Sunday, May 27, 2012

Romney on Education

I just read the Romney campaign's "white paper" on education.  Absolutely nothing in it surprised me.

Central to Mitt's K-12 "reform" are vouchers.  He praises George W. Bush's DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which Barack Obama allowed to lapse.  It provided federal funds to allow poor DC children to attend "private" schools.  Needless to say, the only "private" schools poor families could afford, given the size of the scholarships, were religious schools — resulting in direct federal subsidies of religious education.

While the Romney model includes a lot of talk of poor children leaving poorly performing schools, reading slightly between the lines we imply that his idea is that every child should be able to take his or her share of public spending on education to the school of his or her parents' choice.  In some states, which offer "scholarship" programs for children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense, children are learning that Earth is 6000 years old, and that the fossil record reflects the aftermath of Noah's flood.  (I can't be entirely sure, but it looks like those stay-at-home moms "home schooling" their kids might also be able to suckle at the public teat.  It's certain, though, that those entrepreneurial types offering online "schooling" would qualify.)

Romney would provide block grants to states that eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rules.  He wants to remove teacher certification requirements, which might impede "talented" individuals from entering the field.  Needless to say, he is just as enamored of testing children to evaluate their teachers and schools as all the other clowns tumbling out of their clown cars into the political arena.  Of course the questions might be a little different.
Which of these is the approximate age of the Earth?
a. 4.5 billion years
b. a million years, give or take a million
c. 6000 years
d. a little older than grandma
As far as higher education is concerned, Romney's main concern is to re-privatize the college loan program.  Things were much better, after all, when the banks serviced loans made with federal money — with no bank funds at risk — and collecting all the fees and interest.  Romney's Wall Street buds clearly regretted losing that cash cow.

Finally, Romney calls for (you guessed it) deregulation of colleges.  The main thrust of that would be eliminating the Obama regulation that for-profit schools provide prospective students with data on what proportion of their graduates find gainful employment, in the field for which they trained, upon graduation.  Clearly, such regulation stifles entrepreneurs like those who created the "Draw Me" Matchbook School of Art and Late-Night Cable HVAC University.

Granted, I think Obama's basketball buddy Arne Duncan is a perfectly awful Secretary of Education.  On the other hand, things could get worse — much, much worse.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

J.P. Morgan Chase, et al.

Here are a few initial premises you are free to accept or reject:
  1. The only means by which investment firms succeed are dumb luck and/or insider information.
  2. Given the nature of the normal curve, it is reasonable to suspect that the most successful investors depend on insider information.
  3. Every once in a while, even the lucky and the insiders must fail.
Following on those premises, it is likely that Jamie Dimon genuinely believes he still is a financial genius when he assigns all blame to Ina Drew.  The lucky CEOs always believe they are geniuses, as do the ones who trade on insider information without getting caught.  (Of course, it doesn't take genius to capture the regulatory agencies — just enough money to buy the right politicians.)

J.P. Morgan got caught in it's own web.  From time time, even the lucky and the insiders must fail.

A restoration of Glass-Steagle is gaining some popularity of late.  If Bill Clinton hadn't been quite so beholden to Wall Street money, Glass-Steagle still might be the law of the land.  If any bill deserved a veto, it was Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.  We really need Glass-Steagle back again.

Personally, I'm of the "Dimon is just another asshole who got lucky" school of thought.  I don't blame Dimon — I blame Clinton (for his cowardice or his greed — who knows which?)  Dimon is incapable of recognizing what a turd he truly is — he's convinced (because he was lucky for a while at the right time) he actually knows more than the rest of us.  Well, apparently, he was wrong.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Divorce Lawyers Back Same-Sex Marriage

Okay, I made that up — but you know it's true.

As for Our President's "endorsement," whether or not it was predicated by Joe Biden's alleged "gaffe," it really doesn't matter.  The social/religious conservatives who actually care about the issue — the white ones, that is — weren't going to vote for him in the first place.  The black ones will vote for him anyway — he's still black, kinda.  Well, he's as black as he ever was.

The basic idea we ought to recognize here is that, since most Americans are straight and have straight offspring, not many give a damn about same-sex marriage one way or the other.  Oh, yes, they have opinions, but those opinions will not influence their votes.  However it works out, it will not make a damned bit of difference in their lives (except for the divorce lawyers.)

Since the Wall Street money seems to have taken a major turn towards Romney, Obama has no reason to desist from the populist rhetoric that can help him win in November.  I know that recent polls indicate that Americans say they don't resent the super-rich — and really would like to be super-rich themselves (surprise!) — but, you know, generating resentment is easy.  The Republicans have been doing it for years — against "welfare queens," immigrants (legal and/or illegal), alleged "socialists," and anybody else who might not be white, Christian, or totally ignorant.

Obama might lose in November — but it won't be because he (halfheartedly) endorsed same-sex marriage.  It will be because the real faggots are running his campaign, and he's too limp-wristed to do what he needs to do to win.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Things fall apart;

....................... the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the land...

It's really disheartening how frequently and aptly one can quote Yeats these days.  What passed for the center in Greece took a clobbering as Greek voters moved both left and right.  In a couple of days, we'll get to find out if the leftist coalition, Syriza, can form a government now that New Democracy has failed to do so.  It doesn't look good; both because New Democracy was awarded an extra fifty seats in the 300 seat legislature because it squeaked into first place, and because the Communists refuse to join any coalition government.

Next, the Socialists get a turn to fail, and then there will have to be a caretaker government while new elections are held.  At that rate, it doesn't look good for Greece getting the next installment on its bailout.  A Greek default — which just about everybody expected was inevitable anyway — might do the trick of loosing "mere [economic]  anarchy upon the world."

Fran├žois Hollande disrupted a decades-long pattern of French incumbent victories by defeating Sarkozy — despite Sarkozy's pandering to first round supporters of Marine Le Pen.  In both Greece and France,  "the worst," demonstrating quite a bit of "passionate intensity" helped the quasi-fascist Golden Dawn and National Front parties lay claim to influence that will not be ignored.

Yes, left and right, voters were voicing their discontent with German dictated austerity measures — and, in a larger sense, with the plutocracy that came to replace the natural "center" over the past three decades.  They are tired of having their lives twisted this way and that for the sake of a cabal of big banks, hedge funds, and multinational corporations.  The question remains, though: do they truly understand who they hate and why they hate them?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I was planning to write about the craziness (from some perspectives) in Greece today, but I am too upset by the death of Maurice Sendak.  Let us all mourn Maurice Sendak.  We really want our geniuses to last forever.  They don't, of course, but I was hoping Sendak might be around to write something special for my future grandchild.

What the hell.  Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen are eternal.  Goodbye, Maurice.  You were one of the greatest poets of our time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Election Season

Tomorrow there will be elections in France, Greece, Italy, and Germany.  In November, there will be elections in the United States.  Not everybody may see just how those elections are interconnected, but if they don't, at the very least, they ought to try. The European voting should be seen as a plebiscite on austerity, the modus operandus of the European Union since the financial debacle.

The Italian elections are local but, like last week's local elections in the UK, may be an indicator of how the electorate is swinging.  The elections in Germany are for the Schleswig-Holstein region, and have the potential to push Angela Merkel out of power if the Social Democrats and the Greens do well and are able to form a coalition.

There is a lot more attention, of course, to the national elections in France and Greece.  Polling shows Francois Hollande, the Socialist, leading Nicolas Sarkozy.  France, unlike a bunch of other European nations, isn't quite in official recession yet — but the handwriting is on the wall.  Hollande says he wants European action to stimulate growth, and it seems the French populace is responding to that message.  The question, at the moment, is what kind of winning margin he can achieve (assuming he wins.)  Nobody knows which way the National Front (the Tea Party of France) will turn, if they bother to vote at all.  It would be very amusing is they went for Hollande.

The Greeks have sufficient parties and political schisms so that it is possible that no coalition government might be formed.  Most of Europe is hoping that the socialist Pasok party and the conservative New Democrats (makes you think of Clinton) gather enough of the vote to form a coalition government (!) that can pander to the Germans enough to keep Greece in the Eurozone — but the situation is really crazy.

At the moment, the United States too is in austerity.  The (inadequate) Obama stimulus has run its course; the Fed is standing pat; the states continue to dump cops, teachers, motor vehicle clerks, etc.  According to the most recent figures, job growth appears to be slowing.

The Republican answer to this is more austerity — albeit, unlike the Europeans, Republicans refuse to raise taxes (especially on the very rich), and hope to "balance the budget" on the backs of the poor.  The example of Europe sliding down the economic drain means nothing to the corporate elite, the rentier class, and the rest of the plutocrats.  Hell, it won't hurt them.

The vast majority of America (including Democrats) consists of economic illiterates.  Pointing out that so-called "balancing the budget" by decimating government is exactly what failed in Europe will do little good.  I really hope Obama has a plan — however shifty and devious — to overcome the stupidity of the American people.  Needless to say, I also hope that, somewhere in his heart, there is a little "Old" Democrat who will do the decent thing when he no longer has to worry about re-election.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day!

Happy May Day, one and all.  I was searching online for a demonstration I might have attended, but all I could find more or less locally was an effort to obstruct the traffic in lower Manhattan — which accomplishes about as much as leaving the tap running during a flood.  As is inevitably the case with Occupy, "nobody" was in charge.  Unless some protester is run over by a city bus, I doubt the so-called "general strike" will make the local evening news.

General strike?  Well, here's the unofficial logo of the May Day action — unofficial given that "nobody" is in charge.  It's a nice design, with striking colors and appealing symmetry.  That "solidarity fist" has been overused, but it still has its appeal.  Let's look at the specifics, pentagonally arrayed around that hoary old fist.

NO WORK • Over in Paris and some other parts of Europe, it's a national holiday, so lots of workers will be staying home and rallying for Hollande and his fellow "socialists."  In Manhattan, I would be very surprised if a single Starbucks barrista failed to show up for work without arranging a substitute.  The job market still is very rough.

NO SCHOOL • Cutting a class or two never was that big a deal, albeit finals are approaching rapidly.  Some of the lucky ones will be joining their instructors in the streets for extra credit.

NO SHOPPING • I don't suppose there'll be much impact on Neiman-Marcus, nor, even, on Bloomy's or even Macy's.  For that matter, I figure Wal-Mart and Target are pretty safe as well.  The DOW, the NASDAQ, and all the rest of the markets will chug along through their irrelevant ups and down as though nothing special were happening — primarily because nothing special is happening.

NO BANKING • These days, most banking happens kind of automatically.  If your automatic deposit or automatic payment is scheduled for today, you don't even know how to stop it — and if you're out of cash, well...  does the ATM really count? :-}

NO CHORES (???!!) • Do they really want 11-year-olds to refuse to take out the garbage, clean the cat box, or (in extreme circumstances) slop the hogs?  I think, perhaps, another "NO" was needed for the fifth space on the pentacle, and that was the best the unofficial designer (and his or her "working committee") could come up with.

Americans might have been able to pull off a general strike soon after the first May Day — the day of the Haymarket Massacre.  (Note: you can tell the political slant of your American history text by checking the index:  Haymarket Riot = right wing; Haymarket Affair = neutral; Haymarket Massacre = left/labor.)  Today, though, the only ones who might inspire a general strike in the USofA might be the French or the Italians — and just how likely is that?