January 16, 2011

the Second Amendment and the right to bear nukes?

What is so distressing about the coverage of the Tucson shootings so far is the general reticence to reopen a debate about gun-control and the Second Amendment, and talk openly about the need for PROPER LIMITS in accessing and using weapons. Remember, Jared Loughner bought his nine-millimeter Glock 19 lawfully and easily. So whatever may have led Loughner to commit the act, whether it was “Don’t Retreat, Reload!” Sarah Palin and the Tea Party antics, or the grammar of Mexican immigrants, or those aliens from hell, “whatever Loughner’s demons turn out to be,” writes Katha Pollitt,

what let him kill six people and wound fourteen was that he had access to a gun—and a magazine that let him shoot thirty-three bullets without reloading. (Indeed, the Glock 19 was the same model gun Seung-Hui Cho used to kill thirty-two people at Virginia Tech.) It's a little pathetic—has it really come to this, that it will be a huge uphill battle to ban something that has no purpose except to kill up to thirty-three people before anyone can stop you? Apparently, yes.

And, remarkably, the sale of the Glock 19 has only skyrocketed nationwide since the shooting!

Sure, the militia cult among my fellow Americans is hardly new. And, of course, it is impossible to prove that Palin, Glenn Beck, fat-man Rush, Sharron Angle, Joyce Kaufman, or anyone else on the extreme right led Loughner to go on his rampage; but it is also impossible to prove that they did not. In fact, it really doesn’t matter whether Loughner saw Palin’s website, or even the campaign ad for Jesse Kelly who ran against Gabrielle Giffords last November. These public figures are still morally culpable, at least, in pandering to and feeding the rabid gun-toting right which has only become more mainstream and normalized because of it. The far right sees cultural authenticity in guns and, more generally, in a military aesthetic which is boorish and brute - exactly the kind of thing people cling to when they are incapable of arguments and debate, and exactly the kind of thing righties these days like to fire up.      

Perhaps even more disturbing are the militia-men troglodytes who readily speak in in terms of the legitimacy of armed resistance against the US government. And, remarkably, they do so as Constitutional Fundamentalists appealing to the Second Amendment, as well as to the overall libertarian lexicon of “limited government” and individual freedoms more broadly. (Listen to Ron Paul talk about the Constitution’s state-of-nature clause.) Here Fundamentalists like to claim that their purchase and possession of guns and weapons are  simple testaments to – even a celebration of – their Constitutional right. A few have even brandished their weapons at public gatherings, (like town meetings where “the socialist takeover of health-care” has been debated,) in order to remind the rest of us of so-called “Second Amendment remedies,” (a term coined a few months back by candidate for Nevada Senator, Sharron Angle.)

But would this guy and others like him ever go so far as to actually advocate the armed overthrow of the US government? And should the FBI and others in law enforcement be watching them given their  Constitutional obligations? (Listen again to Ron Paul give his views.) Whether or not gun-nuts actually openly look forward to the day when they can wage insurrection against the US government, or much less pull a trigger, their organized presence can certainly intimidate and chill political debate.


Rachel Maddow began to provide some much needed perspective a few nights ago.

So what are the PROPER RESTRICTIONS AND LIMITS …and why? And do we want law enforcement actually having to contend with a heavily armed population which also incidentally happens to be ill-informed, xenophobic, and probably ill-equipped to use the fucking things anyway? Adding, Digby wrote,

Let's face it, even if the founders anticipated a future revolution when they wrote the second Amendment (which I doubt --- I assume the anticipated a future invasion.) But whatever it was, they didn't anticipate the kind of weaponry the government would someday be able to muster against the people if such a thing happened. It's a silly notion at this point that a revolutionary force armed with Glocks could defeat the government if it decided to turn its sites on the people.

So, for the sake of argument, why not tanks? Why not nukes? Does there come a point where the Fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment undermines a functioning Constitutional order, or at least any remaining Constitutional order which requires peaceful assembly, due process, etc. Is the US Constitution potentially at war with itself? 

On another level  we must begin to realize that the heated rhetoric and overall “climate” in the US right now should be seen as symptoms of a failed two-party system which cannot adequately address a pervading violent, fearful, and increasingly deranged culture as well as a widespread persistence of political and economic malaise, individual powerlessness, and resentment that is felt by many, many Americans. So rather than try to begin addressing these issues, (much less even tighter restrictions of semi-automatic weapons like the Glock 19,) the response of public officials from both parties has been to call for calm while consider how best to ramp-up the security state even more, and spend more money on private security forces. “There are a lot of desperate people in our society, said Jesse Jackson Jr., “who may be unemployed, uneducated and despondent. They are susceptible to rumors, innuendo and anti-government rhetoric that only serves to inflame an already combustible environment.” And considering this timeline of political violence and threats since the US Supreme Court cited the Second Amendment in June, 2008 to proclaim that it was indeed unconstitutional to ban fire-arms, their pleas hardly seem irrational.    

As institutions increasingly fail, and the country teeters on becoming downright ungovernable, unfortunately for liberals and progressives it has been the Tea-Party and the far right that has successfully mobilized popular discontent. But a broken system such as this one only reflects and entrenches adversarial hysteria, some kinds more disturbing than others. Considering the violent acts and rhetorical antics on the right, especially during the elections of 2010, should the rest of us, especially on “the left,” start taking the Second Amendment into our own hands as well for protection? Criminals, gun-nuts, businessmen, politicians: everyone and their neighbor will have ‘em, why not us too? I really hope it doesn’t end like that.    


January 13, 2011

bankers steal your money

they also concoct and sell poisonous financial instruments to the gullible and unknowing, and THEN blame them when the shit hits the fan. Watch Charles Ferguson talk about his documentary, Inside Job. Though Ferguson does not discuss it in this particular take, one of the most telling features made clear by the whole “securitization” collapse of 2008 is just how rotten the academic discipline of economics itself has become…a topic worth pursuing a lot further. 

January 5, 2011

politics for losers, part II

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb writes that what has been most disappointing about Obama in his first two years as President is just how “bad at losing” he has been.

I expected Obama to be a better loser, specifically to be better at losing. There were a lot of items on the table, a lot of them weren’t going to happen, but it was important for the new future of liberalism that the Obama team lost them well. And that hasn’t happened.

By losing well, I mean losing in a way that builds a coalition, demonstrates to your allies that you are serious, takes a pound of flesh from your opponents and leaves them with the blame, and convinces those on the fence that it is an important issue for which you have the answers. Lose for the long run; lose in a way that leaves liberal institutions and infrastructure stronger, able to be deployed again at a later date.

And it’s not just making concessions without getting much in return, “conceding both pieces of flesh and the larger narrative to the other side,” that has disheartened Konczal but that Obama has in both policy and tone alienated – even infuriated – supporters who now seem too “demoralized and confused” to be politically active, and pick up the proverbial gauntlet once again come election time. Konczal asks, “where are the newer and/or stronger liberal groups that have emerged in the past two years?”       

Konczal mentions Net Neutrality, immigration, climate change, and the failure to investigate the Bush and Cheney administration for the breach of law as evidence of a misguided two years, but if a list is something you really want, then hey...what the hell, why not add fifteen more?  

1.    The continuation of Bush-Cheney era interrogation and renditions
2.    The overall unprecedented growth of executive powers to spy on and police the citizenry
3.    The expanded war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen
4.    The failure to close Guantanomo Bay
5.    No Public Option and the gift giving Reform to the private insurance industry
6.    Subservience to the wishes and delights of the financial industry
7.    High unemployment and a stinking economy
8.    An economic stimulus package not being big enough
9.    Nopenhagen
10. BP cover-ups
11. Still no word on the coming Green economy
12. Having become the all-time corporate kingpin through bailouts and giveaways
13. Extending Bush tax-cuts for the wealthy
14. For having allowed Tea Party loons to buy the populist agenda
15. And for slapping his electoral base for complaining about all of the above. 

Sure, one could add to the list – which will only grow likely in dribs in drabs during the remaining two years of Obama’s Presidency. But the dogged persistence and naivete of believing in the well-intentioned soul of poor-hands-tied-behind-his-back Barack Obama amongst liberals and “the left” will only continue to neutralize the significance of such stubborn facts, as well as the possibility for a vital progressive politics. Indeed the power of rationalization is immense these days. But do you know what is most pathetic about these insipid goobers, these losers? Sometime around the summer of 2012, some of them, (like Jonathan Alter, Ezra Klein, and Katrina van der Nation,) will dust themselves off and rise once again to cheerlead, wear buttons, and wave the flag of political “pragmatism.” More ordinary supporters will remember their shame but still go sheepishly to the voting booths nonetheless to cast their vote for Obama. Oh the horror.     

Ultimately Obama is not a fighter for progressive ideals and ends he claims to support. He not only makes backroom deals with corporate lobbyists but hardly ever takes the time to travel the country to move the needle of public opinion, like Clinton often did so successfully. (Insiders have already begun talking about more backroom deals involving a “compromise” with Republicans over Social Security.) Obama and the Democrats have thus squandered the opportunity to take charge of the political narrative handed to them in late 2008, and have failed to (re)build political coalitions they will need for years to come. And so, in just two years the GOP is back with a fucking vengeance.  

It wasn’t long ago that candidate Obama proved to be a great inspirational speaker for many Americans, and was even sold as a “community organizer!” The 2008 election brought the country not just its first African-American President but filibuster proof majorities in both Houses of Congress until, that is, the upset by Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Clearly, staying within the beltway has had pretty awful consequences for Obama and the Democrats. As Digby put it,    

You can't win them all, but you can make damned sure that when you lose your principles are out front and everybody knows where you stand. That is very helpful down the road when you try to make a case for your policies. Trying to "make the best of it" or paper over the differences or (worst of all) adopting the other side's position as your own and saying the policy is actually a good one, will come back to bite you hard. 

Indeed the long term effects of the Obama Presidency may easily translate into disaster for the “progressive” cause itself. Not only will state corporatism likely be more entrenched than ever, as it continually “Reforms” its mechanisms, and eats away at the savings and lives of the demos in the process, but the progressive legacy that has been fought for over decades as a whole, (social safe nets, simple health and safety protections, due process, public education, transparency and disclosure laws, etc.,) will likely be lost as well.  

January 3, 2011

Who is Cathleen P. Black?

Cathleen Black in 1997. 

Last November, Mayor Mike hand-picked this same Cathleen Black, a corporate publishing mogul and business leader, to become the new Chancellor of the NYC public school system, the largest public school system in the country. Despite protests and several lawsuits waged by civic and education groups which decried Black’s lack of experience as well as her refusal to issue any revealing statements about the state of public education these days, she was waived in by some stacked-deck committee of Bloomberg toadies. So today she was sworn in.
Much like her predecessor Joel Klein, (who had been a media magnate himself at Bertelsmann, and who will now go on to work for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.,) Black has been at the helm of Hearst Magazines since 1979, and, to her credit *cough* has successfully found plenty of shelf-space for glossy show-and-tells like Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Redbook, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, etc. She has also served as eight-year President of USA Today, perhaps the daily template for dumb-downed and fluffed-up misinformation, (see rampant euphemisms, one-dimensional reporting, and all the accompanying multi-colored charts and pie diagrams your ADD desires.) As for her professional accomplishments, the NY Times mentioned that Black, “helped convince Oprah Winfrey it was time to extend her brand to publishing, personally visiting the talk-show host with a mockup of what was to become O, the Oprah Magazine — one of the biggest success stories in the industry.” For more on Black’s accomplishments and skills as a businesswoman, see this article.

Black also sits on the board of IBM and Coca-Cola Co., positions she promised to resign from come the New Year. (For more of Black’s involvements with Coca-Cola and IBM, see this NY Times article.) And to complete the portrait, according to one NY Times article, Black also has homes on the Upper East Side as well as in Connecticut where her children attend…you guessed it! private boarding schools. Unsurprisingly, Black never attended public schools as a youngster herself. But perhaps most damning, she has absolutely no experience in education at all, not even any gigs in public service.


Alex Pareene in an article in Slate thus wrote,      

The New York public schools system serves more than a million students. Picking the woman responsible for keeping Cosmo profitable and publishing anti-literacy newspaper USA Today to run the whole thing is corporatism masquerading as benevolent rule by our wisest technocrats.

The fantasy of the superstar CEO who can parachute into any company -- in any industry -- and right the ship through time-tested management techniques is common in corporate circles, but so are books of New Yorker cartoons about golf. Only the sort of lucky billionaire convinced of the moral superiority of the financially successful would assume that a random executive with no education experience could manage the New York city public schools better than someone who... you know, has experience managing public schools.

Although I disagree with Pareene’s emphasis on “experience” as the sole criteria for determining the merits of appointees to important positions in general, we should nevertheless wonder how Mme. Black will go about making her decisions: Does she know what programs to cut if she must? Which ones will she fight for? How will she prioritize competing agendas and reforms? What is her vision? What are her plans, and why has she been so silent about them? 

If you ask these questions because you happen to care about public education and the welfare and health of the city's students, the interview of Black with Charlie Rose embedded above could make you seriously ill. Its only fifteen minutes but one gets the impression that any issue pertaining to public education was as important an issue to Black at the time as eighteenth century stamp collecting may have been. As she and her host whiz by topics on advertising and demographics in the fascinating world of the magazine industry circa 1997, the interview quickly becomes the typical mind-numbing interview Charlie Rose has become famous for, and which  made you change the channel to catch those last few minutes of that Cheers rerun.      

Ultimately, Boss Bloomberg’s selection of Black should hardly be surprising because it is symptomatic of the ever-increasing homogeneity of political, corporate, and educational culture. Though Black is not an educator it would be mistaken however to think she is a stranger to the world of public education, or, shall we say, the education industry. In between her various stints at Hearst and Coca-Cola, Black also finds time to sit on the Advisory Council of the Harlem Village Academy, a charter school in NYC, while her husband and confidante, Thomas E. Harvey, is a “longtime lawyer” for the Institute of International Education – and, let it also be known, “a regular donor to Republican candidates and causes.” 

Bloomberg admitted months ago when going public with his selection of Black that he did not want an educator as his new Chancellor but rather a “world-class manager,” or, more glowingly, a superstar manager who has succeeded in the private sector. But what our intractably smug mayor may not prefer to mention however was the selection process by which he chose her, a process which the NY Times has describe as “secretive.” “To a degree unusual even for an administration that relishes keeping deliberations as private as possible,” the article said, “hardly anyone knew of Mr. Klein’s departure or Ms. Black’s arrival until minutes before the official announcement. While such posts are typically filled after highly publicized national searches that can last months or even a year, there is little evidence that anyone else was seriously vetted or considered – and few of the usual suspects, including members of the mayor’s inner circle, were even consulted.” The autocracy, as well as the bad judgment of selecting her, was echoed by Black herself when blurting to the NY Post that ‘the offer came out of left field.’” Fearing a public debate which might spoil a thing or two, the mayor went ahead like a good dictator, and chose, in the words of the NY TImes,  “someone he knew through business and social networks, someone squarely in his comfort zone of wealthy and socially prominent Upper East Side residents, someone with whom he shared many friends and colleagues, dinners and drinks.” According to the same NY Times article, Bloomberg and Black, along with Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein, indeed happen to be “regular attendees” to New York investment bank Allen and Company’s annual get-togethers in Sun Valley, Idaho, “the exclusive gathering each July of the country’s publishing elite.”  

I suppose it would be remiss not to mention that Mike Bloomberg has been a longtime proponent of charter schools. (And for a report-card on NYC schools under his reign, see this recent article. For some broader perspective on charter-schools nationwide, see this review of “Waiting for Superman” by Diane Ravitch.) Bloomberg has also announced plans to cut back on teacher tenure, and make it easier for the city to fire teachers. He also looks forward to opening a high-school which will be a partnership between IBM and the City University of New York, thereby allowing students of the school to earn a two–year degree and get a head-start in "being the first in line for a job at IBM,” as any aspiring NYC teenager should surely want. I mean in today's techno-world, and what not, who could protest when Mikey assured the public last September at NBC's education Summit that NY state law would be changed to require public schools to buy more digital goodies from the very media conglomerates that he, Black, and Klein broker with. Read about what else he said that day here.    

According to Carmen Fiarina, who served under outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein from 2004-2006, “I’m not sure if the purpose of this appointment is to strengthen — or eliminate — public schools.” A far more prescient critique however was recently given by Henry A. Giroux, also an educator, who wrote that Black’s appointment illustrates that  
educational and political problems can be solved through the template of a business culture increasingly characterized by top-to-down modes of governance, unchecked financial recklessness, a contempt for democratic modes of deliberation, a hatred of unions’ and teachers’ rights, a disdain for all things public and a flight for social and moral responsibility. But the real issue here is not about the appointment of Black to a position for which she is embarrassingly unqualified, but about corporate power and a business culture, along with its pocketed elites, who both detest public education and who pose a serious threat to the educational conditions necessary for critical thought, engaged citizenship and democratic life itself.

Gets me thinking. Can you imagine some elected official in the coming future making the case that private sector managerial experience enables one to run the NYPD?