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A Delusional Rally to Restore Sanity October 31, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Scott McLemee’s discussion on the eve of the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear cites some disturbing survey results from Susan Herbst’s Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics.

[…]Herbst reports from a survey of university students in Georgia that she and her colleagues conducted in 2008-9. Their findings suggest a pervasive dread of argument as such, at least in public settings.

She writes that “72 percent of students agreed that it was very important for them always to feel comfortable in class,” with “only 7 percent believing comfort not to be an issue.” She calls this “evidence for at least one factor underlying the student anxiety that we find: Feeling comfortable and unthreatened intellectually is a value many students share.”

McClamee comments:

To think or believe something is a strictly personal matter. Hence pursuing an argument is taken as very nearly an act of aggression. Herbst cites interview data suggesting that some students regard it is almost impossible to persuade other people of anything. (This is, of course, a self-fulfilling attitude.) “Contrary to the image of college being a place to ‘find oneself’ and learn from others,” she writes, “a number of students saw the campus as just the opposite – a place where already formed citizens clash, stay with like-minded others, or avoid politics altogether.”

Regarding the Stewart/Colbert rally, he concludes:

But the anti-ideological spirit of the event is a dead end. The attitude that it’s better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor — this is not civility. It’s timidity.

“Here we are now, entertain us” was a great lyric for a song. As a political slogan, it is decidedly wanting. If someone onstage wants to make Saturday’s rally meaningful, perhaps it would be worth quoting the old Wobbly humorist T-Bone Slim: “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”

Juan Cole’s post-mortem on the rally is entirely correct:

Stewart’s was a gentle ‘can’t we all get along’? plea. It at times seemed to echo Barack Obama’s increasingly naive-sounding 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention about the lack of difference between blue and red America.

I am sympathetic to Stewart’s amazement and disapproval of where political exaggerations in the hothouse petrie dish of 24/7 cable “news” may be taking us.

But with all due respect, I think Stewart’s statement mistook the problems as being solely ones of rhetorical imagery. The 80 percent in America have been royally screwed over for 40 years now. They’ve been deprived of a real share in our increasing national wealth, with wages and compensation having been kept down, in part by massive union-busting. They were robbed of whatever little progress they had made by corrupt or greedy unregulated bankers and financiers,who were mostly bailed out with the people’s money. The “tax cuts” of this century were actually a massive transfer of wealth to the ultra-wealthy. As a result of these transfers, the wealth of the 400 billionaires and the more hundreds of near-billionaires, has increased exponentially since the Reagan tax cuts. And, when the voting public finally seemed to have woken up to the scam, the Right wing deployed phony racial and cultural issues to rile up “whites” to make sure they are kept down and the great billionaire bank robbery can continue. At the same time, much of the wealth at the top derives from environmentally ruinous activities, such as exploitation of hydrocarbons or depleting the oceans of life, or mountain-top removal mining, or selling people cigarettes and other carcinogens, or mounting private security armies for deployment in the country’s ever-increasing war zones. The outcome, over the coming decades, of growing inequality and growing environmental degradation, could be catastrophic.

Me, I worry about whether the Republic can survive a situation in which 1 percent of the population has over 40% of the privately owned financial wealth, or in which they take home a sixth of the nation’s income every year. I worry about tens of millions of unemployed, thrown out of work by deregulation and high-level criminality, and millions more of the working poor barely making ends meet. I worry about the end of commercial fishing and the droughts and dust bowls of climate change. And I think those things are worth getting a little hot under the collar about, and that what politics is is a way of attributing positive and negative traits to political ideas and officials, and making these judgments accessible to the public through affect. I don’t think climate-change deniers, anti-science ignoramuses, or laissez-faire capitalists who screw up the economy and put millions out of work are “nice.” And while I do believe we have to convince them and their followers they are wrong with reasoned democratic discourse, I think some snark and outrage is entirely called for.

Conservative politician and media figure Pat Buchanan announced to the 1992 Republican convention that we are in a  “cultural war for the soul of America.”

18 years later, liberals are still not taking his words seriously. Until we recognize we are in a battle, not a seminar room, liberalism will continue to get kicked around by conservative bullies.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com


Is Climate Change an Ethical Issue? October 28, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Philosophy.

Last week I linked to an article by David Roberts at Grist who argued that although the majority of Americans think climate change is happening and is a threat, most people are not angry about it or motivated to do much about. So the intensity is on the side of those who deny climate change.

Very few of those who correctly believe that climate change is happening are pissed about it. More like “concerned,” the way people are concerned about homelessness or poverty in Africa, like, y’know, somebody (else) should really do something about that. Few write letters to legislators or hassle them about it in town halls. Almost no one will change their vote over it. No legislator stands to be primaried or driven from office over it.

In other words, all the intensity, and thus all the political risk, is on one side. For the political landscape to change in coming years, what’s needed is not a massive education campaign — though it certainly couldn’t hurt! — but a shift in the balance of intensity. The question is how to reduce the intensity of denialists and increase the intensity of climate hawks.

But, in the end, Roberts was optimistic because he thinks generational change will replace the denialists with armies of young, committed environmentalists that will gradually shift the debate in favor of mitigating climate change.

I am not as optimistic as Roberts because I think climate change, from the standpoint of ordinary moral agents (i.e. non-philosophers) is not easily conceptualized as a moral issue.

By “ethics” or “morality”, I am referring to the actions I ought to take as an individual.

With regard to the causes of the predicted harms of climate change, the contributions of individuals are tiny, the actions that lead to climate change are otherwise innocent—they don’t involve any sort of obvious wrongdoing—and the effects of each individual’s actions are displaced over vast amounts of space and time. It is not obvious then how an individual is responsible for the harm, so it isn’t obvious why individuals have a responsibility to do anything about it.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, even if we felt an obligation as individuals to do something about climate change, there is very little we can do about it. Because our contribution as individuals is so inconsequential, any reduction we initiate with regard to our personal discharge of CO2 will also be inconsequential as well.

So, in other words, we have a very big collective action problem on our hands. I can do nothing to solve climate change on my own. And in the absence of global consensus among governments to take action in consort to solve the problem, which in the current political environment seems implausible, I as an individual can do very little.

As a result, people don’t see climate change as an ethical problem. It may be an engineering problem or a technological challenge, or a political problem for governments to solve, but not an urgent ethical problem that demands individuals take action.

The question is can philosophy help to conceptualize climate change more clearly. Do any of our moral theories explain why climate change ought to be a moral issue?

I think the answer is no if we consider only traditional moral theories. I will have more to say about this next week.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

More on the Crisis in the Humanities October 28, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, Philosophy.
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The threatened closing of foreign language departments at SUNY Albany (following threats to philosophy programs in the U.K and the U.S)  has received a good deal of discussion in the blogosphere. (Including here)  Highly regarded French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy contributed these particularly pithy remarks:

So the choice is between getting rid of French and getting rid of philosophy? What a great alternative!

A choice between removing the liver or the lungs. Stomach or heart. Eyes or ears. How about that?

Someone needs to invent a kind of instruction that is, first, strictly monolingual — because everything can be translated into English, can’t it? — and also one from which all questioning (for example, of what “translation” means, both in general and in terms of this or that specific language) has been completely eliminated. A single language alone, cleansed of the bugs of reflection, would make the perfect university subject: smooth, harmonious, easily submitted to pedagogical control.

It’s time to propose getting rid of both French and philosophy, and, for that matter, all related subjects, like Latin, psychoanalysis, Italian, Spanish, literary theory, Russian, or history. Perhaps it would be wise to put in their place, as mandatory course offerings, some programming languages (e.g. Java), and also commercial Chinese and technical Hindi — at least until these languages have been completely transcribed into English. (Unless it is the opposite that comes to pass.)

Anyway, let us teach what is displayed on billboards and stock market monitors. Nothing else!

Courage, comrades: a new world is being born!

[tr. J. K. Cohen/H. Saussy]

The corporatization of the university and the commercialization of every aspect of life continues apace enabled by greed-as-a-virtue conservatives and a timorous, ineffectual liberalism powerless to arrest it’s advance.

A new world is being born indeed. But is it one that humans will inhabit?

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

A More Nuanced View of the French Protests October 25, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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We have been hearing a lot in the press about the strikes, protests, and demonstrations that have brought France to a standstill. They are expressing opposition to a government proposal to raise the age for a minimum pension from 60 to 62. Typical of the mainstream press is the following headline which appeared on the San Diego Union Tribune’s website:

The French are striking over what? Retiring at 62?

What’s French for “huh?” France is on strike, the population outraged by a proposed pension reform that would raise the retirement age. From — zut alors! — 60 to 62.

The attitude of the U.S. media has been to poke fun at those silly French who hate to work and want to retire when they’re 60 and sip Calvados on the public dime.

But, of course, as usual the mainstream press is very likely misleading the public (especially the odious right-wing UT).

Here is an alternative perspective from Bob Vallier:

Currently, a worker has to contribute to social security—which is not at all the same as American social security, in that it also includes universal health coverage, unemployment insurance, and a whole host of other social benefits that constitute the social safety net for all citizens—for 40.5 years; under Sarkozy’s reform, a year would be added on to the contribution (and again, several members of the left agree that this may be necessary, and in itself is not so bad).   If someone starts working in a public sector job, as for example a mechanic at the SNCF, at the age of 18, then even with the reforms, the absolute earliest they could retire would be 60.  Of course, almost no one starts working at the age of 18 at such jobs, because (a) the unemployment rate among 18-to-26 year olds is the highest at 38%, and (b) such jobs require qualifications that you can get only after at least two years of training and apprenticeship.  So a minimum retirement age at 62 is mathematically realistic and fiscally responsible, and everyone knows it.   That’s not really the problem.  The problem is that once you reach the minimum retirement age, you could retire only if you’ve been paying into social security for 41.5 years, an even then, you could retire only on a partial pension.   You are  currently not entitled to a full pension until you are 65, and under the proposed reforms, this would be raised to 67, which implies that you would not start working and contributing in full until you are 25.5, which, given unemployment rates, is by no means obvious.  Any time off for disability or due to a period unemployment between jobs—i.e., when you are not earning a salary and thus not contributing to social security—would actually count against you, forcing you to work longer.  If you do all the math, it soon becomes apparent that the real age at which you would be eligible to take your retirement would be approaching 65 or 66, while the age at which you could receive a full pension is approaching 70 or 71.  So, it’s not at all a matter of adding just two years on to the minimum retirement age; in real practice, these reforms would add between 8 and 10 years onto the time you’d have to wait before you’d be eligible for retirement at full pension. […]

After describing how France’s social safety net works and the costs it imposes on employers:

In the past few years, Sarko (and Chirac before him) has tried to reform social security (and again, everyone recognizes that it needs to be reformed), and the proposed reforms (which largely failed because of strikes similar to those we see today) were all about shifting the costs of social security away from employers and to employees, i.e., increasing the rate of employee contributions.   Sarko and company argue that such reforms would stimulate employment, but what such reforms would mean on a practical level is that each employee would be taking home even less in real net income.  So once again, the strikes today are not just about raising the minimum retirement age; they are about protecting a broad ranger of employee benefits, which are rightly viewed as under threat.  If these present reforms succeed, then Sarko  and his government will have a strong hand (even if his approval rating is a dismal 26%) to pursue other reforms in social security that will be deleterious to workers, and the various social agents (unions, etc.) will be viewed as weak, ineffectual, and unable to protect les acquis, the rights and entitlements they have all fought for.  And it wouldn’t be just the working-class that is affected; it would be everyone.  And that’s why there is such strong support for the present actions.

And it turns out, according to Vallier, that the unions have proposed their own pension and social security reforms that would finance the system but would be paid for by big business and hence cannot get a hearing.

I have no independent knowledge of the French situation and I am unfamiliar with the writer here so I don’t know if all of this is accurate. But it is nuanced unlike the drivel we get in the media.

I would not be a bit surprised if the U.S. press accounts are systematically misleading.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

In Defense of Big Government October 24, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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I tend to like complexity for its own sake and, because human beings are complex, useful discussions of human activity are usually complex as well.

But sometimes a simple list will make the point just fine. Via Laurie Findrich:

Below is a list of ten good things we have because of our large federal government:

  1. The Internet. This was invented not by entrepreneurs, everybody, but by the United States military.
  2. The Apollo program, culminating in the most marvelous of modern moments, Neil Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Yes, I too had to learn after the event that the word “a” was in there.”)
  3. Interstate highways. Thank you, Eisenhower. True, the invention of the automobile was the work of that vicious genius Henry Ford. And many think the interstate highway system led us in the wrong direction, so to speak, by making us more dependent on automobiles and trucks instead of rail transportation. But imagine driving from New York to Florida without the interstate, and you instantly see the benefits.
  4. Social Security. A federal system of retirement payments for old people prevents those of us who are not yet old, or not poor, from having to step over old people while they lie dying in the streets.
  5. Medicare. Ditto the above.
  6. The National Weather Service. I leave it to your imagination if each state handled weather by itself, or worse, if weather reporting were in the hands of private entrepreneurs. You’d never know there were storms approaching if the paid advertisers included the tourist industry.
  7. National Parks. Without the federal government, there’d be no Yellowstone, no Bryce Canyon, no Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial.
  8. Free museums in Washington, D.C., all paid for by the Feds. Washington is the only city in the country where you can take your family from one museum to another without paying any admission fees.
  9. The FBI.  Lefties may not like this choice, because the FBI has done some very bad things, and presumably is still doing them (J. Edgar Hoover, for example, was a tyrant, over and out), but should you get kidnapped and taken across state lines this happens), they’re there for you.
  10. Progressive Federal Income Tax. Without this, states would set up a race to the bottom in income tax, with the result that all the rich people and corporations would continuously be on the move. Meanwhile, everybody else would constantly be pulling up stakes to follow them. Normal citizens would be even more frazzled trying to chance jobs than they already are.

And here’s a list of ten things we don’t have because of our large federal government:

  1. Lots and lots of plane crashes. (This one I’ll be thinking about on my way to the airport Wednesday.)
  2. Thalidomide victims (thank you to the FDA, back in the 1960s, for this one).
  3. Segregation (it doesn’t take a big imagination to figure out what some states would have done without the intervention of the federal government).
  4. Runs on banks.
  5. Endless Love Canals, without anyone or any company ever being held accountable.
  6. Employees suffering work-related injuries and diseases without employers being held accountable.
  7. Fire fighters unwilling to cross state lines during forest fires.
  8. Easy transportation, without the need for passports, within the United States.
  9. No disaster relief save for what a particular neighborhood, area or state can muster.
  10. No food stamps to help out the one in five American families who live below the poverty line.

Tea partiers have no answer for this simple list. But it sure will make them angry.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Chamber of Horrors October 21, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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The Chamber of Commerce is your local real estate agent, your insurance agent, the owner of a local restaurant, etc. in every town in the United States. A repository of civic virtue. At least that used to be the case.

Tom Donahue has turned the Chamber into an aggressive special interest, essentially a fund-raising arm of the GOP, that gets a substantial portion of its money from foreign sources.

Last week, ThinkProgress published an exclusive story about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign fundraising operation. We noted the Chamber raises money from foreign-owned businesses for its 501(c)(6) entity, the same account that finances its unprecedented $75 million dollar partisan attack ad campaign. While the Chamber is notoriously secretive, the thrust of our story involved the disclosure of fundraising documents U.S. Chamber staffers had been distributing to solicit foreign (even state-owned) companies to donate directly to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6).

And most of that money goes straight into GOP attack ads.

The Chamber has promised to spend an unprecedented $75 million to defeat candidates like Jack Conway, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). As of Sept. 15th, the Chamber had aired more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates alone, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project. The Chamber’s spending has dwarfed every other issue group and most political party candidate committee spending. A ThinkProgress investigation has found that the Chamber funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.

But this foreign influence on our elections is not public knowledge.

Of course, because the Chamber successfully lobbied to kill campaign finance reforms aimed at establishing transparency, the Chamber does not have to reveal any of the funding for its ad campaigns.

Here is Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Bruce Josten, explaining why they keep the names of their donors secret:

Corporations, as I said, have employees, vendors, suppliers, and shareholders of all political stripes. They’re not trying to alienate anybody. They’re looking for representative organizations, such as mine and thousands of others, to be an express organization to advocate for them on their behalf.

As Kevin Drum argues:

Whatever else you can say about the flap over the Chamber’s funding sources, this is a notably unpersuasive argument. Josten is essentially saying that rich corporations want the ability to hound and attack anyone in the political sphere they don’t like, but want to be protected from being hounded and attacked by others. That’s nice work if you can get it, but I don’t think most Americans will be sympathetic. If you want to be in the arena, then you need to be in the arena. Being a corporation doesn’t — and shouldn’t — endow you with a special exemption from being attacked if you take controversial political views.

UPDATE: Chamber CEO Tom Donohue, as usual, puts things more bluntly: “I want to give them all the deniability they need,” he says. And he does.

Those patriotic Americans in the GOP aren’t much concerned about foreign influence when it comes to cash.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Should We Be Optimistic About Climate Change? October 20, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, ethics of care.
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A new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has some good news and bad news for the planet. NY Times reporter, Felicity Barringer points to the ignorance revealed by the report — for instance, over two-thirds of the public think aerosol sprays contribute to climate change. (It is the ozone layer that is damaged by aerosols, not the climate.)  But on a more positive note, most people accept the fact that the climate is changing although they know little about why it is changing. And even more positive is the finding that they trust scientists to provide them with the information they lack.

Americans’ most trusted sources of information about global warming are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (78%), the National Science Foundation (74%), scientists (72%), science programs on television (72%), natural history museums (73%), and science museums (72%).

This suggests that the relentless right-wing campaign of obfuscation hasn’t worked.

But David Roberts at Grist argues that misinformation is not the real problem.

Insofar as lack of public engagement is the problem, the cause is not misinformation, it’s the lack of affective information — information that is meaningful, that speaks to core fears and aspirations. The main problem is apathy. People just don’t care much. Green journos and pundits tend to wildly overestimate the significance of accurate knowledge and wildly underestimate the significance of emotional resonance.

Those trying to spread the word on climate change have the advantage in numbers. The majority of Americans accept that climate change is happening and almost three-quarters get a passing grade — C or above — on Yale’s scale of knowledge. Where the denialists have the overwhelming advantage is in intensity. As rejection of climate science and climate solutions has become an ideological litmus test on the right, millions of Republicans have come to believe that climate science is not just incorrect but a hoax meant to further U.N. world government. They are pissed.

Very few of those who correctly believe that climate change is happening are pissed about it. More like “concerned,” the way people are concerned about homelessness or poverty in Africa, like, y’know, somebody (else) should really do something about that. Few write letters to legislators or hassle them about it in town halls. Almost no one will change their vote over it. No legislator stands to be primaried or driven from office over it.

In other words, all the intensity, and thus all the political risk, is on one side. For the political landscape to change in coming years, what’s needed is not a massive education campaign — though it certainly couldn’t hurt! — but a shift in the balance of intensity. The question is how to reduce the intensity of denialists and increase the intensity of climate hawks.

Roberts is optimistic about the future.

The backlash against cap-and-trade — not even the policy, the grotesque caricature of it painted by its opponents — won’t hold back the low-carbon tide forever. Voters already love clean energy; they think fossil fuels should be subsidized less and renewables more. The EPA is moving, states are moving, cities are moving, businesses are moving. As such efforts touch more and more lives, the issue will become less abstract. As people integrate clean energy into their worldview, intensity against climate science will fade and intensity behind reforms will increase.

Y’all know I’m not exactly a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I really think the death of the climate bill is a “darkest before the dawn” kind of moment. The larger forces of history are moving in the right direction. There’s only so long America’s peculiar, dysfunctional political system can resist.

I’m not quite so optimistic, not because of the persuasive power of right-wing politics but because of the peculiarities of climate change and the inherent difficulties in seeing climate change as a moral issue. I think it is a serious moral issue, but it requires a substantial re-conceptualization of ethics to see it as such.

I will have more to say about this over the next few days.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Meg Whitman’s “Plan” October 17, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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This post from the Wonk Room is the most concise account I’ve seen about why no one should vote for Meg Whitman for Governor

I pointed out yesterday that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s (R) job creation plan is based on a tax cut that economists don’t believe will create jobs or boost investment. Rather, it would amount to nothing more than a giveaway to California’s wealthy.

But Whitman’s plan to balance the state budget also leaves a lot to be desired. As UC Berkley economic Michael Reich noted, Whitman’s promise to cut $15 billion from the budget “necessarily implies significant reductions in spending on education, health, and social service programs on top of the deep cuts already made in the past two years.” But you won’t hear that from her, if her interview today with the New York Times’ John Harwood is any indication:

HARWOOD: Every single, at the national level, big deficit reduction package…has involved tax increases, revenue, as well as spending cuts. Is the better part of honesty and candor with the voters of California to say that’s what you’re going to have to do as well?

WHITMAN: I don’t believe we are going to have to do that. I am against increasing taxes on Californians.

HARWOOD: You can close a $19 billion budget deficit just by cutting spending?

WHITMAN: And growing the economy.

In the interview, Whitman named four things that she would do to supposedly save $15 billion (which still wouldn’t eliminate California’s $19 billion deficit). Here’s a look at why they amount to little more than hot air:

Reduce government workforce: Whitman claims this will save $3 billion per year, but fails to mention that she plans to lay off one-quarter of the state workforce. California’s government employment per capita is already 28 percent below the U.S. average, ranking 48th among the states, and has not increased since the early 1980s. Such cuts will obviously depress consumer spending and increase social safety net spending in the state, harming economic recovery.

Pension reform: Whitman acknowledged that California spends about $3.9 billion on pensions, and obviously they won’t be eliminated entirely, rendering savings far below that. Unless she plans to cut benefits for already retired workers, pension reform will do little to close California’s current budget gap.

Welfare reform: Whitman doesn’t specify how much money she can save by reforming welfare, but it’s likely not very much. As the California Budget Project noted, “welfare spending dropped $349 million between 1996-97 and 2009-10, without adjusting for inflation. On an inflation-adjusted basis, spending is down by $2.5 billion.” Under the proposed 2011 state budget, welfare accounts for just 3 percent of state spending.

“Run this government more efficiently and effectively”: The rest of Whitman’s spending cut plan amounts to finding efficiencies in government that everyone else has somehow missed. As Harwood said, “don’t you think, if it were as easy as cutting wasteful and obviously frivolous programs, it would have been done long ago?”

So even if she eliminates California’s public pension system entirely — an obvious impossibility — Whitman comes nowhere close to balancing the budget without raiding important education and health programs. And remember, she is proposing to blow another $4.5 billion hole in the budget by completely eliminating her state’s capital gains tax, almost entirely offsetting the cuts outlined above.

All of this should sound very familiar. These ideas represent precisely the policies of Arnold Schwartzenegger, and we know how they turned out.

It has been demonstrated time and again that giving money to the wealthy through tax cuts does not generate enough revenue to run the government. To get the budget cuts she promises she will have to cut education and welfare, programs that have already been cut to the bone.

This is just one more plan to transfer wealth from the middle class to the wealthy.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Also Sprach Tea Partiers October 14, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, politics.
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Berkeley economist Brad Delong laments
Somehow I Am Now Wishing I Had Read More Nietszche When I Was Younger…

I’m not sure if Delong wishes he had read Nietzsche’s discussion of “ressentiment” in the Genealogy of Morals (where Nietzche claims roughly that the weak and frustrated create a moral code that absolves them of responsibility for their frustration) or the end of the Gay Science where the madman warns of impending catastrophe and he is treated as a fool. But this conversation between Delong and standard issue right-wing crazies is hilarious.

If you are looking for evidence that no real debate can be had with these people, here it is.

Last week I spent some time with a group of people I don’t usually spend much time talking to. They were not rich–by which I don’t mean that they had overstretched themselves by buying a seven-figure principal residence but rather that they weren’t rich: their household income was in the five or, for some of them, perhaps the very low six figures. And (which is unusual for Berkeley) they were not lefties, neither cultural nor sociological. They were deeply concerned with the future of our country. And they were desperate to figure out how to engage in effective political action–but had few illusions that the politicians they would vote for in November were their kind of people with their interests at heart.

I suppose that in a previous era, back when there were private-sector unions, they might have been union stewards. But now we have no private-sector unions.

And so they are activists from the California Tea Party.

So I went through my standard spiel. Housing bubble. 5 million excess houses built in the desert between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, and on all of them the least $100K of mortgage debt will not be repaid. A $500B loss in an $80T world economy. Shouldn’t have been a problem—securitization exists to spread risks. But the banks pretended that the AAA MBS issued by other banks were high-quality Basel capital even though they knew full well the dreck that they were issuing. A financial multiplier of 40. A flight to safety. A big shift away from spending on currently-produced goods and services and on currently-employed labor as people tried to build up their stocks of safe assets. A multiplier as people who lost their jobs stopped spending, and the situation snowballed.

It could have been worse, I said. Without all of the rescue policies we would probably now have an unemployment rate of 16 percent rather than 10 percent.

But they question is what to do now with the economy. The idea is not to go to socialism—not to nationalize large chunks of the economy and have everybody work for the government—but to conduct strategic interventions in financial markets. Relieve the excess demand for safe high-quality assets and you remove the pressure on people to spend less than they earn as they try to build up their stocks of safe assets, and you get a virtuous circle of strong recovery.

So, I said, the right thing to do is the Bagehot rule: lend freely at a penalty rate. The government should throw huge amounts of money at the financial markets and in the process take a large chunk of the upside in equities and options.

SOCIALISM, they said. We don’t want SOCIALISM.

But it’s not socialism, I said. It’s an attempt to avoid socialism—it’s an attempt to conduct a strategic intervention into the market economy so that it can rebalance itself.

SOCIALISM, they said.

Well, I said, how about lending freely to the financial sector but forget Bagehot’s “penalty rate” stuff?


Well, I said, how about pushing off taxes into the future, bringing forward infrastructure spending we know that we will want to do, and financing it by issuing more government debt? The spending should put some people to work, and the extra government bonds we print up will increase the supply of safe assets, decrease the excess demand, and so remove some of the downward pressure that is inducing people to spend less than they earn/


But, I said, the U.S. government now can borrow at unbelievable terms. If you could borrow at such terms, you would bust out the top of your house and add a second story immediately.


OK, I said. How about having the federal government aid the states. We want to keep our police and our fire and our road maintenance and our schools running at their efficient levels, don’t we? It’s stupid to cut back on the long-term foundations of our economy and its growth because of recession, isn’t it. How about a large program of federal aid to the states so that teachers, sewer workers, police officers, and firefighters can keep their jobs, keep protecting us—and keep spending and so provide employment for the rest of us?






So what do you think we should do?


But you have just rejected every idea I have for boosting employment—short of nationalizing the means of production and employing everybody by the government, that is. What are your ideas?


To call this incoherent doesn’t quite capture the utter diabolical ignorance.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Crisis in the Humanities October 13, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, Philosophy.
Tags: ,

As the recession cuts into budget outlays for higher education, not only in the U.S. but across Europe as well, it appears that the humanities are taking the biggest hit.

Philosophy programs and language departments have been shut down in a variety of states as well as in the U.K, and Humanities departments are being forced to prove they contribute to the bottom line in order to justify their existence.

In light of these developments, the article by Stanley Fish in the NY Times earlier this week was troubling.

And indeed, if your criteria are productivity, efficiency and consumer satisfaction, it makes perfect sense to withdraw funds and material support from the humanities — which do not earn their keep…

And it won’t do, in the age of entrepreneurial academics, zero-based budgeting and “every tub on its own bottom,” to ask computer science or biology or the medical school to fork over some of their funds so that the revenue-poor classics department can be sustained.

Stanley Fish is a literary critic, Professor of Humanities and Law, and a former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Illinois. One would think he would be sympathetic to the plight of the Humanities.

But with friends like this who needs enemies?

Christopher Newfield’s ongoing research on university funding comes to radically different conclusions:

Further budget research needs to be done, and far more budgetary data need to be disclosed and discussed. In the meantime, I propose these conclusions from my case study. The humanities and social sciences are major donors to science and engineering budgets. Major dogmas about university research turn out to be wrong: science and engineering research costs money, and humanities and social sciences teaching subsidizes it. Furthermore, humanities and social sciences students receive a cheap education—that is, they get back less than they put in.

Making matters worse, university officials have historically perpetuated the myth that the science and engineering fields are the generous subsidizers of the “soft” humanitiesand social science fields.

This concealment of the humanities’ contributionto the progress of science fed the vicious cycle of the culture wars: underfunded humanities fields cannot buy respectability through the media,think tanks, or prominent science agencies, a limitation that gives free reinto assertions that the humanities produce only pseudo-knowledge. This belief has lowered the humanities’ status, which in turn has justified flator declining funding, which further lowers the humanities’ status, whichencourages further cuts.

More generally, the overall financial stability of higher education—especially public higher education—has been undermined by an increasingly dysfunctional postwar research-funding model that depends on subsidies from teaching revenues that are being cut from state budgets and added to student costs. Finally, the hidden subsidy—in which high-enrollment, high-teaching-load fields in the humanities andsocial sciences help pay for advanced scientific research—is the primary reason why the humanities are perpetually poor.

In offering this analysis of budgetary myths and inequities, I am notseeking to foment a class war between the arts and sciences. I admire and study the sciences and their sociocultural impacts and think they, as well as the arts, need even more funding than they have. Given the funding crisis for all higher education, now would be the worst possible time to set upa zero-sum competition between different sides of campus, and I instead advocate cooperation and collaboration across all our disciplines.My analysis is intended to encourage truth in budgeting.

I’m no expert on college financing but many people, such as Andrew Hacker, have argued that in our system of higher education, undergraduate teaching subsidizes research. We overcharge students for tuition and fees and underpay faculty by hiring mostly adjuncts, and that money goes to pay for endowments, new technology, intercollegiate sports, expensive student centers, and graduate student education, especially in engineering and the sciences, which ends up benefiting big business.

Of course, given that it is big business that ends up benefiting from this, it is not a surprise that this scam is not well publicized.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com