• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    katiebird on EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL…
    riverdaughter on EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL…
    Sweet Sue on EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL…
    riverdaughter on EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL…
    Monster from the Id on EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL…
    bluecheddar on EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL…
    Monster from the Id on Harumph and bother: a post abo…
    riverdaughter on Harumph and bother: a post abo…
    pghpuma on Harumph and bother: a post abo…
    riverdaughter on The Employment Index: Wish me…
    Propertius on The Employment Index: Wish me…
    Monster from the Id on The Employment Index: Wish me…
    Sweet Sue on The Employment Index: Wish me…
    katiebird on The Employment Index: Wish me…
    Mr Mike on The Employment Index: Wish me…
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama big pharma Bill Clinton Chris Christie cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos debate Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean Joe Biden John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Keith Olbermann Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare occupy wall street OccupyWallStreet Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    October 2014
    S M T W T F S
    « Sep    
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

    • Beheading vs. drones
      Coleen Rowley: Why do Americans hate beheadings but love drone killings? What accounts for our irrational response to these two very different forms of illegal execution, one very profitable and high-tech, usually resulting in many collateral deaths and injuries, and the other very low-tech, but provoking fear and righteous condemnation from the citizens who […]
  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • Looks like Scottish Independence is a “No”
      The calls are coming in. Assuming they are correct, I think this vote is a mistake, and I note that having been given a clean vote to leave and a chance to live their own values, but having given in to fear; for me, at least, Scottish complaints about privatization of the NHS and other [...]
  • Top Posts

Non-fiction day: The Divide and The Lucifer Effect

I’m not quite finished with Matt Taibbi’s new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, but I thought I’d review it now because, a.) I’m pretty sure of my impressions of the book and b.) it should be read in conjunction with another book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Phillip Zimbardo.  I dunno, maybe I should read the Taibbi book to the end to see if he makes the connection but I’m beginning to get outrage fatigue, which is why it’s probably a good idea to read the more clinical prose in Zimbardo’s book to gain perspective.

So. Much. Morality.

The premise of Taibbi’s book is that the justice system is divided into two parts in this country.  If you are a member of the bonus class or oligarchy, your possession of the One Ring makes it nearly impossible for the justice system to prosecute you.  You’re invisible to the powers of accountability for one reason or another.  On the other hand, if you are a member of the working class, that is, anyone not living off their investments, the justice system can make your life a living hell.  Just breathing wrong can get you into trouble and that trouble is excessively punitive, relentless, expensive, arbitrary and seemingly endless.  It doesn’t take much to fall down the rabbit hole but it takes even less if your are a member of a minority population.

Sidenote: We have experienced this in our own family when a cousin’s persistent drug problem lead to direct interaction with the justice system.  He needed rehab- quickly.  What he got instead resembled Les Miz.  In the end, the legal system and it’s self-replicating fees, coupled with unmerciful punishment of every imaginable variation, put him in a hole he could not climb out of, made him homeless, broke and despondent.  He committed suicide.  So, you know, we definitely know what Matt is talking about. You don’t have to be black or hispanic. All that is required is that you have no money and live in a country where the public has been trained to be completely unsympathetic to what is happening to you.

Taibbi alternates the book with stories from each side of the divide.  We swing from bankers on Wall Street who got away with murder to “stop and frisk” detentions of young black men who are just standing outside their apartments at the wrong time.  Where the justice system seems willing to take a “boys will be boys” attitude towards the bankers, it comes down on the loiterers with a vengeance, depriving them of their dignity in the courtroom and subjecting them to endless hours of waiting around, mounting fees and coercion to plea to crimes they didn’t commit that ultimately deprive them of their right to public housing and student loans.

Taibbi doesn’t write with the same snap and clarity as Michael Lewis or Neil Barofsky  when describing the machinations of the Wall Street criminals.  His prose tends to meander, feels insidery (is that a word?) and it was difficult to follow who did what to whom.  This only pertains to the case studies in the upper justice system but I think his editor should have pulled him aside and asked him to tighten these sections up. He could never have gotten those case studies published in the kind of peer reviewed journals the science community is subjected to. Both Lewis and Barofsky have demonstrated that complexity doesn’t have to be confusing, even in an audio book.  But if you’re going to plow through Taibbi’s book, you’re probably better off getting the ebook version so you can make notes, leave book marks and create a flowchart.

On the other hand, Taibbi’s case studies of what happens on the bottom half of the justice system are easy to understand and  heartbreaking, probably because the infractions are so minor but the reaction is so severe.  It’s like the American justice system is chock full of turbo charged law and order types who carry out punishment with ruthless and brutal inefficiency.  And there was something about depersonalizing experiences of the victims and the anonymity of flawed computer systems of the justice system that reminded me of the Stanford Prison Experiment that Phillip Zimbardo carried out in the 70’s.

In case you aren’t familiar with the experiment, Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford, wanted to replicate the experience of prison in order to figure out how the accused reacted to incarceration and depersonalization.  So, he recruited a couple dozen students to take the roles of prisoners and guards.  He randomly assigned the students to one of the groups and had the prisoners arrested and processed by real police.  In the makeshift prison, the prisoners were stripped of their clothes and given numbers instead of names.  The guards hid behind mirrored sunglasses and were given very few instructions. The warden was hands off.  Well, it didn’t take long before the guards started exercising authority and the prisoners started to crack.  We’re talking days.  It turns out that when one group of people is given all of the power and another group of people is subjected to that power, depersonalization and lack of oversight, it can lead even the blandest guy on campus to become indistinguishable from one of the guards at Abu Ghraib. The guards imposed capricious, humiliating and sadistic punishment while the prisoners became more and more despondent and stressed.  Zimbardo went on to testify as an expert witness in the Abu Graib trials.  He concludes that even the most decent, moral people are capable of evil behavior when the situation is right.  Group dynamics, conditioning to authority and dehumanization contribute to the kind of evil we saw at Abu Ghraib and, it seems, the excessively punitive experiences of the victims in the lower half of the American justice system.

The more I read Taibbi’s book, the more I was reminded of Zimbardo’s book.  So, I recommend you read Zimbardo’s book first and follow it up with Taibbi’s.  In fact, that’s the only reason I would recommend Taibbi’s book.  Without a proper context, it lacks the force it needs to land a powerful blow.  And that’s why I’m going to finish it even though the stories of “getting away with evil” followed by “getting away with nothing” are somewhat monotonous.  Taibbi might make the connection in the final chapters and have that eureka moment that will make it all worth while.  But I’m almost done with the book and see no evidence of it yet.  I’m afraid that the lefty community will miss the larger point that could propel it out of its fecklessness.  Instead, it might fall back on the “Bill Clinton is to blame for all of this!” crap they’ve been mindlessly vomiting for the past decade (as if Newt Gingrich and his Contract On America never existed {{rolling eyes}}).  What a horribly wasted, missed opportunity to see the world as it truly is.

3 Sponges for The Divide

4 Sponges for The Lucifer Effect (it can bog down with too many details in the first part)

PS. The left should study part 2 of Zimbardo’s book to understand how to resist situational influences.  It’s going to come up again in 2016.  Let’s not get fooled again, m’kay?

Oh, and here’s a concept that we should all learn about: malignant narcissism.  Don’t throw it around indiscriminately though.  It’s the kind of thing that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh types will seize on and dilute.  (it’s what they do)  But the next time an oligarch whines about how the rest of us are mean to them and envy their wealth, think about malignant narcissism.  They’re on the spectrum.

 

 

 

No Tinfoil: We Have Been Living in a Dictatorship

constitution_quill_pen

On Monday the Department of Justice posted nine memos containing stunningly un-American legal opinions that were kept secret during the Bush years. These memos were used to justify a shocking expansion of executive power and to nullify most of our Constitutional rights. Scott Horton of the Harpers Magazine writes:

We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.

Finally, the truth breaks into the mainstream media. Some of us did realize it, Scott; but I’m glad you’re writing about it now. I just hope you keep your eyes and ears open, because I’m not so sure that President Obama won’t try to hang onto some of these powers. Continue reading

Buncha Bigots

unicorn-rainbowEric Holder, America’s first African American Attorney General under America’s first black President, said in a speech to Department of Justice employees celebrating Black History Month, that we are a “nation of cowards”  because we don’t like to talk candidly about race.  This is wrong on so many levels.

Any time we still have to describe people and their accomplishments as “history making” based on skin color, we have a problem with race.  It’s 2009, for Goodness sakes, and we still have cause to celebrate racial “firsts.”  Not only that, we’ve barely scratched the surface; we have yet to have our “first black” lots of things, like, Senate Majority Leader; hell we’ve barely had any black Senators, given that the nation’s fifth is now president.  We, as a nation, have never had a Native American much of anything politically significant, either; the same is true for many other racially diverse groups.  And, as we all know, our history regarding women’s history, contributions, and employment issues, not to mention those of LGBT people living openly, and people living with disabilities, is woefully deficient.

But, does not talking about it make us cowards?  What good does endless recriminatory discussion do?  Does that really advance anybody’s cause, or does it merely inflame passions needlessly?

In this little community we’ve established here in this little corner of the blogosphere, nobody is required to declare their race, ethnicity, gender, or anything else, nor are they expected to check them at the door, unless they choose to, and we seem to get along pretty well.  Our commonality is based on things other than physical characteristics, like opinion and ideology.  How we think and feel is much more important than how we look, love or pee.

Barack Obama should not be president because he’s black, Eric Holder should not be attorney general for that reason, either.  Because that issue was promoted as justification for their attaining their respective positions, many of us were offended, while, to be honest, many more felt vindicated.  The disappointment was not limited to people of any particular group, though African Americans disproportionately embraced the counter opinion.  Just as many men felt, and still feel, that Hillary Clinton was the better Democratic choice, and many white Republicans felt similarly about John McCain, many black Americans, like me, feel that Barack Obama was not.  Race and gender most often had nothing to do with it.

I call our president Black Obama because his racial background played far too large a part in his election.  When he secured the nomination of his party, fraudulently in my opinion, that fraud was validated by “the historic nature of his candidacy,” blah, blah, blah.  His, and his campaign’s, deliberate, subtle, and blatant exploitation of his racial background was shameful to me.   Race should never trump integrity.  Just because we’ve never had a black president is no reason to embrace this one.

Yet, once he was elected, all sorts of racial baggage was either laid at his feet, or more often, exonerated, while the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement’s triumphs was awarded to him simply because of who his father happened to be.  His own lack of accomplishment, experience, preparedness and qualification was magically rendered irrelevant because he’s a black man.

Seems to me, as long as all we’re expected to do is talk about what’s wrong, and what has been wrong in the past, those things will continue to happen, and continue to be wrong.  Once we decide that these things don’t deserve discussion, contemplation, or consideration, there won’t be anything to talk about, anyway.  When it comes to equality and diversity, let’s all just shut up and do the damned thing.

That being said, when racism, sexism and/or any other “-ism” rears its ugly head, it should be immediately, and uncategorically, rejected by all.  The only caveat, and it’s a big one, is that “-isms” are like pornography, hard to define quantitatively.  While we claim to know it when we see it, ultimately, offense is in the eye of the beholder.  On those occasions, just like any other when one experiences hurt at the hands of another, protest is only to be expected.  Yet that protest should be limited to that particular incident; revisiting old issues only opens old wounds and diverts attention from the problem at hand, greatly increasing the odds that nothing will be resolved.  “You hurt my feelings,” will usually result in an immediate apology, “you always hurt my feelings,” will probably result in a fight.

Eric Holder said:

…”we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

I think he’s half right; we, as average Americans, don’t talk to each other, period.  If we did, race would probably never come up.  And when, and if, it did, we’d probably be able to work it out.

Cross posted at Cinie’s World with one modification; I removed a link to the post below, since, it’s the post below.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 459 other followers