included additional background on his boss, and some insight into why he would out his gross behavior, likely resulting in an employment status of current ex-banker:

I work in the corporate office of a major bank for a boss who represents everything wrong with the financial industry: blatant disregard and outright contempt for everyone and everything he deems beneath him. On top of that, he’s a complete and utter tool. At the same time, I’m still cashing paychecks, an admittedly willing—albeit reluctant—cog in the wheel of this increasingly ugly industry, so I’ve created this blog as a confessional of sorts. It won’t entirely clear my conscience, but hopefully it’ll help. I’m sure I’ll get fired eventually. Until then, enjoy

.

This is more proof, if any were needed, that tipping is an obnoxious social practice, whose primary purpose is to reinforce class differences. It reminds me of this passage from Homage to Catalonia:

This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but
when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.

Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with
the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and café had
an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an
equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said ‘_Señor_’ or ‘_Don_’ or even ‘_Usted_’; everyone called everyone else ‘_Comrade_’ and ‘_Thou_’, and said ‘_Salud!_’ instead of ‘_Buenos días_’. Tipping was forbidden by law since the time of Primode Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotelmanager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars,they had all been commandeered, and all the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of peoplestreamed constantly to and fro, the loudspeakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outwardappearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically
ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls, or some variant of the militia
uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.

Update: It appears this incident didn’t actually take place. As penance, I will root for Real Madrid in the Champions League this season.

To Be A Christian, You Must Be A Republican

[ 51 ] February 27, 2012 |

There’s an obvious contradiction at the heart of Little Ricky Santorum’s analysis of JFK’s speech — it would seem odd to say that JFK was against people of faith participating in the public sphere, when in fact JFK was, er, a person of faith participating in a public sphere.

Of course, it all makes sense when you realize that Santorum believes that if you don’t share his reactionary political views than you can’t really be a Christian.

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