Under my thumb

5 10 2013

I was going to say that I’m severely ambivalent about the use of the word “privilege” (as a marker of unexamined social status), but, y’know, I’m not.

I flat-out don’t like the term.

Oh, I get it, I get why it’s used, and I don’t disagree with the notion that being able to take certain social resources for granted is, in fact, a kind of privilege. But the term “privilege” seems both overly personal and underly political: it seems more to judge the person than the circumstances.

I don’t really have a problem with judgment—I can judge with the best of ‘em—but as a diagnostic rather than a weapon. Hell, if I”m going to attack you, Imma coming at you directly, not interpretively.

Still, “privilege” gets used because it does get at something real, and because there’s not a good, pithy, substitute.

Aimai at No More Mister Nice Blog doesn’t offer a substitute, either, but does usefully break apart the concept in order to examine that part of privilege which really is personal—the desire to punish and anger at the inability to do so—and then links it all back to politics.

Much to mull, there, in terms of her? his? links to Jay Porter’s discussions of tipping and Punisher-customers, and the notion that federal workers are somehow servants who don’t know their place; I wonder if this couldn’t be linked up to the idea that private charity is better than public provision, Oh, and the meritocracy fetish. So: chewy good stuff.

Still lookin’ for a better word than privilege, though.

~~~

h/t Brad DeLong





You’re just another brick in the wall

2 10 2013

I first read Diane Ravitch as an undergraduate—my policy professor, Cathy Johnson, had assigned The Troubled Crusade for her class—and while I was suspicious of what I sniffed out as her conservatism, even I had to admit her history was good.

As she moved in and out of government (she worked for Bush I; I knew it!), I paid some attention to her doings, thinking of her as a kind of reasonable conservative.

Well.

She has certainly moved on from her years as a critic of public education, shifting from that of mod-con to the flag-bearer for a democratic education.

“A Nation at Risk” didn’t say much about accountability. It was really just saying woe is us, woe is us, our schools are failing, we need to have higher standards, we need to have a better curriculum. It didn’t say much about testing. I think there were one or two lines about it. But a lot of people jumped on this and said, “Oh, yeah. We need to test more. We need to have higher graduation standards.” Which is fine. But what they really had in mind by accountability was, “Who is going to be held accountable?” Meaning: “Who should be punished?” Uh, they don’t operate their businesses that way. The really great companies in America don’t operate by punishing their employees. They try to get the best people they can and then they take good care of them. I’m thinking of companies like Google. They talk about all the perks for the employees. Well, schools don’t have any perks for employees. All we’re doing now is talking about who should get fired next. So accountability has become this idea of, “Somebody’s head has to be chopped off. Some school has to be humiliated.” And that’s not educational. That’s penitentiary talk. (emph added)

Sing it, sister!

And there are districts like the one I wrote about in Minneapolis where there are schools that are virtually all white, schools that are completely black, schools that are all Hmong, schools that are all something else. And, you know, nobody stops and says, “Wait a minute. Aren’t we supposed to be trying to have an integrated society?” So in some ways what schools are dealing with today, public schools and also charter schools, is a social failure. It’s really a question of, What kind of a society do we want to be? (emph added)

Ed policy is not my area at all, but my response to this is: Right on! RIGHT ON!

~~~

h/t Charlie Pierce





I’m gonna set your flag on fire

19 08 2013

Quick follow-up to yesterday’s post:

I wasn’t clear in defining “punishment”, nor in distinguishing that undefined punishment from a beat-down from one’s political opponents.

The ultimate punishment (for an incumbent) is, of course, to be tossed from office, and is the standard for any other concerns about punishment. For example, falling poll numbers might invite either a primary challenge or a better-quality challenger from the other party, which could result in losing one’s seat. Similarly, a beat-down from a political adversary could lead to softening poll numbers, which, in turn, lead challengers to believe the incumbent is vulnerable.

I also wasn’t clear in distinguishing between fear of losing one’s seat from fear of being hammered for an allegedly weak response. As with the issue of punishment, the fear of hammering is a second-order fear linked to the primary fear of election loss.

The difficulty for the incumbent representative or senator, or for either the incumbent or possible presidential candidate, is discerning whether one will be considered weak if one counsels a less-aggressive stance as well as whether one would be able to fend off any attacks in ways that, if they do not strengthen one’s candidacy, do not appreciably weaken it. In the United States, DO SOMETHING!!! is the default mode in response to provocation, so in the absence of other cues, taking a highly aggressive stance is likely the safest tactic.

There are other factors, of course. Pressure from party leaders and threats to withhold campaign funds or boot a member off a favorable committee can steer a wavering politician toward aggression. A sustained media assault can also erode one’s resistance.

Finally, the politician might truly believe that the most aggressive response is, in fact, the correct one, and as such, acts in accordance with his or her principles in voting for aggression.

Now, as to my hypothesis that the supposed problem with a softer response is actually a problem with an unclear response, well, because elections are rarely about one thing and one thing only, this is tough to test.

Russ Feingold was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act and laid out his reasons for doing so, and he lost his re-election; however, he had always had tough races, and lost his bid in the 2010 Tea Party surge. Rep. Ron Paul counseled and Senator Rand Paul counsel non-intervention; the father repeatedly won re-election and the son is popular enough with the base of the Kentucky Republican Party that Mitch McConnell is looking to him in his tough re-election bid. Yet it’s also clear that Rand Paul’s non-interventionism runs into strong opposition within his own party, and while he might be able to ensconce himself in his senate seat for decades to come, it might limit his appeal as a presidential candidate in the Republican primaries.

So, no clear lesson.

Except: to the extent that there is no clear lesson regarding the necessity of the most aggressive response, it is just possible that a sitting politician or a presidential candidate who strongly believes in a less-aggressive/non-interventionist approach could effectively inoculate him or herself against charges of being “soft on terrorism/crime” by crafting a strong and clear alternative and selling it as the most effective way of dealing with the problem.





The sifting cloth is binding

18 08 2013

I’m not much disappointed in the Obama’s administration’s approach to national security.

I hate it, but I never expected anything else.

I’ve said in the past that presidents are so keen to go overboard on national security issues because a) they can and b) because they’ll be punished if they don’t. I think “a” still holds: presidents have far more leeway in foreign policy and national security matters than they do in domestic policy, not least because Congress is (in part due to fear of “b”) almost always willing to go along with the president when he says certain powers are needed to protect the (sigh) “homeland”.

President Bush almost certainly acted outside of the boundaries established by Congress when his administration authorized the torture of prisoners, but everything else by Bush and Obama? Okey-dokey by them. Detention. Rendition. A FISA court which never says no. Restriction of oversight to, well, oversight rather than overseeing. The gulping down of any and all data transmitted electronically. And who do you think authorized the expenditures for that massive data-storage complex in Utah?

This is not confined to the US: Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained by the British security service for the full 9 hours (which almost never happens) allowed under the horrendously loose provision of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000—passed by Parliament a year before the September 11 attacks.

I’ve also argued in the past that we, the people, basically authorize Congress to authorize the president to grope around in our private lives: we want to be safe, are willing to give power to those who promise to do everything possible to keep us safe, and will punish those who are unwilling to do everything possible. We won’t tolerate failure, I’ve asserted, so will tolerate almost everything else.

I’m no longer so sure that’s true, at least the part that we’ll punish leaders if something bad happens. In fact, I think I was badly, grossly, wrong about that in ways that should have been obvious.

What have been obvious failures of security in the past century or so? William Randolph Hearst trumpeted “Remember the Maine!” and pushed McKinley toward war, but was McKinley himself punished for the alleged Spanish perfidy? Pearl Harbor was attacked on FDR’s watch, and, again, the result was war—but not punishment for the president. LBJ trumped up the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led, yep, to war, but not to a diminution of his power.

Carter was considered weak in the wake of the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, but it’s not at all clear that the determination of weakness was due to the takeover itself rather than the long siege or the lousy US economy. The Marine compound was attacked in Beirut under Reagan and the Black Hawk Down incident occurred under Clinton, but because both presidents chose to cut the US’s losses, it’s not clear to what, if any, extent either man was punished: each was re-elected after these events.

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing? Again, Clinton wasn’t punished for that, easily winning a second term the following year.

And, of course, there’s the example of President George W. Bush. The worst attack by foreign terrorists on US soil and not only did he not pay a price, his approval ratings went up.

Now, it is common to talk about a rally-round-the-flag effect in response to national crises, but if this effect is real, then the punishment thesis doesn’t really work: they’re mutually exclusive.

This is just so goddamned obvious I have no excuse for having missed it.

I do think it’s possible that politicians are afraid they’ll be punished by constituents, but the real threat is less from constituents than political opponents, and from worrying that they’ll be called “soft” on terrorism or crime or drugs or whatever. If they don’t have any response to that charge, then they might get tagged as weak—but the weakness (if it is really even a weakness) may be due less to the alleged softness than to the lack of response itself.

Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Bush responded with war; presidents Reagan and Clinton responded with cut-and-run, and President Carter, the one considered weak, didn’t seem to have a clear response. In Carter’s case, that lack of clarity was read as lack of competence.

There’s a lot I’m throwing out, here, and much that I likely should be considering and am not. But on that basic point, that politicians act aggressively so as not to punished for [the consequences of alleged] softness, I’m pretty damned sure I was wrong.

I may be wrong on this, too, but I now think the issue isn’t punishment for an attack or even for lack of aggression following that attack, but lack of clarity  in the response.





‘Cause I told you once, you son of a bitch

1 05 2013

The Dems need some sons-of-bitches.

I’ve been mulling this ever since the presidents-are-assholes post (which, honestly, was the wrong word to use. I was thinking arrogant asshole when I wrote asshole, but since asshole is now more associated with thoughtlessness and jerkish behavior than an annoying overflow of self-confidence, I should have pulled another term out of the ol’ noggin. Prick, perhaps: presidents-are-pricks. Yes, that works, doesn’t it? And it has a minor alliterative bit going for it as well.). . .  and, um, yeah.

Okay, sons-of-bitches. Since US presidents have to appeal to citizens, there are limits as to how ruthless they may appear to be. I’m of the opinion that to become president you have to be one of the most ruthless people on the planet, but while you can—must—offer flashes of ruthlessness, you cannot be only ruthless.

Hence the need for sons-of-bitches.

Machiavelli is, unsurprisingly, my touchstone for this. Not everything he advises for would-be princes holds up in a democratic system, but even back in the day he recognized the value of a good hatchet man:

When he [Cesare Borgia] took Romagna, . . . the province was a prey to robbery, assaults, and every kind of disorder. He, therefore, judged it necessary to give them a good government in order to make them peaceful and obedient to his rule. For this purpose he appointed Messer Remirro de Orco, a cruel and able man, to whom he gave the fullest authority. This man, in a short time, was highly successful in rendering the country orderly and united, whereupon the duke, not deeming such excessive authority expedient, lest it should become hateful, appoint a civil court of justice in the centre of the province. . . .

Of course, Borgia was himself a son-of-a-bitch:

And as he knew the harshness of the past had engendered some amount of hatred, in order to purge the minds of the people and to win them over completely, he resolved to show that if any cruelty had taken place it was not by his orders, but through the harsh disposition of his minister [de Orco]. And having found the opportunity he had him cut in half and placed one morning in the public square at Cesena with a piece of wood and blood-stained knife by his side. The ferocity of this spectacle caused the people both satisfaction and amazement.

(My favorite part of this anecdote? He ends by saying “But to return where we left off.”)

No, I don’t recommend public body-choppings, but Machiavelli’s basic admonition holds:

a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which make him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.

Note that such faithlessness has less to do with the people than with other rulers and political actors.

Not that he has much respect for the people:

to possess [virtue] and always observe them is dangerous, but to appear to possess them is useful. Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. . . .

The people want to be well-ruled and to think well of those who rule them, so if you have to be faithless to maintain good order and lie about such faithlessness to maintain your reputation, well, that’s what effective leadership requires.

Given my antipathy toward moral consequentialism—the ends justify the means—you’d think I’d be appalled by Machiavelli, who is a consequentialist par excellence. And yet I am not, because the morality (if you will) of politics is not that of ethics; what is required for good governance of a state is distinct from that of good governance of a soul.

Anyway, the president-as-son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t work in contemporary American politics, not just because we want—Odin forbid—a “likable” president, but because he almost certainly couldn’t conceal his bad acts. No fingerprints, and all that.

Consider Nixon, a son-of-a-bitch if there ever was one, who was nonetheless dwarfed in his SOB-ness by his advisers. He could have survived Watergate had he been able to offload the responsibility on the execrable pack of hounds around him, but he couldn’t keep his beetle-brow out of it.

Compare that to Reagan. Does anyone truly believe that he knew nothing about the arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra clusterfuck? Sure, he was nodding off by the end of his term, but he wasn’t completely out of it when his henchmen were sending cakes to the ayatollah and offloading weapons to a scrum of fascists and opportunists camped in the hills of Nicaragua. His SOBs were colossally delusional, but they at least kept their duke out of it.

This is all getting away from me, isn’t it? “But to return where we left off.”

The Democrats need some sons-of-bitches because they are dealing with an opposition which leadership is itself too cowed to beat back the howling horde of feral paranoiacs which have overrun their party. The Dems—the Democratic president—needs their/his own pack of hounds (execrable or not) who are not only willing but positively gleeful at the thought of handcuffing the Republican party to the dead weight of the nutters and conspiracists, the young-Earthers and old birthers, the contraceptive-grabbers and ammo-clingers, and dragging the whole lot of them into the metaphorical sea. Only then will those Republicans who retain some faint memory of the necessity of good governance be scared into gnawing off their arms to preserve themselves and prevent their entire party from drowning in a roiling mass of incoherence and stupidity.

There’s another reason besides likability and  deniability to cultivate some SOBs: punishing the GOP will take time and real effort, and the president has his own shit to do. I always thought Rahm Emmanuel was overrated as an SOB—swearing a lot is no substitute for a well-cultivated ruthlessness—and while Anthony Weiner was a fine SOB in his own right, he had his own liabilities (besides the obvious ones) within his own caucus, and, in any case, couldn’t do it all by himself.

There are dangers to SOBs, of course, chief among them running off their leashes—which is why the president must himself retain his own ruthless streak and be willing either to yank them back into line or put ‘em (metaphorically) down.

But he must appear sincerely humane in doing so.





Not me baby I’m too precious—fuck off!

20 08 2012

As a registered Abortion Rights Militant, I can only sit out so many stupid comments and bad-policy debates involving the ninja body skills and the secrete secretions of women. Thus, I sigh and pick up the broadsword and head once more into the breach.

Current Missouri Representative and Senatorial candidate (and member of the House Science and Technology committee!) Todd Akin deserves every last bit of scorn, derision, and contempt heaped upon him. I see no reason to offer him the benefit of the “mispeak” doubt, not least because, as Garance Franke-Ruta pointed out, this particular kind of ignorance pie has been passed around at more than one pro-life party:

Arguments like his have cropped up again and again on the right over the past quarter century and the idea that trauma is a form of birth control continues to be promulgated by anti-abortion forces that seek to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. The push for a no-exceptions anti-abortion policy has for decades gone hand in hand with efforts to downplay the frequency with which rape- or incest-related pregnancies occur, and even to deny that they happen, at all. In other words, it’s not just Akin singing this tune.

This particular Abortion Rights Militant favors exactly the same number of laws for abortion as she does for any other surgery—which is to say, none—so it is unsurprising that I oppose any laws regulating abortion after rape. I understand why other pro-choice folk emphasize the need for options in case of rape—the idea that the state would take away a woman’s right to control her body after the right to control her own body was taken away by a criminal is horrifying—but it unfortunately it a)  plays into the argument that completely innocent victims deserve to choose whether to continue a pregnancy, but dirty dirty sluts who want sex deserve punishment in the form of a baby (aka, a “gift”); and b) that maybe those completely innocent victims are, in fact, not so innocent and thus also should be punished with the gift-baby.

You can see both parts in play in Akin’s comments as well as in Franke-Ruta’s round-up of reactionaries: If women were really legitimately forcibly raped, they wouldn’t get pregnant; if they get pregnant, well, then, maybe they wanted it just a lil’ bit.

Loudly unsaid, of course, is that any woman who wants and has sex deserve to get whatever’s coming to ‘em us—except, perhaps, orgasms.

Anyway, this vampire bit of “logic” is unlikely to collapse into dust no matter how many times it’s staked, so I’ll keep my weapons handy—all to defend, the Right, the True, and the Pleasurable.





Vagina

18 06 2012

Vagina.

Vagina vagina vagina.

Vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina.

Vagina.

It is a word for a female body part. Using it signals neither a lack of decorum nor a temper tantrum.

h/t: Think Progress, stories by Amanda Peterson Beadle (and another) and Annie-Rose Strasser








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