Thursday, May 24, 2007

Maureen Dowd: High School 'Queen Bee'

What does Maureen Dowd do when she wakes up in the morning? I mean, seriously, her latest column is about how Al Gore can't win because he is to fat (not to mention she repeatedly ignores the fact that he has said that he isn't running, that she cites no sources - even ones that might not be credible or anonymous - that indicate that Gore is running, or that the only information that she actually cites is an interview with Diane Sawyer which she watched on her T.V.

For those of you who don't want to pay to see the NYT article, here are the particularly "interesting" parts of the column:

"I'm not a candidate," he told Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America." "This book is not a political book. It's not a candidate book at all."

Of course, his protestation was lost given the fact that he was sitting in front of a screen blaring the message "The Race to '08," and above a crawl that asked "Will he run for the White House?"

That stupid Al Gore, I mean he goes from losing the 2000 election because of his brown suits to not being able to tell network executives not to put "Race to '08" when he is doing an interview on their network. Oh, but, wait!!! He does tell them on the show, for the next line in Dowd's column is:

He is so fixed on not seeming like a presidential flirt that he risks coming across as a bit of a righteous tease or a high-minded scold, which is exactly what his book is, a high-minded scolding. He upbraided Diane about the graphics for his segment, complaining about buzzwords and saying, "That's not what this is about."

So, one would think that Dowd would think that this was the right thing to do, but, no, actually she continues:

Diane was not so easily put off as he turned up his nose at the horse race and the vast wasteland of TV, and bored in for the big question: "Donna Brazile, your former campaign manager, has said, 'If he drops 25 to 30 pounds, he's running.' Lost any weight?"

That poor Diane, just trying to do her job as a reporter and this man, Al Gore who obviously can't be trusted because he lied about inventing the internet and being the inspiration for "Love Boat", is now trying to not not run for President while not not not having a discussion about real political matters while not running for President which is why he shouldn't have the crawl beneath his name but not supposed to say that because he's not running for President. Make sense?[1]. So how does Al respond?

Laughing obligingly, he replied: "I think, you know, millions of Americans are in the same struggle I am on that one. But look, listen to your questions. And you know, if the horse race, the cosmetic parts of this -- and look, that's all understandable and natural. But while we're focused on, you know, Britney and KFed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our country has been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are."

He explained to James Traub of The New York Times Magazine that TV induces a sort of national trance because the brain's fear center, the amygdala, receives only a fraction of electrical impulses from the neocortex, and couldn't resist lecturing about the amygdala -- "which as I'm sure you know comes from the Latin for 'almond.'"

Huh? If Dowd isn't going to be a real reporter and schedule an interview with Gore herself (shock! why should she do that?), then she can at least listen to what he says on the boob tube. Oh, but she is too busy recounting what another reporter told her (seriously, why is she on the Times's payroll). And, what was her purpose in bringing up this conversation with Mr. Traub? So she could discuss a separate conversation she had with Mr. Traub:

Mr. Traub said that, as he followed the ex-vice president around, the Goracle was "eating like a maniac: I watched him inhale the clam dip at a reception like a man who doesn't know when his next meal will be coming."

That's right! We can't vote for Al Gore -- he's too fat! The only image that comes to mind is the high school popular girl who whispers behind people's backs loud enough so everyone can hear, "Do you know what she did last night..." or "I heard that he ate, like, an entire cow last night". So, you heard it from her lips: Britney broke up with KFed, Anna Nicole Smith died and Al Gore is too fat to be President. And this is the New York Times!!!

Oh, and in case you are interested (Dowd, playing the role of "Mean Girl", lowers voice and audibly whispers): "That Barack, he's too skinny. I mean, God, I would rather vote for Rudi, he's soooooo much cuter and more manly:"

Barack Obama is as slender as an adolescent and exercises constantly, but he still sometimes seems strangely tired on the campaign trail.

I'm glad that the nation's paper of record has such high political discourse.

[1] I would like to note that this confusion is not due to selective quoting. Every quote to this point is taken from subsequent paragraphs in the column.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From "The Decider" to "The Dictator"

Reading the comments in this TAPPED article, this comment intrigued me; specifically,

Soon, however, after the next 9/11 attack (presently in the planing stages in the Bush administration) the Preznit will invoke NSPD 51 and HSPD-20 (google it) and end the Republic once and for all.

Intrigued by the somewhat paranoid, conpiracy-theorist, "the moon landing never occured" tone, I did, indeed, google NSPD-51 & HSPD-20 (go ahead, you should feel lucky). And, I was horrified.

As a brief background, the NSPD and HSPD stands for "National Security Presidential Directive" and "Homeland Security Presidential Directive", respectively. Although the name changes for every administration, these are directives to federal agencies regarding issues of national security. An archive of all of the presidential directives is available here, provided by the Federation of American Scientists, which also provides the description of what, exactly, these are:

The National Security Council (NSC) is the principal forum for Presidential consideration of foreign policy issues and national security matters. Persuant to policy review directives, the NSC gathers facts and views of appropriate Government agencies, conducts analyses, determines alternatives, and presents to the President policy choices for decision. The President's decisions are announced by decision directives.

If you weren't feeling lucky (I told you that you should), the full text of this particular Prsidential Decision Directive is available from the White House website. Essentially, this directive directs federal agencies under executive control to develop a "continuity of operations" plan (ironically, called COOP - as in, "we will coop the government") and replaces the provisions called for by President Clinton in his directive PDD-65. The actual text of PDD-67, which Bush's directive actually revokes, were never made available nor summarized by the Clinton Administration; however, FEMA's replacement of PDD-67 looks almost exactly like PDD-65.

I don't know all how to express all of the levels of the scariness of this here. Let me start with the actual text itself. In his directive, in stark contrast to Clinton's, Bush calls for:

(2)(e) "Enduring Constitutional Government," or "ECG," means a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches, to preserve the constitutional framework under which the Nation is governed and the capability of all three branches of government to execute constitutional responsibilities and provide for orderly succession, appropriate transition of leadership, and interoperability and support of the National Essential Functions during a catastrophic emergency;

Clinton's directive sounds like you are reading a standard office memo telling each agency to be prepared in case of an emergency; Bush's directive, on the other hand is prefaced by declaring the President to be the sole arbiter of the decision when an emergency is occuring, how to lead the nation and only "as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper resect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches." Now, I am reading this to mean that the executive will share in the preparedness plan that is separate from those prepared by the judicial and legislative branches. Yet, just before that, the plan should be coordinated by the President. If this definition of comity is to be believed (when has Wikipedia ever steered us wrong?), then this basically means that the President will be solely in charge of this operation. Sounds like a dictatorship to me.

But, I have come to expect this from President Bush, so pperhaps even more troubling to me is the fact that this is not FRONT PAGE NEWS! I say this for two reasons. First, if this directive actually does grant the President the powers that we all know that he wants (i.e. the unitary executive), this is really scary and should be on the front of every paper in the United States. Is it not the role of the press (or so they say) to be the "fourth branch" to insure that we do not lose our liberty by making sure those in power don't do to our constitution what has been done to so many others? If so, then they are failing while they continue to opt instead for the easy stories.

Second, even assuming that the President actually does respect the autonomy of the three branches and we assume that this story is not noteworthy because there will be no attempt at a power grab, this directive would seem to be important because that emans that it will have taken the President almost six years to come up with the executive branch's version of the disaster preparedness plan. Remember those annoying public service announcements telling the American people to be prepared? Well, then why the hell wasn't our government ready until now? Maybe that explains why the Katrina response was such a disaster.

Which ever of these two stories could be written (and my money is on the first for truthiness), the national media missed both. If, however, you do want to find something about it, I would recommend The Progressive's coverage here.

[update]Following a comment I made over at Obsidian Wings, Gary Farber pointed out that these are, in fact, common and that the Bush Administration has updated them recently; therefore, as he politely admonishes me, there is really no story to report here. If you are more interested, I suggest this article from TPMMuckracker.

Food Stamp Challenge, Pt. 2

I wrote about Rep. Tim Ryan's Food Stamp Challenge blog. Here is a Fox News clip of him talking about his peanut butter and jelly being confiscated at airport security:

Before the crazies get him, he admitted on his blog that the bag of peanuts was not the only cheating he did; he also had a porkchop the night before giving a commencement speech at his alma mater, Franklin Pierce Law Center. I think, in the end, it just shows how difficult it is to live on food stamps and be able to have enough nutrition and energy to even be able to try to pull oneself up by his or her own bootstraps.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Labor Reading for the Day

David Sirota delivered the keynote address to the Montana State AFL-CIO taken from Morgan Freeman's line in Shawshank Redemption, "Get busy living or get busy dying." The full text of the speech is printed in The Nation here.

Although he, like most people who talk about labor, talk about maintaining the middle class way of life, I think that his point is well taken for all of those interested in politics and labor:

During that critical vote in the next legislature, will we pressure that key Democrat even though we were drinking buddies? When the new Congress begins pushing yet another NAFTA, will we demand in no uncertain terms that Montana's Congressional delegation stand up for our state even if they and their staffs get angry at us? When the power players in the nation's capital shove more tax breaks for millionaires, budget cuts to healthcare and eliminations of labor laws down our throats, will we make them feel pain on election day, even if it offends Democratic Party elders in Washington?

Will we, in other words, go all the way?

The answer has to be yes, and it has to be yes because as I said to start off, the stakes at this point are too high. It's time to stand up, it's time to make our voices heard, it's time to walk in the footsteps of past generations who refused to be intimidated in the face of the class war that is now upon us. It's time, in short, to get busy living--because America will cease to be the great country it is if we get busy dying.

So, I offer David Sirota in short: Work for Democrats during the election because they are better than the Republicans, but don't take their shit if you get them elected.

Monday, May 21, 2007


This week, Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH 17), is taking the "Food Stamp Challenge". Basically, he is trying to live on the $21.00 a day that a person receives in food stamps. After the first day, he writes:

So far today I have eaten a quarter container of cottage cheese, one and a half peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and had one cup of coffee. It still amazes me that so many Americans live like this every day. I already notice a difference in my energy level. After only a day on this diet, I’m tired and hungry, but I’m looking forward to talking to people about my experience, and making people aware of the millions across the country who deal with this every day.

To all of those crazies and not-so-crazies who think that the only thing that poor people need to do is "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" does not know anything about what it is like to go hungry on a day-to-day basis. First, there is the simple bad luck. hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has an excellent post on many of the issues raised on Tim Ryan's blog. At one point, Tim Ryan lost the peanut butter and jelly that he was supposed to eat for that week's meals because it was taken by TSA officers at the airport (or, as hilzoy points out, "there are lots of ways for a jar of peanut butter to come to grief. Your kid can eat it when you're not looking. Your grocery bag can break, leaving it shattered on the sidewalk. Similarly, the rats and roaches can get into your corn meal, or your wheat bread.").

But, what I like is that Tim Ryan is also pointing out the structural inequalities that cause much of this hunger:

As several people have mentioned it the comments, a problem faced many across the country, especially the inner-city poor, are the lack of low-cost food stores in an easily accessible area. These people can’t afford to drive to a Wal-Mart in the suburbs for the bargains; they aren’t members of the warehouse club stores. If you are constrained to where you can walk or take public transportation, then you can only shop at the places in your neighborhood, and you are forced to pay whatever they charge. That is EXACTLY what I was doing. I had the option to head out to Costco or Shoppers and decided instead to replicate as close as possible the REAL experience of someone who can't afford a car and is constrained by public transportation. As you'll see when I publish the video blog I'm working on, we took the Metro out to the store.

This being something that I study in my academic life (the unequal distribution of resources in neighborhoods), I will let you guess which areas are traditionally underserved by grocery stores and farmers markets (hint -- in urban areas, think of areas that are not white and not wealthy). Hilzoy also points out other things that make it even more difficult: 1) Tim Ryan had a staff to help him learn to live on $21.00 a day; 2) He wasn't a single parent trying to care for children as he was doing this (and, therefore, needing to pay for extra fares on the subway or find childcare), 3) he was able to spend an hour-and-a-half in the store looking for the food that he could buy for $21.00, 4) he was doing this while living in D.C. and therefore had access to public transportation (as opposed to say, Pheonix).

In other words, for those who idolize Horatio Alger stories, I am not sure that they would understand that, even with the meager help that poor people are afforded, discriminatory policies prevent them from having access to food in the first place, even if they do have access it's not enough to provide strength enough to pull on one's own bootstraps and finally, the safety net is so threadbare that it can't provide against simple bad luck.

Even for all of this, hilzoy leaves out one important factor that is not discussed. Most poor people don't have access to a supermarkt, grocery store, green grocer or fruit stand; however, what they do have access to is convenience stores. In those convenience stores, there are hundreds -- actually, probably thousands -- of different types of processed corn. Combos, pretzels, Fritos, doughnuts, soda pop, "fruit" juices, etc. all contain some kind of processed corn. Why? Because our government subsidizes the production of corn like it was as vital to living as water. At the same time, the prices of healthy fruits and vegetables are too high for a family to be able to afford on $21.00/week/person

I guess the question becomes, what can be done? If the problem is partly that there is not enough money to live on in a week, then that solution seems pretty straightforward - increase the allowance per week. But, if the problem is unequal access to food stores and quality produce, then the answer becomes more tricky. One could offer incentives to invest those types of stores in poor areas - but those incentives are generally tax breaks which come at the cost of defunding many of the programs that are designed to benefit the very people who need the food stores in the first place. Alternatively, a city could "redevelop" areas and provide the kinds of investment that make it profitable for grocery stores to invest - but that would probably come at the cost of pushing current residents out of the city. One option that I think could be successful in not only providing food, but also investment opportunities for current residents is microfinance loans to help people get their own businesses started.

The way that microfinance loans work is there is usually a collective of people [in orginial incarnations, it was only available for women - this was explained in one acadmic talk as the result that men would "simply drink the money away"] who receive small loans individually. They are able to use these loans to build a business that will provide them with the opportunity to make money and pay back the loans, which then becomes capital for the next person in the collective to invest. The idea is that people rely on each other to pay back loans to build a community. The intuition behind this has also been used to explain why immigrant communities have thrived in this country - small investors (convenience store, laundromat, handymen, fruit and vegetable market owners help each other out with loans).

I have to admit, I was a little very dubious of this idea when I first heard it. I mean, it seemed like another avenue through which the "unfallible free-market would prevail" arguments that is part of the larger neoliberal formulation of the 21st century. But, after reading more about it and thinking through what it would mean in precisely situations like this, it seems like a good idea. I mean, it can't take too much to help a small businessperson set up a viable business plan with a small (probably less than $20,000, for which it is surprisingly hard to obtain a loan -- hear Sudhir Venkatesh talk about in conjunction with his new book, Living Underground: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor on Fresh Air), especially if we eliminate some of the subsidies for corn production given to huge agribusiness firms that are causing many of the health problems to begin with! Maybe its a stretch, but I hope to see Congressman Ryan do something about the structural factors since he has identified them as being a problem.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Via Team 651, a Teamster from Kentucky:

He notes that the so-called 'liberal' papers even picks this story up.

I also find it really interesting that 30 percent of Republicans think that this is a major problem. Maybe the Dems, if they don't pander to their DLC pro-business donors, could actually use this as a message to build a bigger base and build parties in all 50 states. They wouldn't have to take the governorship, but a few city councils and state legislative seats in Southern states (like Kentuky) might not be a bad place to start building a larger base.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Trade Policy and the Democratic Party

One of the most perplexing issues that I often find myself thinking about being involved in leftist politics is that regarding trade policy. On the one hand, I find the traditional AFL-CIO protectionist position shortsighted at best and xenophobic at worst. On the other, I find non-labor lefty advocates blaming outsourcing on the UAW and other manufacturing unions because they "asked for too much" to be patently absurd. Then there is always the "unions don't matter any more" stance. Obviously, there are well-reasoned and not so inflammatory positions between these extremes. However, the question is perplexing in its complexity, especially given the new trade agreement compromise reached between Democrats and Bush.

Paul Krugman's latest column in the NYT (subscription required) argues essentially the same thing:

Nothing divides Democrats like international trade policy. That became clear last week, when the announcement of a deal on trade between Democratic leaders and the Bush administration caused many party activists to accuse the leadership of selling out.

The furor subsided a bit as details about the deal emerged: the Democrats got significant concessions from the Bushies, while effectively giving a go-ahead to only two minor free trade agreements (Peru and Panama). But the Democrats remain sharply divided between those who believe that globalization is driving down the wages of many U.S. workers, and those who believe that making and honoring international trade agreements is an essential part of governing responsibly.

What makes this divide so agonizing is that both sides are right.

Krugman sees the protectionist argument doing more harm than good in non-Western/developing nations such as Bangladesh and India while the pro-internationalist argument having a depressing effect on American worker's wages. Krugman sees no solution to this debate; rather, Krugman believes that Democrats, "if [they] really want to help American workers, they'll have to do it with a pro-labor policy that relies on better tools than trade policy. Universal health care, paid for by taxing the economy's winners, would be a good place to start."

This is in contrast to the editors of The Nation. In their editorial on the trade deal, the editors believe that the Democrats "Sold Out" over the issue. The solution to the problem, they argue, is:

The deeper problem facing the Democratic Party is that it does not have a coherent strategy on trade and globalization, aside from going along with the status quo. The goal of establishing international labor and environmental rights is heroic, but it can't succeed as long as the trading system itself is flawed. Furthermore, in the best of circumstances it will take a generation for the labor rights struggle to make a dent in global wage differentials. Can working people wait twenty years? Can the American economy?

In other words, these two pieces show the exact problem: Krugman believes that the problem is that we focus too much on trade policy per se while The Nation thinks that Democrats are not focusing enough on trade policy. I think that this incongruity becomes even clearer looking at The Nation's prescriptions to confront "global wage differentials":

First, cap the swollen US trade deficits--stop the bleeding--and develop a more balanced international trade regime. Second, use the tax code to get control of US multinationals and force them to align with the nation's economic interests. Third, force the reform of one-sided international institutions like the WTO and IMF so they will serve people and societies, not just capital and corporations. Fourth, continue the long-term struggle to enact trade rules for people of all nations--protecting labor, the environment, economic equity and other progressive values.

While Krugman is arguing that our focus should be domestic, fixing our broken healthcare system that costs employers and employees severely to the benefit of a single sector of the U.S. economy, The Nation argues that the solutions are essentially international, we need to fix our trade deficit and reform the WTO and IMF to not be an international agent of multinational corporations. Maybe this break over the trade issue is not really about trade at all, it is simply the greatest manifestation of a split between Democrats who prioritize domestic policies over ones who prioritize international policies. This is something that I had not really pondered, but which Matthew Yglesias has discussed. Essentially, among activists in the Democratic Party, there is the AFL-CIO (and now CtW) on one hand and internationalist-type activists on the other. And, among all of the solutions, I think that his analysis comes the closest to a real solution. The difference between the two "factions" is the AFL-CIO is more powerful and

Not that I begrudge the unions their influence, either. They won it fair and square -- with organizing, with money, with volunteers, with discipline, with clear requests, etc. As you see with any influential group, securing influence takes work. Sadly, there are virtually no institutions of any consequence organized around providing a progressive take on the substance -- as opposed to labor procedures -- of national security issues.

Ygelsias understands what the issue is and highlights it by emphasizing that it takes work (his emphasis). Although he is dismayed by the fact that international policy is not an issue around which there is great organization, being among the international-types himeslf, he does understand more than Krugman or The Nation what it would take to develop a real international policy.

While this diversion is certainly interesting, what does this have to do specifically with trade policy? I think that the division between domesticists and internationalists that Ygelsias sees is a very real one; the one quibble that I would have is that he fails to point out that these divisions are largely based on class. The more wealthy "netroots" is all about ending the war in Iraq and not inhibiting the free trade of goods and information provided that the trade itself does not outright exploit those who are doing the work itself. The more working-class labor unions on the other hand, fight to protect good jobs in the United States, even if this means focusing so narrowly on it that they forget that they exist in a larger world. The single issue where these two viewpoints are forced to confront each other is in trade policy; it is at the same time involved with the globalization of information and goods and the bread-and-butter job security of manufacturing (and, increasingly, service) employees.

I think that, in this light, both Krugman and The Nation skirt the issue by diverting attention. Krugman's focus on universal healthcare creates a national issue on which there is universal agreement among Dems, albeit with disproportionate passion from the domesticists. The Nation's focus on reforming the IMF and WTO diverts the issue to a singularly international arena on which there is universal agreement.

The other argument that I would make is that focusing simply on policy without politics (little "p") is not going to get very far. As the "mass accumulation" economy of the late industrial revolution has given way to the "flexible accumulation" economy in which we now exist, effective forms of organizing are not neatly tied to industry anymore than the shift from the economy of the early industrial revolution's focus on crafts assisted when the assembly-line arrived. As Ygelsias points out, organizing is the one strategy that gets results. International organizing, particularly if it is international organizing through unions, is potentially the only way to confront these challenges. And while this was one of Andy Stern's (forgotten) tenets in his "Changing to Win" agenda, it seems like both the CtW and AFL-CIO have been slow to pick this up. Luckily, not everyone has forgotten. Stephen Lerner, the director of Justice for Janitors lays out the beginnings of this kind of strategy in a May Day article in AlterNet and the Steelworkers have announced plans to investigate a merger with British unions Amicus and the Transport and General Workers Union to counter the internationalization of corporations. This will obviously also mean changing international laws to allow international strikes and labor action, a major flaw with current organizing and Harold Meyerson points out. Hopefully, however, these initial talks and coordination with emergent radical movements that are willing to aggressively fight these laws will lead to the kind of pressure that really will make this kind of international labor movement possible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hope for Higher Ed?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the dismal state of higher rd and argued that, without changing the perception college as a commodity good, i.e. students show up, get "filled" with knowledge and leave -- with their A in hand -- to get a business-based job, then then higher education doesn't stand a chance of overcoming the crazies in this country.

Since then, several articles have come out about how higher education is becoming an issue for the 2008 campaign. Beyond that, the K-12 education system has gotten a lot of press about the renewal of the program that seems more destined to destroy our public school system than it is to substantially reduce any inequality in educational outcomes. So, it seems, my pessimistic portrayal of any lack of concern over education seems to be misplaced.

That is not to say, however, that just because education, "K-16 Education" as we liked to call it in Michigan, is getting attention means that anything substantive is necessarily going to come from the debate. Luckily, it seems that, too, is a waivering in my usual optimism and not true. The most public and detailed of these plans is that created by John Edwards called the College for Everyone initiative. Among the things that the plan does would be to create a program for the first year of college to be paid for any student who is willing to work ten hours a week during the year for students who have shown effort in their high school curriculum.

While I want to post on the relative costs and benefits of this plan in a separate post, what I am excited about is the prospect that (via Inside Higher Ed):

In the last week or so, higher education appears to have arrived as a 2008 campaign issue. Democratic candidates are vying to be the boldest defender of student loan borrowers and one in particular — John Edwards — has issued proposals that are unusually detailed for this early in a campaign. And in a sign that Edwards’s move was noticed, Barack Obama followed Tuesday with a plan of his own. [my emphasis]

It is nice to know three things. First, that higher education is a priority and Obama seems to feel the need to react to a major initiative put out by Edwards. Second, that this is one of those issues coming out at the beginning of an election cycle with the possibility of creating a major campaign issue. Also, it would be nice to see this become enough of an issue that the Republicans are asked about it to which all of them would probably look somewhat like a deer in middle of a highway with a Mack truck barrelling towards it. I also have to think that presenting something like this policy so early in the campaign shows that, despite my proclamations to the contrary, people really do care about higher education policy. Finally, it is also nice to know that Edwards has enough of a real shot that Obama and Clinton are scared of him. I have not entirely made up my mind on a candidate, but I am sick and tired of deciding who are "top-tiered" and "second-tiered" candidates based on how much money one has raised a full nine months before the primaries start (well, maybe), and it is, therefore, nice to see Edwards who is somewhere in between have enough of an impact to drive one of the "top-tiered" campaigns.

[Update: Forgot to add a title. Oops!]

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dumb, dumb, dumb...

On his own MSNBC show, TUCKER, Tucker Carlson just said, "Do you really think that gay rights is one of the top issues today?" Seriously, he asked that. His guest, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, pointed out that anti-gay-rights ammendments passed in eleven states in 2004.

Oh yeah, and in case all you coasters didn't know -- Democrats hate people from middle-America and are therefore going to be sad because they don't have their figurehead to express all of their hatred of people from the Midwest and the South. Somehow, I don't think that Howard Dean is going to be crying.

In my dual role as a graduate student and employee

I was catching up on the internets today since I finally have service at my apartment [which, is also serving as my "office"] and was reading an interesting series of posts from Female Science Professor. FSP is a fascinating blog by a woman employed at as a full professor at a Research I university in the physical sciences and often has interesting tidbits about the life of academics and the particular life that women face in science departments in the country.

In this series of posts, FSP is reacting to the NYT article on Harvard's task-force report that teaching should be institutionally emphasized (available here). The task-force's summary of Guiding Principle (p.5) is:

To renew its commitment to excellence, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences must motivate and empower committed teachers as well as distinguished researchers, and actively encourage intelligent pedagogy as well as pathbreaking research. Devoted teachers abound at Harvard, yet their individual efforts are often not perceived as central to institutional priorities.

and, among the major principles that should be addressed:

Tenured faculty should lead by example, requiring of themselves the same commitment to teaching that they ask of junior colleagues and graduate students who are at earlier stages of developing their capacities as scholars and teachers.

That this is garnering attention because it is Harvard disturbs me a little bit; but, on the other hand, the fact that it is garnering attention is a distinct positive. The Harvard interim president acknowledges, “If we don’t do it ourselves,” President Bok said of the government pressure, “they’re going to make us do it their way.” And to see "their" way, look at the crumbling school infrastructure and massive privatization under No Child Left Behind.

Following the initial commentary, FSP took on two issues that were brought up in the comments of the initial post: first, she commented on the teaching/research/service requirements while teaching at a research university; then she discussed the issue of "buying-out teaching requirements. The first post is an interesting read for those interested in tenure and a discussion of promotions in academia [although, as an interesting side note, I find it interesting that neither FSP nor her commenters found that teaching and research were related activities], but it is actually the second that I found more interesting.

The question revolves around the practice of "buying out" teaching requirements. This is a practice where one would write into a grant proposal a certain amount of money that would be used to pay the professor's department a set fee in order that the professor does not have to teach the class that semester. Often, the department will then hire an adjunct or, if it is a required graduate course, strong-arm a less-prominent researcher to teach the course [or, simply not teach the course].

As I posted there, I have two major concers about this practice.

  1. In my role as a student, I have found the course offerings in graduate level courses to be strinkingly sparse. While graduate education is certainly not built on a foundation of taking classes in the same way that an undergraduate course of study is, graduate-level elective classes are often the time where students are exposed to the background literature in their field or sub-field or where new literatures can be discovered. By curtailing these offerings, my department has made it more difficult for me to obtain my degree in a timely manner (another, apparent pet-peeve of most universities).

  2. Second is the prospect of my future employment in the field of academia. As Dr. K points out in the comments, the adjuncts that are hired to teach these "bought-out" semesters are paid far less than the tenured or tenure-track professors who bought out their commitment. Adjuncts have no job security, and what security they have depends on their evaluations from their students which, logically, leads to grade inflation. They have severe curtailments on their academic freedom as they are at best short-term contract employees and, at worst, at-will employees.

I find it interesting in the debates surrounding academic freedom and adjunct parity often overlook at the entire context of institutions of higher education. When I have brought up the issue of graduate education in debates about adjunct parity, I am often met by either a) open hostility telling me that adjuncts could never instruct me the way that tenured or tenure-track professors could or b) outright confusion. I seem to get the response, "What the hell does this have to do with anything?" The same could be said about debates I have had regarding academic freedom - we (rightly) concentrate on Horowitz's big legislative agenda, but often forget the day-to-day, quotidian (thanks wobblie) experiences that threaten academic freedom on campus.

I know that there must be dozens of other banal rules, regulations and policies that threaten the very ideals of a free and fair academy such as this one. While we target the large-scale n'er-do-gooders such as Horowitz and ACTA and fight with (or as) the adjuncts and contingent employees that deserve fair treatment with legislation and national campaigns, short term goals should include targeting policies such as these to make them more fair, equitable and just. I believe that research should provide an instrument to help teach and that teaching should provide the energy and ideas to supply creative research. At times, one needs more resources to commit to research; I just hope that Harvard and other instutions take seriously the recommendations of the task-force to value teaching the same way they value research.

I think we have our answer...

YouTube video under the title, "Which of them will Jesus smite first?":

Although I have no ill-feelings toward Jerry Fallwell as a person and wish the best for his family, I have to think that the news that Fallwell is moving on to meet his maker signals the end of an era in American politics in some sense.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Live from New York!

It is official. I am not a resident in the fine borough of Brooklyn; land of the Dodgers, hipsters, corner delis and overpriced housing. Having only lived here for a total of five days thus far, with the packed boxes possibly still more numerous than the unpacked ones, I have to say, I &hearts BK. I am sure that there will be plenty more posts about the BK and NYC in general, but I wanted to share some lessons I learned from moving here:

  • Budget trucks are sometimes not considered trucks (they are allowed to use the car speedlimit in OH, PA, and NJ) and sometimes consider trucks (see Holland Tunnel).

  • I have confirmed my severe dislike for NJ - and this is based on experiences OFF the Turnpike, thank you very much (although the Turnpike also sucks)

  • Nothing makes you feel like a packrat more than moving to a one-bedroom apartment in NYC.

  • Despite what people from NYC want you to believe, NOTHING runs more efficiently here -- it is all a big lie

  • I am very luck to be marrying E. (alright, I already knew that &mdash moving here just confirmed it)

  • Cleo likes long rides in trucks even less than she does in the car. I think that she might possibly like it even less than getting her fingernails clipped, which may be the doggie-version of the inner-most ring of Hell

  • I have the best friends in the world! No, seriously, I do.

My internet access is still sporadic, but I wanted to reconnect - even if temporarily - to my comrades in the 'osphere.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pause in Normal Programming

I will be moving and not have a whole lot of access to the tubes in the next week or so, but for all my union brothers and sisters, I leave entertainment behind:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Good News, Bad News?

According to the NYT, the junior Senator from New York and senior Senator from W.V. are proposing a bill to revoke the war authorization granted to the President in 2002.

Good news or bad news?

Déjà Vu

Why won't this man go away?

Although this story is somewhat old, I was reminded of it from a post on Free Exchange by someone named "cps" who I am not sure should be believed, but since I think that he spent time in Utah fighting crazies, I will give him the benefit of the doubt...[1]

Anyways, while the Free Exchange story was about the latest installment of the Bush Administrations' game called "Finding the perfect fox for this particular henhouse", the post links to a story about Ward Connerly's latest attempt to find states to continue his crusade. Having just fought against one of these disasters in Michigan, I hope that the people of the states of Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah (alright, I only really reserve hope for rizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon and South Dakota)start thinking about this campaign early and, for heaven's sake please at least force a real discussion about race and gender and not be so timid. This is their goal, to make it a political campaign:

"'He [Connerly] will seek to divide each state and will generally be successful,' said Waymire [Connerly's spokesman on the Michigan campaign], who called Connerly 'a brilliant political strategist.' He added, 'There is no good to come out of this, and nobody benefits except for Ward Connerly and his association.'"

As DR pointed out at the end of the campaign here:

...and now I think I've pretty much convinced mysel that Prop 2 opponents ought to talk about race. Here's the thing. The core of the argument against affirmative action programs is the claim that race doesn't matter in America. That claim happens to be false, but when supporters of affirmative action avoid talking about race, they themselves make it seem as if it were true. I mean, if we can have a debate about affirmative action without mentioning race, how could it possibly be true that we ever need to think about it?

So, please, please, please, please have a real discussion about race in this country. Talk about Katrina; talk about black male incarceration rates; talk about school quality differences; hell, talk about NBA officiating but just have a real conversation. If you do have the conversation, you may win or you may lose the ballot initiative, but at least you are discussing one of the fundamental inequities in American society. But if you insist on following a strategy with an 0-3 record, you lost even the opportunity to really talk about fundamental inequality in America.

[1] If this is, in fact, untrue - I will be happy to delete this statement from this post.

The Dismal State of Higher Ed

This week in the Huffington Post, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about the lack of value of a college degree. Yes, I know, this is the same Barabara Ehrenreich of Nickel and Dimed and who helped found (with SEIU) United Professionals, a quasi-union in order to help out white collar workers who have been downsized or can't find jobs. Unfortunately, while she talks about college grads in her "manifesto", she apparently believes that Higher Education is "a scam."

Chiding MIT for releasing the Dean of Admissions, Ehrenreich writes:

Can you be fired for doing a great job, year after year, and in fact becoming nationally known for your insight and performance? Yes, as in the case of Marilee Jones, who was the dean of admissions at MIT until her dismissal last week, when it was discovered that she had lied about her academic credentials 28 years ago.

And, the great insight learned from this action is that, "But in the last three decades the percentage of jobs requiring at least some college has doubled, which means that employers are going along with the college racket." She also goes on to say that she believes that most employers want college-educated students for one of two reasons: 1) Because they know how to conform or 2) they are in debt up to their ears and, therefore, become subservient employees unwilling to risk being unemployed.

What is even more depressing is the comments after the article. These are people who read the Huffington Post who are vehemently against colleges and believe them to be a racket as well. One notable post reads:

Nice post. 'Bout time.

My experience with Ivy League is that if you actually used your mind, i.e. challenged the tenured professor and the carefully crafted conclusions (history) then you would receive a grade reduction; regardless of how well argued your case.

How NeoCon.

I don't care if we launch Free Exchange on Campus, or FACE, or any number of other initiatives. The true NeoCons have done such a good job destroying the American academy with an "employment focused" and "market based" attitude with the complicity of the current American academics who refuse to enter into "political" discussions because it might "taint" their research. If this is what readers of the Huffington Post believe, then we are doomed.

I would also guess that most of them don't know that more and more of our teaching is being done by contingent labor. Employees who can be hired and fired at will, who keep their office hours in their cars, and can't take the time to remember their students' names because they have a thousand of them. Until we are successful at getting the Ehrenreichs and Huffinton Post readers of the world to understand where the American academy has changed, then we are going to be woefully unsuccessful in front of our own legislators.

Maureen Dowd is on Notice

Several weeks ago, I posted about Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a homophobic epithet. Wobblie noted in the comments that Bob Somerby had written about how Maureen Dowd was also complicit in painting Edwards as a "breck-girl" on at least five different times (repeating an insult slung by the White House press office). Since then, Dowd has also gained noteriety for writing (behind subscription wall) about John Edwards' hair cut and how Michelle Obama is emasculating her husband.

Hilzoy has written a couple of posts on Dowd's ability to play into the "Democratic men are wimpy and not 'man' enough to be President" while always relieving herself the responsibility of making these claims. She always says that she is simply reporting what "others" are thinking. I mean, she has no problem with these men, but others might, so she just wants to "report" it so that they can plan accordingly (as if no one knew that this was the standard screed about Democrats as if none of us remember how the entire RNC convention in 2004 was about how John Kerry wasn't "manly" enough [1].

Beyond calling Democrats "pretty boys" and aiding and abetting the Coulters and Cheneys of the world, today she is blaming Tenet, Colin Powell and Democrats for the war:

If Colin Powell and George Tenet had walked out of the administration in February 2003 instead of working together on that tainted U.N. speech making the bogus case for war, they might have turned everything around. They might have saved the lives and limbs of all those brave U.S. kids and innocent Iraqis, not to mention our world standing and national security.

It would certainly have been harder for timid Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards, to back up the administration if two members of the Bush inner circle had broken away to tell an increasingly apparent truth: that Dick Cheney, Rummy and the neocons were feverishly pushing a naive president into invading Iraq with junk facts.

General Powell counted on Slam Dunk -- a slender reed -- to help him rid the speech of most of the garbage the Cheney office wanted in it. Slam, of course, tried to have it both ways, helping the skeptical secretary of state and pandering to higher bosses. Afterward, when the speech turned out to be built on a no-legged stool, General Powell was furious at Slam. But they both share blame: they knew better. They put their loyalty to a runaway White House ahead of their loyalty to a fearful public.

It's also worth noting that, in a previous column, Dowd reverts to her criticism via "gender" analysis of Tenet: "Slam Dunk always presented himself as the ultimate guy’s guy, a cigar-chomping spymaster who swapped jokes with the president. But now he shows us his tender side, a sniveling C.I.A. chief bullied by “remote” Condi."

While I have no problem blaming Tenet for the disaster and agree with the CIA officials calling for him to accept blame for what happened donate half his royalties to the servicepeople wounded and killed in Irag; and Colin Powell certainly went the UN even though he really wasn't comfortable; and the Democrats were far too timid in the run up to the war; but I think that Dowd has selective amnesia that her own paper and Judith Miller also contributed. Or for that matter, that the President lied to the nation! I hope she keeps criticizing Tenet, but for goodness sake, can we stop blaming "timid Democrats" and start blaming "lying Presidents"?

[1] This is when she's not making stuff up.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Baseball not Found