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David Brooks is seriously f%^&ed up

Matt Taibbi has a brilliant take down of David Brooks’ latest column on the perils of gay marriage.  According to Brooks, marriage is bad for gay people because it imposes constraints on their animal instincts and what freedom loving, irresponsible hedonist would want that?:

Ostensibly, the column purports to make a single ironic point, which is that by petitioning the Supreme Court for the right to marry, gays and lesbians were not expanding their freedoms – and thus continuing, as Brooks implies, a long and perhaps-regrettable winning streak for people’s right to “follow their desires” that dates back to those hated Sixties – but rather constraining them. Brooks puts it this way:

But last week saw a setback for the forces of maximum freedom. A representative of millions of gays and lesbians went to the Supreme Court and asked the court to help put limits on their own freedom of choice. They asked for marriage.

Brooks here apparently expects his gay and lesbian readers to scratch their heads here and think, “Gosh, what does he mean by that? I thought we were seeking new freedoms with this campaign?”

What does he mean? Well, the self-appointed hetero-in-chief is here to enlighten us as to what marriage is – and he’s here to tell you, it’s no bowl of freedom-cherries!

Marriage is one of those institutions – along with religion and military service – that restricts freedom. Marriage is about making a commitment that binds you for decades to come. It narrows your options on how you will spend your time, money and attention.

Gee – really? Boy, those gays and lesbians are sure going to be in for a shock when they find out that being in a committed relationship involves constraints on behavior. That’ll be some unpleasant new ground they’ll be breaking there.

What an asshole!

I can only assume that Mrs. Brooks is illiterate.

Wait, why does David Brooks suddenly remind me of this character?:

I think what we’re seeing here is a glimpse into David Brooks’ blighted soul.  The guy would seriously love to lose the tie and let what’s left of his his hair down but it’s been beaten out of him and now he has to play the part of whip kisser extraordinaire for the rest of the world.  Maybe he assumes that everyone is like him, secretly harboring desires that dare not speak their names.  Without the mental chastity belt, we would all just throw off our chains of civilization and get down and dirty in the mud in a frenzy of orgiastic freedom and never get any work done because, let’s face it, work is drudgery and who wants to do that all day when you could be having lots of sex?

Or, here’s my new theory.  Republicans are going to abandon their opposition to marriage equality because they see the writing on the wall demographically and have to make up their numbers, replacing the dying religious conservatives with a potentially large group of voters with money- gay couples.  What better way to attract gay couples than with a militantly anti-tax message?  And where does that leave David Brooks?  Well, there’s always abortion to rail against since women are the LAST people on earth who will ever be allowed a taste of freedom and equality.  But people in Brooks’ class think discussing money is gauche otherwise he’d be writing silly, offensive screeds for the Wall Street Journal.

Well, whatever.

His attitudes about gay people and marriage equality are about as informed as any white supremacists and twice as ignorant.

People like Brooks need to be shunned by polite society.

David Brooks is in poor taste

He doesn’t appear to possess empathy or good manners.  Nor does he know when it’s best to say nothing at all.  He was not brought up well.  His parents failed us.

Mostly, he speaks for a whole stratum (I hesitate to call it “class”) of people who pay him to rationalize their stinginess to the “help” and make excuses for them in mainstream publications and TV for not wanting to be in any way responsible for their fellow Americans.

I find his presence as the spokesperson for the arrogant rich to be sickening and offensive to the rest of us. Judging from the way Brooks moralizes, one would have expected him to aspire to a career that benefitted humanity.  Alas, this is not the case.  Those lines of work do not pay well.

I am astonished at how well Brooks is paid for writing drivel a couple of times a week.  Why, I do that on a daily basis and get paid nothing at all.

His tenure at the New York Times is making Judy Miller look good.

Oh, if we could only afford the opera…

David Brooks’ world: Let all the worms that lurk in the mud hatch out

Ashley Moser, age 25

The shooting in Aurora, Colorado and its aftereffects, appear to be a culmination of all of the ways we Americans have let each other down in the past 30 years.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Ashley Moser: If there was a poster child for everything that has gone wrong in America since Richard Nixon resigned, Ashley would have to be it.

Ashley is 25 years old.  Her father died recently from leukemia.  His illness wiped out the family’s financial resources.  He died penniless.  Ashley is a single mother, it’s unclear if she is divorced or ever married.  But the “little Depression” has been hard on families who struggle to make ends meet and are broken up by distance when one parent has to make a living in another location and can’t take the whole family.  It’s a common situation these days and marriage is no safeguard against it.  She was living with her parents but times got tough and when her father died, she had to move in with her aunt.

She’s a student.  She is also unemployed.  She had applied to and was accepted into a nursing program.  She was living on student loans.  LOANS, not grants.  She had a six year old daughter who she took to the movie with her.  Been there, done that, waiting with the kid for the latest book in the Harry Potter series at the local bookstore at 12am, surrounded by a store full of Hermione Grangers and Draco Malfoys.  Veronica Moser-Sullivan, aged 6, was the youngest victim.  She died at the scene.

Ashley was shot in the neck and the abdomen and is in critical condition.  Her doctors say she will suffer some paralysis but may have the use of her hands.  There’s a bullet in her head that hasn’t been removed yet. She is pregnant.

Because she is unemployed and uninsured, she is on medicaid. If she weren’t horribly injured at the moment and didn’t have the nation’s sympathy, it’s likely that she’d be shamed by these very same people who would be calling her a deadbeat leech on the American taxpayer.  She’d be treated with more dignity and respect in Norway but she had the misfortune to not be Norwegian during these last critical years of her life. That’s where single motherhood is no big deal, children are valued and she wouldn’t be struggling to live on student loans while she got her life together and was able to contribute to society, which should be the *only* definition of success, other than good parenthood, that gets admiration and respect.

It is unclear what her prospects, medical expenses or living arrangements will be once she is released from the hospital, if she is released. But whatever they are, it is likely that her future wages will be garnished to pay back her student loans.  Otherwise, it would be irresponsible to let this kind of moral hazard stand and wouldn’t be teaching Ashley a valuable lesson.

Her relatives had to tell her about her daughter on Saturday night.  She didn’t take it well and screamed that she wanted to die.

In all likelihood, if she *does* look like she is about to die, some Christian group will petition the state for guardianship of her unborn baby, intending to keep her on life support until the delivery.  Or, she may he on the brink of death without an abortion and they may interfere at that point.  Or, because she is on Medicaid, she will have to pay for a lifesaving and possibly much more expensive high risk abortion herself.  If it’s a “partial birth abortion”, there might not be any way to do it in the state of Colorado.  The scenarios that play out here sound like an updated version of Stephen King’s Misery crossed with Never Let Me Go.  Her family should have kept this information out of the media but it’s too late now.  The cat’s out of the bag and the evangelicals are no doubt already winding up for the prayer circle of all prayer circles, sending her messages about how her lifelong paralysis happened for a reason and god wanted Veronica for his newest angel but it’s a miracle that god has blessed her with a precious replacement!  As if children are swappable objects.  If it were up to me, I would leave life and death decisions up to Ashley and her doctors.  Maybe we should ask Michael Schiavo how that kind of thing works out.

The mass murderer, James Holmes, is apparently a very disturbed individual.  He’s not unlike many other disturbed mass murderers.  Friends and family notice that there is a personality change or he starts to behave strangely but there’s not a whole lot of things parents can do.  After all, the kid is an adult now.  The owner of a gun club says that Holmes left messages on his company’s voice mail and that his voice made him very uneasy.  He thanks god he didn’t have to deal with him, probably because guns are big business in America and it would have been hard to turn him away.

Not much is known about whether or not Holmes was treated for any psychological problems. It’s hard to know when science geeks have crossed the line mentally.  Many a time I have heard, “You know, so and so is acting really weird. He gives me the willies.  If anyone here were to go postal, it would be him.”  “Yeah, but he’s great in the lab! Fricking brilliant. His boss would be lost without him.” (True story about a gun “enthusiast” I used to work with many years ago.) His University probably has a counseling office but in America these days, it’s almost unheard of to commit people.  We usually just let them fall to their natural level, as David Brooks might say, and let them live on the streets. Holmes will probably get better mental health care now that he’s in prison or at the facility for the criminally insane.  For sure, he should never be free again, but will he be turned over to an institution run by a for profit company?

Graduate students are used to working conditions that are unusual.  I’ve heard it said that they have a lot of flexibility in their work.  They can work any 80 hours of the week they want.  It’s unclear if his work schedule contributed to his mental state but we should consider that Wall Street traders and analysts Holmes’ age work about 80 hours a week without a break for a couple of years and they nearly blew up the world, so, you know, there’s that.  His stipend, no matter how much the media makes of it, was probably less than minimum wage for the hours he would have been expected to work and was not enough to live on in the Denver area.  I’ve had a kid who worked in Denver as a chef for a couple of years.  They didn’t pay her enough.  She had to move.  She loves Denver.  Denver wages?  Ehhhhh, not so much.

Holmes ended up in Denver at graduate school because after earning a master’s in Neuroscience in 2010, he couldn’t find a job.  That’s not really all that unusual for scientists these days, including yours truly and everyone I’ve ever worked with.  A master’s is plenty sufficient for anything industrial research could throw at him but without experience, even young, cheap labor can’t find work.  Neither can older, experienced labor.  I find that a lot of employers want experienced labor, they just don’t want to pay for it.  So, Holmes had to go back to graduate school.  He probably would have been better off learning plumbing or joining the navy.  At least the military will help you pay your student loans.

This is not to say that I feel any kind of compassion for James Holmes the mass murderer.  But I do feel sorry for colleagues of James Holmes who are in a similar economic situation through the actions of a bunch of financiers on Wall Street who thought mergers and acquisitions of research companies in the last two decades was a sweet way to make loads of money and big bonuses.  Too bad it ruined research.

Holmes was able to order many rounds of ammunition online.  He also ordered an urban assault vest.  Unlike buying birth control, there is no conscience rule that would allow someone who is using common sense to stop a graduate student like James Holmes from buying combat equipment.  No one was allowed to say, “Where are you headed, buddy? Afghanistan?  Iraq?  Because I don’t think you need any of that stuff in Aurora.  Whatever you’re planning, I’m agin’ it.  No sale for you.”

Let’s think about that for a second.  It is harder for Ashley Moser to buy Plan B in the very same places where James Holmes could buy his own arsenal.  Enough weaponry to mow down a theater?  As long as you have a credit card, not a problem. No questions asked.   A couple of pills of early intervention to prevent a mistake?  Everyone you don’t know has an opinion and a hoop you must jump through.  Sure, the conscience rule executive order has been modified but whose going enforce it?  In a couple of years, Sasha and Malia will be able to buy their own Glocks but long after they’ve given up bubble gum, they will still have problems locating a pharmacist who will sell Plan B to them from behind the counter.

And because this is an election year and we must not piss off the young, white males in western states who might vote, Barack Obama sees no reason why he should develop any policies to address the issue of unfettered access to guns.  He also sees no need to promote an assault weapons ban that Bill Clinton put in place during his terms but went out of fashion during the Bush years.

I wonder if Ashley Moser knows this.  I hear Obama has been visiting the victims.  There’s an outpouring of support for Ashley right now, including a fundraiser.  But in a couple of months, America will forget about Ashley and she’ll have to navigate the social welfare system on her own.  For what it’s worth, I think a fundraiser should never be necessary for Ashley or others like her.  She, and all of the other Ashleys and Alexes, deserves a nation’s support, not charity or pity or insensitive moralizing.  She needed her country to be behind her in the last couple of years.  We’d better not fail her in the years to come.

So, there you go.

Worms everywhere.

Update: Katiebird says there is a second family that will be ruined by this shooting through no fault of their own.  Caleb Medley was shot in the eye and is in a medically induced coma.  His medical bills are expected to top $2 million, which is $2 million *less* than what David Brooks paid for his new house.  Caleb’s wife is on a separate floor of the hospital ready to give birth.

Of course, according to David Brooks, if the Medley’s end up broke, disabled and must remain deliberately impoverished in order to qualify for the bare modicum of subsistence medical care that Medicaid provides, at least we can console ourselves that the nation didn’t “commit sociology” to rescue any Americans who were collateral damage of a disturbed guy who just happened to use an easily available gun on their bodies.

Charles Pierces Brooks

Oh, golly, it was soooo worth the wait:

Both Klein and Brooks have taken to the public prints to reassure Willard Romney — and, by proxy, all of the country’s Willard Romneys — that he is being treated so terribly unfairly, darling, by that man in the White House who plainly does not know his place. First, we have Brooks, who never saw a plutocrat for whom he wouldn’t happily serve as a footstool….

“Romney is going to have to define a vision of modern capitalism. He’s going to have to separate his vision from the scandals and excesses we’ve seen over the last few years. He needs to define the kind of capitalist he is and why the country needs his virtues. Let’s face it, he’s not a heroic entrepreneur. He’s an efficiency expert. It has been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape. That’s his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he’ll thrive. If not, he’s a punching bag.”

All those steelworkers, and the people at that paper company, they were puffy and self-indulgent — and not hunks of iron-reinforced man-flesh like, you know, David Brooks — and that’s why none of them have jobs anymore. People at the business end of the “system” that so charms David Brooks over the canapes know the real score: The “scandals and excesses” are the system. Take them away, and Romney is clipping coupons back in Michigan.

But wait!   There’s more!

Pierce also takes on Joe Klein too.  It’s a twofer.  (Moral Hazard, alas, has decided to take a day off)

Bliss, sheer bliss.  I shall savor it slowly while I’m eating my lunch to make it last.

The Snark is Strong in this One: Part deux

Charles Pierce must be off his meds because he’s in one of those brilliant manic phases right now.  His lastest post on David Brooks and his Irish setter, Moral Hazard is deadly funny.  And today, he posted his assessment of the Republican budget plan and the Democratic side of the aisle’s response. Basically, the Republicans are doing a Haka, demonstrating just how berserked with battle lust they are so that the other side is completely freaked out.  Judging by the reactions I’m reading, it’s working.  But Charles says it so much better:

Consider the new budget proposed by zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan. We had our say about it yesterday. So did practically everyone else. It is a blueprint for dystopia beyond anything concocted by Dickens. It is a perfectly fine budget, if you’re planning to recreate the golden age of the industrial slum. It should not be taken seriously by any journalist who is conscious and not a hack. Paul Ryan himself should be shuffled off to the back of the call-back lists wherein reside the UFO enthusiasts and the actual liberals. (This, of course, will never happen. Paul Ryan is a serious man of ideas while Bernie Sanders, say, is “extreme.”) However, it looks like the monkeyhouse is preparing to pass this mess. But I call your attention to one passage in the story.

There are people on the Republican side of the House who believe that a budget that would virtually decimate the federal government’s constitutional obligation to promote the general welfare doesn’t go far enough in making the lives of the nation’s poor as miserable as possible, and doesn’t go far enough in eviscerating the middle class, and doesn’t go far enough in permanently fastening onto the political commonwealth an income inequality incompatible with effective self-government. The passage:

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a conservative member of Ryan’s Budget Committee, said he would vote against the plan, saying it broke the GOP’s “Pledge to America” and did not cut spending deeply enough. Huelskamp voted for the Ryan budget in 2011. “It’s not good enough,” he said during an appearance with six other conservatives at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.Huelskamp said he was troubled by a lack of specificity on tax reform and the budget’s failure, in his view, to hold to spending levels that will be lower because of $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts set to take effect next year.The half-dozen other members of the Heritage panel said they were undecided on the budget resolution.Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) criticized the proposal for not cutting spending at the levels promised in the 2010 Pledge to America.“I’m not sure if I’m going to vote for it or not,” Gohmert said. “I appreciate so much the great work of Paul Ryan, but we took a pledge a year and a half ago, and we said we would cut more than is being cut. So that’s my struggle.

These people belong in a cage.

Hypergraphia is my muse but it looks like she has graced Charles with abundance this week.

Phobias

A followup to yesterday’s post on Love Bombing: On our side of the aisle, one of the sites using cult indoctrination and thought reform techniques most effectively has to be DailyKos.  Of course they will tell you I am saying this because I am a disgruntled former Kossack.  That’s to be expected.  They have to say that.  They’ll also tell you that I was a racist when I was writing on that site.  That is *also* predictable since they needed to associate negative personality traits to me because I wouldn’t go along with the program.  Nevertheless, it’s about as close to a cult as you’re likely to find on the left.  Yep.  Noooo doubt about it.  Read my comment here to find out how it works.

On to phobias.

Did you ever wonder why Mormon missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize living forever when they come to your door?  It just hit me that the reason they do it is because their potential hits have some things in common that distinguish them from the general population.  They are vulnerable in some way.  They may have undergone some recent trauma and sometimes that involves a death in the family.  Or it could be that they just have an irrational fear of death.

Most people go through a stage in their adolescence when they come to understand their own mortality.  And it’s extremely frightening.  But at some point soon after this realization, you come to understand that if you don’t take that thought and push it to the back of your mind where it can lurk with all of the other childhood boogiemen, you will be constantly paralyzed with fear and will always be looking for someone to alleviate that fear.  What amazes me about the rapture addicts is they swear they are Christians that believe in resurrection but they refuse to take the prerequisite step.

And cults like the JWs and other fundamentalist religious groups know that thing is lurking and play upon it.  They nourish that phobia by recognizing it, promising to alleviate it and then, threatening you with it if you step out of line.   You will get everlasting life if you do everything they expect of you.  If you don’t, the everlasting life will be withheld from you.  For a person who is scared to death of death, it’s a fantastic way of getting compliance.  In retrospect, it would have been so much easier on everyone if the person affected had just learned to master their fear and tucked it away into the back of the mind where it belongs. You can’t do a damn thing about dying, it happens to everyone.  Why worry about it? Failure to master it has broken up families and subjected the person to a lifelong pursuit of unattainable perfection and personal sacrifices.  It also enriches the people who run the cults and the fundamentalist organizations that promote this crap while depriving the person of a full, rich life.

Here are a couple of videos from CSTheApostate about how JWs use phobias.  And yes, they really do this.  Let’s just say that I grew up with imaginary demons {{eyes rolling}}:

and

You’ll notice that CSTheApostate also mentions an apostate phobia. You do not want to have dissenters hanging around harshing your mellow so it’s to the benefit of the high control group to make being an apostate as unpleasant an experience as possible.  Your reputation is ruined, you are permanently ostracized and you are made a shining example of what will happen if you buck the system.  Note that this keeps apostates from seeking each other out.  In the eyes of an apostate, other apostates are bad people. See my remarks above about DailyKos to see how this works.  One of the reasons why the left is having such a problem getting the band back together is because it purged all of the apostates in 2008.  The ones who want to move forward don’t trust the apostates. (Kudos to people like Lambert at Correntewire who seems to have conquered this fear) I’m happy to be an apostate former Democrat because the party went seriously off the rails in 2008 and is now in the grip of unscrupulous people who will continue to use thought reform techniques to control the party.  Yes, the other party does it too but that didn’t make it right.

It’s not the only phobia high control groups play on.  Withdrawal of love and affection and disassociation from your family is also a powerful one.  Also, playing on the supernatural to alienate you from the world is sometimes used.  If the world outside the group is in the grip of Satan, why would you ever want to stray?  It’s both funny and admirable that CS went so far as to try to conjure up a demon so he could face his fear of demons.  JWs are scared silly of demons and truly believe they are real spirit creatures, so doing this is about as brave a move as he could make.  (I’m betting alcohol was involved) Of course, there are no demons and once he’d proven it to himself, he could cross that phobia off his list and resume his growth towards maturity.

Political groups also use phobias.  Democrats are particularly good at dangling Roe v Wade at young women. If you don’t vote D, poof!  There goes your bodily autonomy.  They don’t actually have to protect anything because they know that Republicans will never get rid of Roe.  It’s the one tried and true motivation to go to the polls for their voters.  In the last couple of years, Democrats have introduced a new phobia.  *They’re* the only ones that stand between your social security benefits and the Republicans who want to destroy social security.  Back in 2000, I would have believed this.  I think Al Gore was genuinely concerned about keeping those benefits safe in a “lock box”.  But now, the Democrats have got the hang of manipulating their base, having done such a masterful job in 2008, that they have no qualms about dangling social security in front of the snapping Republican alligator to get its base to comply.  Social Security will be allowed to be eroded bit by bit by the Democrats.  It will be under constant threat and we’ll all be scared to death that there won’t be anything left for us to retire on unless we vote for the only party that will prevent the elimination of Social Security.  Someday, it will become as meaningless as Roe but the Democratic party will have been rewarded, over and over again, for keeping it around even if few people can benefit from it.  This is how it works.

On the Republican side of the aisle, the phobia is about chaos, terrorism, violence and theft.  Lots of elderly widows who missed out on the feminist era depended on their missing spouses to take care of them.  Now that they’re on their own, they may feel vulnerable.  Fox News ups the ante with stories about abductions, pedophiles, random acts of cruelty and murder.  The world looks like it’s disintegrating. And since the right wing has the bigger megaphone these days, these phobias are fanned constantly.  If you ever wonder why the Republican base acts as crazy as it does, it’s because the phobias are hyped every single day.  Adherence to fundamentalist principles, authority, obedience and purity is touted as the remedy to keeping the bad stuff at bay.  Consequently, if you’re experiencing a rough patch of unemployment, foreclosure, sickness and poverty, it’s YOUR fault for not following the rules.  People are supposed to feel guilt and shame.  That makes the lucky feel like luck had nothing to do with it.  It’s personal virtue so they don’t need to do anything for the suffering of others.  They brought their own misfortune upon themselves.  It’s not the Republican voter’s responsibility to rescue you.

David Brooks is the country club version of the phobia promoter.  Here’s an example of the way he caters to the phobia crowd.  This is from one of his recent columns, Midlife Crisis Economics:

In the progressive era, there was an understanding that men who impregnated women should marry them. It didn’t always work in practice, but that was the strong social norm. Today, that norm has dissolved. Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. This sentences the U.S. to another generation of widening inequality and slower human capital development.

One hundred years ago, we had libertarian economics but conservative values. Today we have oligarchic economics and libertarian moral values — a bad combination.

In sum, in the progressive era, the country was young and vibrant. The job was to impose economic order. Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated. Interest groups have emerged to protect the status quo. The job is to restore old disciplines, strip away decaying structures and reform the welfare state. The country needs a productive midlife crisis.

There’s bad stuff out there.  Follow the rules, obey your masters and no one gets hurt.  If you are hurt, it’s because you’re immoral, depraved, derelict and irresponsible.  It couldn’t possibly be the case that you are one of millions of people whose careers and lives were derailed by some really depraved and irresponsible people on Wall Street.  I don’t know if Brooks really believes this crap or just gets paid to spout it.  If we assume that only fairly intelligent people either merit or finagle their way onto the pages of their New York Times, we might also reasonably assume that Brooks knows that what he writes isn’t true but he does it because there is an audience out there that revels in denigrating people in the classes beneath them and inculcating a sense of learned helplessness.  Yep, I loathe David Brooks.

Neat, huh?

Friday: Your Hell doesn’t scare me

Jon Stewart declared war on Christmas the other night.  Bill O’Reilly said he was going to hell.  Jon’s not scared.

Check it out here.

Come to think of it, none of the right wing haka should scare you.  Or left wing haka, for that matter.  We’re not children.  They can try to use fear to get us to fall in line but if it doesn’t make sense from a personal values point of view, then we shouldn’t give in to fear or intimidated into silence.

I’ve heard that the Occupy Movement is over and was a failure.  I disagree.  I think the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with local police, have used overwhelming force in order to scare people into shutting up and becoming invisible again, like that’s going to work.  The parties have been complicit in painting occupiers as dirty, lazy and criminal, but we have the pictures that prove otherwise.

Zuccotti Park Occupation, October 2011

And just because the camps are gone, that doesn’t mean the movement is gone.  The movement is not tied to a specific locale.  The movement is us and anyone who regards economic and social injustice as unacceptable for America and the world.

As far as I know, 2 + 2 still equals 4.

For those of you who weren’t with us in 2008, let me bring you up to speed.  The parties and minions of the 1% are going to try very hard to instill in us a sense of “learned helplessness”.  That’s what the overwhelming use of force was all about when the police evicted the Occupy camps.  The evictions were coordinated and we can assume that Obama was onboard with them.  They *want* the 99% to  helpless and overwhelmed.  They also want the 99% to feel like the acquisition of obscene gobs of money is the only measure of success and without it, you’re nothing.  You’re lazy, stupid and immoral.  And some of these people, like David Brooks, are not only getting paid to talk to us like the Mouths of Sauron, they actually believe that their success is the result of some kind of special personal virtue.

They believe that the person who makes money by playing with money is of more worth to society than someone who teaches kids how to read.  Can we give it up for the reading teachers here, whether they are professionals or parents?  I can’t imagine a more valuable individual in society today than a reading teacher.  You can’t go anywhere without that skill.

Or how about garbage collectors.  Are you kidding me?  You can live without a stock broker for days.  Try to live through a week of no trash pickups.  Those of us who recently lived through Irene can tell you what that’s like.

Or welders.  A good welder is invaluable.  And mechanics.  Who doesn’t appreciate the person who can get your only car running and back on the road so you can get to work?

Or drug designers and biologists and chemists.  WE make the substances that get you through an infection or help you live with cancer and AIDS.

Today, find someone who did a good job for you and sincerely thank them for doing it.

Is someone like David Brooks or Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck (they’re all versions of the same thing), going to tell the rest of us that we’re bad people and worthless and lazy because we don’t have a duplex on the upper east side or a second home at the shore or even a job?  That we’re going to go to hell if we don’t kiss the asses of the fanatically religious, mean spiritied Fox viewer with Acquired Stupidity Syndrome?

Am I going to let some Democratic party asshole blame me for his party’s losses next year because I refuse to accept the tepid surrender of his party to learned helplessness, especially when there is plenty of time for his party to avoid a catastrophe?  No, I am not.

It’s rough out there.  Some of us are living through that roughness.  And we may be materially poorer but we don’t have to be poor in spirit.  We can still be defiant and demanding and not give in.  We’ve done nothing wrong and we have as much right to respect and justice as any arrogant rich jerk whining about how we blame him for everything he does.

This is not about envy.  This is about dignity.  I won’t be cowed into thinking I’m going to some earthly or non-existent religious hell just because I won’t be a good peasant and defer to my betters.  There aren’t any betters.  This is not an aristocracy.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, said Eleanor Roosevelt.  And no one can tell you to give up on your ideal of justice and prosperity for everyone.  Be careful of people on TV and newspaper columns and in blogs and comment threads who tell you all is lost or pronounce a movement over.  They don’t have the power to declare any such thing.   We must never give into despair because finishing the task is the most important thing we will ever do and if we don’t find a way, no one will.

Friday, Friday! Gotta get down on Friday!

Let’s take a turn around the internet , shall we Miss Bennett?

Someone, beside *me*, really has it in for Jon Corzine.  The story about MF Global has been on the frontpage of the NYTimes every day this week.  In some cases, there have been several stories per day.  The one from yesterday was especially negative, not only for Corzine but for what his relationship with Obama says about the president’s judgement (remember that his judgement was Obama’s selling point in 2008).  Earlier this year, Gary Gensler, the head of the CFTC was proposing a rule to restrict the very same kind of trading that Corzine’s MF Global was doing and like Brookesley Born back in 2000, Gensler was overruled, this time by Corzine himself and a bunch of his lobbyist dudes.

As a former sovereign debt trader at Goldman Sachs, Mr. Corzine wagered that the European regulators would backstop any default. So even as dark clouds circled over Europe, he sensed an opportunity. Starting in late 2010, MF Global began to accumulate short-term sovereign debt of countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal.

MF Global financed these purchases through complex transactions known as repurchase agreements. In these, the bonds themselves were used as collateral for a loan to purchase them. The interest paid on that loan was less than the interest the bonds paid out, earning the firm a profit from the spread.

While that practice is quite common, the C.F.T.C. wanted to crack down on such lending in those instances when customer funds were used. The C.F.T.C. proposal would have also banned the use of client funds to buy foreign sovereign debt.

It is unclear whether the firm used client funds to purchase the risky bonds of Italy, Spain, and other debt-laden European nations, but experts say it is not unusual for such transactions to be paid for with customer money.

A person close to MF Global said the firm did not use client funds to finance these trades.

Leading the government’s effort to curtail these arcane practices was Gary Gensler, the chairman of C.F.T.C., who had worked for Mr. Corzine at Goldman Sachs. Mr. Gensler pushed for the proposed change in October 2010, and planned to bring it to a vote this summer.

MF Global has four outside lobbyists in Washington, tiny by Wall Street standards. But it was Mr. Corzine who marshaled the firm’s response to the proposal, lobbying most of the agency’s five commissioners directly. One commissioner said he visited with Mr. Corzine in MF Global’s headquarters, and acknowledged being impressed by the Wall Street titan, said a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who asked for anonymity because the meeting was private.

The C.F.T.C. polices the markets for futures trades. Staff members there often do not have a Wall Street pedigree.

Mr. Corzine’s background in finance made him highly credible, agency officials said.

Mr. Corzine’s efforts culminated on July 20, as the agency was preparing for a vote on the proposal. That day, MF Global executives were on four different calls with the agency’s staff. Mr. Corzine himself was on two of those calls.

One of the calls was with Mr. Gensler. Both men are active Democrats, and served on financial panels together recently.

Shortly after the calls, Mr. Gensler, aware that he could not push the vote through, decided to delay the proposal indefinitely.

In Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men, Gensler comes off as one of the few good guys in Obama’s administration who has a background in finance and knows how players like Corzine work.  In a recent brief interview with CNBC when asked whether there were other Wall Street firms with a sovereign debt crisis, Gensler just smiled and said nothing.  Gensler wasn’t able to do much better than Born against Wall Street’s lobbying arm with the rest of the CFTC board.  The good thing is that the rule isn’t dead, it’s just delayed.  The bad thing is that Barack Obama was prepared to make Jon Corzine his Treasury Secretary if Geithner resigned.  Come to think of it, why *didn’t* Geithner resign?  Did the risky trades at MF Global scare Obama off?

As of last night, Corzine had lawyered up with a criminal defense lawyer and this morning, he resigned from MF Global.  What kind of influence he personally had with Obama’s White House may make for some interesting election year fireworks.  And let’s not forget OccupyWallStreet who may just help ignite some true voter pushback on the Obama administration.  Call me crazy but my tinfoil antenna are starting to pick up signals that the opinion makers are starting to be embarrassed by Obama and are concerned that according to the models they are running, he can’t win against Romney next year.  Nate Silver suspects that Obama may be toast.

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Good news!  Our national unemployment rate is down to 9%!  Isn’t that amazing?  Don’t tell anyone from Sanofi, Novartis, Amgen and Merck.  Let it be a surprise.

Also, don’t be surprised when the government is forced to revise that number upwards.

Meanwhile, in another bit of, er, good(?) news, the New York Times reports that the reports of increasing poverty are greatly exaggerated and anyways, poverty is not that bad these days.  You get food stamps!  See, if you’re not actually starving and suffering from kwashiorkor, you’re not really poor, even if you were solidly middle class last year.  This year, I will have paid more in taxes than required to support a family of four above the poverty level, next year I am at the poverty level. Good to know that impending homelessness, healthcarelessness and food stamps are not as bad as I think they will be.

**********************

In the battle of the pundits, David Brooks squares off against Paul Krugman.  David, who is really Wormtongue in disguise, constantly points out that if you have a college education, you’re doing pretty well during this recession compared to the great unwashed masses who only have high school diplomas.  THOSE people can’t get jobs because they are unqualified.  Truly successful people have college educations.  Oh, wait, Steve Jobs dropped out of college after his Freshman year.  Well, surely he’s an exception.  Wait, Bill Gates also dropped out.  And so did Mark Zuckerberg.  Jeez, does anyone in Silicon Valley have a Bachelor’s degree?? Yes!  Steve Wozniak has one.  He got it after he became a millionaire at Apple from designing the Apple II.

But surely, SURELY, they are exceptions, no?  Actually, David, none of my friends with multiple advanced degrees are doing very well right now.  Oh, there’s plenty of work to do.  It’s just mostly unpaid.  The people who need the help the most can’t find the funds and these are not greedy entrepreneurs of the kind that Brooks would admire.  They’re just not getting funded.  Well, it’s only cancer and other diseases.  But I will be sure to tell my friends at Sanofi, Merck, Novartis and Amgen that they are fully employed and prosperous because they graduated from college.  Let’s not let reality get in the way.

Paul Krugman, on the other hand, says the educated are not getting jobs.  He says this because he looks at all those graphs and correlations and mathematical thingies that David Brooks probably didn’t study when he was in college.  And Krugman is living in the middle of pharmageddon central.  All he needs to do is stick his head out the window to hear the agonizing cries of the chemistry PhD at the Frick lab only a few blocks down the road who cannot find a job.

That’s why Krugman is a god and David Brooks is still just a Wormtongue, whispering sweet distractions into the moneyed class’s ears so that they don’t have to feel, well, *anything* really, while he tells the rest of us that we’re worthless without a college education.  And the college educated trudge all the way to the unemployment office.  “Hi-ho, Hi-ho, it’s off to un-work we go”

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And now for our musical interlude for all the high school graduates out there:

Monday: The Palantir

Why is this man smiling?

Most people know J.R.R. Tolkien as the Oxford expert on Anglo-Saxon literature who broke all of the rules when he wrote The Lord of the Rings.  If you have never read Tolkien, you may be under the impression that LOTR was a dungeons and dragons fantasy written for adolescent boys.  That’s how many of us were introduced to it in middle school. But there’s a reason why some of us gravitate to Tolkien that goes beyond the very rich world he created.  He was a very wise man with deep spiritual convictions who lived through the early loss of both parents, the rejection of his extended family over religious differences, the battle of the Somme in World War I, the Depression and the rise of Hitler and the bombing of Britain in WWII.  It would be incorrect to assume that his books were thinly disguised references to these events, even if he did incorporate a some of his own personal history into his tales.  But he did seem to have an uncanny insight into how the powerful operate.  He knew things.

For example, it’s not wise to look into a crystal ball especially when someone else has control over it.  Some of the most tragic figures in the LOTR looked into what they thought was the future and saw only what someone else wanted them to see.  Those images were full of despair and the triumph of evil.  Without a moderating influence, the viewer gave up and gave in.  It takes an almost inhuman strength to overcome the power of relentlessly negative visions of the future.

Some of the most recent commentary in the left blogosphere makes me think of Denethor and Saruman and their palantiris.  The Denethors look into the future and despair, the Sarumans start off with good intentions but think that their intellectual gifts will allow them to control the lesser of two evils.  But the truth is, none of us know what’s going to happen.  The election is still more than a year away.  A lot can happen between now and then.  There could be a twist of fate, an unforeseen event, or what Tolkien calls, a eucatastrophe.  A eucatastrophe is like a shock doctrine event turns a story around and leads to a good ending.

If we give into despair, then surely the propaganda of the palantir will win.  We will give into the temptation to do nothing.  We do not leave ourselves open to the possibilities that may come our way.  We may miss potential allies or fail to take advantage of opportunities.  Palantiris can scare us into inertia.  Don’t let it happen to you.

In the next year, we may see an acceleration of the business cycle, a convergence of events that destroys the foundations of the finance industry, the emergence of a third party, the rise of a new independent labor unit, an unexpected potential candidate. There may be people working behind the scenes or little nobodies whose tiny positive acts have unexpected consequences. We just don’t know.  The best we can do is not let other people crush our spirits, to believe in fairness and justice, and to keep on going for as long as we can.

Oh, and stay away from David Brooks’ columns.

Memo to David Brooks: Correlation Does NOT Equal Causation

David Brooks has a hilariously incoherent column in today’s Knee Jerk Times New York Times called The Limits of Policy, in which he comes very close to suggesting that ethnicity is destiny.

First Brooks presents unsourced data about a comparison between Swedes living in Sweden and and Americans of Swedish ancestry that supposedly demonstrates that people of Swedish extraction have similar life expectancies and poverty rates, despite the differences in public policies in Sweden and the U.S. Therefore, Brooks implies, government health and welfare policies makes no contribution to how well families and individuals do in a particular environment. According to Brooks, it’s really all about ethnicity and to some extent about where you choose to live within the U.S.

Of course Brooks claims he isn’t implying what we think he’s implying:

This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.

Sure, David, “we should be realistic” when the Obama administration tries to force Social Security and Medicare cuts down our throats so that snooty top one-percenters like you don’t have to contribute any of your vast inherited wealth to the common good. And we should accept that if we happen to be in one of the high poverty ethnic groups, we need to realize that no matter what the government does, we’d have no hope of being middle-class anyway, right David?

Next Brooks offers some data from a new report from The American Human Development Project, A Century Apart: New Measures of Well-Being for U.S. Racial and Ethnic Groups. (PDF).

As you’d expect, ethnicity correlates to huge differences in how people live. Nationally, 50 percent of Asian-American adults have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites, 17 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics.

Asian-Americans have a life expectancy of 87 years compared with 79 years for whites and 73 years for African-Americans.

[....]

The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.

If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota.

Is that so? And what does all this have to do with Sweden and Swedish-American immigrants, pray tell?

Next, Brooks cites a book by University of Chicago sociologist Susan E. Mayer, What Money Can’t Buy. The book was published in 1997, so the research may be just a little out of date, but Brooks doesn’t mention that. Apparently Mayer used some kind of statistical method to figure out what would happen if you doubled the income of poor American families–increasing their household income from $15,000 to $30,000. She supposedly found that this increase in income would have almost no effect on factors that might contribute to a better life, such as reducing teen pregnancy and getting more kids to stay in school.

Brooks acknowledges that public policies can severely damage the prospects of a people. For example, if you murder, rape, and pillage indigenous peoples, like, say….the Native Americans, and then you take away their land and exile them to “reservations,” those people are going to have “bad outcomes for generations.”

And that’s really a shame, but based on Mayer’s “research,” there’s nothing government policy can do about it once those people are living in squalor. They just are, and we have to accept it.

The takeaway message from this mishmash of partially reported and poorly sourced academic research is that we are stuck wherever we find ourselves right now, and we should forget about trying to improve our quality of life through political activism. Finally, Brooks says “we should all probably calm down about politics” because we now know that public policy has little effect compared to “ethnic, regional and social differences.”

Alrighty then. But despite Brooks’ recommendation to “calm down,” I decide to investigate his sources.

I think I located Brooks’ source of the information on Swedes and Swedish Americans. It’s an article at “New Geography,” which offers “economic, demographic, and political commentary.” The article, written by Nima Sanandaji, who, like Brooks, is a fan of the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, is called Is Sweden a False Utopia? Here’s an excerpt:

A Scandinavian economist once stated to Milton Friedman: “In Scandinavia we have no poverty.” Milton Friedman replied, “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.” Indeed, the poverty rate for Americans with Swedish ancestry is only 6.7%, half the U.S average. Economists Geranda Notten and Chris de Neubourg have calculated the poverty rate in Sweden using the American poverty threshold, finding it to be an identical 6.7%.

Ironically, this points us towards the conclusion that what makes Sweden uniquely successful is not the welfare state, as is commonly assumed. Rather than being the cause of Sweden’s social strengths, the high-tax welfare state might have been enabled by the hard-won Swedish stock of social capital. It was well before the welfare state, when hard work paid off, that a culture with strong protestant working ethics developed.

Gotta love that old Protestant work ethic! Aren’t you nostalgic for the good old days when “hard work paid off?” As opposed to the last thirty years in the U.S. when wages have been pretty much stagnant while productivity has increased. Yep, hard work doesn’t pay off so well these days….

As I noted above, Susan Mayor, the sociologist who showed that giving poor families twice as much money wouldn’t change anything is also a denizen of the University of Chicago.

Finally, Brooks’ third source for his ethnicity-as-destiny thesis is the report from the Human Development Institute, linked above. This study used three measures of well being–health, education, and income–to calculate a “human development index,” a single number that represents quality of life.

The three components of the Human Development Index—longevity, knowledge, and income—are valued by people the world over as building blocks of a good life, and good proxy indicators are available for each. In the American Human Development Index, these components are weighted equally and are measured using the following
data:

A Long and Healthy Life is measured using life expectancy at birth, calculated
from 2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and CDC WONDER Database.

Access to Knowledge is measured using two indicators: educational
degree attainment for the adult population age 25 and older; and school
enrollment for the population age three and older. The data come from the
American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 one-year
and three-year estimates.

A Decent Standard of Living is measured using median annual gross personal earnings, also from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 one-year and three-year estimates. These earnings figures are presented in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars.

These three sets of indicators are then combined into a single number that falls on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest.

The results of the study showed that, to no one’s surprise, quality of life or “well-being” differs greatly across racial and ethnic groups. Yes, there are lots of significant correlations between where you fall on “human development index” and race and ethnicity. But David forgot to tell us that there are also correlations between certain public policies and quality of life for the people who live under them. For example:

Policy and investment at the state level related to key human development areas, such as public education, the public health infrastructure, health insurance coverage, social services, income supports like state earned
income tax credits, and housing. There is a strong correlation, for example,
between state expenditure per pupil on public education and that state’s
score on the educational index.

Other important factors are jobs, industry, and “rates of unionization.” And within racial and ethnic categories, newer immigrants tend not to do as well as well established members of the same ethnic group. In addition, the authors point out that when people are in an ethnic group that has access to the power structure of a state, then tend to achieve higher levels of well-being. And finally racial segregation is correlated with lower levels of well being in specific ethnic groups, such as African Americans. From the report:

Washington, D.C., geographically a single city, contains within it two
completely separate, yet side-by-side, worlds, one home to whites experiencing
some of the highest well-being levels in the nation, the other home
to African Americans living, on average, drastically shorter lives, with less
access to educational and income-generating opportunities.

No kidding. But the authors don’t claim these differences have nothing to do with public policy, as David Brooks implied in his column.

What is Brooks really trying to say anyway? It seems to me that, in his snooty, above-it-all way, he is saying the same thing that those Arizona voters are saying, and what was accepted wisdom in the segregationist days–that if you belong to a particular ethnic group, there’s pretty much no hope for you. And you probably brought it on yourself through laziness or bad child-rearing practices or something.

In any case, you shouldn’t come crying to the government or wealthy elites like David Brooks. They have nothing to offer you, and even if they did try to help you out, it wouldn’t do you any good.

At the very least, someone needs to explain to David that just because two things are correlated–that there is some kind of association between them–doesn’t mean that one of those things caused the other thing. Even my Psych 101 students know that. So unless Brooks can show me an experiment where someone took hundreds of individuals from all the different ethnic groups and had them live out their lives in carefully controlled laboratory conditions, I’m not buying his dopey conclusions. And The New York Times should be ashamed to publish this drivel.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong mocks Brooks and the NYT. Matt Yglesias trips all over himself whiletrying to defend Brooks from DeLong.

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