30 September 2008

Who's your daddy?

The boys on Wall Street are slobbering over the tantalizing piece of meat being offered by our administration, most of whom were amazingly hard-core free marketeers until the failure of that "philosophy" bit them hard in the ass. So after yesterday's historic selloff of nearly 800 points -- brought on by the traders realizing they weren't going to get that hunk of free money just yet -- they regained their confidence that good old government would come to their rescue and rode the bull up nearly 500 points.

After watching this bullshit, is there anyone out there who still believes the market has anything to do with real value?

Are the corrupt companies that ran riot over regulations worth any more today than yesterday?

I suppose the answer comes from how you look at things. If you expect Big Daddy to show up and supply the ransom money to get your sorry ass out of hock, then sure, the company's worth more for the main reason that it's still around. The free market simply isn't free, my friends. It's a myth. A joke. An ideological construct. Lack of regulation doesn't lead to greater good, though it may lead temporarily to greater profits -- lack of regulation leads inevitably to thievery and negligence.

In sports, if you are corrupt and violate basic principles -- such as betting on your own team -- you are banned for life. In some sports (although not the big money makers) if you are caught cheating, you are banned for considerable periods, if not life. If you are a casino operator and you are caught chumming it up with the mob, you are banned from casinos.

I would humbly suggest that the bailout package be reworked to include a ban on top-level executives ever working again in the industry. CEOs of these companies, whose quasicriminal behavior led to this meltdown, banned for life. Boards of Directors, whose rank negligence could cost this country trillions of dollars and our position in the world economy, banned for life.

And please, please, please, could we perhaps have the common sense as American voters to dump the American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, Neocon free marketeer ideology out on its ass for the forseeable future?

29 September 2008

It's good to be Queen.

When will DC Council get it through their heads that when you are Queen, you don't answer summons from the commoners?

I seriously don't understand where DC Council gets off trying to have Chancellor Rhee or Victor Reinoso appear in front of them. They ceded authority when they handed over control of the schools to the mayor, despite all evidence that the mayor and his team (chiefly Victor Reinoso) couldn't even put together their own plan for running a school system. If there's one thing I make sure my freshmen composition students know how to do, it's cite sources, because plagiarism is simply wrong.

This is the same city council that approved the hire of an individual with three years of classroom experience and no education degree to run one of the more high-profile and disfunctional school systems in the country.

Here's Rhee, in her own words, talking to Fast Company, a magazine that was born and should have died extolling the "rule-changing" tech boom:
Rhee has been outspoken about the low value she places on appearing before the council. In the September issue of Fast Company magazine, she described watching council hearings on television: "There's this crazy dynamic where every agency head is kowtowing. They sit there and get beat down. I'm not going to sit on public TV and take a beating I don't deserve. I don't take that crap."

The arrogance is astonishing, but Rhee has taken a calculated gamble that this city council will roll over for her, and so far she's been correct. Her most intense opposition comes from Councilmember Barry, and she correctly dismisses that as non-threatening, since his own credibility is severely compromised in this town. Who will step up and put his or her political capital on the line to stop her?

Vincent Gray? Hmm...does it advance his political aspirations to appear annoyed but in the end not seriously challenge Rhee's lunacy? A: Yes.
Jim Graham? Please...
Kwame Brown? Mr. Brown likes to talk, but that's about it.
Jack Evans? Sure...The Developer's Best Friend has two reasons to let Rhee run amok: her failure reflects poorly on Fenty, therefore increasing his own influence AND his developer backers are dying to get their hands on public property that DCPS controls.
David Catania? No. DCPS and DC's children can all die quietly in the name of fiscal responsibility.
Carol Schwartz? (because she will beat that right-wing Republican as an independent) Possibly, but doubtful.

OK, I'll stop. It's too ludicrous to go into the remaining members (Mendelson, Bowser, Cheh, Alexander, Thomas, Wells). OK, maybe Mendelson, because he has a habit of putting obstacles in the way of steamrollers, but like Barry, he would have trouble garnering support or public interest in his opposition.

23 September 2008

This is not a pipe.

I always knew Ron Paul was a crackpot, the sort of guy who dreams of those utopian days of free-market capitalism that haven't existed since...well, since ever, but especially since we decided that sweatshops and child labor and completely expendable workers' lives were no longer in fashion, but he confirmed it with a commentary on cnn.com. According to Paul, our current fiscal crisis is a problem of too much government regulation as opposed to too little, basically proving that he's been out to lunch for much of the last thirty years.

Paul is correct in arguing that the proposed Paulson bailout rewards idiotic behavior, but his opposition to it stems from entirely incorrect assumptions that the so-called free market isn't free enough. Here's a little sampling of Representative Paul's theory:
The solution to the problem is to end government meddling in the market. Government intervention leads to distortions in the market, and government reacts to each distortion by enacting new laws and regulations, which create their own distortions, and so on ad infinitum.
It is time this process is put to an end. But the government cannot just sit back idly and let the bust occur.
It must actively roll back stifling laws and regulations that allowed the boom to form in the first place.
The government must divorce itself of the albatross of Fannie and Freddie, balance and drastically decrease the size of the federal budget, and reduce onerous regulations on banks and credit unions that lead to structural rigidity in the financial sector.
Until the big-government apologists realize the error of their ways, and until vocal
free-market advocates act in a manner which buttresses their rhetoric, I am afraid we are headed for a rough ride.

Umm, it was the lack of "stifling laws and regulations" that allowed the false boom to form, not the presence of them. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, the government removed many of the regulations that prevented financial institutions from overextending themselves and exposing themselves to massive speculative debt. "Vocal free-market advocates" have had their way ever since Reagan rode into town, and the chickens are coming home to roost. These "distortions" in the market that Paul tries to lay at the feet of government were created and sustained through the prevalent free market practice of speculation; a quick primer on the history of capitalist economics could show you that the cycle of boom and bust -- a cycle not absent but decidedly much more extreme during the heady days of unregulated markets -- has been leveled and controlled through regulation.

Over in the corner, Ron Paul's been watching the deregulation gang kicking the supports out and as the roof collapses he's shouting that the few remaining beams are the cause of the collapse.

17 September 2008

Rules are made to be broken.

Ah, the rule of law.

Remember that rhetorical relic from 2000? Republicans scrambled to put some polish on that little slogan that has turned out in their 8 years in power to be as empty and worthless as Lehman Brothers stock.

The first rule of law that we little people better learn to accept is that some people are above it.

Don't like torture? OK, don't call it torture...redefine techniques so that in the technicalities of language you aren't torturing people. Furthermore, call into question the validity of long-standing rules of humanitarian conduct like the Geneva Convention. Again, technically redefine your victims until through a fiction of law and custom, as Mark Twain might say, they are no longer protected by international law.

If politicians are willing to so blithely trade over 200 years of (symbolic) tradition of being a "city on a hill" and a "beacon of freedom" in order to stay in power, then it should come as no surprise that the same core leadership has simply declared that it no longer is subject to any sort of legal action...no longer even at pains to defend itself...it can simply walk away and refuse to take part in the rule of law.
Aides to Gov. Sarah Palin won't comply with subpoenas issued by state lawmakers investigating the firing of Alaska's former public safety commissioner because Palin "has declined to participate" in the probe, her attorney general says.

Isn't that special?

I think it's brilliant. Imagine the possibilities: DC says you can't park on the sidewalk? Simply decline to participate in their partisan witch hunt. Up for murder charges? Oh, no...I decline to participate in your political circus. Use your influential position to pressure underlings to carry out personal vendettas? No need to worry...simply decline to participate in the silly charade.

Prediction: there are nearly two long months before the election...McCain/Palin will not be able to sustain their strategy of massive resistance to official investigations or media scrutiny.

15 September 2008

Ghost in the Graveyard

Down goes Lehman.

It's been an interesting scene for anyone following the continued fallout of the Real Estate Bubble Boondoggle, when everyone thought -- yet again -- that old rules didn't apply and this was some kind of "new economy." However, money is money, and as fanciful as the imaginary system of value is, in the end it is tied to the very real facts of securing food, clothing, and shelter. So while many of us were treating our houses like printing presses whose very wallpaper dripped greenbacks, and speculators were pretending that their fantasy-laden house flipping markups were linked to "what the market will bear," the financial system -- from mortgage brokers to the big lenders -- was somehow sniffing so much glue that they got caught up in the ridiculous shenanigans of "interest only" and "negative amortization" loans.

Borrowers borrowed on the timeworn failed notion -- easily disproven by even the most rudimentary market analysis -- that prices always go up (not in the long term, mind you, but always...) and that record-breaking housing price increases were inexplicably the new norm. An interest only loan didn't matter: your new home would appreciate 300% in five years, allowing you access to the cash; ARMs that would reset in five years wouldn't matter, because interest rates would always be low and your house would always be worth immeasurably more money.

There's always been a sucker born every minute, but banks are supposed to play the opposite role: they're supposed to limit their exposure to moronic financial schemes by refusing to lend money that isn't likely to get repaid. But Jesus Christ is was as if we were in Carnival time and nothing mattered -- everyone was making money faster than coke could be snorted in the upper floor bathrooms of Manhattan investment firms, except it wasn't really making money in the traditional sense.

In short, the false economy of the housing industry (or perhaps the real economy -- the false part was the presuppositions) had nothing to do with increasing wealth and everything to do with overextending credit, and when the bill finally came due...well, we all can see the aftermath of a bad credit binge. Except this one isn't confined to your overspending on holiday shopping and facing a few bad months in the new year.

My friends, we are seeing the logical consequences of the right-wing's near-thirty year assault on financial checks and balances, proving once again that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

11 September 2008


I don't generally post about the anniversary of September 11th, but I found myself thinking about it ever since I created my syllabus for the fall and found myself filling in a slot for Thursday, September 11th. I was teaching on that day in 2001 -- or rather would have been teaching that day, except classes were soon cancelled and justifiably so -- and there are two recurring images to me of that day that are purely personal: weaving my way through downtown traffic after picking up my son from day care and the small classroom in Corcoran Hall in which I would have been teaching.

It's really insignificant, isn't it? I think of that classroom and the students and that we were churning our way through early American literature at that point so early in the semester, having gotten through that dreadful Puritan crap (no offense to you early Americanists out there, really...someone has to be interested in that stuff) and we were in the midst of talking about the Revolutionary War era and those great products of the Enlightenment, Franklin and Paine.

Franklin, in his inimitable way, would have had a field day with our President repeating the mantra that the terrorists hated us "because of our freedom." Can you imagine Franklin, who in his day slyly ridiculed the religious right and slavery, sitting still while our supposed leaders perpetrated the worst kind of intellectual and moral laziness on the American public?

Paine, of course, became persona non grata in the United States after he decided that the same spirit of freedom that burst forth to fight for self-government would also be on the side of reason in the fight against superstition...but he was sadly mistaken...not too surprising for a country in which it's still common for athletes to think a supernatural entity is personally allowing them to score touchdowns.

I'm not going to lie: I thought then and still think now that the connecting thread of all American literature was the fact that we could do better -- that we weren't living up to our promises, our expectations, our ideals. Hope and disappointment run hand in hand through our best literature.

How can you read Souls of Black Folk and not see the investment in American ideals that Du Bois has alongside his bitter anger and disappointment that those ideals aren't much more than hollow words where race is concerned? The Great Gatsby is powerful because it shows how easily the American Dream is co-opted (for Nick) or misunderstood (for Gatsby)...boats against the current indeed. Russell Banks's Continental Drift, Whitman's Song of Myself, Emerson, Thoreau, Cather, even good old Cotton Mather. They all traffic in our contradictions and failures. They all say with Allen Ginsberg that there's still work to be done, they're putting their queer shoulders to the wheel.

I don't think you produce great art if you think we've arrived at perfection.

You don't get anywhere by refusing to ask questions.

Where does John Brown fit into all this?

08 September 2008


If you're interested in witnessing the beginning of the end of public education in the District, follow closely Michelle "Wrecking Ball" Rhee's so-called "Plan B" as detailed in the Post today. Frustrated that union leadership hasn't rolled over and played dead (for a change), Rhee has made plans to make the union irrelevant through some sort of murky process she's afraid to discuss publicly, or as the Post says,
What she calls "Plan B" involves a more aggressive use of powers she already has and that are not subject to contract negotiations with the union. These could include strengthening the existing system of annual personnel evaluations that spell out procedures for terminating teachers.

Uh huh. Well, I have news for the Post and Rhee: unless this union is entirely brain-dead, personnel evaluations are covered in some way under the contract (read: not necessarily named as such but certainly connected to some procedure that will tie up her machinations in knots). The Post also notes that the state board could gift-wrap Rhee a package including a maneuver that would create an extra licensing procedure based on classroom performance, effectively telling teachers that their current credentials are good enough to teach in all 50 states of America, but not in the colony known as the District of Columbia.

Rhee doesn't need extra-special powers to get rid of bad teachers; she needs good managers. Unfortunately, she doesn't have them and isn't likely to get too many more of them given the fact that not too many of the stellar national candidates whom she claims to be recruiting for principalships bothered to apply to DC, where they're promised one year contracts and the ability to be fired without cause.

I just about laughed out loud when I read this choice tidbit from the article:
Rhee's ultimate goal is clear: to weed the District's instructional corps of underperformers and remake it, at least in part, with younger, highly energized graduates of such alternative training programs as Teach for America, where she began her career. Unlike many tenured Washington teachers, those emerging from such programs are unlikely to invest their entire working lives in education. But they will, in Rhee's estimation, be more inclined to embrace her core message: that children can learn no matter what economic and social conditions they face beyond the classroom, and that teachers should be held directly accountable for their progress through test scores and other measurements.

Laughing to keep from crying as they say. Let me proceed in bullet-point style on the ludicrous arguments and presuppositions put forth here:
  • Rhee's ultimate goal is not to staff the District with Teach for America products; that's called a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to break the teachers' union.
  • Teach for America grads are no more likely than traditional education majors to be highly energized and motivated fresh out of school. The fact is that most of them burn out -- that's why they're "unlikely to invest their entire working lives in education" (which for Rhee apparently is a bad thing: to think that dedication to craft would be a negative...)
  • Most insultingly, Rhee behaves as if veteran teachers and teachers who don't follow her program of "at-will, no cause" majesterial dictation somehow don't believe that all children can learn. In fact, this point is too important for mere bulleting, so I'll elaborate below.

On that third bullet: Rhee has used from her midnight appointment the rhetoric of "all children can learn." Well, no shit. However, in deploying that rhetoric, she is of course implying that her critics don't believe that. Sort of like the Bushism that if you were against the Iraq Boondoggle you were somehow a supporter of Saddam Hussein. It gets even more insidious when she uses it to gloss over the fact that research has held for decades -- decades I tell you -- that social conditions impact learning, or to put it a bit more bluntly: if Johnny spends his afternoons hanging out, his evenings dodging bullets, and his nights watching the late late show, he's less likely to be prepared for Tuesday's spelling quiz. Doesn't mean he can't learn. Doesn't mean he won't learn. However, it does mean he will have more obstacles put in his way than little Jimmy, whose parents work with him on his homework, get him to bed well fed and early, and check up with his teachers (none of which by the way will guarantee little Jimmy is a genius, but odds are he'll do better in school).

Oh, and kids who think Rhee's two-tier system is a good idea...please understand that once the union's gone, you can kiss all those merit bonuses good-bye, because the foundations won't be interested in funding them...Rhee's job will be done...you will have a chance to get reacquainted with Mr. Ramen and have home meals prepared by Chef Boyardee.

05 September 2008

I can't wait to get to Washington to clean up the corrupt old crowd, and I'll start quick, since I'm already there.

At times I wonder if McCain really believes that after 26 years in Washington, D.C., he's really an outsider, or if he is so damn cynical that he thinks voters are stupid enough to fall for outsider rhetoric from a man who's lived there for more than a quarter of a century. Yet we have this idiotic piece of rhetoric dropping from his lips:
"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd," he said in his speech. "Change is coming."

Dude. You are obviously referring to yourself in the first sentence. The only change would be your location a little further down Pennsylvania Avenue, and that's not much of a change since you voted with the current occupant 95% of the time.

And is the crowd "big-spending" or are they "do-nothing"? And exactly who's on McCain's list of "me-first, country-second" officials? Is he talking about the BushCheney Regime, who decided to settle an old score against puppet-turned-petty-strongman Saddam Hussein on the country's dime? Maybe he's talking about the type of Senator who would use his influence to pressure federal regulators to ease up on their investigations of "friends." Oops. I guess that would include McCain himself, the last remaining active Senator among the Keating Five. The wikipedia article on the Keating Five goes out of its way to all but exonerate McCain, despite the fact that he and his family had substantial financial and personal interests in keeping Keating out of trouble.

In fact, the whole bunch of scumbags -- Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, John Glenn, Ben Riegle, and John McCain -- suffered almost nothing for their corruption. Cranston, ill at the time and not seeking re-election, was "severely reprimanded" by the Senate (as in, tsk tsk...), Riegle and DeConcini were told they had acted improperly, and Glenn and McCain were basically told they had "poor judgement" -- kind of like the kid who hangs out with the bad crowd but really has a heart of gold. Uh huh.

DeConcini was even rewarded for his improper interference with a Federal Home Loan Bank Board regulatory investigation by the Clinton Administration appointing him to -- get this -- the Board of Directors of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. Talk about putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.

But political corruption in the end fails to excite, unless of course it involves sex. You can steal billions of dollars from the public coffers, sell your vote to the highest bidder, but unless you get some sort of nookie, the American media and public don't have much of an attention span. Both Glenn and McCain were re-elected by the moron majority in their states, and the beat goes on.

04 September 2008


Sarah Palin, forgetting for a moment that the "Jewish Media" was present, flashes the stiff-arm, palms down, fingers extended Nazi salute.