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Pondering Abramson’s firing- again (for the last time)

Update: Here’s a podcast from the Women’s Media Center on the subject of Jill Abramson’s firing featuring Carol Jenkins, Geneva Overholser, Gloria Steinem, and Soraya Chemaly.  They talk about some of the material I posted below.  As to how we tackle the problem of subtle but real discrimination, we need to take a lesson from Finland and open up a Gender Glasses office in the EEOC that will quantify absolutely everything in a suspect workplace.  Everything must be measured from the placement of desks to the time it takes for email to be answered to who reports to who to how many minutes women are allowed to present and how many times they are interrupted compared to a man.  Think of it like following sports.  Men respect statistics and, frankly, I think it is the only way this problem is going to get flushed out into the open.   Otherwise, it’s just our word against theirs.  If feminists are really serious about the issue, they need to lobby legislators to formally create a Gender Glasses type of bureau, fund it and publish the statistics.  You will know who your friends are when they are asked to co-sign the legislation and move it through the committees.

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

I promise this will be the last time I write about this thing because it’s speculation anyway.  But there’s a lot going on here and, in the end, this is primarily a story about how gender stereotypes were used to serve Baquet.  I realize that he’s a likable guy but in the end, Baquet was the primary beneficiary of Abramson’s firing.  I think we have to acknowledge that he had a significant role in it.

The story is complicated by a family dynasty, recent history, embarrassment, loyalty, economics and a fundamental misunderstanding about how modern women (and some modern men) think.  So, this post will be in pieces parts with the hope that it will all make sense in the end.  Some of these pieces come from personal experience that I have witnessed or was encouraged to participate in.  The pharma field has given me a wealth of material to write several satires.

Let’s start with the most obvious factor plucked from another post I read this morning about positions traditionally held by men being replaced by female appointees and the irrational resentment that engenders.

“There aren’t any WOMEN here today, are there?”

1.) The male affirmative action program.  I ran into this one early in my career when the lab I worked for hired a woman to run a medicinal chemistry group.  As far as I could see, she was the only woman running a group of that size in the company.  There were other female chemists who had a few assistants and were running project teams but this one new hire, let’s call her D, was going to have a substantial group of PhD chemists running their own projects working for her.  It was unprecedented.  On the projects I worked on with D, I found her to be very intelligent, incisive, authoritative and, this one is important, calm.  There was no drama.  She was, and still is, a natural leader.

Needless to say, to this day, the chemists at that lab (who were all laid off en masse by Pfizer in 2009, but that’s another story) complained bitterly about why D was hired.  It wasn’t just that she was a token, it was that there were so many other more qualified men that could have been hired in her stead.  I had lunch with a bunch of these guys a couple of years ago.  They are all pretty decent people, even if they are mentally disabled by their Y chromosomes.  When the subject of D was brought up, I laughed at them. They were still convinced that there were better qualified men that could have been hired.  I pointed out that before D started, all of the group leaders were men and several, and I named names, were leaders that no one could stand.  They were irrational or untalented or autocratic or weird.  No one wanted to work for them.  But D comes along and instead of saying, hey, she makes JB look like a fricking nut case, why don’t we replace HIM, we’re getting all upset that she’s not some dude we know.  I gave them case after case of lousy male group leaders and they all agreed that no one wanted to work for them.  Working for D, on the other hand, was a pleasure because it was so damned rational.  So, what was the problem, guys?  Why is the answer always the affirmative action plan for men?  That shut them up and gave them something to think about for awhile.

Sometimes, you need to point out what a warped perspective men have about how the world works.  In some respects, their lives are as disadvantaged as a person who grew up in the ghetto.  It’s all they know.  They’re so used to lousy leadership from half of the men they work for that they fail to see what the real problem is when a woman steps in to a leadership position.

This has been brought up before but the news media represents women’s points of view very poorly.  The ratio of men to women on the Op/Ed pages of the NYTimes is something like 10-2.  Just look at the Supreme Court to see how having even 3 out of 9 people judging while female has had damn little impact on the law of the land.  It only takes one Justice Kennedy or Anonin Scalia in love with his own self and sense of power to hold back modernity in this country.  But for some reason, all I ever read about is consternation over why Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still serving, a question that never came up when John Paul Stevens was serving well into his 90th year.  So, it’s no wonder that our perceptions of women in leadership roles are so twisted.  It’s like the privileged group just now noticed that there are women in the crowd.

2.) The layoffs are coming!  The layoffs are coming!  Anyone working in the last 30 years knows what it’s like to be on the verge of a layoff.  The MBA crowd starts sending out fatwas about money and getting lunch served during 4 hour meetings is suddenly not happening anymore and cuts start really biting into how things are done.  When this starts happening to a group of professionals who are heavily mortgaged and have kids to raise and college to pay for, alliances start to get formed very quickly.  It becomes necessary to find the politically well connected and become their best friend.  You like what they like and hate who they hate.

When the layoff rumors started at my last lab about 2 years before the ax fell, I had a conversation with one of my colleagues who told me a story about his family dynamics.  He said that he had two brothers and in order to get what he wanted, he always sided with the stronger brother at the time.  The brother on top would periodically change and he switched his loyalties accordingly.  This conversation was in reference to why he was siding with the guy who eventually turned out to be our boss just before the layoff decisions were made and not with the woman who was my boss.  He was offering me a choice.  Switch and help drive the knife in or suffer the consequences.  I opted for  loyalty.  I liked my boss and was learning a lot from her.  She was displaced a few months later and got a new job, and almost all of her former group members were laid off pretty quickly.  I jumped to another group and hung on.

I bring this up because I’ve heard a lot of stuff about how even some of the women in the newsroom complained about Abramson.  This is at a time when the CEO of the Times had been making his presence more widely known.  When it comes time to satisfy the shareholders, it’s important that you have made the correct alliance.  It is pretty clear from the posts I have read about Baquet that Sulzberger liked him and had regretted not appointing him instead of Abramson.  So, if the Times staff was in the unenviable position of picking a brother to side with in order to save jobs, Baquet was the one to go to.  In such a situation, it is appropriate and understandable to play up his good characteristics in order to justify why Abramson was stabbed in the back.  It happens all of the time.  I didn’t say it was nice, or fair, or loyal.  It’s just human.  It’s not a reflection on either Baquet’s or Abramson’s leadership qualities.  Pinch liked Baquet and didn’t like Abramson and that’s all you needed to know in order to save your own skin.

3.) Ovaries of Steel.  In this case, I am not referring to Abramson, although that plays into it as well.  No, I’m referring to the person who Abramson was trying to bring in, Janine Gibson, newly appointed editor-in-chief of The Guardian.  Frontline recently ran a two part series on the NSA scandal that everyone should watch for a wide variety of reasons.  What Janine Gibson did was both shrewd and incredibly ballsy and she learned what NOT to do by watching what the Times did with previous national intelligence stories.

So, here’s a quick summary.  In 2004, James Risen of the NYTimes wrote a story about the Bush administration’s possible violations of the constitution through a massive surveillance of American citizens.  It turns out that Risen only knew a tiny fraction of what was going on and Edward Snowden would spell it all out 9 years later.  Risen presented Bill Keller, executive editor at the time with his story and Keller and Sulzberger contacted the White House.  The White House, deep in reelection politics, knew it had a problem on its hands so it invited Keller and Sulzberger to a meeting. It then put pressure on the Times to sit on the story for a year.  The Frontline documentary makes it sound like the White House either threatened the Times or laid a guilt trip on it about “letting the terrorists win”.  Well, you remember the crap that the Bushies were always dumping on its critics.  Same thing.

Fast forward to 2013.  Janine Gibson sends her representatives to Hong Kong to vet Edward Snowden.  They check him out and say he’s legit and the story is huge.  At that point, she also calls the White House- and gives them four hours to respond before she goes to print. She refuses a meeting. Gibson knew that if she met with the White House and they stalled for time or found a way to silence her source, the story would vanish into the ether so she gave them very little time to engage in defensive tactics.  Now, I think Edward Snowden is a hero and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras were inspiring but when it comes right down to it, none of revelations might have happened if Janine Gibson hadn’t had the courage and intelligence to pre-empt the White House and NSA’s stalling tactics.

4.) Putting it all together.  So, here’s my best guess as to how Abramson’s firing went down.  First, we have Baquet indulging in male affirmative action behavior.  Why shouldn’t he be executive editor?  Also, Abramson’s bringing in this Gibson girl to be his equal?  What?

(I’m going to guess this is when Abramson discovered that she had been underpaid at certain points during her career at the NYTimes.  She probably had to find out what salary, benefits and level she could offer Gibson and in the process, uncovered a pattern of pay discrimination that dated back to the time when she was a deputy managing editor.  Just a guess but the timing seems right.)

Then there is the sense of unease and impending cutbacks.  Baquet makes a lot of friends.  Sulzberger likes him.  Alliances are formed around Baquet.

Then there is the possible embarrassment to the Times if Gibson comes in.  First, it highlights Keller’s and Sulzberger’s toadying to the White House and, secondly, Janine Gibson looks like a loose cannon, something Baquet was likely to highlight during the amuse-bouche.  Abramson is making a rash decision to bring in someone who may get the NYTimes into another Risen situation with all of the potential legal headaches and expenses that would entail.  Did Pinch really want another embarrassing situation on his hands??  Come to think of it, it’s kind of flattering to be on the president’s good side, isn’t it?  And besides, Pinch was one of the forces behind trying to get Caroline Kennedy to take Hillary Clinton’s senate seat.  No doubt, Sulzberger considers himself to be one of the best people.  It just wouldn’t look good to hire this upstart boat rocker.  Did Abramson really think this over before she went over both of their heads to hire Gibson?

5.) The Pilhofer Pilfer.  Women who came of age during the 70’s and 80’s, before The Backlash, grew up believing that there were no boundaries to their ambition.  Oh, sure, we had professors who spent inordinate amounts of time fluffing some pissy little male students instead of us but we could rise above that.  Then we went to work and accomplished and moved into leadership positions and took some risks.  To us, I mean to the females in this cohort, there is a lot of admiration and respect for each other’s talents and life work.  We see ourselves as persons who are women with accomplishments.  However, to the rest of the world, especially to men who for some reason aren’t interested in hearing about the Abramson firing because it is booooorrrrrring to them, a person with Hillary Clinton’s or Jill Abramson’s credentials is still like a dog playing a piano.  They are one offs.

I have also read that women get their first crack at high level leadership when an organization is in trouble.  There are a couple theories as to why this is.  One is that the organizations have run out of other options.  Another is that women are seen as smoothing the waters when there is internal turmoil, although this is really a cultural stereotype.  Women are human beings and can be tough as well if they are given permission to do so.  Look at what happened in Iceland during the financial crisis of 2008.  Johanna Sigurdardottir was put in charge when the country faced down the IMF and the world’s biggest banks.  It initially had a severe recession but has recovered better than Ireland, Spain or Greece.  The risk to women is high in these situations.  If she can’t avert the impending disaster, her leadership is blamed and taints the careers of other women of her stature.

Abramson was put in a tricky position when she took over from Keller in 2011.  The Times is going through a harsh transition due to the changing nature of the media.  From all accounts, she was doing very well.  She was instrumental in putting up the paywall to the news, which makes a hell of a lot more sense than putting a paywall around the Op/Ed pages.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough to save her when the shareholders started demanding more for dinner.  Even superhuman accomplishments wouldn’t have been sufficient in that scenario.  And her reputedly “brusque” behavior was not unusual for executive editors of major papers.  I think the gender related complaints were just convenient excuses that Baquet and his allies used to get her out of the way.

But Sulzberger and Baquet are still working with old male brains because Janine Gibson *is* a force to be reckoned with and the fact that she poached one of the NYTimes’ up and coming digital content specialists in the aftermath of Abramson’s firing tells us quite a bit.  It tells us that there are some men who see an advantage to working for strong, courageous women, and that’s a very good thing for the rest of us.

And a very bad thing for the NYTimes.

 

 

Killing Me Softly With His Drone

I keep thinking I should write up something thoughtful.  That I should find a way to express my opinion about The Drones, The Presidential Kill List (complete with Power Point presentations!) and the almost complete silence about the issue in both televised media and the fashionable progressive blogosphere.  But my brain is stuck on a simple phrase, “Are you fucking kidding me?

In a delayed reaction, I’m wondering – Is “militant” more like a religion or an activity?

Glenn Greenwald, Deliberate media propaganda

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration, in order to conceal civilian deaths caused by their drone attacks, “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.” Although I wrote at length about the NYT‘s various revelations, I wrote separately about that specific disclosure, in order to emphasize the implications for media outlets reporting on American drone attacks:

What kind of self-respecting media outlet would be party to this practice? Here’s the New York Times documenting that this is what the term “militant” means when used by government officials. Any media outlet that continues using it while knowing this is explicitly choosing to be an instrument for state propaganda.

Early this morning, the U.S. fired a missile from a drone in northwest Pakistan — its first since the NYT story – and killed two people.

(snip)

There is, as usual, no indication that these media outlets have any idea whatsoever about who was killed in these strikes. All they know is that “officials” (whether American or Pakistani) told them that they were “militants,” so they blindly repeat that as fact. They “report” this not only without having the slightest idea whether it’s true, but worse, with the full knowledge that the word “militant” is being aggressively distorted by deceitful U.S. government propaganda that defines the term to mean: any “military-age males” whom we kill (the use of the phrase “suspected militants” in the body of the article suffers the same infirmity).

Jane, at FireDogLake has been silent about Obama’s Kill List (at least as far as I can tell – I’ll add links if I’m wrong.) But I stumbled across this great post by Dissenter, The Media on Obama’s ‘Kill List’.  It’s a long list discussing some of the stories I’ve mentioned in my posts and a couple I’m including today as well as some you haven’t seen from me.

Laugh or cry – or both: MSNBC: No Time for Obama’s Kill List?

The New York Times’ lengthy report (5/29/12) on Barack Obama’s drone “kill list” should provoke serious questions: Is such a program legal? How does it square with Obama’s criticism of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” policies? What does it tell us about how the administration identifies “militants” who are targeted for assassination?

But those questions have been raised only in fits and starts–and are basically absent from the liberal cable news channel MSNBC.

(snip)

But what about the channel that would seem the natural place for some of that left-leaning analysis? MSNBC has been mostly quiet. A search of the Nexis news database turns up nothing on Obama’s kill list. The program Morning Joe had one discussion (5/29/12) where the panelists mostly supported the program, though host Joe Scarborough expressed some reservations.

What was more newsworthy? MSNBC’s prime time shows seemed to have plenty of coverage of “birther” Donald Trump.

In an almost illegibly formatted piece from The Nation makes a pretty good point: US president’s kill list is illegal and immoral:

The Times described the president as poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies – their “baseball cards,” as one unnamed official put it – and making the final determination of whether and when a suspected terrorist leader, and sometimes his family, will be killed.But if the president’s personal involvement is laudable, the killings themselves are no less controversial. And, if the Times’s reporting is accurate, the programme itself is illegal.Becker and Shane confirm what we could only guess from remarks made by Obama’s advisors in the past: that the United States is targeting to kill individuals overseas who do not pose an imminent threat to the United States and who are not directly participating in hostilities against Americans. That’s a violation of international law.

And from Stephen Colbert (Video starts playing – with sound – as page loads!!!) – Two Birds With One Drone

It Lives: The Kill List

I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing these daily lists. It’s too disturbing.

Glenn Greenwald
How extremism is normalized

But that’s the point: once something is repeated enough by government officials, we become numb to its extremism. Even in the immediate wake of 9/11 — when national fear and hysteria were intense — things like the Patriot Act, military commissions, and indefinite detention were viewed as radical departures from American political tradition; now, they just endure and are constantly renewed without notice, because they’ve just become normalized fixtures of American political life. Here we have the Obama administration asserting what I genuinely believe, without hyperbole, is the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime — that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that the State cannot deprive you of your life without “due process of law” is fulfilled by completely secret, oversight-free “internal deliberations by the executive branch” — and it’s now barely something anyone (including me) even notices when The New York Times reports it (as the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer asked yesterday: “These Dems who think executive process is due process: Where were they when Bush‬ needed help with warrantless wiretapping?” — or his indefinite detention scheme?)

Obama the Warrior

No late-night wrestling with conscience for this Nobel Peace laureate. Even his most radical decision — ordering an American citizen assassinated without a whiff of due process or transparency — is “easy” for him, and he’s so very “comfortable” with ordering people killed, say his aides who believe this to be a compliment.

From Reason.com: Obama’s Secret Kill List

Can the president legally do this? In a word: No.

The president cannot lawfully order the killing of anyone, except according to the Constitution and federal law. Under the Constitution, he can only order killing using the military when the U.S. has been attacked, or when an attack is so imminent and certain that delay would cost innocent American lives, or in pursuit of a congressional declaration of war. Under federal law, he can only order killing using civilians when a person has been sentenced lawfully to death by a federal court and the jury verdict and the death sentence have been upheld on appeal. If he uses the military to kill, federal law requires public reports of its use to Congress and congressional approval after 180 days.

(snip)

Obama has argued that his careful consideration of each person he orders killed and the narrow use of deadly force are an adequate and constitutional substitute for due process. The Constitution provides for no such thing. He has also argued that the use of drones to do his killing is humane since they are “surgical” and only kill their targets. We know that is incorrect. And he has argued that these killings are consistent with our values. What is he talking about? The essence of our values is the rule of law, not the rule of presidents.

A glowing critique from The Raw Story: A Critique Of The New York Times “Secret Kill List” Article (Can you tell where this is going?):

As I was reading it, I didn’t have a hard time imaging what the reaction from some on the left would be. The person that always comes to mind is Glenn Greenwald, whose sentences almost always include “a noun, a verb and drones”.

The Atlantic: Hey Voters: The Kill List Is What Matters

So to sum up, one candidate is portrayed, accurately, as being extremely rich, with a wife who has rich-person leisure-time pursuits; and the other candidate is portrayed, accurately, as someone whose secretive policies have wrought dead children, broken promises, violated due process rights, and possibly created more terrorists. And our political culture in the United States is so blinkered that the story about the rich candidate whose wife rides horses is regarded, by conservatives and savvy Politico journalists, as the one that is noteworthy for being negative; whereas the story about the Orwellian turn in the White House doesn’t even merit mention.

From Robert Scheer: Hope Burning

This is clearly not the Obama whom many voted for in the hope that he would stick by his word, including the pledge he made on his second day in office to ban brutal interrogation and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. “What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes,” the Times now reports concerning the early promises by Obama. “They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric.”

Parse that sentence carefully to learn much of what is morally decrepit in our journalism as well as politics. The word “realist” is now identical to “hypocrite,” and the condemnation of immoral behavior addresses nothing more than “rhetoric” that only the “fervent” would take seriously. The Times writers all but thrill to the lying, as in recounting the new president’s response to advisers who warned him against sticking to his campaign promises on Guantanamo prisoners: “The deft insertion of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice was followed.”

American Extremists: "Weapon of choice"

And THIS from Stephen Colbert (Might not be suitable for work — The video with sounds starts right away)

Barack Obama’s Righteous Drone Strikes : The government takes out Al Qaeda’s “number two,” and Barack Obama finds an alternative to shutting down Guantanamo Bay.

Happy Birthday OWS Bat Signal

Courtesy of Marsha.  This one is pretty good.  It shows the Bat Signal team from Occupy Wall Street setting up the equipment and the reaction from on the bridge.

Sooo, good morning to you and happy birthday to me!

Enjoy.

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

Glenn Greenwald has a pretty good piece up about how the Democratic party and its retainers are going to try to co-opt Occupy Wall Street.  And I know some Conflucians have expressed similar concerns.  I’ll get to those in a minute.  But I encourage you to go read Greenwald because I think he gets this movement in the same way that I do.  In particular, Greenwald is disturbed by the SEIU’s endorsement of Obama’s re-election the day before Occupy’s N17 Day of Action and explains why he thinks the SEIU will fail:

Having SEIU officials — fresh off endorsing the Obama re-election campaign — shape, fund, dictate and decree an anti-GOP, pro-Obama march is about as antithetical as one can imagine to what the Occupy movement has been. And pretending that the ongoing protests are grounded in the belief that the GOP is the party of the rich while the Democrats are the party of the working class is likely to fool just about nobody other than those fooled by that already. The strength and genius of OWS has been its steadfast refusal to (a) fall into the trap that ensnared the Tea Party of being exploited as a partisan tool and (b) integrate itself into the very political institutions which it’s scorning and protesting.

As I noted several weeks ago, WH-aligned groups such as the Center for American Progress have made explicitly clear that they are going to try to convert OWS into a vote-producing arm for the Obama 2012 campaign, and that’s what “Occupy Congress” is designed to achieve. I believed then and — having spent the last few weeks talking with many OWS protesters around the country — believe even more so now that these efforts will inevitably fail: those who have animated the Occupy movement are not motivated by partisan allegiance or an overarching desire to devote themselves to one of the two parties. In fact, one of the original Occupy groups — as opposed to partisan organizations swooping in to exploit it — has announced its own D.C. occupation to, in part, “demonstrate the failure of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress to represent the views of the majority of people.”

For a long time, I have believed, and still do believe, that the way to get the financiers to behave and for the corporations to begin treating their employees as humans and not resources, is to change the rulemakers in Washington.  But I also realize that you can’t sweep politicians out of office unless the electorate wants that to happen.  And at this point in time, there is still a significant portion of the electorate that has lost its way.  It is confused by ubiquitous messaging from their elected officials and those officials’ mouthpieces.  And the Democrats failed to interrupt this messaging when it had a chance.  When it had a filibuster proof majority in the senate and majorities in the House and a president of its own party, it should have moved immediately to reinstating the “fairness doctrine” and cementing net neutrality into law and doing a myriad other things that would ensure that a different message from the harsh, mean-spirited, “money is everything” one we get non-stop message we get all day long would be heard.  But the Democrats didn’t do this.  Whether it was through malice or stupidity, it managed to turn down its own volume in the public sphere.

We should have known when it did nothing to curtail the right wing messaging that we were on our own.  Without a voice, we have no way to move each other or politicians to do what we want.  We are easily dismissed as dirty fucking hippies and liberals and no one wants to hear from us.

Before we can change our political system, we have to change hearts to make sure that we don’t keep beating up on each other.  We have to expose the way the socio-economic system is set up right now.  And we have to have a movement of people who are willing to walk away from the current setup that isn’t working for them and set up something new that does.  It’s only by turning our backs on the current political climate and working hard to have our own social safety net and economic system that works for us in the long term that we will be free and it won’t matter who is in power in Washington.

Why should we care who is in power in Washington?  Neither party seems to care to exercise its power for our benefit.  I’m not terribly concerned anymore whether Democrats hold the White House or Republicans hold the House.  They’ve made it clear that no matter who we vote for, the result will be pretty much the same. The same people will be entrenched in power and the rest of us will watch them slowly erode away our standard of living and use excuses to steal the money we put away for our own retirements.  I’m not apathetic.  I’m incensed by that.  Everyday, I wonder how it is they have the unmitigated gall to ignore us.  But that’s the way it is right now and I’m no longer going to tilt at electoral windmills.  I made my mind up in 2008 to only vote for politicians who share my values and aren’t afraid to say it.  It looks like I’m not the only one because loudmouth Elizabeth Warren seems to be doing extraordinarily well these days.

Occupy Wall Street was started by people who didn’t like the way things are going.  Those of us who weren’t in the planning stages but don’t like the way things are going either don’t necessarily have to share the same socio political philosophy.  When movements catch on, maybe it doesn’t matter how each unit of that movement does its business as long as they share a common morality.  And that is Occupy Wall Street’s strength.  It is at its core a moral movement.  It is not a political one.  That moral movement is about the vast majority wanting to correct the vast disperity of wealth that has developed in this country, to correct economic and social injustice,to uphold the dignity of working people, to re-establish a social safety net and economic system that works for everyone and to redefine the meaning of success.  That last one is very important.  The morality of success matters.  Does success mean making money at all costs or does it mean achieving goals of a more personal nature?  Right now, our morality is dictated by the marketplace and the people who run it.  And this movement is about changing that morality.  The way we go about changing that morality and withdrawing our support from a system that fails us is what Occupy Wall Street has yet to decide.  So, calls for it to make demands are premature.

The 1% is going to try hard to disrupt that decision making process.  It is going to try hard to prevent the critical mass from forming (although I think they may be losing that battle).  And it is going to try hard to co-opt.  But as long as the movement focuses on determining how to translate its morality into creating a new economy that works for everyone, the political class can wait.  It is not our job to serve the politicians.  It is their job to serve us.

OccupyWallStreet: We are not cannon fodder for Washington policy wonks

 

My Favorite Sign

Glenn Greenwald gets OccupyWallStreet in a way that many doubters do not.  In his latest post at Salon, Can OWS be turned into a Democratic party movement, he writes:

Given these facts, does the Center for American Progress really believe that the protest movement named OccupyWallStreet was begun — and that people are being arrested and pepper-sprayed and ready to endure harsh winters andmarching to Jamie Dimon’s house — in order to devote themselves to ensuring that these people remain in power? Does CAP and the DCCC really believe that most of the protesters are motivated — or can be motivated — to turn themselves into a get-out-the-vote machine for Obama’s re-election and the empowerment of Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Party? Obviously, if when the GOP nominates some crony capitalist like Rick Perry or eager Wall Street servant like Mitt Romney, few if any of the protesters will or should support them, nor can it be denied that the GOP in its current incarnation is steadfastly devoted to a pro-Wall-Street, corporatist agenda. But it also seems to me quite delusional to think that you’re going to exploit this protest as a way “to mobilize protesters in get-out-the-vote drives for 2012″ on behalf of the Democratic Party that I just documented.

Presumably, people who are out protesting and getting arrested are politically astute enough to be aware of some, probably most, of these facts. A rejuvenated outburst of “populist rhetoric” from Obama — a re-reading of the 2008 Change script — just as election season is heating up and Obama again needs progressive enthusiasm to remain in power seems quite unlikely to make people forget all of this.

As Robert Reich recently pointed out, OWS and the Democratic Party are not exactly natural allies given that “Obama has been extraordinarily solicitous of Wall Street and big business” and that “a big share of both parties’ campaign funds comes from the Street and corporate board rooms.” As Naomi Klein explained after speaking to the protesters, the reason they are out on the street rather than working for the DNC or OFA is precisely because they concluded that electoral politics or working for either party will not address the issues motivating them; part of what they’re protesting is the Democratic Party. For an FDL Book Salon discussion this weekend, I reviewed Lawrence Lessig’s excellent new book on our corrupted political system, Republic: Lost, and he documents exactly why he transformed from an enthusiastic supporter of his long-time friend and colleague Barack Obama in 2008 into a harsh critic of both parties: because the political system itself has been subverted by oligarchical control. As he put it in his book: : “Democracy on this account seems a show or a rule; power rests elsewhere. . . . the charade is a signal: spend your time elsewhere, because this game is not for real.”

So best of luck to CAP and the DCCC in their efforts to exploit these protests into some re-branded Obama 2012 crusade and to convince the protesters to engage in civil disobedience and get arrested all to make themselves the 2012 street version of OFA. I think they’re going to need it.

My spidey sense tells me that the occupiers know that the Democratic party is an enabler of Wall Street behavior.  Where I disagree with Glenn is that *anybody* who takes financial industry money is going to do its bidding.  I don’t believe that.  The crisis of 2008 was so severe that getting away with murder could only be pulled off by making sure the weakest presidential candidate won.  Obama was weak in character as well as experience.  But I digress.

While OWS is still working through the process of what it can do with all of its newly found power, let’s talk about business in America.  What drives me nutz about some activists is the inability to separate the finance industry from corporations in general.  There are some forms of industry that are best carried out by corporations because they provide an economy of scale and physical set up that make working together ideal and logistically possible.  Some industries that come to mind are car and aircraft manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.  Go ahead, try to build a new plane or discover a new drug without a corporation.  It’s bloody hard.  Many unemployed chemists right now are faced with this dilemma.  I have a sneaky suspicion that the clueless MBA class thought cutting a huge number of pharma workers was going to pay off for them because these people would just turn into entrepreneurs and when their  projects got to the development stage, the big pharmas would swoop down and buy them out.  But this is a business school grad’s fantasy.  With very few exceptions, this will never happen.  It’s just too expensive and physically exhausting for a few people to get together and create a whole pharma company out of their garages.  The start up costs alone will bankrupt you before you even get started and there are years, decades even, before a drug hits the marketplace, if it ever does.  The risk is too high for small entrepreneurs who still have to eat.

I hope someone is paying attention to what I just wrote about garage startup pharmas.  Stop hoping for this to happen.  Getting a new drug this way is about as likely as an immaculate conception.  At best, small companies can only do a piece of the puzzle.  The rest has to be farmed out and even when the idea is a good one, what these entrepreneurs really want is for someone with deep pockets to buy them, which most venture capitalists these days are increasingly unlikely to do without a guarantee of a payoff.  Since you can’t get close to guaranteeing a payoff without significant start up funds… well, you can see this is a vicious cycle.  The pharmas would have been better off keeping us and leaving us alone in our labs for about 5 years.

Now that there are a lot of people struggling to make a living by starting their own companies, vulture capitalists can make them offers they can’t refuse.  That will discourage new entrepreneurs from trying it and pretty soon, chemists and biologists will turn in their labcoats and go work for Wall Street where bonuses of only $500,000 will make a spoiled 27 year old Ivy League graduate cry but not your average lab rat.

Anyway, the problem with corporations is that at some point in the last 20 years, their upper management was taken over by people who wanted to play by the finance industry rules.  Many of them, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, have no idea how their businesses work.  They are raised in a business culture that puts making money ahead of everything else.  An executive reading that sentence would laugh derisively and say of course they’re there to make money.  And who would disagree?  That’s what for profit businesses do.  More power to them.  Make gobs of cash.  BUT the way you make that gob of cash *does* matter.  If you do it by reinvesting some of your profit into your business and innovate and grow, your business is going to do pretty well but it might take longer for that gob of cash to grow.  If you do it by slashing your labor and compensation costs, raising prices astronomically and then skim the profits off the top and share the profit, that’s like eating your seed corn and your company will start to show diminishing returns over time.  This is already happening to pharma with many of them going over the “patent cliff” starting this year.

Corporations have decided to go with option number 2 because the finance industry puts pressure on them to deliver more and more money to the shareholder.  And that money gets managed by Wall Street and is used to invest in foreign markets and the people who are left in those corporations are encouraged to put money into their 401Ks and they are compensated with stock options, which are supposed to incentivize you but tend to make you feel like your future is not in your hands whenever the shares plummet.

And then there is the deregulation and non-transparent derivatives, which are also not regulated, and the credit default swaps and the over-leveraged banks and on and on.  The whole system has been changed over the past 30 years to reward speculation by the wealthy.  None of this is news to anyone.

But it just may be occurring to some that the horror stories about what Brookseley Born, Sheila Bair and Elizabeth Warren have come up against in Washington DC is the result not of the bankers but the politicians who have been compromised by the financial industry.  And this problem affects *both* parties.  The Republicans are more up front about it but the Democrats haven’t been much better.  I won’t leave Bill Clinton off the hook here but in his case, there were mitigating factors in addition to Larry Summers and Robert Rubin acting like total assholes.  But we have to remember who rehired Larry Summers after his reputation preceded him.  It was Barack Obama.

We can debate whether Obama was a knowing tool of Wall Street or just aspired to be like the class that reigns there.  But there is no doubt in anyone’s minds by now that under Obama, the finance industry will suffer no shocks to its system at the hands of government regulators.  By the way, Greenwald includes a graph of the politicians that have received the most campaign cash from Wall Street and Chris Dodd’s name was on that list. It should come as no surprise that Dodd was one of the people who obstructed Elizabeth Warren’s appointment to the CFPB.  This article from Vanity Fair gives all of the gruesome details.

So, what does this have to do with OWS?  Well, the naysayers who have never been to an occupation site (hello myiq!) seem to think that the occupiers are or can be co-opted to become another Obama for America organization.  My sense, having actually, you know, *been* there, is that that’s not true.  The occupiers like me who already know that the politicians are standing between the Wall Street and regulation are very suspicious of any activity that pushes them to support Obama.  The other’s are still working through this process.  And the fact that they are working through this process slowly and methodically indicates to me that they will soon reach the same conclusion that we early birds did: if the finance industry plays by its own set of rules, the way to make them behave is to change the rulemakers.  And you can’t re-elect the same rulemakers who answer only to Wall Street and not to you the citizen and taxpayer.  And if the faulty rulemakers are in both parties, then even if some of those more sympathetic rulemakers are on your side, you need to force them to become accountable to you.  And to become more accountable to you, you need to threaten them with electoral losses until they get the picture that the power is at the ballot box and not on Wall Street.

So, will OWS become a tool of the Democratic party?  I don’t know but I doubt it.  That’s because what OWS wants is to make life more fair for the 99% and right now that’s not possible with the current set of rulemakers.  OWS has to apply pressure from the outside of the system.  Becoming a part of that system will never work.  The Democrats will try.  They’ll use fear, uncertainty and dread.  But the power that OWS has is in staying separate from any political party and gathering bodies and momentum behind it.

My best guess as to where OWS is headed is as a voting bloc first and then as a new political party.  What they are doing right now is laying down the foundation for what that party represents and what it values.  I know, I know, they’ll tell you they are still working on what they want and party building is not on their agenda.  But the process they are pursuing has a new party as a very logical endpoint, among other things.  And if the platform focuses on economic issues primarily, it could be extremely appealing to millions of Americans who have had enough of both parties.

The Democrats have more to fear from OWS because so many occupiers have given it a chance, over and over again, to do something to rein in the investment class and have seen nothing come of those efforts.  They know they’ll never make any headway with the Republicans, who are busily invoking images of murderous radical marxists with tattooed faces who poop on cars (well, now we know how to spot the radical marxists).  The occupiers have had it with Democrats but they also have more to gain by taking Democrats on.  They are just now feeling their power.  They’re not about to turn it over to a bunch of Wall Street lackeys

What Lambert said

Democrats in Congress worry that Obama will cave to GOP

The liberals are watching three big tests over the next month to see whether the president is firmly in their corner: extending Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire Dec. 31, ratifying a new nuclear-arms treaty with Russia and repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military.

Seriously — THIS is what “liberal” Democrats are worried about?  Well, I can’t say it better than Lambert:

Nothing on jobs at all, or foreclosures, or the banks. Quelle surprise. If you didn’t know that the Ds threw the working class under the bus in 2008, now you really know it, eh?

(emphasis mine)

Nearly a year ago Glenn Greenwald wrote a post that changed my relationship to the Democratic Party, “The Democratic Party’s deceitful game

This is what the Democratic Party does; it’s who they are. They’re willing to feign support for anything their voters want just as long as there’s no chance that they can pass it.

The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation. They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it. One minute, it’s Jay Rockefeller as the Prime Villain leading the way in protecting Bush surveillance programs and demanding telecom immunity; the next minute, it’s Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer joining hands and “breaking with their party” to ensure Michael Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney General; then it’s Big Bad Joe Lieberman single-handedly blocking Medicare expansion; then it’s Blanche Lincoln and Jim Webb joining with Lindsey Graham to support the de-funding of civilian trials for Terrorists; and now that they can’t blame Lieberman or Ben Nelson any longer on health care (since they don’t need 60 votes), Jay Rockefeller voluntarily returns to the Villain Role, stepping up to put an end to the pretend-movement among Senate Democrats to enact the public option via reconciliation.

But that was last year. THIS year, I guess it’s asking too much that they even just pretend to be on our side.

Saturday News: Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagen?

Good Morning Conflucians!!

I’m even more spacey today than I was yesterday. Now that I finish turning my final grades, my body and mind want me to drop everything and state into space for a few hours, then go back to sleep. Of could I’m still going to have to deal with the barrage of e-mail complaints from students who think they should have gotten an A even though their semester average was in the B- range. And then there are the ones who want me to give them a C even though they failed all the exams. {{Heavy sigh….}}

So anyway….I did stare into space for a long time and listened to the thunder and lightning outside….finally decided to focus on Elena Kagan’s supposedly immanent nomination for SCOTUS. I don’t know if the WH just leaked her name to get a preview of the reactions or if Obama really plans to submit her name next week. We’ll see, I guess. In the meantime, everyone is talking about it and breaking down her record.

Here’s the latest reaction from Glenn Greenwald. He pulls together most of the criticism of Kagan. And here is his original Case Against Elena Kagan, which we have already discussed at TC.

Much of the criticism has been of Kagan’s hiring record at Harvard, where she mostly hired white men. Some of the most pithy articles I read:

The White House’s Kagan Talking Points are Wrong

The White House’s primary response — like the magician performing a trick–is to point our attention elsewhere. The White House says the hiring numbers are misleading because they do not reflect the number of offers that Dean Kagan made to women and scholars of color. But this seems a bit hard to believe. Do women and people of color find a tenured or tenure-track professorship at Harvard Law School less attractive than white men? Do they really prefer to teach at less prestigious schools? Or if they only prefer not to teach at Harvard because of perceived hostilities to women and people of color, why is it that Kagan could somehow overcome these perceptions when it came to conservatives, but not women and people of color? After all, part of the praise for Kagan is that she made Harvard Law School welcoming again for conservatives—in this case, conservative white men.

In order to assess whether Dean Kagan effectively reached out to women and scholars of color, we need the number of tenure and tenure-track offers she made to women and scholars of color. But the White House does not provide us the number of tenure and tenure-track offers that Dean Kagan made to women and scholars of color. In fact, they provide everything but those numbers. An honest defense would provide those numbers in the first instance. (The White House memo implicitly cites the privacy of the individuals who received offers as a basis for refusing to release names — but we wonder how many law professors would be embarrassed by the public revelation that they turned down a Harvard Law School offer.)

There is quite a bit of discussion of this article around the ‘net because it was written by three top law professors. Lots of other blogs have commented on this article. Here’s the response from Darren Hutchinson at Dissenting Justice.

From Chris Good at The Atlantic: Kagan Could Be Hard to Hit

I asked Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network (a conservative group focused on judicial nominees) what conservatives are going to say about Kagan, and what Kagan’s “wise Latina” moment, if there is one, will prove to be.

“She has been much more careful than Justice Sotomayor. She never would have said something like that even if she thinks it. She’s been so careful for so long that no one seems to know exactly what she does think,” Severino said.

Severino attended Harvard Law School, where Kagan served as dean. She asked fellow Harvard people about Kagan’s tenure as dean. “Everyone came back with the same perspective, which was she was careful to never say anything on the record, or off the record, to anyone about her own opinions, so I think she’s been carefully shepherding her image for a long time, possibly ever since her DC circuit nomination by President Clinton, so that’s a long time to effectively live on the short list.”

Another problem for Kagan is her ties to Goldman Sachs, according to Matt Kelley of USA Today:

Solicitor General Elena Kagan was a member of the Research Advisory Council of the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute, according to the financial disclosures she filed when President Obama appointed her last year to her current post. Kagan served on the Goldman panel from 2005 through 2008, when she was dean of Harvard Law School, and received a $10,000 stipend for her service in 2008, her disclosure forms show.


And from Sam Stein at Huffpo:

On Friday, a slew of inquiries was made to the White House and Justice Department about a minor post Solicitor General Elena Kagan once held at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank under fire over controversial mortgage securities transactions. Kagan served on a Goldman advisory council between 2005 and 2008, with the task of providing expert “analysis and advice to Goldman Sachs and its clients.” For her work she earned a $10,000 stipend.

This was actually old news. Kagan disclosed this information during her first confirmation hearings for the post of Solicitor General.

Unless you’re a committed (or commitable) Obot, I can’t see why the Goldman issue should be on the table. After all, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since Kagan’s previous confirmation hearings.

Charlie Savage discusses the issue of executive power and SCOTUS

As President Obama prepares to nominate somebody to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens, his administration appears to be on a collision course with the Supreme Court in legal disputes that will test the limits of executive power.

Those disputes — involving issues like detainee rights and secrecy — throw into sharp relief the differences in the records of several leading contenders for the nomination, including Solicitor General Elena Kagan and two appeals court judges, Merrick B. Garland and Diane P. Wood.

And the there’s the “is she gay” issue. I don’t know if the Repubs will bring it up or not–maybe in sneaky ways.

There’s this from the Washington Post: Obama navigating high court nomination with more ease this time

After listing the ways the administration is handling things better, supposedly, there this:

….in other respects, the process is the same as a year ago, with senior administration officials hinting about who is on the shortlist — for the past couple of weeks, it has been Kagan, Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit and Judge Sidney Thomas of the 9th Circuit — but remaining relatively opaque with outside interest groups. Activists with liberal interest groups said White House officials have kept open communication lines but have been circumspect about Obama’s thinking. “The contact has typically been one-way, which is, ‘We’ll hear what you want to tell us,’ ” said one activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of offending the administration.

Another said that there have been several meetings but that the White House has not much shared its point of view. Still, one outside source said the president’s preference is less apparent than at the same point a year ago, just before he nominated Sotomayor. “Last time around, you knew Sotomayor was going to be the candidate,” the person said. “She was such a home run on so many different counts. . . . I would say this one is much, much, much more difficult for them.”

As the process draws to a close, officials in several groups handicapped the race as between Kagan and Garland, giving Kagan the edge. Kagan, they said, has weathered criticism from conservatives and liberals. The left has criticized her defense of some of the terrorism policies of the George W. Bush administration, although her defenders point out that she was only representing the policies of the Obama administration.

Via Greenwald, there’s also this horrifying headline: Supreme Court Watchers Wonder: How Conservative Is Kagan?

If Obama nominates her, I’d have to guess she is pretty conservative.

What do you think? And what are you reading today? Have a great Saturday, and I apologize for my lack of energy this morning.

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