Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bloomberg's Blind Spot and the Blindness of Wealth

Joe Nocera has an essay in the November 6th New York Times noting something that many have long noted about Mayor Michael Bloomberg — his unwillingness to admit error, his pig-headedness or blindness, his conviction that he is always right. I do not share another of Joe Nocera's views about Bloomberg — that he is a great mayor, though I do think that Nocera's observations about Bloomberg's blindness are correct. Indeed, I believe the problem is worse than Nocera does and is indicative of a more serious problem.

Consider some of the other instances of Bloomberg's indifference to 'lesser' New Yorkers — stop and frisk, spying on Muslims, indifference to accidental electrocutions of pedestrians, construction accidents, flying to one of his several estates during a huge snow storm.

Bloomberg, like a huge percentage of American politicians and business elite, does indeed think he knows what's best for us. More so than many, and like a large percentage of the 0.1 percent, he also thinks he is just better than us. He believes that we owe him obedience, loyalty, and appreciation. This is a point made regarding many of the wealthiest Americans by Chrystia Freeland in her book "Plutocrats."

In direct opposition to many, I have always thought that Bloomberg should be disqualified from high elected office precisely because he is so wealthy. I do not believe, as many apparently do of Bloomberg, Romney and others, that a person is qualified because he is 'successful' in business (or that being wealthy is evidence of success in business; consider Wall Street post-crisis).

People were outraged by resources diverted to marathoners. How many could be housed in Bloomberg's five or six mansions?

How can a person worth many billions in any way grasp the circumstances of an average resident, even if he "came up from nothing" (something that is not true about Bloomberg anyway)? Some evidently do — perhaps Andrew Carnegie, George Soros. But we must ask what kind of person seeks to accumulate wealth on the scale of a Bloomberg. Can such a person be well-suited to hold office? What kind of indifference to others is required to hold such wealth when so many are so needy?

This is not an endorsement of strict egalitarianism, or even rough egalitarianism. It is a condemnation of radical inequality. Isn't it interesting that egalitarians are condemned as extremists but not those who embrace extreme inequality?

The mayor whom Joe Nocera considers one of New York's greatest has endorsed massive development projects, but has done remarkably little to address ongoing problems of the city's infrastructure or housing. Could someone who had ridden the city's subways for years allowed so little substantive improvement? Or someone who went to public schools spend so much time vilifying teachers? The answer, of course, is actually yes, but my contention is that someone of such long-standing, extreme privilege is too my removed from the live of the average to be able to govern well.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Friday, October 5th, saw Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the employment numbers for the US. It was good news for Obama, with the overall unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent. Strikingly, a large number of conservatives suggested that the numbers had been fudged to suit the Obama campaign. Most notable among these was former GE titan Jack Welch.

Indeed, the most telling development regarding the employment numbers was in the responses of many Republicans and conservatives. Some were surprising, like the idiotic blather of Welch who sounds more like a Tea Party lunatic now. Others, like those of Fox News, were just boringly predictable. They are of a piece with the birthed delusions still entertained by the likes of Donald Trump.

These responses have in common one thing — dangerous, malicious indifference to scientific fact, an indifference also seen on climate change, evolutionary theory, etc. All people show a capacity to 'massage' facts when trying to reconcile emotional responses with observation. But the comments of conservative 'leaders' like Welch or of many right-wing voters interviewed in the past 24 hours show something worse — an absolute determination to disregard all facts to preserve a dogmatic adherence to right-wing articles of faith.

The economics profession itself is not immune. Consider the right-wing economists who still tout the thoroughly debunked notion that lowering taxes invariably increases revenue (though over 35 years of Reaganite tax policy has failed to produce any evidence to support this).

The conservative fanaticism is so great that they'll destroy respected government institutions, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to further their agenda. Liberals have shown no comparable inclination.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reason for Hope

Sara Fishko, of WNYC, on the Back Chaconne:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When Necessary, Manufacture a War

"[C]risis initiation is really tough." 

Washington Institute for Near East Peace (de facto 'think tank' arm of AIPAC) is pushing for war with Iran. Patrick Clawson, director of 'research', made that remarkable statement, reported by Mondoweiss.

What a striking comment. Of course, the US has done a lot of crisis initiation. The Bush administration initiated the post-9/11 crisis with Iraq. I've often thought that the cruel sanctions regimes, previously imposed on Iraq and now on Iran, are calculated to provoke the victim.

When I saw the headline here, I thought that "covert attack" war's idolaters might have in mind would be more in the vein of old-fashioned US covert ops. During the Reagan years, the US would dress up its "advisers" and Contra terrorists in the uniforms of the Nicaraguan Sandanista soldiers, then have them commit atrocities while so outfitted. The idea, of course, was to bring down blame on the Sandanistas.

The IDF and Mossad are known to have their operatives dress up as Palestinians. Reports have noted that they are so well-trained that their accents can match regional Palestinian ones.

The caveat here is that such reports are easily misstated (over or under) and even more easily dismissed as "conspiracy theory." Past charges by Americans (especially African Americans and Native Americans) that FBI or local police forces were infiltrating protester ranks to sow discord or provoke violence have invariably been dismissed by the likes of Man's Greatest Newspaper, the Times. The catch is that such charges have repeatedly been shown to be true. For example, we now know that the NYPD infiltrated protester groups during the 2004 RNC and continues to do spy on Muslims and Arabs, including through planted NYPD operatives.

Seymour Hersh and others have reported on US/Israeli covert operations already underway in Iran. If these have failed to provoke the overt Iranian response that Clawson would like to see, one has to wonder why he thinks a sabotaged submarine would. My guess is he has something more drastic in mind — something like the 1988 US destruction of the Iranian Airbus, killing 290 innocents.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Some Lies Are More Equal Than Others

Another tempest in a tiny, tiny teacup. In the past 18 hours (it's 4 pm on the East Coast), a fake Bill Keller op-ed has made the rounds. Within a few hours it was exposed as fake. The real giveaway was that it was better than any actual Bill Keller writing. The first I heard of the Bill Keller op-ed was as a fraud this morning, so it never even got to me as possibly genuine. I feel I missed out.

As for The New York Times and 'truth'. It's no coincidence that the traditional media trumpeted by the Times and by Glenn Greenwald's soon-to-be colleague at The Guardian are so much more expensive. The sheer cost of print or television serves as a gate-keeping device to keep out us proles who haven't gone through the brain-washing at the Columbia School of Journalism or the Kennedy School of Government.

Consider the largely-forgotten epitome of Times fraud — Judith Miller. People were pointing out her lies and fabrications about the Middle East, especially about Israel and Palestine, for nearly 20 years before she was finally ditched by the paper and editors that loved her.

The traditional media is just upset that the frauds being swallowed now aren't always theirs. Or worse — that the frauds exposed are theirs. John Burns, Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman, Walter Isaacson, and their ilk hate being caught out in lies. It's embarrassing when they go to the parties in the Hamptons or on Martha's Vineyard thrown by the people who paid for the lying.

More in the Lifestyles of the Wealth Supremacists

There's been a recent tempest (a very small one) over suggestions that New York City develop "micro-apartments" — very small apartments catering to people who want to live in the big city at low cost. NYC mayor (emperor) Michael Bloomberg supports this proposal. There's been speculation over the real reason for his support, given that he owns five or six palaces around and about (a couple of adjacent townhouses in Manhattan, a place in Westchester County, his shorefront mansion in Bermuda,  a mansion in London, and a place in Colorado, I think).

The economics behind developing smaller spaces is solid. But there is another rationale behind Bloomberg's push for microflats, one based on his conviction that the wealthier are just better.

There is an obvious way to provide more space for more people — build up. It wouldn't take a city of endless high-rises, the fifty-story, engineer-designed monstrosities that developers love. Going from 3 or 4 story standards to 5 or 6 would provide an enormous increase in space while still keeping many neighborhoods "cozy." But it costs more to go higher than it does to subdivide smaller.

More important, developers think in terms of dollars per square foot, and in their view, they are entitled to a minimum rent for a unit, based on its size. It can be a roach-ridden, bed bug-infested, rundown as you like. Square footage means money. And Bloomberg is a real-estate Keynesian (to adapt Paul Krugman's "military Keynesian" expression for right-wingers who endorse big government for military purposes). Bloomberg is a strong believer in government intervention to keep real-estate prices ridiculous.

Floor area is the most 'objective' (watch as real estate agents come up with an argument for why that 300 square foot hole is really 500 square feel) and tangible factor in valuing living spaces. A quick coat of paint, a cleaning, and air freshener and most people will over look the real problems in a 5 minute look at a place. (And most New York landlords will still gripe about doing even a minimal cleaning.) Smaller size is the most cheapest way to cram low-budget proles into otherwise pricey neighborhoods.

That brings us to part 2 of Bloomberg's thinking. He and his rich buddies will play loco parentis for us, but they sure as hell aren't going to have anybody telling them what to do. They want they're Manhattan MacMansions. But they still need their servants. But living costs are soaring and rippling outwards, so that places 50 or 60 miles from New York are seeing prices typical for Brooklyn (and Brooklyn sees Manhattan prices).

How are Bloomberg-style wealth supremacists to keep their servants within reasonable distance so they can get to servitude on time? Have to get those living costs down in town. And, as noted in part 1, the best way to do that is smaller area. Bloomberg and Co. do want Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn — maybe) to be a gated community for Wall Street, but the last thing they want to do is anything resembling work — laundry, cleaning, cooking. They need their servants close enough so that they can be at hand at a moments notice (since, for now, the days when servants lived on-site, in the mansion, are still gone by — for now).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wealth Supremacists

A story is making the rounds of a particularly snotty-nosed Romney donor throwing her weight around in the Hamptons during the Mitt Romney fundraising this past weekend of July 7th (which happened also be one of the hottest on record in the US). Arriving at the gate to the estate, according to the Times, this woman "yelled to an aide to Mitt Romney. 'Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.' " No doubt all the other millionaires and billionaires attending appreciated her distinction.

This election is highlighting the full commitment of many Americans (almost all of the super-rich and, I suspect, a majority of everyone else) to the divine rights (plural) of wealth. This is the firm conviction of Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and of course, Mitt Romney. But it is also an article of faith among many Democrats, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. 

The picture is complicated, but it is coherent and explains the social and economic development of the US over the past 35 years. It explains why even many poor Americans vote to deprive themselves and further enrich the wealthy. It explains the cult of testing in public schools, coupled with the vilification of teachers by people who send their own kids to private schools. It explains a criminal justice system that allows the systematic crimes of wealth to go unpunished while sending poor law-breakers to prison for years for even the most minor offenses. It explains why Obama, with an easy line of attack against Romney, instead pussy-foots about. 

A wide array of public figures endorse wealth supremacism. And many more quietly endorse it while publicly paying lip-service to issues of justice. These quiet idolaters of wealth include people like Bill Keller, former Editor-in-Chief of The New York Times and son of Chevron CEO George Keller. They include Thomas Friedman, himself a billionaire by marriage. Numerous corporate executives, sports figures, and Hollywood stars are also among this number. Again, they may say all the right things, but actually doing something to counteract the trend is beyond their imagining.

The cult of wealth, the divine rights of wealth, are reinforced in popular entertainment, in schooling (both grade school and so-called "higher-education", in the criminal justice system, in housing — everywhere. Crucially, the notion of superiority the wealthy embrace today is not accompanied by notions of noblesse oblige endorsed by past aristocrats. I'll explore this further in forthcoming posts. 

To begin:

The first and most important of the divine rights of wealth is the right to wealth itself. Why do the rich have a right to wealth? Well, they are superior to the rest of us. They merit wealth. Why do they merit wealth? They are better — harder working, more intelligent, more honest, more virtuous. 

This view was expressly endorsed by Harvard economists and Romney adviser Gregory Mankiw in a 2009 blog post entitled "The Least Surprising Correlation of All Time:" 

"Smart parents make more money and
pass those good genes on to their offspring."

This is the crux of the position held by an enormous percentage of the wealthy and by, as I said I suspect, most Americans. 

In this simple statement we see a confluence of several seemingly disparate strains of thought. In this statement are elements of the reductionist thinking that plagues psychology (especially evolutionary psychology) today. We see also the tacit assumptions of virtue attached to wealth. We see elements of what is called "meritocracy." And we see the air of superiority embraced by those who are better off.

To all this and more, I will return soon.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Smell of the Book

Terrific lecture by Matija Strlic at University College London's Centre for Sustainable Heritage.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

So I said I am Ezra

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

We the People Should Just Mind Our Manners!

Essayist and rights advocate Glenn Greenwald today responds to a comical, revolting essay by ESPN something LZ Granderson. Granderson normally writes on sports issue, but he's a reporter at a major news outlet, so he must be an expert on anything for CNN. Now he's an expert on issues of American government secrecy and popular demands of openness, demands once aired but now violently opposed by Barack Obama.

The obvious test — one which the LZ Grandersons and George Wills (and George Packer and Bill Kellers ignore) — is revealed in the double standard. Do citizenry of other nations have obligations to resist nosiness? Iranians? Iraqis? Venezuaelans? Granderson's — sports expert and therefore expert on government — assertions (there is no argument or reason there) is brutally absurd.

The most obvious point is that government is exactly a creature of peoples' creation. Even dictatorships are. Governments are not sports or movie stars victimized by paparazzi pawing through garbage or hovering near bedroom windows. Governments have exactly and only those rights We the People give them.

 To the extent that there might be something remotely substantive in Granderson's confusion it might be that somethings are necessary that are unsavory. At least the revolting Alan Dershowitz gets that those things still need to be public, hence his call for "torture warrants." If the people decided to make public all the top secrets of American nuclear weaponry, for example, it might indeed by unwise, might give guidance to 'enemies' up to no good, but it would not be a problem of "nosiness."

I think Granderson's is another example of class-blame. What he is really endorsing is what some endorse in Citizens United or endless protection of the wealthy against redistributive policy. We the People are getting too uppity. He's expressly rejecting the notion that government can be too nosy in its spying on American citizens (or worse — in its assassination of American citizens). It's we lesser Americans — the 90 or 95 percent — who should just accept our station in life.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why Tax the Poor More? They "Deserve" It.

James Kwak offers some comments on the determination of conservatives to increase taxes on the poor while reducing those on the rich. My overwhelming impression is that conservatives see the poor and less fortunate as inferior in deep sense. This was betrayed in a Gregory Mankiw blog post that should have gotten far greater attention than it did. That it didn't suggests, I think, the extent to which essentially conservative thinking pervades even many liberal arenas. Mankiw is an economist at Harvard and is now among those advising Mitt Romney.

In a 2009 post, Mankiw offered a social-Darwinist account for children's school performance, including an allusion to reductionist genetic explanations of a kind very popular these days among conservatives and liberals (like, for example, Barbara Ehrenreich). The post is here.

Mankiw clearly thinks that different outcomes are in significant measure a result of fundamental, intrinsic, biological differences between individuals. The rich are more successful because they are just better — better workers, better thinkers, better innovators.

This thinking is very widespread in the anglophone, industrial democracies — Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and of course the US. Moreover, it closely tided to a kind of supremacist thinking (and I do mean supremacist) found among the wealthy. Scan the comments of Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or Bill Gates, and you will see a pervasive contempt for the less fortunate that is coupled with a conviction that these less fortunate are just less well-endowed with the natural talents enjoyed by the better-off. Centuries ago, this was overtly embraced as the divine right of nobility. Today it is far more subtle.

More importantly, it reflects a close intwining of tacit assumptions about social status, native talent, education, culture, heritage — many things. For example, Mike Bloomberg simply has no substantive interaction with those who are markedly less well-off; so, predictably, he views the less-fortunate as "Other." This view is reinforced by the socio-biological, reductionist account that says that behavioral differences are outcomes of genetic differences. It is further reinforced by the need all people share to view their own good fortune as something more than plain good luck. If Bloomberg is just lucky, then what justification is there for his holding the staggering fortune he does. He must "deserve" that wealth because he's better than the rest of us.

Why raise taxes on the poor then? Well, they "deserve it." In the view of the Michael Bloombergs — and, crucially, also in the view of the Arne Duncans and (I suspect) the Barack Obamas — the poor aren't just poor in a socio-economic sense; they are "poor specimens of humanity."

How do we test such contention as mine? Probably not in the neatly numerical way that economists and political scientists today demand. That, in turn, raises yet another issue of how our very methods of inquiry tend to promote some conclusions over others.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Good Dog Fido

Maybe the story is far more simple than anyone has supposed. Maybe the reason we see supposedly "liberal" thinkers constantly kowtowing to Obama is that the brand of Obama-obedient liberal asks not what "politicians owe us" but what "we owe them." Maybe what conservatives are getting right is that they do indeed ask "what politicians owe us."

Certainly, the balance of sycophantic go-along-to-get-along thinking seems to be found among safe, obedient liberals. They whine when conservatives are in power. Then when Obama-style liberals do exactly the same thing the conservatives did, they scream bloody murder at any progressives' objections to the crimes.

At least conservatives express their dissatisfaction when they feel it. The Obama-obedient liberal brigade seems to think that as long as you're sufficiently obedient, you'll be rewarded — like a good dog.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

It gives me great comfort to think that no matter how grossly the revolting barbarian war-mongers like Barack Obama or Angela Merkel or Hu Jintao mess things up here on Earth, the planets orbit, stars shine, life thrives (despite all human efforts to annihilate the living planet).

Here, then, is my thrill today, Tuesday, 5 June 2012. The Transit of Venus, taken at about 7:30 pm, Eastern time.

You can see Venus in the upper right quadrant of the sun. Through the clouds and roughly about the middle of the Sun, you can see some sunspots.

Monday, June 4, 2012

This Republican (and Democratic) Economy

Paul Krugman writes this Monday of "This Republican Economy" and Barack Obama's and the media's unwillingness or inability to state the obvious regarding GOP obstructionism. I think Paul Krugman fails to grasp the nettle (to paraphrase the great left political philosopher G. A. Cohen speaking on John Rawls).

The most obvious liberal-progressive response to Mr. Krugman is that Obama and the media have failed to highlight know-nothing Republican obstructionism because they largely agree with it. On healthcare, foreign policy, education, Social Security, domestic security and a raft of other issues, Obama is conservative. The media in the US is likewise conservative. News organizations like the Times have supported war almost without qualification. They have raised only the most tepid challenges to Obama attacks on American civil liberties. They have largely supported talk of privatizing Social Security, even after the crimes of Wall Street. The list goes on.

If Paul Krugman's question for Obama is "Why the weak response," a question for Mr. Krugman is, "Why not take your own reasoning to the conclusion evidence supports?" This country, not just GOP fanatics, is largely conservative and anti-Keynesian. Obama is anti-Keynesian, just not as extreme as the GOP (on economics; he's more extreme on foreign policy and domestic security). When he had the choice, the opportunity, and the swell of opinion with him, Obama nevertheless surrounded himself with substantially anti-Keynesian economic thinkers (the exception being Christina Romer, who was soon forced out). Keynesians like Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz were pointedly excluded.

Media elites (with some like Bill Keller related to industry executives, some like Cokie Roberts related to government elites, or some like Thomas Friedman being actual economic elites) identify with wealth, not with common Americans. Many academic elites do also.

As John Kenneth Galbraith noted decades ago, these people's interests align with wealth. Moreover, the perceptions of self among media and government elite align with wealth. Elite interests and ideas — to borrow a phrase economist Dani Rodrik has recently used — are highly homogeneous. The contempt Mike Bloomberg shows average Americans is widely shared among Democrats, not just Republicans.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Wealthy, the Powerful — They're Just Better than Us

Again, some thoughts motivated by Glenn Greenwald's observations of the revolting hypocrisy of Barack Obama on whistleblowing, leaks, terrorism, acts of aggression and war.

Let's suppose that all 'leaders' in positions of power are inclined to abuse that power. What is changing? Is it that Obama knows he can get away with it? Does he know that neither the GOP nor any in Congress or in the court system will oppose him?

Or is there a new sense of divine right that overrides prudential considerations? Do Obama and Bush and others now think that they are just so much better than the rest of us that they have the right to do whatever they please? This seems to be the attitude of supremacists like Mike Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein. I think it is the attitude that underlies the glaring advocacy of a two-tiered educational system — well-funded and private for the wealthy, and poor and public for the rest of us. So, too, for health care.

This, I think, is the New Feudalism — the attitude of those in power that they are just better than us.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Glenn Greenwald writes today of the impending extradition of Julian Assange to Sweden and the likely rendition to the United States, where he will be persecuted by the Obama organized crime syndicate. I have some thoughts on the motivation of politicians and journalists who evidently feel deeply threatened, and certainly deeply angered, by Assange.

There are two issues, tangential to Glenn Greenwald's points, that deserve attention. Both revolve about the problem of perception and reality.

Greenwald notes that the New York Times's Bill Keller is the son of former Chevron CEO George Keller. So Keller is very unlikely to identify at all with poorer or middle class Americans. Increasingly, this is true of elite American journalists generally. They come out of elite universities, often having entered those schools out of elite backgrounds. They identify with the elite. This identification is bolstered by careful management by politicians and business titans. Andrew Ross Sorkin's close ties to Wall Street executives is a perfect example of this. Cokie Roberts, John Burns, Anderson Cooper, and many others, are excellent examples of this. They are very nearly diametrically opposed to a past generation of journalists who came up from nothing — people like Walter Cronkite or Bill Moyers. We see similar patterns in the Supreme Court, now proudly Harvard Law grads (but for one or two members, I think). Congress isn't quite so homogeneous, but it's going that way.

When the revelations of Wikileaks or others challenge the lies of government or industry, these elite journalists themselves feel challenged. What is Keller's whining about an unkempt Julian Assange if not a tacit assertion that Assange is 'beneath' Keller and those with whom Keller associates.

Comments like Glenn Greenwald's or revelations like those of Wikileaks threaten to make bare the reality of a media system that sees itself as part of the power structure, not investigating it. Nevertheless, Keller or Roberts or Burns want to believe their own lies, so they confront cognitive dissonance as they try to find reason to condemn Wikileaks.

There is a comparable, more specific, problem of perception and reality for Obama. He is a servile wannabe, but he wants to see himself as an outsider, a challenger — the challenger that many thought they were voting for in 2008. Why is Obama so determined to destroy whistleblowers? Because, more than most politicians in recent times, his public identity, and possible his personal one, rests on deception. He is not what he represents himself to be. He sees those who challenge that representation as threatening him personally. So he lashes out. Obama takes the Wikileaks revelations and other whistleblowing personally.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Romney, Obama and the Cult of Divine Right of Wealth

Paul Krugman today writes that Romney's defense of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase suggests cluelessness.

Romney isn't clueless — he's malicious. Huge difference. Like all of the advocates of Wall Street, including Timothy Geithner and Barack Obama most of the time, there is a deep, profound, dangerous streak of maliciousness at work. These are people who want to transfer wealth from the average to the rich, from labor to capital. These are people who firmly, devoutly believe in the divine right, the divine of superiority of wealth.

As conservative economist and Romney adviser Gregory Mankiw made clear in his blog a few years ago, conservatives (including most Democrats, like Obama) believe that the wealthy are genetically superior. These statements are made explicitly so there is no point pretending that this is a misinterpretation.

It is commonplace now to hear assertions of the genetic coding of morality, or every aspect of human behavior. The cult of reductionism to genetic, pseudo-Darwinian explanations is fully embedded in the popular discourse. Obama, Geithner, Romney, Mankiw, Dimon, Blankfein, Bloomberg all hold the absolute conviction that the wealthy are genetically superior. This is a profoundly dangerous state of mind. We have seen i it before. We know where it leads.


Krugman also has a blog post commenting on the blind, mindless ignorance of economist Edward Lazear (at Stanford and that right-wing haven of war criminals, the Hoover Institution).

As in his op-ed essay today (May 21), Paul Krugman is very generous to conservatives (and the many Democrats who follow their lead, as Obama does). Mitt Romney, Edward Lazear, Gregory Mankiw, David Brooks, Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and others like them are malicious, mean-spirited advocates of the transfer of wealth from labor to capital, from average and poor to rich. Worse, they are convinced of the genetic superiority of the wealth, convinced that the poor are genetically pre-disposed to stay poor.

It cannot be overstated how dangerous their thinking is.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Lies from Mike Bloomberg and the NYPD

Recent news on racist policy in Mike Bloomberg's NYPD reveals an under-addressed issue of the New American State of Permanent War. Americans, especially academics, pundits, journalists, and politicians, obediently, mindlessly nod in assent to drone attacks abroad, the violation of every kind of right a person might have (as long as that person is Arab or Muslim). What are police here in the US to make of their international brethren? Do American cops itch to do what the US military does in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iran . . . ? American abuses abroad incentivize abuses domestically. Bloomberg's NYPD is a case in point.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has caught the NYPD in one of its more glaring lies. And the NYPD has many many lies to its credit — about the 2004 GOP National Convention, Occupy Wall Street, spying on Muslims, spying on all of us. The newly-released NYCLU report betrays the racism behind Ray Kelly and Mike Bloomberg's stop and frisk policy. The cop claim is that stop and frisks deter crime.

The NYCLU shows convincingly that crime rates have been declining (if you believe the NYPD) while police stops have gone up. That much might — on the face of things — seem perfectly plausible. What is really striking is the sheer racial skewing of the search policy. In Bloomberg's first year in office (which came after many years of Giuliani touting his great successes in reducing crime), the NYPD stopped 97,296 people. In 2011, that number was up to 685,724. Did crime decline by that much? Was there a marked increase from Giuliani years when — if you believe the Giulianistas — crime was declining?

Here's the kicker: 87 percent — almost 9 in 10 — of those stopped were black or Latino men. And 90 percent of those stopped were guilty of nothing; they weren't even ticketed. Those stopped most often account for 4.7 percent of the city's population, but account 41.6 percent of stops. "The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406)." So some are being stopped repeatedly.

But Bloomberg has more lies to cover up the first round of lies.

First, they claim that the policy is justified because it works to reduce crime. Crime rates are down! But we know they were declining before the policy was begun.

Second, and even better, NYPD mouthpiece Paul Browne claims that the reason the cops are finding so little on their searches is that the baddies are leaving their guns at home! What evidence the NYPD has to support this is anybody's guess. Perhaps their spying extends even further than we've yet found reason to suspect.

So here is Mike Bloomberg's NYPD causal chain:
  • Bad guy uses gun against victim.
  • Victim describes crime to cops.
  • Cops go in search of black or Latino guy with gun (because that's what the victim described).
  • Bad guy has gone home to leave gun just in case he gets stopped and frisked. Did he ask momma to hide it in the cookie jar?
  • Cops stop and frisk every young black man in the city and find . . .  pretty much nothing.
Does anybody see the glaring inconsistency? But in the National Surveillance State of Barack Obama and Mike Bloomberg, what police say must be true.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Plague of Prizes

This week there has been a tempest in a teapot over the Pulitzer (henceforth PUlitzer) committee's failure to award a prize to a novel this year. The website Mondoweiss has an interesting story about Karl Shapiro's winning for poetry in 1945 though the documentary record shows that the committee thought that W. H. Auden was a better candidate. . . . Auden was deemed a dangerous lefty. Little has changed. Such prizes are still highly politicized. Witness the vile Barack Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize (following in the footsteps of great monsters like Henry Kissinger and Menachem Begin).

With regard to the PUlitzer this year, I have to admit I've never heard of Shapiro, and I don't think I'm poorly read. One thing we can say with confidence: Auden has stood the test of time better, and a PUlitzer in 1945 didn't have any effect one way or another on that.

My own view is that prizes of the PUlitzer sort (or Nobel or MacArthur or take your pick) are really quite damaging. Some become obsessed with winning the prize. I knew a chemistry prof years ago who had been passed over while his colleague won for work they had collaborated on. The man was bitter beyond the telling of it. The joke among physicists was that it was called the "No-Bell" because the actual discoverer of pulsars — Jocelyn Bell — was ignored by the prize committee while her thesis adviser shared the prize (the physicist who had theoretically predicted the existence of pulsars, Thomas Gold, of Cornell, was also passed over).

Others, having won, can't get past it. And then there's the history of terrible recipients, not least the long list of real monsters who've won the Nobel Peace Prize.

A small handful of people have taken a stand against such prizes. The one who comes immediately to mind is N. David Mermin, physicist at Cornell. His public opposition to a Nobel Prize of any kind cost a stellar Cornell physics department at least a couple of Nobel Prizes in physics. Now, how could that be if the committee were saintly, impartial arbiters of genius that they would like us to believe they are? It's well-known that Graham Greene, though nominated more than any other for the Nobel in literature, never won because there was one person on the committee who swore up and down that no Catholic would ever win as long as he had anything to do with it.

It may be difficult to say whether the PUlitzer in poetry or fiction is politically tainted by short-sighted, narrow-minded bigots on a committee, but the prizes for journalism, history, etc., certainly are. An Eric Hobsbawm or Tony Judt or Edward Said is a wildly unlikely recipient (albeit, not impossible) compared with nice, safe candidates. I was astonished that AP reporters won this year for revealing the gross misconduct of the NYPD. (Giuliani would have called for closing Columbia University.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Scrooge MittRomney vs. The Gingrinch!

Newt Gingrich is going back to his roots with a cannibalistic attack on the Great and Powerful Capitalism! Not clear to me who did this thirty minute video, but the production values are substantial — a very professional job. But what astonishes me is the lusty assault on the Profit-├╝ber-alles article of faith. Time and again I've been impressed by the recent willingness of diehard conservatives to lay into their precious darlings of money-making.

If you watch the video, note the repeated of clip of Romney asserting that corporations are people and his sardonic assertion that the profits go to "people." Once again, average Americans reveal far greater insight and awareness of the truth than the oligarchs — someone in the audience hurls back Romney's insult: "In your pocket . . . your pocket!"

The Romney willingness to be combative with people is very reminiscent of Michael Bloomberg's style. It is the style of someone who is unaccustomed to being challenged — a business boss surround by sycophantic yes-men hopeful that sufficient groveling will win them promotion. It is the style of wealthy oligarchs who do not believe in democratic practice. Yet it is these extraordinarily wealthy oligarchs whom Republicans and Democrats alike repeatedly champion for high political office on the grounds that public organizations "should be run like businesses."

Romney champions his role as a "job-creator" at Bain. And how did Romney run things? How did Bain create those jobs (if indeed it did)? What business style did Bain exemplify? What did it produce? It produced not-particularly innovative or inventive financial techniques for squeezing dollars out of firms until there was nothing left, juggling around dollars to enable extraordinary profiteering for managers at the expense of everyone else.

This is the knowledge economy that so many have been bleating about for twenty-some years now. The knowledge found in education, the knowledge found, for example, in American universities (increasingly funded) is indeed a product the US exports, with many thousands of students coming from around the world to attend US schools. But this is not the knowledge economy trumpeted by conservatives. The knowledge they have in mind is financial, the knowledge of a very elaborate shell game or ponzi scheme, the kind that blew apart in 2008 and was promptly restored by our elected officials entirely at our expense — the greatest transfer of wealth from labor to capital. Ever. That is the knowledge economy of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, except for rhetorical purposes when the game of power is afoot.

The game is power. Power comes first. If the dogmas of capitalism conflict with the lust for power, then the dogmas must go. The attacks on Romney are superficial. Ultimately, there is no real conflict. It is a game of which oligarchs will be best represented after November, 2012.