Feb 14th, 2012 by joanna
Michelle Rhee comes to Oakland

[The below is a guest post written by Joanna Bujes, and edited (for markup) by Ravi]

Rhee’s Framing of the Debate on Education

On the evening of February 7, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of DC public schools and the public face of the opaquely funded StudentsFirst, addressed an audience of some four thousand people at the Paramount theater in Oakland. This lecture was one of a number of lectures purchased as a series, and did not imply any particular interest in Rhee or in education by the older and relatively affluent crowd attending, the sort of crowd one finds at similar series, whether theater, ballet, or classical music.

As I have never heard Rhee speak before, I cannot say that she tailored her talk to this particular audience, but given her consummate skills as a public speaker, I would be very surprised if she had not.

The lecture was divided in three parts. First, Rhee introduced herself and described her leadership of the DC public schools; next, she outlined her fundamental principles about education; finally, she answered questions from the audience.

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Jan 27th, 2012 by ravi
Obama, Summers and the stimulus

Since his exit from the Obama administration, Larry Summers has parroted the party line that the administration would have loved a larger stimulus but it was just practically i.e., politically infeasible. This line that the administration was united in accepting the need for a larger stimulus was always questionable given Christina Romer’s portrayal of conflicts within the economic team; but now there is more to back up the suspicion that there were opposing views on the size and Larry Summers (as is almost always the case) prevailed with his support of a smaller package. Paul Krugman parses through Ryan Lizza’s report on Summers’s memo to Obama:

The key thing I took away from the memo is that it does not read at all like the current story the administration gives for the inadequate size of the stimulus, which is that they knew it should be larger but had to face political reality.

Instead, the memo argues that a bigger stimulus would be counterproductive in economic terms, because of the “market reaction”. That is, Summers et al were afraid of the invisible bond vigilantes.

And to the extent that there is a political judgment, it’s all in the opposite direction: if the stimulus is too big, we’ll have trouble scaling it back, but if it’s too small, we can always go back to Congress for more.

via Larry and the Invisibles – NYTimes.com.

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Nov 14th, 2011 by ravi
OWS: reporting and reality

Yesterday I wrote about the strange analysis of OWS from the Left by Jodi Dean. In my comment I expressed some doubt on the sincerity of her argument. The post by Dean that I was referring to is an old one. Shortly after that one, Dean repeated a bit of unsubstantiated news that was floating around claiming that OWS was coming to an end due to the inability to resolve the simple matter of keeping drumming to a minimum. On Oct 24th, Dean quoted alleged OWS insiders, without comment:

OWS is over after Tuesday:

Friends, mediation with the drummers has been called off. It has gone on for more than 2 weeks and it has reached a dead end. The drummers formed a working group called Pulse and agreed to 2 hrs/day at times during the mediation, and more recently that changed to 4 hrs/day. It’s my feeling that we may have a fighting chance with the community board if we could indeed limit drumming and loud instrumentation to 12-2pm and 4-6pm, however that isn’t what’s happening.

This would have been pretty big, if true. Except it wasn’t. Michael Pollak — the most fair, level-headed and rational person I know on the Left — has been visiting Zuccotti frequently and attending some of the General Assembly sessions. He had this say:

Okay, I just got back from the park and 60 Wall (which is the hive of the working groups) and this was clearly a non-issue.  Nobody mentioned it and everyone is still working with timelines extending into the indefinite future.  I was a little embarassed to ask, to be honest, it was so obviously an exaggerated rumor.  But when asked, the general answer was the same: the GA/drum circle conflict has been there since the beginning, and conflict and negotiation with the neighbors and city officials has been there since the beginning.  Nothing’s changed or come to crisis.  On the contrary, things have recently gotten substantially better on both fronts precisely because the drummers are drumming substantially less now. So the conflict will continue, and hopefully continue to improve.  No one was worried.  People getting mad or feeling agreements were reneged is just considered SOP when there’s a conflict.  It always leads to another meeting.

And speaking of conflicts — or lack thereof — the Demand working group met today with the Facilitation working group, the one that sets the agenda for the nightly general assembly.  They couldn’t have been nicer or more efficient.  We asked if we could propose it and they said sure.

So rumors that this would somehow get strangled in its cradle behind the scenes seem entirely ungrounded. To judge by this meeting, I don’t see how it would such smothering would be even possible, this committee seems so transparent and rational and non-judgmental.  It looks at this point as if the whole idea was either a misunderstanding or a bluff or both.

What a difference data makes!

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Nov 13th, 2011 by ravi
OWS and its detractors

In case you have been living in a cave, OWS is Occupy Wall Street: a protest movement that arose from an initial call by AdBusters, and is now a world-wide affair with “occupations” springing up in cities across the USA and the rest of the world.

The idea is simple and brilliant:

Occupy Wall Street Signage

1. Choose a method — occupation — that overcomes the customary weakness of other actions of the powerless such as rallies and marches: politicians, administrators, the police, simply wait them out; let the protestors have their day with marching and speeches, after which the powerful can return to business as usual. Even the term “occupy” upends that relationship.

2. Target the clearest representation (Wall Street) of the few who were the primary cause of the economic meltdown of 2008, while also the greatest beneficiaries of the government response to the crisis.

3. Make the identification clear: the most common slogan used by the group is “we are the 99%“. While their sentiments may not be shared by all of the 90+% that took the bulk of the pain and gained little benefit from the Bush-Obama bailouts and half-hearted programs, the material reality is well captured by the slogan. A long overdue challenge, in simple terms, to the Right’s effortless claim to the majority opinion or position.

Due to their resilience, and with the “help” of the inevitable police brutality, this movement has struck a chord and gained popularity and sympathy among the larger public. The response from right-wing organs such as Fox News has been predictable. More unexpectedly, some on the left have issues as well. Here is Jodi Dean:

[T]he language of occupying occupy wall street that I am using suggests that any attempt to hegemonize the space will be a problem for the ‘movement.’ That is, to remain the movement it is (18 days in), it has to resist any and all efforts to channel the message. But that then implies not that the priority is a contestation among people to forge a way ahead but instead that openness and indeterminacy are themselves the goal, that which is to be protected. If that’s the case, then there is something wrong, a kind of built in (self-deceiving?) confusion: the goal is just to keep the occupation going, not to use the occupation to overthrow capitalism or bring down the banks, or redistribute wealth at all. In fact, it’s probably wrong for me to call this confused or self-deceiving: it’s explicit in a number of different statements about democracy and discussion and raising questions. This language is a language of process rather than ends. Or, the process is the end. To the extent that this is the goal, rather than a means of overthrowing capitalism and working toward putting in place a communist solution, then that’s not my revolution.

There is a lot going on in this single paragraph, almost all of which is troublesome. To begin with, Dean gives away the strawman quite explicitly in her very first sentence, with the  accurate qualifier that “the language of occupying occupy wall street” is one that she is using i.e., this is her take on it, and if her take or language leads to some “confusion” or “self-deception” it is not clear who else is to blame here!

And what exactly is a “language of process“, or a “language of ends“? I am pretty sure I don’t know. What is clear however is that Dean wants to lay down the terms on which she will consider Occupy Wall Street “her” revolution: the movement has to share her goal, without question, of a communist solution. Well, okay, that’s her call to make. Why we worry? The trouble I have with Dean’s post is the way she goes about making her point, using all sorts of bad faith hypotheticals, logical leaps, and by playing games with the meaning of words like “process” and “goal”.

One example is Dean’s worry about the presence of Ron Paulites:

To the extent that Occupy Wall Street remains open to and for multiple political persuasions, it is not a left movement at all.  […] As I understand it, Ron Paul supports an odd notion of free markets; he thinks that individuals make better decisions than groups and that a social safety net damages freedom. If there is space for this view in Occupy Wall Street, then that’s not my revolution. In fact, it seems like a version of the one that hijacked the country in the 70s.

What is “space for this view“, per Dean, and how do the protestors please Dean by purging the movement of such space? Should they chase away Paul leafletters hovering around the periphery? Should they not  listen to them should Paulites attempt to start a discussion? Dean’s own hypothetical extent to which OWS is “open” to alternate “persuasions” or provides “a space” for them, is evidence (“it seems“) that OWS is out to hijack the country. In this analysis, it’s a direct route from hypotheticals (“to the extent that“, “if there is space“) to conclusions.

Another example is the first section quoted above, where Dean condenses all the varied procedures, activities, slogans and positions of OWS to a matter of obsession with “process“. Out of the Brownian flurry of hypotheses bouncing around in her own mind, Dean builds a caricature of a movement — not a movement that is occupying a space to achieve goals (explicitly stated in their statements and placards); not a movement trying to avoid co-option by staying open (while also guarded) to ideas and arguments; but really rather a movement in love with its on machinations and minutiae.

What do we make of the  analysis that people have occupied a park for the fun of the process of being open to Ron Paulites and for the thrill of continuing such occupation into the balmy days of winter, rather than the more probable case that they are using the occupation as a base for protests whose goals are made explicit in their slogans? What could the author possibly mean?

I suspect that to get to the content, you have to work through Dean’s post in a different sequence than top down. It is the Lenin references up front and the political identifications towards the end (“those of us who think of ourselves as communists, Leninists, Trotskyists…“) that provide the necessary backdrop for Dean’s dismissals: “that’s not my revolution” and “Occupy Wall Street … is not a left movement at all“. The contrast to watch for is not the one Dean draws between libertarianism and leftism:

The easiest rough initial cut is between those who begin with an emphasis on equality and those who begin with an emphasis on freedom; another crude cut would distinguish between those who begin from an emphasis on individualism and those who begin from an emphasis on collectivity, solidarity, and a commons.

For surely those actually collected in solidarity in the commons hardly need lecturing (a la Ricard Dawkins: by all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out) on libertarianism! Dean is of course not lecturing OWS. She is writing to that “those of us“, her people, and the contrast she draws out is really between the ideological commitment of those like her, and the open-ended process of discovery through action employed by OWS. We cannot take seriously the speculation that OWS is some sort of ISO9001 circle jerk. So, when she raises the suspicion that OWS may not be about “overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a communist solution“, the emphasis is likely on the latter part. The lack of a priori commitment to communism is Dean’s real issue. But there is good news. She is willing to wait for OWS to come around:

For those of us who think of ourselves as communists, Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, and socialists, our challenge is finding ways to work within and together with the movement, which can well mean not pushing too quickly for something for which the proper support has not yet been built.

Or of course there is the alternate possibility. As a fellow subscriber on a left mailing list summarised this kind of analysis (using a quote that seems to be widely attributed to Mahatma Gandhi):

There go my people. I must run and catch up with them because I am their leader.

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Jan 31st, 2010 by ravi
Lewontin on the real function of the Democratic Party

In the United States just after independence from Britain, the farmers of western Massachusetts, led by Daniel Shays and still in possession of their muskets, occupied the general courts to prevent bankers from obtaining judgements to confiscate farmers’ property for debt. The bankers in Boston succeeded in getting Continental troops to put down this rebellion, but all at the cost of considerable social upheaval. It is obviously in the interest of those who have power in society to prevent such violent and destructive conflicts, even if, with the police power of the state, they are sure to win.

As such struggles occur, institutions are created whose function is to forestall violent struggle by convincing people that the society in which they live is just and fair, or if not just and fair then inevitable, and that it is quite useless to resort to violence. There are the institutions of legitimation.

He’s speaking generally about equality, power and revolt, but he might as well have been speaking of the current financial crisis and the real function of Obama and the Democratic Party.

 

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Apr 21st, 2009 by ravi
Democrat caught looping the loop

Last year, afraid of being seen weak on national security, Democrats authorised George Bush’s illegal wiretapping programme, even granting retroactive immunity to phone companies that participated without a court order in this snooping. Unfortunately you can’t have your weak-kneed cake and eat your AIPAC dollars too… or summit like that:

CQ.com reported Harman was overheard on a National Security Agency wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two AIPAC officials. In exchange for Harman’s help, CQ.com reported, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections.

According to one unnamed official cited by CQ.com, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

Hilarious stuff!

[From Congresswoman calls alleged wiretap ‘abuse of power’ – CNN.com]

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Apr 11th, 2009 by ravi
Israel, Iran and Obama

Perhaps Thomas Friedman has fallen off the flat earth because recently there have been some rather sensible mutterings over at the New York Times. Such as this one:

Op-Ed Columnist – From Tehran to Tel Aviv – NYTimes.com

Still, this much is clear to me: Obama’s new Middle Eastern diplomacy and engagement will involve reining in Israeli bellicosity and a probable cooling of U.S.-Israeli relations. It’s about time. America’s Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy has been disastrous, not least for Israel’s long-term security.

[ Link ]

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Dec 23rd, 2008 by ravi
Bobby Jindal

Some quick insights into “Indian-American” Bobby Jindal, Rhodes scholar, creationist, governor of Lousiana and possibly your next President:

The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom: Scientific American

Professors routinely give advice to students but usually while their charges are still in school. Arthur Landy, a distinguished professor of molecular and cell biology and biochemistry at Brown University, recently decided, however, that he had to remind a former premed student of his that “without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn’t make sense.”

The sentiment was not original with Landy, of course. Thirty-six years ago geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, a major contributor to the foundations of modern evolutionary theory, famously told the readers of The American Biology Teacher that “nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.” Back then, Dobzhansky was encouraging biology teachers to present evolution to their pupils in spite of religiously motivated opposition. Now, however, Landy was addressing Bobby Jindal—the governor of the state of Louisiana—on whose desk the latest antievolution bill, the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, was sitting, awaiting his signature.

Remembering Jindal as a good student in his genetics class, Landy hoped that the governor would recall the scientific importance of evolution to biology and medicine. Joining Landy in his opposition to the bill were the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which warned that “Louisiana will undoubtedly be thrust into the national spotlight as a state that pursues politics over science and education,” and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which told Jindal that the law would “unleash an assault against scientific integrity.” Earlier, the National Association of Biology Teachers had urged the legislature to defeat the bill, pleading “that the state of Louisiana not allow its science curriculum to be weakened by encouraging the utilization of supplemental materials produced for the sole purpose of confusing students about the nature of science.”

But all these protests were of no avail. On June 26, 2008, the governor’s office announced that Jindal had signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law.

And this:

Many Indians born in America have tended to sympathise with other people of colour, identifying their lot with other immigrants, the poor, the underclass. Vinita Gupta, in Oklahoma, another largely white state, won her reputation as a crusading lawyer by taking up the case of illegal immigrants exploited by a factory owner (her story will shortly be depicted by Hollywood, with Halle Berry playing the Indian heroine). Bhairavi Desai leads a taxi drivers’ union; Preeta Bansal, who grew up as the only non-white child in her school in Nebraska, became New York’s Solicitor General and now serves on the Commission for Religious Freedom. None of this for Bobby. Louisiana’s most famous city, New Orleans, was a majority black town, at least until Hurricane Katrina destroyed so many black lives and homes, but there is no record of Bobby identifying himself with the needs or issues of his state’s black people. Instead, he sought, in a state with fewer than 10,000 Indians, not to draw attention to his race by supporting racial causes. Indeed, he went well beyond trying to be non-racial (in a state that harboured notorious racists like the Ku Klux Klansman David Duke); he cultivated the most conservative elements of white Louisiana society. With his widely-advertised piety (he asked his Indian wife, Supriya, to convert as well, and the two are regular churchgoers), Bobby Jindal adopted positions on hot-button issues that place him on the most conservative fringe of the Republican Party. Most Indian-Americans are in favour of gun control, support a woman’s right to choose abortion, advocate immigrants’ rights, and oppose school prayer (for fear that it would marginalise non-Christians). On every one of these issues, Bobby Jindal is on the opposite side. He’s not just conservative; on these questions, he is well to the right of his own party.

Since Jindal is a hard-core right-wing Christian fundamentalist, he must then believe that life begins at conception. In his case, that would imply that his own began back in the shameful backwaters of India.

[ Link ]

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Nov 11th, 2008 by ravi
McCain on immigration

Nobody should mistake McCain for a leftist, but I wonder if Obama would stand up to an angry crowd and defend basic decency (albeit with implicit caveats) as McCain does here, in a rally in Michigan, during his presidential bid:



But I will tell you this, ma’am. I am not going to call up a soldier that’s fighting in Iraq today and tell him that I am going to deport his mother. I am not going to do that. YOU can do it. Okay?

Two things struck me about this (apart from the pandering about ‘securing the border’ etc): his direct and clear rejection of the mob, and the positive reaction that the rejection drew from the crowd. Obama fans speak of his inspirational or transformative capacity, but I doubt I have seen him take a clear and unpopular stand such as this and use that clarity and integrity to turn the crowd around.

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Nov 6th, 2008 by ravi
Meanwhile back in the White House…

The NYT documents the final days shennanigans of BushCo:

Editorial – So Little Time, So Much Damage – NYTimes.com

President Bush’s aides have been scrambling to change rules and regulations on the environment, civil liberties and abortion rights, among others — few for the good. Most presidents put on a last-minute policy stamp, but in Mr. Bush’s case it is more like a wrecking ball. We fear it could take months, or years, for the next president to identify and then undo all of the damage.

[…]

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