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False Equivalence, New York Times edition

New York Times has failed as a newspaper this election season. The big scoops about Trump are coming from Washington Post and Newsweek, while the  hometown newspaper is asleep at the switch.  Even today, NYT is on the both-sides-do-it wagon soft pedaling of Trump’s hate and bigotry. It happened after the immigration speech and it happened again this morning. Their headline this morning reads:

Bitter, Personal Tone Marks 2nd Trump Clinton Debate

 

Sounds like a bickering match of he said, she said with both parties equally to blame doesn’t it? That’s not what I saw, this is what I saw when I made myself watch yesterday’s debate.

* Trump stalked Hillary Clinton throughout the debate

* Said bragging about sexual assault is OK because ISIS

* He had no clue about what he was talking about be it Syria or healthcare or Russia.

* He admitted as much in so many words about Russia

* He wants give Putin a complete free rein in Syria and elsewhere

* He promised to jail Hillary Clinton like his idol Putin does to his political opponents

* Tried to relitigate Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a negative against Hillary

*Repeated what do black people have to lose by voting for him, line

*Demonized ordinary Muslim citizens and Syrian refugees fleeing war

*Called Hillary Clinton, the devil

*Did not answer a single question, just repeated his fact-free bilious stump speech replete with conspiracy theories

Compared to the toddler tantrum that Trump threw on the debate stage for an hour and half, Hillary Clinton was a model of restraint and civility. She has nerves of steel, I was sputtering with rage at Trump’s indecent and ignorant behavior in my living room. No matter how low Trump goes, New York Times normalizes his behavior and enables him. Paper of record, indeed.

 

Don't turn around!

By chech1965

* Thanks to chech 1965 for letting me use his lol.

Concerned Capitalist is Concerned

Continuing the tradition of trolling for clicks, NYT has an op-ed piece by a worried heir to Marie Antoinette, Peter Georgescu, Chairman emeritus of Young and Rubicam. He is worried along with some of his other billionaire friends about ending up like the Sun King’s daughter-in-law. The reason:  the yawning gap in income between the 0.1% and everyone else.

Business has the most to gain from a healthy America, and the most to lose by social unrest or punitive taxation.

His analysis of the problem is spot on, mainly that business is not investing in either research or its employees.

The fact that real wages have been flat for about four decades, while productivity has increased by 80 percent, shows that has not been happening. Before the early 1970s, wages and productivity were both rising. Now most gains from productivity go to shareholders, not employees.

And how does Marie’s heir want to address this problem? By asking taxpayers to foot the bill, so that businesses can pay their employees a fair wage.

There is a way to start. Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees making $80,000 or less. The program would exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.

How does one pay for these tax incentives?  Not by increasing taxes, since that would be punitive according Mr. Concerned Capitalist.

If inequality is not addressed, the income gap will most likely be resolved in one of two ways: by major social unrest or through oppressive taxes, such as the 80 percent tax rate on income over $500,000 suggested by Thomas Piketty,

The top most marginal rate currently is way less than 80%. In fact it is nearly half of that, 39.6%. What does Mr. Concerned Capitalist think is a fair, not punitive tax rates on his fellow one percenters? Gotta love this new capitalism, where you can socialize the risk and privatize the rewards. Win-win, for Georgescu and friends.

By two_kittehs ( Picture by: dorothyfrancesgoldstein)

New York Times Will Troll For Clicks

Lately, the op-ed page of the venerable New York Times has descended into click bait with outrageous trollish op-eds. A sampling from the past few days:

First, Lolrus Bolton arguing against the Iran deal. Like we need advice from one of the cheerleaders of the Iraq fail show.

Then we had a doctoral student from Zimbabwe arguing how Cecil the Lion had it coming and how people mourning the lion’s senseless killing were childish imbeciles.

Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?

 

Last but not the least we have an associate professor in political science from the University of Virginia, commenting on the supposed smugness of liberals in general and Jon Stewart in particular. This august personage finds torture enabler Yoo to be reasonable.

Maybe that’s why my strongest memory of Mr. Stewart, like that of many other conservatives, is probably going to be his 2010 interview with the Berkeley law professor John Yoo. Mr. Yoo had served in Mr. Bush’s Justice Department and had drafted memos laying out what techniques could and couldn’t be used to interrogate Al Qaeda detainees. Mr. Stewart seemed to go into the interview expecting a menacing Clint Eastwood type, who was fully prepared to zap the genitals of some terrorist if that’s what it took to protect America’s women and children.

Mr. Stewart was caught unaware by the quiet, reasonable Mr. Yoo, who explained that he had been asked to determine what legally constituted torture so the government could safely stay on this side of the line. The issue, in other words, wasn’t whether torture was justified but what constituted it and what didn’t. Ask yourself how intellectually curious Mr. Stewart really could be, not to know that this is what Bush administration officials had been saying all along?

The strategy has paid off, the last two op-eds garnered more than one thousand comments. So what’s next for the Gray Lady? Someone writing how slavery was a wonderful institution or how colonialism improved the life of the heathens who just needed a benevolent civilizing touch?

By two_kittehs

Quiz for the Day

What do the following have in common?  Trotsky, Jeb Bush, 3D printer, Ali Baba, World War II, friction, complexity, Thailand?

Hint: All these words are a part of the same column/article.

Extra Credit:  Write a paragraph or an  essay that contains all the above.

english,essay,editor,funny,critical

By two_kittehs

My Irony Meter Just Broke

In the parade of clueless opinion pieces that grace the pages of the New York Times, last week’s op-ed contribution by Aatish Taseer takes the not just the cake but the bakery.  In his column, Taseer,  laments how the language of India’s past colonial masters is killing Indian literature.  The leaps of logic, the factual inaccuracies and over the top generalizations would  give even the Mustache of Understanding a headache.

The essay follows a classic Friedmanesque pattern.  Instead of the cab driver, we have a boatman on the Ganges, dispensing pearls of wisdom to the intrepid Mr. Taseer. How quaint, and shall I say, orientalist of Mr. Taseer.

A BOATMAN I met in Varanasi last year, while covering the general election that made Narendra Modi prime minister of India, said, “When Modi comes to power, we will send this government of the English packing.”

The London born, Amherst College graduate, decries that English has killed Indian literature.  There is so much wrong in this piece that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, it takes a lot of chutzpah to decry the influence of English, while peddling books in the same language. I see a bright future in politics for Mr. Taseer.  He can join the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, and rail articulately against the influence of English and grumble about colonialism, while he himself profits from his knowledge of the so-called language of oppression.

The boatman’s story is followed by anecdata of someone not getting an acting job because they could not speak English.  Since that supposedly signified that the actor was not a member of the elite. How this is supposed to prove the death of Indian literature, I have no clue.

This friend, an aspiring Bollywood actor, knew firsthand what it meant to be from the wrong class. Absurd as it must sound, he was frequently denied work in the Hindi film industry for not knowing English.

Also, what is this Indian literature he speaks of? I wonder. Surely, Mr. Taseer is aware that there is no language called Indian? India is home to many languages with their own scripts, grammars and yes literature, dating back to a thousand years or more. There is more to India’s linguistic diversity than the dead classical language Sanskrit and the language of the Northern India, Hindi, the two languages Mr. Taseer mentions in his essay full of fail.

India has had languages of the elite in the past — Sanskrit was one, Persian another.

English is far more widespread and easily attainable than these two languages ever were. Persian was the language of the Mughal court but unlike the British, even at the height of their power, the Mughals never ruled all of India.   The South and Northeast were never a part of the Moghul empire. As for Sanskrit, it has been an antiquated language of ritual for more than a thousand years .  Until recently, it was the sole the preserve of Brahmin males and  even  for them, it was not the everyday language of marital spats or gossip.  Also, no other language is symbolic of the caste divides in India, than Sanskrit.  

Both these languages did not have the reach or draw of English, ever. In a country with a multitude of languages English is unique. It does not belong to  a particular region of India , nor is it a preserve of a particular caste. For better or for worse, in India, English is the language that helps you rise above your circumstances and get out of the constricting straight jacket of tradition. Since it is both  the language of official business and higher education, it expands your horizons of what is possible.  English is not a language oppression for Indians but a language of opportunity. Indians have made English their own and added to India’s linguistic diversity.  It is the very opposite of Mr. Taseer’s claim;

English, which re-enacts the colonial relationship, placing certain Indians in a position the British once occupied, does more than that. It has created a linguistic line as unbreachable as the color line once was in the United States.

What total bullshit, how is the linguistic line unbreachable? You can’t easily change your skin color or gender, or your caste  for that matter, but you can learn a new language. English is not some antiquated language with five living speakers, there are plenty of resources available if want to master it.

He then follows this brilliant insight with the stories of two students from Banaras Hindu University. Presumably, Mr. Taseer was dropped there by the boatman from the first paragraph. Banaras is another name for Varanasi, a city on the banks of the river Ganges, Hinduism’s Mecca if you will.  Anyway, coming back to the aforementioned students, both give Mr. Op-Ed contributor a sad. 

First there is Vishal Singh,

a popular basketball player, devoted to Michael Jordan and Enfield motorbikes.

Playing basketball is not a route to popularity in India.  It would be more believable if Vishal Singh played cricket. Besides, Michael Jordan hasn’t played professional basket ball since Vishal Singh was in elementary school. Vishal Singh is probably as real as Mr. Ganges Boatman. Vishal Singh, apparently can’t string two sentences in English but he is still better off than a scholar of Sanskrit.

 

Sheshamuni Shukla, studied classical grammar in the Sanskrit department. He had spent over a decade mastering rules of grammar set down by the ancient Indian grammarians some 2,000 years before. He spoke pure and beautiful Hindi; in another country, a number of careers might have been open to him. But in India, without English, he was powerless.

What is so unique about Shukla, doesn’t everyone have to learn the rules of grammar when mastering any language? Why is Mr. Shukla powerless? If he can master the extra special rules of ancient Indian grammarians, surely he can use his linguistic skills to master English.  According to Mr. Taseer, Sheshamuni has spent ten years in the Sanskrit department, so I am guessing that he must at least be  a doctoral candidate in Sanskrit. I don’t see how knowledge of English is relevant to his career prospects as a scholar of Sanskrit.  Also, Mr. Shukla was surely aware that spending years studying a classical language would not make him marketable like an engineering degree would.  Would a  scholar of Aramaic or Latin be flooded with job offers after graduation ? I don’t see what these anecdotes are supposed to establish.

As for political power, the halls of power in India are not the preserve of the English speaking elite as Mr. Taseer would have us believe.   In fact not being fluent in Hindi is much more of an impediment to success in India’s national politics. In fact, eleven of India’s fifteen Prime Ministers originate from the Hindi belt and/or are native Hindi speakers. I remember that people would point and laugh at Rajiv Gandhi because he was not fluent in Hindi, when he was thrust into political limelight after his mother’s assassination.

Indian writers who write in English  get no love from Mr. Taseer either, he either dismisses them as owing their success to the West;

India, over the past three decades, has produced many excellent writers in English, such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy. The problem is that none of these writers can credit India alone for their success; they all came to India via the West, via its publishing deals and prizes.

or they are beneath contempt;

India, when left to its own devices, throws up a very different kind of writer, a man such as Chetan Bhagat, who, though he writes in English about things that are urgent and important — like life on campuses and in call centers — writes books of such poor literary quality that no one outside India can be expected to read them. India produces a number of such writers,

Mr. Pompous Windbag does not stop here, he then proceeds to speak for all of India, deeming it voiceless.

But this is not the voice of a confident country. It sounds rather like a country whose painful relationship with language has left it voiceless.

And who better to give voiceless Indians a voice, than a Russian?

The Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky felt in the 19th century that the slavish imitation of European culture had created “a sort of duality in Russian life, consequently a lack of moral unity.” The Indian situation is worse; the Russians at least had Russian.

Next up, lamentations about the good old days,

In the past, there were many successful Indian writers who were bi- and trilingual. Rabindranath Tagore, the winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote in English and Bengali; Premchand, the short story writer and novelist, wrote in Hindi and Urdu; and Allama Iqbal wrote English prose and Persian and Urdu poetry,

Hindi and Urdu are not two separate languages but the same language, Hindustani, written in different scripts. 

But around the time of my parents’ generation, a break began to occur. Middle-class parents started sending their children in ever greater numbers to convent and private schools, where they lost the deep bilingualism of their parents, and came away with English alone. The Indian languages never recovered. Growing up in Delhi in the 1980s, I spoke Hindi and Urdu, but had to self-consciously relearn them as an adult. Many of my background didn’t bother.

As I had suspected before, all this garment rending about voiceless India is about Mr. Taseer’s own angst and has precious little to do with the state of Indian literature.  Just because he can’t be a serious writer in Hindi does not mean that the literature of the said language is dead or dying. 

 

This meant that it was not really possible for writers like myself to pursue a serious career in an Indian language. We were forced instead to make a roundabout journey back to India. We could write about our country, but we always had to keep an eye out for what worked in the West. It is a shameful experience; it produces feelings of irrelevance and inauthenticity. V. S. Naipaul called it “the riddle of the two civilizations.” He felt it stood in the way of “identity and strength and intellectual growth.”

Mr. Naipaul is of Indian origin but  how many Indian languages does Mr. Naipaul speak? He is an observer of Indian mores, with a distant ancestral connection nothing more.  Why does Taseer choose him as the supposed  Indian voice of authenticity?

 

That day almost a year ago in Varanasi, the boatman felt that Mr. Modi’s coming to power would rid India of the legacy of English rule. Mr. Modi, who had risen to power out of poverty with little to no English, seemed to pose a direct challenge to the power of the English-speaking elite. The boatman was wrong. Though the election was in some ways a dramatization of India’s culture wars, English, and all that it signifies, will endure here for generations still.

This is ridiculous, as I mentioned before,  being fluent in Hindi has always been more important than mastery over English to succeed in politics.  Prominent Indian politicians whose English Mr. Taseer would approve of, are few and far between.  On the other hand political stalwarts whose oratorical skills in Hindi far surpass their skills in English are too numerous to recount here. The same is true at the state level too, where knowledge of the state language can make or break your candidacy.  Try to get elected in Tamil Nadu without speaking Tamil, for example. Linguistic politics are a minefield in India, English is as close to  a neutral language as one can get. With as many as twenty two officially recognized languages, there is no clear cut successor to replace English. To India’s millions of non Hindi speakers (60% of the population according to the 2001 census), why  would Hindi hegemony be necessarily better than English?

In reality, many Indians, especially  the ones whose mother tongue is not Hindi can speak three and sometimes even four languages. Take the hypothetical example of a Bengali person who grew up in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra and went to a school whose medium of instruction was English. This person would know their mother tongue, Bengali and  Marathi,  the state language of Maharashtra besides  Hindi and English.

In addition to formal Hindi education, the Hindi film industry is a potent pan Indian cultural force. Movies made in Hindi and other regional languages far exceed the revenues generated by Hollywood flicks. The relationship between Indian languages and English is far more complex than Mr. Taseer lets on.

If Mr. Taseer is not a competent Hindi speaker or writer, it is his own damn fault and he should quit projecting his neuroses on the entire country.

 

This is as deep an entrenchment of class and power as any the world has known; it will take more to change it than a change of government. It will take a dismantling of colonial education, a remaking of the relationship between language and power.The boatman spoke from anger, but I was not out of sympathy with his rage. It was the rage of belonging to a place that, 70 years after the British left, still felt in too many ways like an outpost.

Sure, lets go ahead and dismantle the teaching of English in India, and make the language a sole preserve of those Indians who can afford an undergraduate education at an elite liberal arts college.  Then they can write columns and be dismissive of their fellow countrymen for their poor English.

Pankaj Mishra has Lost the Plot

In addition to the regular side of bullshit that is a David Brooks column, there was a special dose of crazy in last Saturday’s  opinion section of the New York Times.  A highbrow word salad from none other than Pompous Pankaj Mishra. In case you didn’t read it, let me briefly paraphrase Mishra. Shorter Mishra, India is  worse than ISIS  and also Russia and Imperial Japan.  He did not say whether it is worse than the Ebola virus, perhaps that is the subject of the next essay.

He starts with a kernel of truth but  his conclusions, sound like projection.  Kernel of truth: Narendra Modi’s ascent to the most important political office in India is troubling especially in light of the riots that took place during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat. This to Mishra is proof enough of the malevolence of the Indian electorate in general and the Indian diaspora in particular.

Mishra begins by quoting the father of pompous intellectuals of Indian heritage,  V. S. Naipaul.  According to both Naipaul and Mishra, upper caste Indians are an intellectually insecure lot, not something I necessarily disagree with but I think the brush strokes of this painting are too broad for my liking.  After all,  this description could easily fit both Mishra and Naipaul, who are as upper caste as they come.

First he paraphrases Naipaul, then goes on to give us his own pearls of wisdom;

These well-born Indians betrayed a craze for “phoren” consumer goods and approval from the West, as well as a self-important paranoia about the “foreign hand.” “Without the foreign chit,” Mr. Naipaul concluded, “Indians can have no confirmation of their own reality.”

Today a new generation of Indian nationalists lurches between victimhood and chauvinism, and with ominous implications. As the country appears to rise (and simultaneously fall), many ambitious members of a greatly expanded and fully global Hindu middle class feel frustrated in their demand for higher status from white Westerners.

What does  fully global Hindu middle class, mean anyway? Has Mishra been hanging out with the same cab driver who ferries Tom Friedman? Mishra, then goes on to quote several Modi acolytes. He then asserts that their ridiculous theories of Hindu supremacy are representative of the Indian elite.  Who qualifies as elite in Mishra’s eyes, I wonder?  What about the person he sees in the mirror, everyday?

Mishra is assuming that Narendra Modi, despite all his talk of moderation,  is going to put the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s exclusionary ideology of India as a Hindu nation, in practice,  and that this is a popular sentiment in India. This  claim, is not borne out by India’s history both pre and post independence.  The Sangh and its ideology are nothing new.  Hindutva has been around for almost a hundred years. Plenty of time for this ideology to have become mainstream, won’t you say? Before Mr. Modi there has been only one time when a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician has headed the central government in Delhi, that was Mr. Atal Bihari Vajapayee, who led the coalition government in the late nineties.  While it is true that RSS is the dog that wags the BJP tail, both Modi and Vajpayee before him have sought to minimize their RSS connections.  Precisely, because RSS and their ideology is neither mainstream nor popular in India today or has been at any other time since the inception of RSS.

Mid column, Mishra’s goes off on a weird tangent, in what almost seems like a part of another essay where he compares India to Russia and Imperial Japan.  Evidence please, to support this pseudo intellectual word salad.

These wounds were caused, and are deepened, by failed attempts to match Western power through both mimicry and collaboration (though zealously anti-Western, Chinese nationalism has developed much more autonomously in comparison). Largely subterranean until it erupts, this ressentiment of the West among thwarted elites can assume a more treacherous form than the simple hatred and rejectionism of outfits such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Taliban. The intellectual history of right-wing Russian and Japanese nationalism reveals an ominously similar pattern as the vengeful nativism of Hindu nationalists: a recoil from craving Western approval into promoting religious-racial supremacy.

The Russian elite, created by the hectic Westernizing ventures of Peter the Great, was the first to articulate the widespread sense of inadequacy and failure created in societies trying to catch up with the modern West. In 1836, Pyotr Chaadaev argued in “First Philosophical Letter” that, “We belong neither to the West nor to the East, and we possess the traditions of neither.” His eloquent self-pity, which shook up Pushkin as well as Gogol and Tolstoy, inaugurated the semi-Westernized Russian elite’s tormented search for a native identity to uphold against the West.

Where Mishra completely lost me in this unedited rant about Indians and their nationalism was the fact that he wrote approvingly of China’s “non-western” nationalism.  After four paragraphs on this strange trajectory, Mishra suddenly remembers the essay he started writing and goes on to bash his favorite bugbear, the half-baked or semi westernized (his words) Indian;

The fantasies of racial-religious revenge and redemption that breed in Western suburbs as well as posh Indian enclaves today speak of a vast spiritual desolation as well as a deepening intellectual crisis. Even Mr. Naipaul briefly succumbed to the pathology of mimic machismo he had despised (and, later, also identified among chauvinists in Muslim countries). He hailed the vandalizing by a Hindu mob of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992, which triggered nationwide massacres of Muslims, as the sign of an overdue national “awakening.”

Naipaul who Mishra approvingly quotes in the beginning may be of Indian heritage, but he has never been an Indian citizen. To claim that his opinions are representative is ridiculous, as is the claim that the self selected group of people of Indian heritage who showed up last month to see Modi are representative of the Indian diaspora.

There are many more such nonresident Indians in the West today, vicariously living history’s violent drama in their restless exile: In Madison Square Garden, in New York, last month, more than 19,000 people cheered Mr. Modi’s speech about ending India’s millennium-long slavery. But hundreds of millions of uprooted Indians are also now fully exposed to demagoguery. In an unprecedented public intervention this month, the present chief of the R.S.S., who wants all Indian citizens to identify themselves as Hindus since India is a “Hindu nation,” appeared on state television to rant against Muslim infiltrators and appeal for a boycott of Chinese goods.

Such crude xenophobia, now officially sanctioned in Mr. Modi’s India, seems only slightly less menacing than the previous R.S.S. chief’s wishful thinking about one more Mahabharata against demonic anti-Hindus. Japan’s expansionist gambles in China and the Pacific in the last century and, more recently, Russia’s irredentism in Ukraine show that a mainstreamed rhetoric of national aggrandizement can quickly slide into reckless warmongering. Certainly, the ruling classes of wannabe superpowers have spawned a complex force: the ideology of anti-imperialist imperialism, which, forming an axis with the modern state and media and nuclear technology, can make Islamic fundamentalists seem toothless. One can only hope that India’s democratic institutions are strong enough to constrain yet another wounded elite from breaking out for geopolitical and military manhood.

Is Mishra  projecting when speaks about these so called semi-western Indians who supposedly worry about what white westerners say about them?

As for anti-western rhetoric, it has always been a part of Indian politics, both on the left and right, especially before independence and immediately afterwards. Given India’s experience with British rule, this is not surprising. In fact Swadeshi, or buying goods made in India was a major weapon in the struggle for independence both under Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mohandas Gandhi, both leaders of the Congress in British India and upper caste Indian elite to boot.

Indian leaders starting with Jawaharlal Nehru saw the post war American rise in global politics a continuation of British hegemony pre WWII.  It is precisely why India allied itself with the Soviets during the Cold War.  A decision made by center-left Congress Party not the BJP or its predecessor, the Jan Sangh.  So I don’t think that the anti-west rhetoric of some of Modi’s supporters means what Mishra thinks it means.

Even  if the Indian elite who Mishra despises is every bit as craven as his assertions, Indian democracy is not as fragile as he fears, it has survived and thrived for over sixty years, and has held free and fair elections to determine its leaders since its independence in 1947. Not something one can say either about Russia or Imperial Japan or Mishra’s favorite, China. Indian democracy has survived among other things, Prime minister Indira Gandhi’s attempt to usurp power in 1975 after a stinging electoral defeat and the assassinations of two of its Prime Ministers (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi).  Yes the Indian democracy has its flaws, which democracy doesn’t? India’s elected leaders have been all too human with feet of clay, and let down the people who elected them. As for the diaspora, Indian Constitution does not allow for a dual citizenship and there are no absentee ballots, so most of those Modi followers in NYC either can’t or won’t be able to vote in the Indian elections.  So even if they are all, as rabid as Mishra claims, they have no franchise in  India’s electoral politics.

Indian voters showed the earlier government lead by BJP the door, when they realized that  BJP’s India shining campaign was all sizzle and no steak. If Modi starts unnecessary wars and does not deliver on his economic agenda, he won’t last beyond one term.   Yes, Narendra Modi’s Sangh antecedents and his performance during the Godhra riots, as well, are a cause for concern but there is no reason to believe that a majority of India’s citizenry, even among those who voted for the BJP has drunk the RSS Kool-aid.  I need more evidence than the ranting of a few reactionaries to hit the panic button.  I have more faith in the pragmatism of the Indian electorate than the blathering of either Mishra or the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Arrested Development and Selective Amnesia

This week’s MSM outrage was about Obama’s comment regarding strategy or the lack thereof with respect to ISIS.  Echoing his catty colleague in making frivolous criticisms of the President, Frank Bruni of the New York Times wants the President to not be frank when it comes to foreign policy but mouth platitudes like the younger Bush did and may be start a war or two in the Middle East. 

There are things that you think and things that you say.

There’s what you reckon with privately and what you utter publicly.

There are discussions suitable for a lecture hall and those that befit the bully pulpit.

These sets overlap but aren’t the same. Has President Obama lost sight of that?

It’s a question fairly asked after his statement last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with Islamic extremists in Syria. Not having a strategy, at least a fixed, definitive one, is understandable. The options aren’t great, the answers aren’t easy and the stakes are enormous.

But announcing as much? It’s hard to see any percentage in that. It gives no comfort to Americans. It puts no fear in our enemies.

At this moment, Iraq is in much worse shape than it was when Saddam was alive and was holding  the lid shut to the Pandora’s box of strife that Bush’s Mesopotamian misadventure pried open. The rise of ISIS is the direct result of what has happened in Iraq since 2002-03. I am no middle-east expert but wouldn’t crippling ISIS in Syria strengthen Bashar Al-Assad? Not so long ago, didn’t Senator McWar and sidekick Lindsay Graham want to arm the Syrian rebels, which I guess would have been ISIS? Even someone with the most rudimentary knowledge of the events of the past decade can conclude that current crisis is complicated and neither Obama nor anyone else can wave a magic wand and make it all go away.  

One of the NYT readers commenting on Bruni’s opinion piece said it better than I can,

I find the President’s candor rather refreshing and astute. I don’t need to hear bluster. I ‘m tired of politicians pretending to have bumper-sticker answers for everything. Obama puts things in perspective. He’s very wise that way. Past Presidents have all too often become reactionary in their attempts to be decisive. I prefer the Obama way, thank you very much.

Is it too much to ask that someone who writes for the opinion pages of the New York Times have a better handle on current events than their average reader? Instead Bruni and most of the chattering class  are like toddlers who want the President to act tough and make all the monsters disappear, while he tucks them in and gives them a binky to suck on.  I on the other hand am glad to have a President who treats me like an adult and is deliberate and cautious before he commits troops  unlike the  cheerleaders in the media who have learnt nothing from the Iraq misadventure. The Bush administration could not have sold the war of choice  without their complicity.  Yet,  I haven’t seen a talking head or an opinion writer even acknowledge that the rise of ISIS is directly related to the war they so enthusiastically supported.

 Arrested  Development

By two_kittehs

Note: By the media I mean the Beltway opinion writers and analysts, not the reporters on the ground who risk their lives to bring us the story.

Same Column, Different Day

Maureen Dowd has yet another column disparaging the President, this time for not going to Ferguson, MO. This is a third column in a row about the supposed inadequacies of President Obama. According to Dowd, the first African-American president has outsourced race.  Last column it was his playing golf that got MoDo going. She begrudges him his vacation and even his office and constantly echoes the right wing criticism about him. I am sure that had he gone to Ferguson, she would have found fault with that too, and would  blamed him for throwing gasoline on an already volatile situation.

In MoDoverse, every problem can be traced to Obama’s actions or the  lack of thereof,  from the Republican intransigence to ISIS and everything in between.  If only Obama would schmooze with Congressional Republicans, yes the same ones who even refuse invitations to state dinners,  give an electrifying speech on every occasion, we would all live happily ever after.  In this fantasy land a presidential speech would solve the immigration problem and  fix race relations.  Of course, it was not that long ago when Obama’s speeches were characterized as just words.  Her other scintillating advice to the President;  is to be more like President Bartlett of the TV show West Wing.

At this point, MoDo seems to be just phoning it in, with  utterly predictable columns castigating Obama for not doing something that she deems a President ought to do, you know, what Jeb Bartlett would have done. Hey it worked on the West Wing, so why not try it in real life?

  Critcal Cat

By two_kittehs

Twenty First Century Serfdom

Unreasonable demands, bosscat has them

bosscatI

By two_kittehs

Many part-time workers in the service industry (retail, fast food etc.) not only get paid a pittance but also have little control over their schedule.  It is unpredictable and changes from day to day because you have to be on call even at times when you are not working.  This makes it difficult to have a life outside your job, or even to take up a second job, or go to school. Kay of Balloon Juice covered this topic the other day.

Besides keeping employees on a short leash what purpose does Just-In-Time (JIT) scheduling  serve? Some reasons from the comments on Balloon Juice

 Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):

It prevents them from having to figure out ahead of time how many employees they’ll need. It also means that they don’t have to put together a full week’s schedule, thus avoiding that no-fun task. And it saves on labor costs since you never have to worry about being overstaffed.

Satanic Panic:

I guess it’s easier to get people to fill in for employees that are out or have quit

Trollhattan said:

Best as I can figure, it’s the product of of our chronic, long-term underemployment paired with a corporate willingness to endure a pretty high employee turnover metric (thou shalt not exceed n-percent, lest thou miss thy bonus).

Last but not the least, Kay:

I think it might actually feed on itself, create the kind of chaos that then requires more JIT scheduling.

 

So there are some valid reasons for JIT scheduling of hourly employees but there seems to be no earthly reason why up to 50% of all hourly employees have to endure so much uncertainty.  Another Balloon Juice commenter further elaborates this point,

Roger Moore:

I assume the stated justification is the need for flexibility to deal with unpredictable need for employees and unpredictable employees. IOW, the employers want some flexibility, but they put the cost on the back of their employees.

So is this yet another example of socializing the risk and the cost and privatizing the profit or upside?

One quick way to curb the gratuitous use  of JIT scheduling practices would be to require employers to pay workers while they are on call at least  half their hourly rate.  I wonder what the cons  who call themselves reformers have to say about this, in their economic policy manifesto? 

Brooks Brother is a Riot

The New York Times has added another Brooks to its opinion pages.  Arthur Brooks, the President of the  American Enterprise Institute is not really David Brooks’ brother, although their shtick is remarkably similar.  Along with a last name they share an ideology that comforts the comfortable, while appearing reasonable on the surface.  Now you can gather pearls of wisdom  from both men on the op-ed pages of the New York Times on the same day.  What a deal, two Brooks for the price of one.

Arthur Brooks  is the President of the  American Enterprise Institute.  In an earlier column he wanted the 99% to be happy with their lot, because envy is bad for you. Pointing out how the policies of the last thirty odd years have resulted in astronomical growth in the incomes of 0.01% and stagnation for everyone else is inciting envy.   Wage slave be happy with your lot, and be thankful that you are not a real slave. Show some magnanimity for the crumbs thrown your way, worship the rich, if  you know what is good for you.

In his latest column Brooks is using Dalai Lama as a spokesperson to advance his agenda.  Dalai Lama was recently a guest at the American Enterprise Institute.  According to Brooks this is what Dalai Lama had to say,

He insisted that while free enterprise could be a blessing, it was not guaranteed to be so. Markets are instrumental, not intrinsic, for human flourishing. As with any tool, wielding capitalism for good requires deep moral awareness. Only activities motivated by a concern for others’ well-being, he declared, could be truly “constructive.”

Brooks then proceeds to sing praises of free enterprise before grudgingly admitting the obvious;

But while free enterprise keeps expanding globally, its success may be faltering in the United States.

He is vague about what exactly he means by free enterprise. However, anyone with even a minimal background in economics knows that when the playing field is not level, markets don’t produce optimal outcomes for all participants. Look to the labor market if you don’t believe me.

After paying lip service to the problem of economic inequality brought about by the policies of the last few decades, promoted by his think tank,  Arthur Brooks puts forth suggestions to make capitalism constructive,

The solution does not lie in the dubious “fair share” class-baiting of  politicians. We need to combine an effective, reliable safety net for the poor with a hard look at modern barriers to upward mobility. That means attacking cronyism that protects the well-connected. It means lifting poor children out of ineffective schools that leave them unable to compete. It entails pruning back outmoded licensing laws that restrain low-income entrepreneurs. And it means creating real solutions — not just proposing market distortions — for people who cannot find jobs that pay enough to support their families.

Translation: Deregulate everything.  Privatize schools, gut all regulations.  Doing away with the New Deal era financial market regulations turned out well for Wall Street not so much for the rest of us.  Thanks but no thanks for your self serving advice, Mr. Brooks.  Modern barriers to upward mobility are same as that of the last gilded age, concentration of wealth and with it the  concentration of power.   Efficiency of the workers has gone up but their wages have remained stagnant, even when corporate profits have soared. Policy preferences skewed towards the interests of a few (top 0.001%) are responsible for the current situation. A step in the right direction would be paying workers a living wage.  Brooks’ American Enterprise Institute is not only against raising the minimum wage but wants the minimum wage to be $4.  I wonder what  real solutions he has in mind, slavery or indentured servitude?

One Percent Kittehs

By two_kittehs (Picture by: ME!)