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Raise the Green Lantern: Millionaire Pundit Edition

[ 71 ] June 24, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim Chris Matthews: “I’m telling you, I don’t hear you getting it done. The Democrats control the U.S. Senate. The Democrats control the White House. When are you going to do what you just said you’d like to do? Just when? Give me a date. Is it 2017, 2023? … You’re blaming it on the Republicans, but you control the Senate and you control the White House.” It’s a mystery!

Chris Matthews is paid several million dollars a year to opine about politics.

Speaking of America’s plutocrats, I forgot to look into Yves Smith’s claim that Hank Paulson, Republican and hence good guy unlike the perfidious Barack Obama, “lived modestly.” This is generally not how I would describe someone who paid $4.3 million for a house, but anyway. If Gordon Gee ever attacks Obama I’m sure Smith will claim he lives modestly because he never demands more than 20 free bow ties a year.

Room for debate: Are gargantuan salaries for university presidents A Good Thing?

[ 90 ] June 24, 2014 |

In the course of carrying out its secret mission as an engine of left-wing insurrection, the New York Times has put together a debate on whether its desirable for university presidents to have increasingly enormous sums of cash shoveled into their bank accounts, at a time when the people who do most of the actual teaching in the contemporary university — adjuncts and graduate students — are being paid in scrip for beef jerky and discounted parking passes.

The Times’ crypto-revolutionary agenda is evident to anyone who considers the arguments put forth by the people (a lawyer and a law professor) the paper chose to defend the status quo.

Shorter Raymond D. Cotton: University presidents are paid so much these days for the same reasons corporate CEOS are paid so much these days. QED,or something.

Shorter Dorothy A. Brown: The real issue here is that the stupendous compensation packages of white male university presidents are on average slightly larger than the stupendous compensation packages of women and minority university presidents.

The only reasonable explanation for this kind of thing is that it’s actually intended to put pitchforks and torches in the hands of the academic proletariat.

Speaking of which, here are some comparative figures I’ve put together on changes in compensation at one major research university over the past 35 years. (All figures are in constant 2013 dollars).

. . . Note that Michigan is a top school, so its faculty salaries are quite a bit higher than average. Two years ago the AAUP found the average salaries for full, associate, and assistant professors at all American colleges and universities to be $113K, $77.5K, and $67.5K respectively. In other words it appears average tenure track faculty salaries in the US are about what they were at an elite public school 35 years ago.

Average salary for different categories of employees at the University of Michigan in 1979 and 2013:

Custodian

1979: $34,017

2013: $32,214

Director of Athletics

1979: $173,274

2013: $850,000 base salary (Does not include $100,000 in deferred compensation, and a possible $200,000 bonus).

Full Professor

1979: $107,493

2013: $167,260

Associate Professor

1979: $77,153

2013: $114,071

Assistant Professor

1979: $61,119

2013: $100,048

Dean of the Law School:

1979: $169,075

2013: $420,000

Administrative Assistant/Secretary

1979: $45,985

2013: $43,078

President:

1979: $216,000 salary (other compensation, if any, unknown, although it’s safe to assume use of the president’s house was included.)

2013: $603,357 base salary; $100,000 bonus in lieu of a raise; $100,000 additional annual retention bonus; $175,000 annual deferred compensation, $50,000 annual retirement pay, free use of residence and car.

The Hawk

[ 150 ] June 24, 2014 |

Like Jamelle Bouie, I don’t really think Hillary Clinton’s stupid statements about wealth are really going to hurt her much in 2016. Perhaps unlike Jamelle, I don’t think her continued hawkishness and that the only lesson she learned from her Iraq war vote was not to go to war in Iraq will hurt her either, especially with the lack of a credible primary challenger from the left and that foreign policy is not at the top of the national agenda right now. But she will be hawkish as a president and that’s not a good thing.

You Can’t Address Climate Change Without A Green Lantern

[ 168 ] June 23, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim Yves Smith: “Paulson, who has long been an ardent conservationist (and in contrast to his alpha Wall Street male standing, lives modestly), made a forceful pitch for carbon taxes. The irony of this proposal is that we have a Republican showing what a right-winger Obama really is.”

I know! I will never forgive Obama for vetoing the carbon tax that the Republican House and red-state Senate Democrats rammed through Congress. It’s a complete mystery why Obama would act through EPA regulations rather than causing a carbon tax to appear, and certainly the only explanation can be that Obama considers cap-and-trade-like regulations optimal public policy.

These two sentences manage to hit almost every Green Lantern trope: conservative Republicans treated with far more charity than moderate Democrats, complete obliviousness to the realities of the American political process, policies not actually favored by any American conservatives in positions of any authority described as “conservative,” and an implicit assumption that if it’s not possible to accomplish everything then it’s preferable to do nothing. It’s a Bully Window the Overton Pulpit superfecta.

Katie Surrence: The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise

[ 9 ] June 23, 2014 |

[Here's Katie introducing herself for those who missed her first post. Enjoy! --SL]

I feel uncomfortable “reviewing” experimental theater. I’m not sure which of my values apply; I don’t have a core sense of what the important elements of good experimental theater are. But maybe I don’t have to be evaluative, exactly, and can just describe the show and the experience of watching it, even the experience of getting to it and sitting in the seat, which felt on this last occasion more than usual like part of the show. The play was The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise, a translated work by Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada, that is running till July 3 at JACK theater in Brooklyn.

My friends told me they were going, but I waited until the last minute to buy my ticket and they were sold out. I had spent too much of the weekend pent up, and I nearly cried: “This is it. I am missing my life.” I hemmed and hawed about whether I would venture to Brooklyn on the offchance I could get in. An hour before the show, I decided: “I live in New York City. If I spend all my time grinding out my chem homework I am not sucking the marrow out of every day. I have to at least try.” I arrived the minute the play was to start, and I did manage to buy a student rush ticket, though not to sit with my friends. I was carrying an overstuffed backpack with my backpack and assorted school and work materials, a Duane Reade bag with some extra clothes, and a yoga mat, and I tripped over a bunch of legs and stuffed myself into my seat. Just as the play started I realized that I had made a fatal error in not putting the Duane Reade bag under my chair, and I had to stay very still for the 65-minute runtime in terror of disturbing anyone with a crinkle.

Then it turned out the play was about this, in a sense, about living in a big city and not knowing how to spend your time. A multiracial cast of five men and women rotate playing a couple, who are most of the time in separate reveries and only interact in a single scene. I wasn’t totally clear of the gender of the protagonists, or whether and when the perspective changed, but this authoritative source made it clear to me in retrospect: the actors play the man, then the perspective switches and they play the woman. The opening monologue by one of the male actors is a confession, which he stammers over a bit, and finally allows: “What I’m relating now, what’s going through my head, I have never told anyone before. It’s a secret, no one knows it. I will say what the secret is. I would like to have a better life.” One of the actresses takes up the thread: he’s having a dream that his girlfriend has died. It’s a beautiful dream, the kind that you don’t want to wake up from, because the nostalgia is so sweet. If he woke up to his live girlfriend, he would be heartbroken to have lost it. I thought of the recent Louie episode when the doctor tells Louie, “Misery is wasted on the miserable.” Louie’s pain is the good stuff, he says, the real thing to value about love, and the really depressing thing is not giving a shit.

Every passage in the play is a layer that can be cast as a fantasy by an actor beginning another monologue. It’s never clear when anyone is awake, or if anyone ever is. The characters are vexed by a feeling of wishing to be elsewhere, which seems in some instances like the seed of a vibrant impulse, a healthy desire to escape from a box, and in other instances like alienation from their lives, without any motive force toward something better. The woman attends a fantasy party she gets to by taking the subway far underground. She at first believes she’s dead, and she says in cocktail party chatter that her regret is that she wished she’d had a friend from another country, so she could hear them say how they loved the energy of Tokyo. Then she might have been able to feel a little bit of that sentiment too. These characters want to love or value something, to love a place or a person, but aren’t sure that the places they’re in or the people they’re with are what they can love and value. Since their expressions of longing take place while they might be asleep, we don’t know whether their waking selves have access to the sharp feeling that something is missing. Even the perverse escapist fantasy of wishing for your girlfriend’s death so you can miss her might be more awareness than this man has when he’s moving through his day. And there’s no answer to the question of how to wake up.

Occasionally this show was funny. Sometimes it managed to confront me with something I know I struggle with: the feeling that I’m doing something wrong with the time I have, that there’s another life a few shades fuller that I’m meant to be living and I either don’t have the people to do them with or I don’t have the time. My anxieties are slightly askew from these characters’. I have a characteristic New York dilemma: being so intent on fulfillment. that I reach a frantic energy. When I sat down next to my friend afterward for the talkback with the playwright, I whispered to him how embarrassed I was to be carrying so much stuff at the theater. He joked, “But see, you’re living a full life.” And all the stuff I had with me did reveal a certain level of activity, but that hardly erases the implicit challenge of this play: can you find a way to love and value where you are and who you’re with? Sometimes this play was boring, but in this particular instance the feeling of boredom felt thematically appropriate, and I could ask myself: can you tolerate a little bit of boredom in exchange for the other things this experience can give you?

During the talkback with the playwright, I asked him to comment on the title and the tagline “Youth is not the only thing that’s sonic.” Through his translator, he said that in Japan, there was a term “galapagosation”, which referred to the isolation of Japanese culture; the “tortoise” was the Japanese people. “I love Sonic Youth,” he said, “but it isn’t just youth that goes by fast. It’s all of life.” And then he told a fairy tale, which he said was very familiar in Japan that the tortoise in the title nods to, and is referred to in the play with the story of a woman who takes a subway ride down through the earth to attend a party. A man rescues a tortoise from attackers The tortoise invites the man to a beautiful undersea kingdom, and marries him to a princess. Eventually he becomes nostalgic for his old life, and returns home, only to find that 250 years have passed, and everyone he knows is dead. The most powerful part of this play for me was hearing that three line summary of a fairy tale, and it also managed to suffuse the play I’d just seen with more emotion than it had before. It’s terrifying to think you could just get distracted, and miss everything passing by.

Ouch

[ 42 ] June 23, 2014 |

When even professional wrestling calls out the Washington Racists for their actual team name, you know that some kind of corner has been turned.

“The rich are different from you and me.”

[ 290 ] June 23, 2014 |

But they’re certainly not better, if #richkidsofinstagram is any indication:

rich kids on instagram

“Yes, I’d like some buffalo wings, raw, and $255 cut of steak, completely ruined, slave.”

Via SEK via Other Scott via Facebook:

This must be posted on RIGHT NOW as insulting plutocrats who want their expensive beef turned into shoe leather is an LGM tradition going back to Duke Cunningham

The Supreme Court and the EPA

[ 19 ] June 23, 2014 |

Today’s opinion isn’t good, but since this is the Roberts Court we’re talking about it certainly could have been a great deal worse.

The Weapons that Never Were

[ 35 ] June 23, 2014 |

In my latest at the National Interest I talk about five potentially revolutionary weapon systems that never came to be:

Weapons die for all kinds of different reasons.  Sometimes they happen at the wrong time, either in the midst of defense austerity, or with the wrong constellation of personnel.  Sometimes they fall victim to the byzantine bureaucracy of the Pentagon, or to turf fights between the services.  And sometimes they die because they were a bad idea in the first place.  For the same reasons, bad defense systems can often survive the most inept management if they fill a particular niche well enough.

This article concentrates on five systems that died, but that might have had transformative effects if they had survived.  These transformations would only rarely have changed the course of wars (countries win and lose wars for many reasons besides technology), but rather would have had ripple effects across the entire defense industrial base, altering how our military organizations approached warfighting and procurement. Not all the changes would have been for the best; sometimes programs are canceled for sound reasons.

The Force Behind the Hobby Lobby Litigation

[ 105 ] June 23, 2014 |

As we wait to see what atrocities the Roberts Court will inflict on the country in the name of the Constitution (or perhaps dubious readings of statutes), read this terrific piece on the Beckett Fund.

This Day in Labor History: June 23, 1855

[ 97 ] June 23, 2014 |

On June 23, 1855, a 19 year old slave woman named Celia murdered her master rather than allow him to rape her. She then attempted to burn his body, nearly succeeding in erasing all traces of the crime. She was arrested, convicted, and executed. This story gets at both the inhumanity of slavery and the sexual labor forced upon millions of African and African-American women during two centuries of chattel slavery in the United States.

Robert Newsom, a prosperous farmer in Callaway County, Missouri, purchased Celia in 1850. She was 14. In the 1850 census, Newsom owned 800 acres and five male slaves. Celia was the first female slave he purchased and it seems that he did so in order to use her for sex, as well as to serve as the house cook. His wife had died in 1849 and he decided on a sex slave rather than a new wife. He first raped Celia before they returned to his plantation. She eventually had two children by him.

In 1855, Celia took a slave named George as her lover. George pressured Celia to end Newsom’s rapes. Of course, he could do nothing about it himself, a subject that has gone far in defining the history of black masculinities in this country (there is a large literature on this topic). Celia did everything she could. She asked Newsom’s daughters to intervene. She pleaded to Newsom. Nothing helped. The rape continued.

On June 23, Newsom told Celia he was coming to her cabin that night, which he did at around 10 p.m. When he made his advances, she picked up a stick and beat him over the head. The first blow knocked him down and the second ended his life.

She hadn’t really intended to murder him. She just wanted him to not rape her. Not knowing what to do, she thought for about an hour. And then decided to burn him in her fireplace. Her house, an actual brick house built for her status as Newsom’s concubine, was a good distance from the main house so she had some ability to conceal her activities. She did a pretty complete job, smashing bone fragments and throwing them back into the fire, then spreading some of the ashes outside. The next morning she even got Newsom’s young grandson to hide the ashes, meaning he likely literally inhaled his own grandfather.

Because Newsom was so brazen about raping Celia, everyone knew that’s where he went the night before. So the blame immediately focused on her when he could not be found the next day. She went to work as normal and when confronted, denied everything. The police threatened to take away her children, but of course she knew that being caught meant death for her, so this was unsuccessful. She did admit Newsom had come to her cabin for rape. And finally she confessed after hours of continued questioning. After an official inquest the next day, Celia was hauled off to jail in the county seat of Fulton.

This all took place within the context of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and growing violence on the western frontier over the expansion of slavery, a labor system that increasing numbers of northerners either found abhorrent or at least a threat to their own status as free white workers. The Republican Party, founded the previous year, held the threat of slavery to white labor as central to its ideology. Three days before Celia’s trial began, on October 9, a man named John Brown arrived in Kansas for the first time, soon to become infamous for his use of violence to free people from slavery. Celia’s trial therefore was not just about punishing a crime, rare and salacious as it was. It was also about defending a system of labor that increasingly seemed to masters as threatened on all fronts, even as it was more profitable than ever. On top of all this was the constant fear slaveowners had that their bonded labor would rise up and kill them. Haiti was always on their minds, especially after the Nat Turner revolt. At the heart of this fear was the knowing injustice of the slave system that no amount of mental gymnastics and philosophical musings could erase.

Celia of course had no chance of an acquittal. The judge was William Hall, later a staunch Unionist in the Civil War, But in his instructions to the jury, he explicitly told them that if they believed she killed him to stop her own rape, this was not enough to be found not guilty. Hall really had no choice as he was ambitious and judges were elected positions in Missouri. Yet the defense pushed a radical line that slaves had the right to defend themselves from rape. Given that slave owners could legally do anything they wanted to their slaves without punishment, setting a legal precedent that there were limits to masters’ behavior would have overturned the entire moral basis of slavery. There is not a single known case in the American South of a slaveowner facing criminal charges for raping a slave, even though it happened every day all over the region. Giving slave women the right to resist would have been a major blow for slavery, yet in a slave state, that’s exactly the argument made by the defense attorneys, who seem to indeed have believed Celia was morally innocent. The attorneys were part of a small group of southerners who wanted to use the law to reform slavery’s worst abuses, saving the system while rejecting the attacks of abolitionists by undermining their ability to tell what seemed like sensationalized (regardless of their actual truth) stories about the horrors of slavery. But such reforms were impossible without granting slaves something like human rights.

On October 10, the jury found Celia guilty of first-degree murder. While in prison, Celia delivered a stillborn child. She was not allowed to testify, but that wasn’t only because she was a slave, but because the accused could not testify on their own behalf in Missouri at this time. She was scheduled for execution on November 16, but five days prior, she was moved out of jail to an unknown location and not returned until after her original date. Probably the defense attorneys were involved in this, although it’s unclear. They wanted to appeal to the state Supreme Court, which was not going to happen before the 16th. A new execution date of December 21 was scheduled. On December 14, the Supreme Court refused to stay the execution. Celia was executed by hanging on December 21.

Other than the quite exceptional act of murdering her master, Celia’s story is the story of millions of black women, forced into sexual labor for their masters.

There is an excellent book on this case that I recommend for your own reading and for assigning to students, Melton McLaurin’s Celia, a Slave: A True Story.

This is the 109th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

A Sad Anniversary

[ 46 ] June 22, 2014 |

With the Civil War sesquicentennial and the World War I centennial beginning, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement’s major victories has not received the attention I’d like to see. Of course some of those anniversaries are for the many horrible tragedies of the freedom struggle. Such was yesterday, which marked 50 years since James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were kidnapped and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan during Freedom Summer.

Of course, as we’ve seen since the Supreme Court’s rejection of the most important provision of the Voting Rights Act, these issues are long behind us and southern states like Mississippi have completely accepted African-American equality.

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