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    • The Law of Equal Treatment
      Last Friday I wrote an article on the idea that if a society has a rule or duty, it must apply to everyone in the applicable situation, no matter who they are, even if it’s someone you love. It was interesting to me that most of the commenters disagreed. Perhaps this is my fault in choosing the famous example of a German general executing his own son for aba […]
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Forget Romney’s taxes, what will Obama do about unemployment??

Sorry Matt Taibbi, This tax return issue is one gigantic distraction:

The Obama administration, if it wanted to, could make a lot of hay over this. It could say, “Mitt Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns for years and years during the last decade. But the years for which he did release returns, he paid a rate that’s less than half of what most ordinary American professionals make – and he thinks that’s ‘fair.'”

Now, Obama has gone after Mitt’s tax returns – a little. He’s released a few ads here and there, including one called “Makes You Wonder” that called Mitt’s use of carried interest in his tax return a “trick,” a semantic move for which Obama was criticized, since it was actually nothing of the sort. Mitt Romney’s ability to pay a top rate of 15% for his work was no trick at all but a fully-legal expression of the values of our current political system, a system, again, that Mitt Romney is “proud of” and thinks is “fair.”

I can’t blame Matt for doing what all the other journalists do during an election year.  Jay Rosen has written extensively on the “horse race” reporting of election year journalism.  Journalists write stories only other journalists would love.  It’s all about petty tit-for-tat and gossip and gaffes.  But this is not like other election years.  In a way, you would have thought that the politicians with their slick psychological manipulators on the payroll would have figured out that the voters want to talk about serious things this year.  They should be on the cutting edge.  But I’m beginning to think that the parties are not as modern and hipster as they’d like to think.  Maybe that’s because both *presumptive* nominees are representing old, establishment money and power.  Old guys think the world revolves around their interests and that they can still mold the culture to suit them.  But it is social distancing that prevents them from seeing the American landscape as it truly is.

Jonathan Chait recently encapsulated this mindset in his recent piece, Why Washington Accepts Mass Unemployment. Chait is critical of the Washington establishment that thinks that bad things happen to other people.  But the weird thing is that he doesn’t even know how vulnerable he is:

It’s important to respond to arguments on intellectual terms and not merely to analyze their motives. Yet it is impossible to understand these positions without putting them in socioeconomic context. Here are a few salient facts: The political scientist Larry Bartels has found (and measured) that members of Congress respond much more strongly to the preferences of their affluent constituents than their poor ones. And for affluent people, there is essentially no recession. Unemployment for workers with a bachelors degree is 4 percent — boom times. Unemployment is also unusually low in the Washington, D.C., area, owing to our economy’s reliance on federal spending, which has not had to impose the punishing austerity of so many state and local governments.

I live in a Washington neighborhood almost entirely filled with college-educated professionals, and it occurred to me not long ago that, when my children grow up, they’ll have no personal memory of having lived through the greatest economic crisis in eighty years. It is more akin to a famine in Africa. For millions and millions of Americans, the economic crisis is the worst event of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, health insurance, opportunities for their children, seen their skills deteriorate, and lost their sense of self-worth. But from the perspective of those in a position to alleviate their suffering, the crisis is merely a sad and distant tragedy.

Maybe in the plush Washington suburbs 4% unemployment among college graduates is the norm.  But I’m sitting here in NJ with the dead corpses of the careers of PhD’s in Chemistry and Pharmacology all around me and it is most decidedly not all sunshine and roses.  We are also part of the “elite” and we’re dying out here. All we hear is myths about how there aren’t enough of us while vast numbers of us can’t get jobs or keep the ones we relocate our families to take.  Jonathan Chait joins Bill Keller in the same clueless club.  Who exactly do they think they are talking about?  Are journalists and poli sci graduates guaranteed gold watches and pensions these days?  A couple of years ago, the kids around here also would have looked on the recession as “a sad and distant tragedy”.  These days, those same kids are the ragged refugees of the middle class.  Their childhoods will be permanently marked by the changes their parents are going through.

The tax distraction serves both parties.  Neither one of them wants to talk about unemployment.

Here we are, 3 months from the election and no one is talking about unemployment.

How is Obama going to put people back to work?  If I don’t hear some concrete policies, then I am going to assume he has no plans.  I am going to assume he doesn’t care.  I’m not going to be the only one.

Yes, yes, it’s really crappy that rich people do not pay enough in taxes.  If politicians are really concerned with this, the first thing they could do to help level the playing field is eliminate the cruel excise tax for people who are chronically unemployed who have to liquidate their 401Ks in order to keep their kids in the same high school.  That’s where I would start.  No, do not lecture them about saving their money for retirement.  If they needed a lecture, they wouldn’t have a stash in their 401Ks to begin with.  You want to lecture people about saving for retirement? Go talk to a 30 year old who hasn’t saved a dime.

You know, I have no intention of helping Republicans achieve a damn thing.  I’m not harping on Democrats because I want Republicans to win.  I’m harping on Democrats because I want them to do something.

It gives me no pleasure to have to be a Democrat in Exile looking forward to a long hard slog and decades of being in the wilderness while we build another party.  But that’s where we’re headed.  And I’d like to remind the party who wants to make it sound like resistance is useless that that’s probably they way the Liberal party treated the New Democratic Party of Canada about 10 years ago.  Times change, people change, and it happens at a much quicker  pace these days.  The Democrats might not feel so smug in a few months when 5-6% of us decide to tough it out and turn to replacing one of the two parties with something different.

The unemployed will have plenty of work to do to get rid of the party that wanted to waste our time with a pointless exercise of distraction while we were losing everything.  That will motivate us to get up in the morning and work for a shake-up of the two party system.


Updating Shakespeare: “First thing we do, kill all the marketers.”  Grocery stores are now using loyalty card information so that food manufacturers can reward some of their customers more than others.  There are a zillion reasons why this is a bad idea.  It’s unfair.  It’s like putting your thumb on the scales for some customers while others still generate a hefty profit margin thinking they’re getting a break.  As one commenter noted in this NYTimes piece, if you’re poor, you don’t look loyal enough to the companies who might offer you a lower price so you end up footing the bill for the upper middle class suburbanites.

If there isn’t a law, there oughtta be.  For one thing, it feels like someone is always looking over your shoulder and invading your privacy.  For another, it seems like the whole world is manipulating prices with a giant optimization algorithm in just one more way to pick every penny of disposable income as it can from our pockets.  I don’t feel like a consumer anymore.  I feel like a crop that is being harvested.


More dance loveliness.  Afternoon of a Faun combines two of my favorite things: Debussy and Dance.  The original was choreographed by Nijinsky and was scandalous.  In the end, a faun that has been stalking a nymph throws himself on her discarded scarf and lustily pelvic thrusts into it.

But when I was a kid, I searched the NYCB schedule at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for the Jerome Robbins version.  The music is the same but the setting is different.  In this ballet, two dancers are in a studio and dance alone and together, seemingly unaware of each other as they stare into an imaginary mirror.  It’s playful, romantic and clever.  And no scarfs get messy.

I’m pretty sure the version I saw was danced by Allegra Kent.  The name sticks out.  Allegra.  Only ballerinas have names like that.  Allegra, Darcy, Gelsey, Paloma.  Even their names are in arabesque.

In the case of the Robbins’ updated version, the original dancer was the ethereal Tanaquil LeClercq.  Tanaquil was the name of an ancient Etruscan queen.  Tanaquil’s career did not last very long.  She was married to George Balanchine at the peak of her ballet career when she was struck down with polio while she was on tour.  She never danced again and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  But we have this video of a substantial portion of this short ballet where Tanaquil and Jacques D’Amboise  dance as “nymph” and “faun” in a studio in an afternoon.  You can watch it here if the request is disabled.


Wednesday: Something old, something new

It looks like I missed the 400th Republican presidential debate again last night.  How did the audience disgrace itself this time?

David Frum and Jonathan Chait wrote separate columns in the New York Magazine criticizing their own side for being unreasonable.  David Frum’s makes more sense with his, “Whoa, when did you Tea Party people get to be so crazy?  That shit is fucked up and bullshit” disbelief at how off the rails his party has slid.  He never criticizes their expectations.  Just their overreach.  To Frum, it would have been easy for them to get everything they wanted out of Obama and the Democrats.  In fact, they pretty much have.  Frum is upset that now there is a universal mandate and other things the insurance companies don’t like written into law for health insurance and that will be hard to walk them back.  But he completely ignores how expensive and unattainable that insurance still is to those of us who no longer have those costs covered by our employers.  He doesn’t even offer any new ideas about how Republicans were supposed to make it more affordable.  He’s just pissed that they pushed so hard back when they didn’t really have to.  He makes a mistake about praising Obama’s eloquence and intelligence that is admired globally.  I think that might have been true at first but the honeymoon has been over for a long time.  Perhaps Frum is projecting his own admiration of Obama since it is precisely the Frums that Obama is trying to appeal to.  But in general, he’s right.  The Republicans have been so obstructive and so whipped up to heights of artificial fury by imaginary injury by the forces of right wing media that they don’t know when to declare victory and call it a day.

Chait?  {{sigh,  shakes heads, sighs again}}  Chait admits up front that he’s an Obama apologist.  Well, you can pretty much figure out what follows from that point onward.  Yes, once again, he chastises the left for actually expecting something.  It’s one big long revision of history of each of the past century’s Democratic presidents and how all of them come up short compared to Obama.  No president is spared.  Even Roosevelt, who Chait forgets to credit with, um, just about anything.  How many people are around to remember what Roosevelt did anyway?  Jeez, I don’t know but my Grandmother would have chewed your ear off if you’d criticized Roosevelt.  Sure, the guy wasn’t perfect.  What person is?  But let’s not pretend that the changes he put in place weren’t radical and transformative.  The Republicans have been fighting his programs since their inception and have been losing.  That’s an amazing accomplishment even if they had a rough start and didn’t cover everyone at first.  Clinton gets the same old, same old that we’ve been hearing from lefties for 4 years now.  What Chait conveniently glosses over is that the tactics the Republicans and the media used to discredit and bedevil Clinton throughout his two terms had never been seen before.  They were so new and notable that we came up with a phrase, the “vast right wing conspiracy”.  The difference between Obama and Clinton is that Clinton seems to have learned how to deal with his Republican opponents and drive them crazy.  Obama has not.  Obama has made it an art to drive his own base crazy.

Then Chait brings up the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and I just had to walk away.  The Fair Pay Act was stalled in committee and never had a chance.  The Lilly Ledbetter act merely extends the period of time that women can sue for pay discrimination.  But first they have to prove that discrimination occurred, which they can now do by asking human resources for salary information of their colleagues.  And do you know what the likelihood of that is, Jonathan?  Somewhere between zero and less than zero.  If Obama had really wanted to score points with women and the world of work, he might have first lead by example and not acted like a patronizing head patter when his female appointees petitioned him for fair treatement.  And secondly, he could have developed a policy to  study, using quantitative analysis methods, workplaces where gender discrimination is alleged to take place.  That would have eliminated the he said/she said problems and smoked out a lot of bad behavior.  But Obama never did develop serious policies about womens’ issues.  He’s going to make his mouth move on the subject during the campaign but he insults our intelligence if he thinks rolling out Lilly Ledbetter is going to work in 2012.

Anyway, go read Chait’s monstrosity if you want to get a clue as to what the Democrats are going to throw at us.  Basically, it’s the same old guilt trip.  It’s YOUR fault if you expected anything from Obama.


I’m starting to pick up vibrations in my tin-foil antenna that the Democrats are getting impatient with their voters.  For some reason, those damn people aren’t as enthusiastic about who is in power this year.  And more than one reader here has excoriated OWS for not supporting Democrats.  “If OWS doesn’t get behind the Democrats, the Republicans will win and that would negate everything OWS is trying to do.  Don’t you see??  If OWS wants a political solution, it has to work to defeat the Republicans.”  You can almost detect the note of contempt underneath the frustration.  It must be maddening to have to talk down to people who really should be getting it.

Gosh, didn’t we go through this in 2008?  And where did I read that Obama was having problem with less than enthusiastic voters in Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, three states he absolutely must win in 2012?  Wait!  Weren’t those the states he either insulted with his “bitter gun toters” shtick or whose votes he made irrelevant until his backers bought off enough superdelegates for him to score the nomination?  Yes, I think the were.  And then he botched his first term and made all the adult children of those seniors poor when he didn’t address unemployment.  Must suck for Obama and the Democrats to actually have to pander to the base voters since they did so well without us for 4 years.

I don’t know about the rest of OWS but I am unconcerned as to whether Democrats are going to have to work really hard for the next election cycle.  Urgency on their part does not constituted an emergency on mine.  My emergency happened when my company decided to layoff during the worst recession since the 1930s and the party who had all of the power decided not to do anything about it.


By the way, did you know that those companies that have been sitting on all of the cash they have been withholding from the economy have been buying back their shares with it so they can give executives fat bonuses and lay off the research staff?  True.  Some of them realize this might not have been the best use of money from a business productivity point of view but oh, well.  Damage done.  Their bad.  This shouldn’t be news to anyone but all that crap about how unemployment reflects structural problems and globalization and too few STEM workers (don’t make me laugh) was just nonsense.  I have become acutely aware of what is at the bottom of the unemployment problem from my own experience and from talking to people in other industries and professions: there is no money.  That is not to say that there isn’t money to pay people.  It’s just that the people who have it are sitting on it.  And they’re going to continue sitting on it until someone makes them get off that damn pile and share it.


Finally, something nice.  The NYTimes did a piece on online high schools including Stanford’s Online High School.  In Stanford Online High School Raises the Bar, the NYTimes profiles one of the most successful online high school programs in the country and points out that this is a growing trend while noting that not all online curriculum may be created equal.  Colleges have to be careful when they sign on to programs with for profit educational companies.  But Stanford’s OHS is different.  It is an offshoot of their original Educational Programs for Gifted Youth (EPGY).  Stanford OHS is the same online high school that the kid has been attending for two years now.  She only takes her English course at Stanford OHS but if I can sell enough blood, I’ll sign her up for her calculus course there as well next year.

I can’t say enough good things about Stanford OHS.  The only thing that would be better would be if these kinds of courses were held in person in the local school.  But even my school district, as good as it is with many AP level courses, can not provide this level of instruction to gifted and talented youth.  In fact, one of the reasons I enrolled the kid in Stanford OHS was because despite her test scores and SATs she took in 8th grade that showed her to be in the top 1% of students nationwide, she wasn’t recommended for advanced courses in English.  Stanford placed her two years ahead based on a placement test and her abilities, not compliance in class to a series of (to her) meaningless tasks.  It challenged her in ways she wasn’t being challenged in school.  Her class schedule is more like a college course. It meets twice a week for 90 minutes each session and has supplemental course lectures as well. This works for her because unlike our regular high school, the OHS teacher doesn’t fill up every night with busy work like annotating texts for no reason or filling out worksheets or requiring 5 different drafts of an essay.  A draft and a final copy seem to be sufficient.  That leaves time to really explore the material in depth.  The level of the material is daunting.  And yet, she keeps up with her assignments, makes sure to never turn in late assignments and her grades are pretty good.  She has an A so far in her AP literature course and she’s only a sophomore.  I don’t feel like they’re cutting her any slack.

Whatever they’re doing for these gifted students is addressing their needs in a way that the public schools can’t.  It’s like they actually got to know what makes gifted students tick and are using that knowledge to correct bad study habits and provoke them to think in complex ways.  They *care* about these kids when the average harried high school teacher either ignores them or, in some cases, deliberately humiliates them.  I’m glad we had Stanford OHS for the two years that she’s been in the program.  What we’re going to do next year is another question.  But if anyone out there has a gifted student who is just sitting out her days in class until graduation, I understand that Stanford OHS is expanding…

Update on Stanford OHS:  I’m really disturbed by the comment thread.  There are a lot of commenters who think of this program as “elite”.  For those of us with kids who are being shortchanged by the educational system, it’s not elite.  It’s a godsend.  We would have nowhere else to go without Stanford.  Unless you have one of these strange creatures in your house, you really can’t imagine what a pain in the ass it is to get them the educational resources they deserve.  You’d think that teachers would be falling all over themselves to teach minds like theirs.  I imagine that mechanics and car afficianados dream of cars with the capacity for speed and performance.  Didn’t you ever know a garage addict who loved to take apart and reassemble an engine to make it go faster or better?  You’d think that teachers would have the same attitude when they met a kid with high capacity neurons but you would be oh so wrong. I have met very few.  Most teachers and administrators make flowery claims about addressing the unique needs of every individual student but when it comes right down to it, they’re more interested in rigid definitions of performance and those definitions usually have something to do with compliance.

The truth is that a lot of gifted kids slip to the bottom of their classes.  I know some of those former kids in my own family and I didn’t want that to happen to my kid.  Paying for Stanford OHS is not trivial and I am not a parent with an elite income.  But for us, it’s not a choice.  Until we start to value these children and provide the resources they need, we parents will continue to cough up the bucks to make sure they graduate from high school and develop good study habits for college.  Right now, Stanford OHS is practically the only resource we have.

I found a comment for that article that says it all:

As a recent graduate of the Stanford Online High School (OHS), I am happy to see the school portrayed in a positive light. For its students, OHS is a God-send. Nearly all of us have a common thread in our journey to OHS. We struggled in traditional schools with lack of academic challenge, inflexible administration, and bullying and unacceptance from our peers. At OHS, we find refreshing challenges that push our minds beyond their limits, teachers and staff that support us above and beyond, and a peer group that is accepting and celebrates our individual achievements and collective endeavors.

OHS is not an isolating experience. Beyond the myriad of clubs in the school, the majority of students have an extremely active life outside OHS – participating in music, acting, dance, sports, volunteer work, scientific research – the list goes on. While being at home on a computer can be isolating, OHS students are high achieving both in and outside the classroom. I have met people in college who went to a brick-and-motor school and lack social skills because they didn’t talk to people in school and stayed at home after school. The experience is what you make it.

I am proud to be a graduate from OHS and will always regard the school as a role-model of secondary education.