Mar
21

Fear itself

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Restraining myself from posting one of Stephen Colbert’s “ThreatDown” bits (maybe the All-Bear Edition). The numbers are in:

Washington (CNN)Americans have grown increasingly wary of ISIS over the past six months, but their confidence in the U.S.’ ability to combat the extremist group is waning, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

The poll finds fully 80% of Americans say ISIS poses a serious threat to the United States — a steady increase from September, when 63% said the same.

Only 6 percent think ISIS is not a serious threat. The latest suicide attacks in Yemen and the museum attack in Tunisia will probably shave that number down some more. But how real are those perceptions? (Stupid question.) Paul Waldman examines that at Plum Line:

It isn’t hard to figure out why so many people think the Islamic State threatens the United States. When you see horrifying descriptions and pictures of beheadings, your emotional response can overwhelm any kind of rational reaction. To many people, there’s a large undifferentiated mass of scary foreigners out there, and any news related to terrorism or war anywhere means that we’re more endangered than we were. And then, of course, we have politicians who go around telling any camera they can that we’re all about to die; give props to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) for telling a three-year-old girl, “Your world is on fire.”

But guess what: Our world isn’t on fire. Yet it’s almost impossible to say in our contemporary debates that a hostile country or terrorist group isn’t a threat, especially if you’re a politician. Claim that the Islamic State — horrible though it may be — isn’t much of a threat to us, and you’ll be branded naïve at best, a terrorist sympathizer at worst.

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This is an old story of mine about how views on education have changed:

I grew up thinking that education was its own reward. In college, I studied, philosophy, art, drama and science. Yeah, I waited tables and traveled for awhile. After college, I was appalled at the attitude of many customers. They’d ask if I was in college. No, I told them, I’d graduated. Next question: What was your major?

When I told them, their eyes went blank. “But what are you going to do with it,” they’d ask. You could see the gears going round in their heads. How did that (a philosophy degree) translate into *that* as they mentally rubbed their finger$$ together.

Education used to be valued for its own sake. Not anymore.

America’s founding ideas were cultivated and distilled by people of the Enlightenment, probably the best educated the world has ever produced. Men mostly. White men. Wealthy white men.

Two and a quarter centuries later, another collection of wealthy white men want America to return to those roots, where only wealthy, white people will be educated in wealthy, white, business-friendly ways. State supports for low tuition rates “distort” the market. Costs must rise to drive students who can still afford it into the more remunerative majors. Tech schools for the rest.

Our modern Übermenschen want to terraform our minds. To make humans suitable for their brand of capitalism, they must remake the culture. Emphasis on cult. The Great Whitebread Hope is trying to “reform” the University of Wisconsin into a vocational school. Meanwhile, the purge continues at the University of North Carolina. I’ve written about it over and over. Now it’s the Jedidiah Purdy’s turn at the New Yorker:

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”

All those stupid, unmarketable things our Enlightenment Founders had learned in school? You know, history, Greek and Latin? E pluribus unum? French. French literature and philosophy? What did they ever do with that? What use are they to homo corporatus? He needs a trade. Well okay, maybe a little philosophy of the proper sort. Purdy continues:

The other reformist front is a call to revive the Great Books model of humanities education: literature and philosophy as a source of eternal truths, dating back to Plato, passing through John Locke, and perfected by Ayn Rand and the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. A Pope Center research paper published this year describes a “renewal in the university” through privately funded programs dedicated to teaching the great books untainted by relativism. The report devotes a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to “the morality of capitalism,” which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs, which are often housed within business schools or economics or political science departments, were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to “retake the universities” from “statist/collectivist ideas.” He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is “clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.”

Because when betterment meets bottom line, betterment loses (or is redefined). “A successful humanities education makes the obvious questionable,” Purdy writes. But questioning is not the object for results-oriented businessmen. They want results and a return on investment. Just a wild guess, but the only market testing these Market mavens did (if any) for their proposed curriculum was among other wealthy, white men.

As it happens, I wrote about BB&T’s putsch to indoctrinate university students in Ayn Rand’s sociopath morality as the Great Recession took hold in January 2009. Reprised here:

A struggling George Bailey once received a fat cigar and a generous job offer from banker Henry Potter. Potter pointed out that it would be in George’s self-interest to accept it and forget about that old savings and loan and all the little people it served. George Bailey turned down that deal.

Western Carolina University and other financially struggling universities have received similar offers from the BB&T Foundation. The catch is that they have to indoctrinate students in Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy and teach Atlas Shrugged.

Mountain Xpress’ report on the BB&T grant to WCU [“Capitalism on Campus,” Dec. 23] quotes College of Business Dean Ronald Johnson saying, “As a businessperson, you have to have a set of principles—or a philosophy. … Those people who do not have a firm foundation … are not likely to be very successful.” Also, “The base of my philosophy is wealth maximization.”

Wealth maximization, I take it, has always been the primary philosophical foundation of business ethics—pretty thin gruel—and the foundation for both Duke University’s recent Fuqua School of Business cheating scandal (among others elsewhere) and the scruple-free atmosphere behind the subprime gold rush.

Pursuit of—if not full realization of—the “pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism” that Rand advocated has brought the world economic system to its knees. Rational self-interest wasn’t supposed to be so irrational. Nonetheless, free marketers have redoubled efforts to resuscitate their philosophy, including offering colleges lucrative grants to teach it.

Economic meltdown is not a failure of their philosophy—no. Washington just didn’t do laissez-faire right. When tax cuts failed to produce promised jobs, it just meant we needed more tax cuts. Or as the blogger Digby observed, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.”

The Detroit bailout debate revealed that, for many opponents, the loss of millions of jobs was acceptable collateral damage in propping up their economic philosophy: Government intervention would be a deplorable violation of free-market principles.

It is symptomatic of the Gilded Age that economic principles trump all others. Most people learn better in Sunday school.

In the wake of business-school scandals, the Enron/WorldCom/Tyco scandals and Wall Street’s sub-prime/derivatives scandal: If parents and churches don’t, somebody should teach remedial ethics. But is it acceptable for our shrugging Atlases to bribe colleges to teach theirs?

Having taken control of state governments, conservatives/libertarians no longer have to ply potential converts with beer or pay bribes to have their faith taught in state schools. They can simply “reform” the schools. I call them the Midas Cult. Their behavior and tactics continue to reinforce that impression.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


Categories : Corporatocracy
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Mar
20

All Groovy, No Groove

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Photo from a Day in the Life of Asheville event, April 18-19, 2008 in Asheville, NC, USA, by zen Sutherland

Photo from a Day in the Life of Asheville event, April 18-19, 2008 in Asheville, NC, USA, by zen Sutherland via Creative Commons

Hooligan David Cohen (“actual drummer”) pointed to the “DRUM CIRCLE OF DEATH” on Facebook, saying:

“This is pretty funny. When people ask me if I am a drummer, I usually like to say “I play drums”; not out of any false modesty, but because I know MANY skilled drummers who have a better claim to that title than I do. But one thing I don’t do is look to the drums for some kind of emotional outlet, or to engage in a mass spiritual vibe. The drums are one more tool for me to express my creativity, not a social lubricant. Owning a drum doesn’t make one a drummer. Asheville, I’m looking at you.”

It was too good not to share, at least in part, one drummer’s experience with drum circles:

Many years ago, I accepted a few of these invitations, thinking I would be immersed in a collective of fairly knowledgeable drummers with decent time feel and a reasonable amount of self-control. Instead, I was (at one drum circle, at least) asked to join hands in prayer before the circle (kill me, please) and then was thrown into a maelstrom of flailing hippie craziness. They leapt about, like looney forest sprites, randomly striking hand drums and shaking rain sticks.

They swayed and chanted. They crescendoed independently, and everyone soloed – the entire time.

[snip]

For an actual drummer to gain a rhythmic foothold in this madness was beyond possibility. For one to engage in the exchange, one must surrender control and succumb to the Bubble, which I guess is the true yogic approach. But I just couldn’t. Every time I tried to surrender, my drummer brain would kick in, and I would try in vain to lock down some semblance of a groove. Logic, counting, time – it was all irrelevant, replaced by Neanderthalic bombast. We sacrificed the One in the name of Oneness.

There’s more. Enjoy.


Categories : Popular Culture
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Mar
20

Friday Open Thread

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The green is coming.


Categories : Open Thread
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Mar
19

Rigging the rigging

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It is one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s signature lines: “The game is rigged.” Lina Khan at Washington Monthly fleshes out just how much. Forget the social safety net. Khan looks at how binding arbitration clauses in consumer contracts snip away what’s left of the legal safety net protecting consumers. Warren may have birthed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to give Average Joe a fighting chance, but binding arbitration still leaves the Man with all the power:

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report documenting the prevalence and effects of arbitration clauses in consumer financial products. CFPB’s report captures the effects of arbitration clauses in financial products and services, based on data from the American Arbitration Association, which handles the vast majority of consumer financial arbitration cases. A few main takeaways from the study [edited for length - TS]:

•Arbitration tends to work out better for companies than it does for individual consumers: in cases initiated by consumers, arbitrators awarded them some relief in around 20 percent of cases. By contrast, arbitrators provided companies some type of relief in 93 percent of cases that they filed.

•Even the degree of relief varies notably: within the slice of arbitration outcomes that CFPB could assess, consumers won an average of 12 cents for every dollar they claimed. By contrast, companies on average won 91 cents for every dollar they claimed. In total, consumers received less than $400,000 from arbitrators in 2010 and 2011. Companies won $2 million over that same period
.
•Notably, CFPB found evidence undercutting a favorite pro-mandatory arbitration trope: that nixing arbitration clauses would burden companies with greater litigation costs, which they would be forced to pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices for their goods. CFPB found that the banks that had to drop arbitration clauses from their contracts as part of an antitrust settlement in 2009 did not subsequently raise prices for consumers.

The CFPB is expected to propose rules “limiting mandatory arbitration clauses in these take-it-or-leave-it contracts,” Khan reports. Over 90 percent of consumers in contracts with a binding arbitration clause were unaware they could not sue “or had no idea.” On average, $27,000 of consumer money is at stake in these disputes. But paired with class action bans, these contracts leave financial organizations holding all the high cards in the game and “de facto privatizes” a legal process funded with tax dollars that, at least in theory, level the playing field.

The sharks are running the fish hatchery.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


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The lefties are busing THEM to the polls. Yes, it’s a thing.


Categories : International
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The House Republicans’ new budget plan grabs a lot of ink this morning, little of it favorable. “This takes budget quackery to a new level,” according to Maryland Democrat Chris Von Hollen. From the New York Times:

Without relying on tax increases, budget writers were forced into contortions to bring the budget into balance while placating defense hawks clamoring for increased military spending. They added nearly $40 billion in “emergency” war funding to the defense budget for next year, raising military spending without technically breaking strict caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

And so on. Et tu, Kenny? Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado told reporters, “I don’t know anyone who believes we’re going to balance the budget in 10 years … It’s all hooey.”

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Categories : National, Republicans
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If there’s anyplace that defines exceptional in this big, ol’ beacon of freedom called America, it’s Texas. They are SO American in Texas, they can even take exception to the First Amendment and puff out their chests with pride about it.

Molly Ivins, I think, used to call the Texas state legislature “the Austin Funhouse,” noting once that state legislators there are the lowest paid in the country and Texas gets what it pays for. As Digby reported yesterday at Salon, Republican state legislators are “extremely bothered by the idea that a citizen might film the police in the course of their duties.” Ergo:

The House Bill 2918 introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would make private citizens photographing or recording the police within 25 feet of them a class B misdemeanor, and those who are armed would not be able to stand recording within 100 feet of an officer.

As defined in the bill, only a radio or television [station] that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, a newspaper that is qualified under section 2051.044 or a magazine that appears at a regular interval would be allowed to record police.

Isn’t that exceptional? It takes exception to the United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit in Glik v. Cuniffee (2011) and to the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit in ACLU v. Alvarez (2012), both of which uphold the right of citizens to film police.

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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, NV, one of several test sites promoted by the state.

We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. – Pres. George W. Bush, Cincinnati, OH, October 7, 2002

That was the first time many of us heard the term “unmanned aerial vehicles.” Ticking off a litany of bogus reasons for invading Iraq, Bush hoped we would collectively wet our pants in fear of unmanned drones over America unleashing death from above. That was then. This is now.

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You know, when I saw that headline in the Guardian, I thought I was looking at a decade-late review of the 2004 Vin Diesel film, The Chronicles of Riddick. If you missed Chronicles on cable, the film’s Big Bad (h/t to you Buffy fans) is a murderous group of interstellar religious fanatics called the Necromongers. They rampage across the galaxy, like ISIS in space ships, converting or killing everyone in their paths. They also “believe heavily in a philosophy that says ‘you keep what you kill’, believing that ending another’s life entitles you to their property and position.” Having screwed investors, thrown families from their homes, brought the planet to its economic knees, and demanded tribute (bailouts) lest they take us all down with them, that pretty much describes Wall Street’s philosophy these days, too. Which is why, as Suzanne McGee writes, “’You eat what you kill’ is the motto on many a trading desk.”

What Wall Street doesn’t believe in is its own bullshit, business school catechism about how in a meritocracy pay is a function of celestial mechanics that must not be perturbed lest we offend the Market gods – pay is an elegant function of one’s contribution to the enterprise’s bottom line. How do we know they don’t believe this?

… Wall Street’s profits aren’t what they used to be. Pretax profits fell 4.2% in 2014 to $16 billion, according to New York’s office of the state comptroller. If you think that sounds like a relatively modest decline, consider that 2014 profits were 33% below 2012 levels, and a whopping 74% below 2009, when Wall Street posted record results as markets zoomed back to life after the crisis and banks profited from ultra-low asset values and interest rates.

So what? Well, in spite of the falloff, bonuses rose for the second straight year, with “a 30.1% decline in profitability, and a 15% increase in bonus payments” in 2013, followed by a more modest 2% increase this year.

McGee explains:

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Categories : Corruption, Economy, National
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