Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Admittedly, the Bar Was Set Pretty Low...

I said earlier that Ben Bernanke may have been George W. Bush's best appointment (though maybe that dubious honor should go to Sheila Bair). At the same time, it's painfully obvious that Ben Bernanke is also Barack Obama's single worst appointment. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's the Poverty, Stupid

Lots of edu-links in my history cache of late, so let's call this a Teacher Tuesday and I'll just upload a few of them on you.

We start with the ubiquitous Diane Ravitch, who, along with Harlem schoolteacher Brian Jones, was interviewed recently by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales:
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, to me, the big issue today is there’s a narrative that says teachers are the problem in American education. I have been arguing poverty is the problem. We tie right into your segment on Dr. King. Poverty is the problem. Thirty-five percent of black kids live in poverty. Twenty percent of all American kids live in poverty. That’s the problem.
There has been some lively discussion of the influence of poverty on educational outcomes over at Daily Kos this week. The diary "The Myth of Failing Schools" offers anecdotal evidence, but the comments section is full of links to supporting data. In response, diarist leftyparent offers a contrarian view; that regardless of income levels, the Critical Pedagogy movement offers a model to improve our schools on a metric independent of the debate over test scores.

Other links at the HuffPo Education Page survey some other solutions. Joe Kutchera looks at a writing program that succeeds in inspiring low-SES (sorry, edu-jargon...impoverished) students. And Gloria Bonilla Santiago reminds us of the research showing how ECE (sorry, early childhood education, AKA preschool) can help alleviate the disadvantages faced by students raised in poverty.

Smithsonian Magazine takes an in-depth look at the world's best school systems: those of Finland, where, not coincidentally, the child poverty rate is dramatically lower than in the US of A. At the same time, Michael Petrilli, in "One Size Fits Most," counsels a cautious approach in trying to replicate Finland's successes. and offers a possible compromise between competing pedagogies.

Back in these here United States, the one named Indiana has a voucher program producing predictable results: a giant sucking sound as funding and students are drained from the public schools systems.

A Missouri judge has blocked implementation of a law prohibiting Facebook contact between teachers and students. The broad language can be interpreted to ban text messages, voicemail and email contact as well, and has First Amendment advocates feeling a chill wind. Randy Turner, a teacher in the Show Me State, gives this idea the withering scorn it deserves.

A new paradigm in Nevada schools offers an alternative to the lunatic NCLB insistence on 100% proficiency by 2014: measure growth, not test scores. But it's still a testing paradigm, and offers the tempting route of blaming teachers for outcomes beyond their control. As one advocate puts it:
"It has to be used as a way to financially reward good teachers and get rid of poor teachers," he said. "You can't control if kids are poor, don't speak English or high truancy. Teacher quality is the greatest school control."
Actually, you can control if kids are poor, as LBJ's successful anti-poverty programs (largely abandoned by Nixon and Reagan) show us. We've simply given up on trying to do so. Budget deficits, doncha know.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Random Ten #24

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Camper Van Beethoven/ Colonel Enrique Adolfo Bermudez/ Take the Skinheads Bowling EP

2. Youssou N'Dour/ Fakastalu/ Africa Never Stand Still

3. Eels/ Jelly Dancers/ Dimension Mix

4. Wavves/ King of the Beach/ King of the Beach

5. Tony Harmony/ My Body/ Black Stars: Ghana's Hiplife Generation

6. Cafe Tacuba/ Tropico de Cancer/ Re

7. Basement Jaxx/ Bingo Bango/ Remedy

8. Can/ I Want More/ Flow Motion

9. Horst Jankowski and his Orchestra/ A Walk in the Black Forest/ A Walk in the Black Forest

10. Porter Wagoner/ The Cold Hard Facts of Life/ The Cold Hard Facts of Life

Wow, what a satisfying mix this week. Turns out all of this is really good music to walk the dog to. You shoulda been there.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surplus of Obfuscation

Craig Steiner of TownHall is intent on correcting the historical record, demolishing what he calls the "Clinton surplus myth." Much of what he says is fairly straightforward, though what he leaves out is hugely instructive.

In particular, this phrase has to do a lot of heavy lifting:
While not defending the increase of the federal debt under President Bush, it's curious to see Clinton's record promoted as having generated a surplus. It never happened. There was never a surplus and the facts support that position. In fact, far from a $360 billion reduction in the national debt in FY1998-FY2000, there was an increase of $281 billion.
Steiner's argument rests on the statistics that show the total national debt continued to increase every year under President Clinton, if you account for the borrowing from the Social Security trust fund. True, that.

But applying Steiner's accounting methods across the board hardly serves as a condemnation of William J. Clinton's stewardship of the economy. Instead it highlights the fiscal recklessness of Ronald W. Reagan and George W. Bush - something Steiner takes pains to avoid discussing.

It's quite true that, starting with LBJ, the government operated under what's called a "unified budget," masking the size of the budget deficit because of borrowing from the SS trust fund (though it's more complicated than that if you follow the link). But it's also true that SS is treated as "off-budget" (which Steiner calls "twisted Washington accounting games") because its income and outlays are fixed by statute, and not subject to the annual budgetary process. Steiner himself concedes that "Social Security is legally required to use all its surpluses to buy U.S. Government securities," a process not unique to or controlled by Clinton. But he leaps from there to claiming that the trust fund therefore doesn't exist because "the money has already been spent--in part, effectively, to pay down the public debt under Clinton."

This is a bit rich coming from the same guy who doesn't wish to discuss the increase in debt under Bush the Lesser - or even mention Ronald Reagan's record. If you insist on using "total increase in debt" as the metric, then, as the chart above shows, Clinton comes out smelling like a rose compared to the competition (and Bush's the Elder's performance was made possible by the fact that Democrats in Congress forced him to accept tax hikes to help dig out from Reagan's debt burden).

What's true is that Clinton's first budget, passed over unanimous Republican opposition, made it possible to further dig out from the deep hole Reagan left us in, and allowed the Fed to loosen monetary policy enough to fuel the longest post-war stretch of GDP growth. Under Clinton's last budgets, the government was taking in more than it spent - if you don't count the trust fund borrowing. But if you do count it, Clinton still looks like the most prudent budgeter we've had. As Steiner's own stats show, the FY2000 budget resulted in a total increase in public debt of only $18 billion - a rounding error compared the mess Bush II left us in.

Clinton left office under a recession, mild compared to the previous Bush's, and insignificant compared to the subsequent Bush's. As a result the FY 2001 budget showed higher outlays and lower receipts. But conservatives can't have it both ways. If it's correct to attribute FY2001 to Clinton's policies - and it is - then it's also correct to put the disastrous FY2009 in W's column. You certainly wouldn't know that from all the right-wing websites claiming Obama has doubled (or tripled) the debt,

Finally, Steiner dismisses any critics who argue that debt as a share of GDP is a better measure of fiscal performance. But as he concedes, it's a measure of the total debt burden, not the total amount - which is precisely the point. Given GDP and employment growth under Clinton, the modest increases in total debt were less burdensome, just as the anemic growth under Bush II made his debt increases more painful by far. The accompanying chart shows why conservatives would rather we avoid looking at this particular metric.

Bottom line is that Steiner is correct to say that total indebtedness increased (modestly) under Clinton. He can take the former president and his defenders to task for rhetorical excess in claiming he reduced the debt (though he did reduce the deficit, considerably), But conservatives can't use that argument to make the case that Clinton's economic performance was any kind of a disaster. The disaster came later, when George W. Bush threw Clinton's budgeting out the window and started handing out tax cuts on the grounds that the government was "overcharging" us. Compare that to what Clinton said we should do with the alleged surpluses he was generating: "Save Social Security."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Random Ten #23

1. Asobi Seksu/ Then He Kissed Me/ Spaceland Presents Asobi Seksu

2. Estelle/ Superstion/ War Child - Heroes, vol. 1

3. Osibisa/ Sunshine Day/ Putumayo Presents World Party

3. Phosphorescent/ It's Hard to be Humble (When You're From Alabama)/ Here's to Taking It Easy

4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club/ Weight of the World/ Howl

5. Deerhoof/ Holy Night Fever/ Reveille

6. Art Brut/ Just Desserts/ Art Brut vs. Satan

7. The Spinners/ Could It Be I'm Falling in Love/ The Best of the Spinners

8. Simba Wanyika/ Mwongele/ Pepea

9. Grateful Dead/ Sugaree/ Dick's Picks, Vol. 33

10. The Eagles/ Take It Easy/ The Very Best of the Eagles

Jerry Leiber, 1933-2011

Condolences to his family, friends, fans and disciples. The impact of the legendary Leiber & Stoller songwriting team (Leiber on the left there) on the history of rock music is incalculable. It's impossible to imagine the first decade of the rock era without their songs, and their influence on subsequent generations of artists left an indelible mark as well. Baby, that's rock 'n' roll.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers

My beloved right-wing correspondent continues to forward pieces to me, of varying quality. It's always instructive to see how the other side thinks, and what shapes their thinking. I get Erick Erickson's RedState Briefings every morning for just that reason.

I've been busier than a one-legged Riverdancer so I haven't had the time to comment on the torrent of right-wing propaganda in my Inbox, even though I wanted to. I'm up early now so I'll give it a whirl:

This Michael Reagan piece is ridiculously easy to swat down; it's ludicrous. His claim that the Demos has a "death grip" on the Congress during Bush's last years ignores the six years when the Congress gave him nearly everything he wanted in the way of tax cuts and deregulation, the principal causes (along with the housing bubble) of the crisis we're in now. As I've noted several times earlier, Bush's spending spree was far more egregious than Obama's (which is largely driven by automatic stabilizers).

Please note that when the Ds control Congress, they impose "pay-go" rules requiring new programs to be offset by comparable spending reductions or new revenues. When Rs take over the Congress, they repeal those rules.

Several of these article writers suffer from the delusion that Obama's health insurance reforms are a huge drain on the treasury. No, that would be GW Bush's Medicare "reforms," which were not paid for, and represent huge subsidies to Big Pharma and Big Insurance. Obamacare not only pays for itself, but reduces the deficit - by trillions when fully implemented. Repealing it would increase the deficit, as the CBO has repeatedly found.

Bernie Goldberg's sophistry about the tax code is a longtime rightwing trope, often debunked and never abandoned. It involves citing statistics from the income tax alone and ignoring the rest of the tax burden - or lack of same - on Americans of disparate income groups. To pick just a few examples, poor people pay far higher percentages of their income in payroll taxes, and rich people whose income derive largely from investments are paying extremely low capital gains taxes, enjoying much lower tax rates than wage-earners. This is lying with statistics, pure and simple.

Thomas Sowell seriously misstates the causes of the crisis, seemingly believing there was no financial crash at all before Obama took over and started spending like mad:
Why was there a financial crisis in the first place? Because of runaway spending that sent the national debt up against the legal limit. But when all the big spending bills were being rushed through Congress, the Democrats had such an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress that nothing the Republicans could do made the slightest difference.
The crash came on Bush's watch, because Greenspan ignored the housing bubble and deregulated banks passed junk bonds based on inflated mortgages around the world. Obama's (partially) successful stimulus spending came later. But he and the Dems never enjoyed an "overwhelming majority" in the Senate, thanks to Ted Kennedy's brain cancer, the litigation over Al Franken's seat, and Mitch McConnell's constitutional hardball. They managed to scrape 60 votes together a few times during the few weeks after Franken was finally seated, before Kennedy was completely incapacitated. The refusal of Republicans to extend the longtime courtesy of canceling out a dying Senator's absence by having one of their own abstain (as Dems did for Strom Thurmond) is part of the hardball I refer to.

This piece by the "Fact-Checker", Glenn Kessler, is the kind of thinking I like to read, whether from the right or the left: fact-based and substantive. He quotes the president speaking to well-heeled donors at a fundraiser, then dissects the claims:
“And by the way, these choices are not radical. When it comes to getting a sustainable debt level, if we went back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president and we made some modest adjustments to Medicare that preserved the integrity of the system, our long-term debt and deficit problems would go away. And most people here wouldn’t notice those changes.”
— President Obama, August 8, 2011
I don't have time to fact-check all his fact-checking myself, but I will say this: I assume that Obama's audience at that fundraiser understood, as I do, that simply allowing Bush tax cuts to sunset in their entirety - as the original law passed by the GOP Congress (with help from Dems) and signed by Bush was designed to do - would, indeed, almost completely erase our projected long-term deficit.

I also understand, as his audience no doubt did, that Obama's stated policy and campaign promise was to raise taxes back to Clinton-era rates only for those making over a quarter million a year, and allowing the rest of us to stay at our current marginal rates. This move would only eliminate about 40% of projected long-term deficits, which is still far more than any GOP-proposed spending cuts.

But Obama was saying, correctly, that if we "do nothing" and no additional tax legislation is passed and signed, our deficit (not our debt) will more or less disappear - even without any spending cuts (which Obama is also calling for).

Finally, this Walter Williams piece was both dishonest and despicable. More on that later.

Welcome Back, Blogger

Arrgh, a whole week without a post. Blog, I've missed you.

I'd forgotten just how demanding a profession teaching can be, when you do it right - that is, whole-heartedly. I've seen veteran teachers who mange to use their time more efficiently than I do (erm, and not just teachers, either). But there's a learning curve for me in teaching at this grade level, so I'm burning the candle at both ends.

The original idea for this blog was to have a free place to park my archives, with occasional newer posts. Then it turned into more fun than I should be allowed to have, and also a bit of a time suck. Now it's a hobby that I really miss having the time for. And blogging, too, can take up a lot of time if you do it right. If anybody wants to pay me for it, I can guarantee a steady stream of pithy posts every day. But for now it's catch as catch can.

So here's your "Friday Night" Video:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Random Ten #22

1. Iron & Wine w/ calexico/ History of Lovers/ In the Reins EP

2. Christina Aguillera/ Beautiful/ Stripped

3. Tom Russell/ Don't Look Down/ Blood and Candle Smoke

4. Godwin Omabuwa/ Dick Tiger's Vistory/ Marvellous Boy

5. The Nguyên Lê Trio/ Madal/ Bakida

6. Roky Erickson/ Goodbye Sweet Dreams/ True Love Cast Out All Evil

7. Jim Lauderdale/Honky Tonk Mood Again/ Country Super Hits

8. DJ Shadow/ You Made It/ The Outsider

9. Pat Hare/ I'm Gonna Murder My Baby/ Sun Records - 25 Blues Classics

10. Heartless Bastards/ The Mountain/ The Mountain

Masters of Projection

Paul Krugman is exasperated:
I’m not the first person to notice this, but whenever you read conservatives trying to critique what they think the other side believes, you find them assuming that their opponents must be mirror images of themselves. The right believes that less government spending is always good, regardless of circumstances, so it assumes that the other side must always favor more government spending. The right says that deficits are always evil (unless they’re caused by tax cuts), so they assume that the center-left must favor deficits in all conditions.
Yes, I've noticed this as well. It seems like whatever the right-wing power/looting/propaganda apparatus is up to that in any way twinges what's left of their conscience, they make sure to accuse the left of doing that very same thing. Election fraud, racism, gross incompetence, you name it. But Krugman's post is actually about something different: the utter failure to understand Keynesian economics.

The way this overlaps our projection problem though, is this: they basically assume that whatever the left is in favor of, it must be Keynesianism. And contrariwise, if Keynes advocated some policy, it must be a leftist plot to enslave the poor with chains of dependency and punish the successful for their advantageous accident of birth business acumen. Richard Nixon's proclamation that "we're all Keynsians now" is so 20th century.

 So that's not actually how to go about debating and solving the problems we face as a nation, but it seems to be working out okay for them so far. For actual intelligent discussion of Keynes and the relevance of his theories to the current crisis, try, oh, I dunno, a Nobel laureate in economics.

UPDATE: Poor Krugman today: "Sometimes I really do wonder whether it’s even worth trying to make rational arguments."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Some Splainin' To Do

I continue to try to patiently make the case for progressive economic policies in correspondence with a conservative who is dear to my heart. He takes affront at the notion that everything is "Bush's fault," and repeats discredited talking points that Obama has "made things worse." It seems to me that these are actually extremely crucial matters. It makes a great deal of difference how we affix blame for the crisis, and why.

I am not arguing that everything is Bush's fault. I will argue that he was the most economically disastrous president since Herbert Hoover. The statistics bear me out on this, however you want to measure "disaster."

I will argue against anybody who says Obama has "made it worse." Obama has presided over stagnation, and has singularly failed to get the economy moving at the pace necessary for a full recovery. But he inherited the most disastrous economy since Herbert Hoover's. The economy was plummeting like a bowling ball in a jell-o swimming pool, and he stopped that from getting far, far, worse. See above right (h/t Kevin Drum)::

But I don't believe that whatever anemic recovery we've had is solely because of Barack Obama.

Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and, yes, the guy who appointed them, GW Bush, deserve some of the credit for averting a complete and utter catastrophe, instead of just a major disaster. Bernanke in particular, was one of Bush's best appointments, or at least one of the least horrible. But credit to those gentlemen is minimal and conditional, as they bore primary responsibility, along with Alan Greenspan, for the abyss they helped us begin to climb out of.

It's worth remembering, though, that Senator Barack Obama, as the more-or-less-obvious next President in the fall of 2008, was instrumental in the decision-making process at White House meetings with Bush and Paulson during those crucial months. Senator John McCain, as the more-or-less obvious loser of the upcoming election, was reportedly sullen and unhelpful during those same meetings - and helped cement his loss with his bizarre public statements as the crisis began to unfold.

Also, I have no doubt that Wall Street and the White House had been scrambling to keep the more-or-less-obvious impending collapse from occurring until after the November elections - which only made it that much worse when the house of cards finally did blow over.

I'm happy to give some of the blame to Bill Clinton, too – for reappointing Greenspan, and also for signing the disastrous GOP repeal of FDR's Glass-Steagel Act. If you want to blame Pelosi and Reid, I'll grant them some measure of responsibility, too, but it's beyond ludicrous to try to place the major blame on the 110th Congress. If they had been one-tenth as obstructive of Bush's policies as McConnell and Boehner have been of Obama's - during a national emergency in the latter case - we might have been stuck in a slightly shallower hole when the crash came. Instead, yes, they mostly enabled his continued recklessness.

So, no, not everything was GW Bush's fault, but he and Greenspan deserve the lion's share of the responsibility. There were historical currents at work in the global economy during those years, and we may well have had a crash in 2007-09 if Al Gore had served two terms as president - especially if he left credit default swaps unregulated and failed to address the housing bubble. Somehow I doubt he would have done the latter, and he certainly would have made better appointments at Treasury and the Fed.

The biggest problem in all this is that conservatives, with very few exceptions, have been utterly unwilling to acknowledge the enormity of the mistakes their policies represented, let alone to learn from them. So they continue to advocate the same tax-cuts-and-deregulation agenda that brought on the crash. Worse, they're leveraging their influence in the divided government and the media to advocate for austerity budgeting. That was Hoover's biggest error, and FDR's too, in 1937. It is demonstrably re-crashing economies across Europe. This goes well beyond a failure to learn from history; it amounts to an obstinate refusal to do so.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gil the Cat, 2007-2011

I've known a lot of cats in my day, having lived with twelve of them over the years. But I just buried the eleventh one, a feisty character named Gil. He's survived by his sweeter but dimmer brother Gus.

Gil and Gus came from the same litter, we were told at the adoption agency, and Gil had survived some sort of ailment that left one eye permanently clouded. He was a sickly kitten, but soon made up for it with a prodigious appetite, and grew up to a healthy weight.

Gil, unlike his brother, did not suffer fools gladly. Gus will let any toddler manhandle him any which way for hours on end. But if Gil didn't like the way you were petting him, he'd let you know about it. Nevertheless, he was always friendly with strangers, sidling up to plumbers and other visitors, sometimes leaping right up into their arms.

With me, he had a way of just draping himself around my neck like a mink stole, purring away while I craned my arm back to try and pet him where he preferred. When I came home from work, he'd come running up like a little dog to greet me. Gil was a one-man cat, and I was his man. I was his best friend in the world. I've loved many a cat, but never had one love me quite that much.

A few months ago, Gil developed what looked like an infected bug bite on his nose. It was treated with antibiotics, antibacterials and antifungals, but nothing seemed to work. At that point the docs had pretty much ruled out everything but cancer, and it was too far along. Radiation therapy was the only hope, but the chances of surviving that ordeal were slim. By last week we had reached the unmistakable point where the kindest thing we could do for him is to set his spirit free. We spent a last day together trying to pour a bit more love into him while we could.

On Sunday I drove him down to the vet to get Gil a ticket to the next world, and held him in my arms while the injections ceased his suffering. We buried him in the yard under a rainy moonlit sky, next to four of my other twelve cats who have passed on since we moved to this house. I sang "Brokedown Palace" for him, and my grieving children tossed handfuls of dirt on his little cardboard coffin.

Now it's just us, and Gus. Plus that goofball dog we live with. But it'll never be the same without Gil, and I miss him every day. So long buddy, and thanks for all the purrs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Random Ten #21

1. Betty Harris/ Ride Your Pony/ In the Saddle

2. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong/ They Can't take That Away From Me/ The Complete Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

3. Beach House/ Real Love/ Teen Dream

4. Roseanne Cash/ Pink Bedroom./ Rhythm & Romance

5. Lefty Frizzell/ Silence/ Life's Like Poetry

6. Willie Nelson/ Stardust/ One Hell of a Ride

7. Ali Farka Toure/ Nijarou/ Savane

8. John Butler Trio/ Zebra/ Sunrise Over Sea

9. The Jacksons/ I'll Be There / Live at the Carre Theatre

10. Lady Gaga/ Retro Physical/ The Fame Monster

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Last Night's Video

Time intervals are so arbitrary... let's go back to 1994, shall we?

BTW, Mr. Malkmus has a new long-player hitting the stores soon... assuming any stores near you still sell CDs.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Some Folks Will Never Get It

Before I've even had my coffee, this is what Erick Erickson of left in my inbox:
Despite being dispirited by the one-sided nature of the debt ceiling deal, most of us were looking forward to reaping the rewards from its only ancillary benefit; the impending stock market rally. Much to our chagrin, the Dow dropped precipitously, losing over 800 points since the opening bell on Monday. After the initial euphoria from the debt ceiling hangover began to subside, people have been forced to confront an inconvenient reality. The problem with the economy is not the debt ceiling; it is the debt – and all that it represents; overbearing and job-killing government.
Let me say this nice and slow: The debt "crisis" is not the cause of the jobs crisis. It is the other way around.

It. Is. The. Other. Way. Around.

The reason we have an historically high budget deficit is that we have an historically high unemployment rate. Fourteen million people are out of work, and those people are not paying taxes to the federal government. Nor are they going out to restaurants or furniture stores. As a result, businesses, with their customer base decimated, are not paying much in taxes to state and local governments, either.

So those governments, in the grip of austerity budgeting, are laying off workers by the hundreds of thousands, and all the teachers, park rangers, pothole fillers and cops who used to have jobs are also not paying much in taxes, nor visiting their local restaurants and furniture stores.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then we have George Will, who would make me spit up my coffee if I had any, perseverating over the number of people on government assistance:
Regarding the federal regime: Before this debate, who knew that the government sends more than 100 million checks or electronic transfers a month to employees, vendors and — much the largest group — entitlement beneficiaries, including 21 million households receiving food stamps?
 O Flying Spaghetti Monster, please grant me patience. Again, nice and slow. Why do we have record numbers of people on food stamps, forcing higher government expenditures and thus increasing the deficit? No, not because big-government liberals want to create slavish dependency so they can maintain their dictatorial grip on the nation's lifeblood.

You in the back? That's right, because conservative dogma crashed the economy. Enormous housing bubble, not only ignored but encouraged. Record income inequality, exacerbated by regressive tax policies. Businesses and households leveraged to the hilt, squeezed by anemic job growth. Reckless deregulation and lax oversight, encouraging Enron-style accounting across the financial sector. An accident waiting to happen. And then it happened.

Now, what has happened since then, we can argue about until the cows come home, and they ain't coming home for quite some time.  But the economy has not recovered and is teetering on the brink again. The initial plunge in GDP was much worse than anyone knew at the time, and hence we had inadequate stimulus, which has since petered out. Then we fell into the grip of austerity budgeting, which has only made the problem worse, a la 1937. The Europeans, too, have been in the grip of austerity budgeting, and so they, too, are teetering on the brink.

And while I was typing all this, the new jobs data came out. Once again, private sector added jobs, though not nearly enough – while public sector continues to shed jobs, creating further drag on the economy. What a surprise.

As the global markets freak out, conservative dogma doubles down, insisting that even greater austerity budgeting is the only answer, and that government must cut spending still further, thus shedding even more jobs. Makes one want to rhythmically tap one's cranium against the nearest vertical masonry edifice.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Big Sigh

Jane Hamsher's behind-the scenes account of the debt ceiling negotiations is bound to make you feel even worse about the way the  whole debacle was handled. Just go read the whole thing, if you're feeling excessively chipper today.

Letter to a Right-Winger

Hey, thanks so much for sending me that article. I'm always happy to read anything you'd like to forward to me.

However, I'd be happier if the articles were more fact-based than this one. I have little use for this kind of piece when it comes from the left: "Look at all the mean/outrageous things right-wingers say about us!" I could find an equal number of nasty quotes from the right, compile them, and send them to you, but it'd be a waste of both our time. If you listen to Mark Levin, read Ann Coulter, or watch Bill O'Reilly, then you get no shortage of them on a daily basis.

I'm happy to stipulate that civility is a virtue, one practiced imperfectly on both sides of our political culture, each of whom feels themselves to be the more aggrieved. Moreover, I'll agree that one needs to be careful with one's metaphors, though I also don't want to live in a world where colorful language is suppressed.

But it also seems to me that if Republicans take genuine, rather than feigned, offense at being called or compared to terrorists - you know, the way Sarah Palin and her acolytes referred to Barack Obama in 2008 - then they ought to forswear tactics such as those Mitch McConnell describes here:

"I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this—it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."
The political culture in DC is more toxic than ever, and anger at both parties, and within both parties, is at fever pitch. Part of the reason is that the GOP is, more or less unilaterally, playing a game called constitutional hardball, in which tactics not explicitly prohibited by the Constitution, but prohibited by generations of established political norms, are embraced to gain maximum leverage.

Republicans are clearly within their rights to do things like mid-decade redistricting, routine filibustering, blocking executive appointments at unprecedented levels, requiring voter ID and then closing down the offices necessary to obtain them only in Democratic districts, or threatening to shut down the government if they don't get their way. But such tactics do come at a certain price, and diminished civility is part of it.

And I'd argue that part of the reason our political culture has become so feverish is that the Democratic Party has been much more reluctant to play constitutional hardball when it's to their advantage - as in the failure to reform the filibuster, advance DC statehood, mitigate the Citizens United decision, or any number of things they (once) had the power to do. This is is part because the liberal outlook is by nature more conciliatory, and in part because the Democratic coalition is more heterogenous.

But however angry we get at Republicans for changing the rules mid-game (as in Calvinball), it's also true that the increasing polarization of our parties is a natural outgrowth of the successes of the civil rights movement. Pro-segregation politics made for strange bedfellows in both parties, and over the decades since, we've seen liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats migrating to the party that best matches their ideology. We still have more of the latter than the former, adding to the friction, but this is a process that will continue. Constitutional hardball is a part of this process, but the danger is that if pushed too far, it will lead to a constitutional crisis.

What happened last month unprecedented, but it was only the latest unprecedented outrage. The GOP went well beyond threatening to, or succeeding in, shutting down the government. They were playing chicken with the full faith and credit of our government. If the default had occurred and our credit ratings downgraded, our interest payments would have gone up, adding billions more to the deficit. But beyond that it would have created shock waves in our national and global economy, and in fact, the use of the tactic has already spooked both markets and consumers. Moreover, the success of the tactic, in cutting spending during a recession, will demonstrably slow down growth, at a time when the economy seems to already be slowing. This may well spark a double-dip recession.

Under the circumstances, it seems like the epithets Mr. Goldberg quoted were relatively mild, but in any case, a waste of everybody's time. Both sides should be concentrating their minds on the grim economic data unfolding before us and fashioning adult, responsible solutions, rather than manufactured crises that address the budgets of 2013 and beyond.

However, I will say this: any party that has employed Karl Rove as their chief political operative has forfeited the right to complain about civility for at least a generation to come.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Perils of EduBlogging

During my orientation for "new" teachers the district's lawyer gave a PowerPoint on legal issues for teachers. Most of it centered on mandatory reporting issues for students at risk, most of which was not new to me. But she also mentioned how it would be deemed inappropriate for a teacher to blog disparagingly about their students or colleagues.

This got my antennae up. I asked her afterwards about the grey area in such matters. We're a long way from the days when a teacher could be dismissed for interracial dating or for being gay (in some states, anyway). Obviously I'd be protected if I wrote a letter to the editor about educational policy, and if I blog about education issues or philosophy, I should expect the same rights.

But there's a grey area in between, and I wanted to know more about where the borders are. Her reply was that it would take an hour to answer my question and she didn't have an hour. But she advised me to simply stay out of the grey area, and to do a google on, say, "first amendment teachers rights" and see what comes up. At the top of the results, as you can see, is the website for "First Amendment Schools," a resource for both students and teachers, which I immediately bookmarked.

As if on cue, driving to work the next morning I heard a report on NPR about a teacher who had been suspended for... blogging disparagingly about her students or colleagues. The anchor seemed to think it amusing that she had been "sentenced" to going back and teaching those same students. And according to the account on HuffPo, she's mulling over whether to return.

It looks to me like her comments truly were inappropriate, and though she was blogging with the expectation of anonymity, that expectation was unrealistic in this day and age. Those are the kinds of things you wouldn't say over a restaurant dinner, either, because you never know who might be in the next booth.  And it's nothing that I would ever blog about, since I'm concerned with policy, which one would hope is at the other end of the spectrum. But note that her completely tactless comments were protected enough that she was reinstated.

On the other hand, First Amendment rights for students have generally been found by the courts to have fewer protections and more restrictions. There's a grey area there too, but this cyberbullying case clearly falls on the wrong side of that, an issue to which we shall no doubt return.

In the meantime, there is so much fertile ground to plow in the protected area of the sliding scale that there's barely enough time to discuss it all. Case in point: gotta get to work.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Random Ten #20

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Conjunto Clasico/ Somos Iguales/ The Rough Guide to Salsa Gold

2. Mary J. Blige/ Sweet Thing/ What's the 411?

3. Thione Seck/ Yaye Boye/ Best of Thione Seck

4. Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band/ Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish/ Trout Mask Replica

5. Paramore/ That's What You Get/ Riot!

6. Stanger and Patsy/ Down By The Train Line/ Let's Do Rocksteady

7. Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan/ Jewell/ Ecstasy

8. B-52s/ Good Stuff/ Good Stuff

9. Rhonda Harris/ Think of Me Naked/ Rhonda Harris

10. Talib Kweli/ Beautiful Struggle/ Talib Kweli