March 12, 2006
Hillary and the Ports
By DAVID BROOKS
A couple of years ago I watched Hillary Clinton enter a Munich hotel with a delegation of fellow senators. Clinton came in first. There were about 50 paparazzi by the doors. Cameras flashed, people screamed. There was general pandemonium as she walked through the lobby, like Elizabeth Taylor in her prime descending upon Cannes. The hotel manager escorted her into a waiting elevator and whisked her to her suite.
Then the other senators came in the doors. The camera crews started packing up. The crowd dispersed. No hotel manager awaited them. They pushed the button for the elevator and milled about until it came.
United States senators are not entirely lacking in vanity. So I thought there might be a tinge of resentment at Clinton's diva treatment. But not at all. Other senators like traveling with her. She's down to earth and fun to be around, they say. At work, she's serious, diligent and respectful.
So when I've been asked if I think Hillary Clinton can win a general election campaign, I've always answered yes. I figure if she can win over Republican senators (and Bush staffers), she can probably win over 30,000 more voters in Ohio.
Given the nature of the electoral process and its corruption in Ohio, she'd have to win over 3,000,000 votes, and it still wouldn't be a lock. But this column isn't really about Hillary Clinton per se . It's a standard talking points Republican hit piece, the first of many. Brooks is making the effort to paint Clinton in the same broad strokes that Kerry and Gore were painted in the last two elections: as someone utterly unprincipled and opportunistic.
She's also got a key voting bloc disposed in her favor. Ten percent of the electorate are what Pew Research Center pollsters call pro-government conservatives: mostly white, working-class women who attend church weekly but support government welfare programs. Only 12 percent of these voters supported John Kerry in 2004, but 51 percent say they have a positive view of Clinton. These voters alone could put her over the top.
But campaigns reveal character, and force us to adjust our views.
This is a lie. Campaigns do not reveal character. Campaigns reveal the work of the campaign staff, and its relation to the press. Policies reveal character. But George W. Bush's policies are terrible and the follow-through even worse. So it's back to the old meme about character, and character is easy for propagandists to manipulate with the press. So Gore becomes a liar and Kerry a flip-flopper. Biden's a blatherer and Hillary's an opportunist. What Brooks ignores is that if Hillary Clinton had separated herself from her party and endorsed the Dubai ports deal, she would have committed political seppuku, and the deal still would have fallen through.
The Dubai ports deal — a politically unpopular measure that almost all experts agree was justified on the merits — was a test of character. John McCain and Chuck Hagel passed. Clinton, though, joined the ranks of the nakedly ambitious demagogues.
Another lie. The Dubai ports deal was a dubious one, as press accounts continue to show. Beyond that, the word that the Dubai ports deal was safe and justified came from the Bush Administration itself, which even Republicans know is untrustworthy, dishonest and corrupt. McCain and Hagel both understand they need the Bush Republicans if they're going to contend in 2008 so they had to approve the deal. It's just as easy to say their comments were as unprincipled as Hillary's.
Clinton didn't seem to mind when officials of the United Arab Emirates kicked in up to a million dollars into her husband's presidential library.
Brooks doesn't mention the role of UAE money in the Bush Administration. Putting money into a presidential library will not compromise American security. Besides, Hillary isn't Bill.
She didn't seem alarmed when Dubai poured at least $450,000 into her family bank accounts through her husband's speaking business.
Most ex-politicians make their money through the speaking biz. This is a cheap shot, particularly from someone who understands the blatant corruption in the pundit biz through money for corporate speaking engagements. Besides, Hillary isn't Bill.
She didn't object when the Clinton administration approved a deal for a Chinese government firm to run the Port of Long Beach. But when the Dubai ports deal set off Know-Nothing mobs, she made sure she had the biggest pitchfork.
Brooks does not know if Hillary Clinton objected when her husband's administration approved the deal. All he knows is that she didn't publicly object, which makes sense. At the time she was First Lady. Today she is a Senator. Also, the deal came before 9/11. The world, as David Brooks and others have told us, has drastically changed. In addition, that deal was with China, not the UAE. It's also possible that 9/11 (which happened, after all in her now-home state of New York) has changed Clinton's perspective.
"The White House is trying to hand over U.S. ports," Clinton charged.
"We cannot afford to surrender our port operations to foreign governments," she roared.
"We cannot cede sovereignty over critical infrastructure like our ports," she insisted.
All of these statements were deliberately misleading, since there was never any question of ceding sovereignty or security. They played to the rawest form of xenophobia.
These statements are not misleading. Brooks is ignoring all the information which says the ports deal was suspect.
The consequences for the war on terror will be significant. As David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post, the government of Dubai has done what we've asked all Arab governments to do. It has challenged Al Qaeda; supported U.S. forces; modernized the educational system to combat extremism. It even gave $100 million in hurricane relief. We've proved that we may be inept in combating our foes, but we're ruthlessly efficient in betraying our friends.
Such as France and Germany. The government of Dubai is not living in a vacuum. They can watch CNN and C-SPAN. They understand the objections to the deal, and also give points to the Bush Administration for sticking it out. Nobody was betrayed here, and Brooks knows it. This deal almost slipped through the cracks because the folks who engineered it had a clear idea that if word got out, the deal would be scotched. It got out, and it was. What Brooks isn't saying is that the deal itself was a major political blunder because (a) those who engineered it did not think about the consequences if it came to light; and (b) it was done without the president's knowledge. Whether the ports deal compromised security or not, the Administration should have known the consequences. The deal never should have gone down. Columns like this distract us from that fact.
But my subject is Clinton's political prospects. This episode — which combines buckraking with pandering — brings back the Clinton years at their worst: the me-me-me selfishness, the occasional presumption that humanity exists to serve Team Clinton.
The worst part of the Clinton years was the hate-filled yammering of the far right and people like David Brooks. The second term of the Clinton Administration was tied up in a buckraking partisan attack known as the Whitewater investigation, culminating in an impeachment trial over a blowjob. The Clintons were often self-serving, to be sure, but they were never partisan monsters such as those in power today or those who opposed them at the time.
It also shows Clinton doesn't understand her political weaknesses. First, nobody, not even among her friends, is totally sure she actually believes in anything, or whether she just coldly calculates political advantage. This episode reinforces that sense.
Talking point: Hillary Clinton is an opportunist. Object: Find ways to prove it.
Second, Clinton is the only presidential candidate who does not offer a break from the current polarization and bitter partisanship. A McCain or Mark Warner presidency would shuffle the political deck. But if Clinton is elected, American politics over the next years will be as brutal and stagnant as now. The 1960's Bush-Clinton psychodrama would go on and on.
Not so much due to Clinton, who is a political moderate and whose husband worked overtime to compromise his principles in order to keep political peace, bur due to the pathological hatred of the Clintons by America's pathological right wing. But Brooks is right in that this is a good reason why she should not run. (An aside: if Hillary actually stood for something, then it would feel necessary to counter the hatred. But she doesn't, so why bother?).
A lot of the bitterness would not be Clinton's fault.
Then why did you mention the bitterness in the first place? Another of Brooks' rhetorical tricks.
But over the past weeks, she has shown that far from behaving in an unorthodox manner, or flummoxing hatred, she is happy to be a crude partisan, and egg on prejudice and paranoia.
The pot calls the kettle black..
In the short run, Clinton did the popular thing. But over the long run, people vote on character. After a rehabilitating few years, Hillary Clinton just reminded us of her ugly side.
There is no way the Dubai ports deal will ever end up in Bush's favor. Hillary will not lose points on this one, no matter how hard Brooks tries. The best he and other Republican propagandists can do is put it aside as quickly as possible. This is a losing talking point, and will remain so as long as the "war on terror" exists. Whether Hillary made the choice on belief or opportunism, it was the politically the right way to go. McCain and Hagel don't lose either, but then again, they're Republicans supporting a Republican Administration.
Addendum to John Tierney column: I think one of the reasons these guys go for Swiftian hyperbole is that they can't be criticized and can't get caught, except in perhaps the widest possible terms. Putting aside the silliness, Tierney's line that "polygamy isn't necessarily worse than the current American alternative: serial monogamy" is so wrong-headed and limiting in so many ways, that one wonders why Tierney isn't going for the ultimate throwback: arranged marriages without the possibility of divorce.
March 11, 2006
Who's Afraid of Polygamy? (excerpts)
By JOHN TIERNEY
If gay marriage becomes legal, its opponents have been warning, the next step in America's moral deterioration will be legalized polygamy. These conservatives won't be happy with "Big Love," the HBO series starting tomorrow night.
This story of a husband with three wives in Utah will not terrify Americans. Polygamy doesn't come off as a barbaric threat to the country's moral fabric. It looks more like what it really is: an arrangement that can make sense for some people in some circumstances, but not one that could ever be a dangerous trend in America.
Polygamy isn't necessarily worse than the current American alternative: serial monogamy.
Elizabeth Joseph, a lawyer and journalist who was married to a polygamist in Utah, says her experience handling divorce cases made her appreciate the stability of her marriage. She also appreciated other perks, like the round-the-clock day care that enabled her to keep an unpredictable schedule at work and to relax when she came home.
"If I'm dog-tired and stressed out, I can be alone and guilt-free," she explained in a speech to the National Organization for Women. "It's a rare day when all eight of my husband's wives are tired and stressed at the same time." She told the NOW audience that polygamy "offers an independent women a real chance to have it all" and represented "the ultimate feminist lifestyle."
She won't persuade many American women, feminists or otherwise. But if a few consenting adults like her still want to practice polygamy, there's no reason to stop them. And if the specter of legalized polygamy is the best argument against gay marriage, let the wedding bells ring.
I'm not going near this one.
March 9, 2006
Both Sides of Inequality
By DAVID BROOKS
For the past two decades, Annette Lareau has embedded herself in American families. She and her researchers have sat on living room floors as families went about their business, ridden in back seats as families drove hither and yon.
Is Annette Lareau a respected sociologist or yet another right-wing propagandist? On the surface, she appears to be who Brooks says she is. She's a professor at Temple University and has no clear connection with right-wing funding sources. That she'd talk with Brooks is not a good sign however, nor is her fellowship from the Spencer Foundation, amongst whose fellowship trustees is none other than Caroline Hoxby, the right-wing voucher propagandist. But the reviews on her book don't point in that direction so it's probably best to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Lareau's work is well known among sociologists, but neglected by the popular media. And that's a shame because through her close observations and careful writings — in books like "Unequal Childhoods" — Lareau has been able to capture the texture of inequality in America. She's described how radically child-rearing techniques in upper-middle-class homes differ from those in working-class and poor homes, and what this means for the prospects of the kids inside.
The thing you learn from her work is that it's wrong to say good parents raise successful kids and bad parents raise unsuccessful ones. The story is more complicated than that.
Looking at upper-middle-class homes, Lareau describes a parenting style that many of us ridicule but do not renounce. This involves enrolling kids in large numbers of adult-supervised activities and driving them from place to place. Parents are deeply involved in all aspects of their children's lives. They make concerted efforts to provide learning experiences.
Home life involves a lot of talk and verbal jousting. Parents tend to reason with their children, not give them orders. They present "choices" and then subtly influence the decisions their kids make. Kids feel free to pass judgment on adults, express themselves and even tell their siblings they hate them when they're angry.
The pace is exhausting. Fights about homework can be titanic. But children raised in this way know how to navigate the world of organized institutions. They know how to talk casually with adults, how to use words to shape how people view them, how to perform before audiences and look people in the eye to make a good first impression.
Working-class child-rearing is different, Lareau writes. In these homes, there tends to be a much starker boundary between the adult world and the children's world. Parents think that the cares of adulthood will come soon enough and that children should be left alone to organize their own playtime. When a girl asks her mother to help her build a dollhouse out of boxes, the mother says no, "casually and without guilt," because playtime is deemed to be inconsequential — a child's sphere, not an adult's.
Lareau says working-class children seem more relaxed and vibrant, and have more intimate contact with their extended families. "Whining, which was pervasive in middle-class homes, was rare in working-class and poor ones," she writes.
But these children were not as well prepared for the world of organizations and adulthood. There was much less talk in the working-class homes. Parents were more likely to issue brusque orders, not give explanations. Children, like their parents, were easily intimidated by and pushed around by verbally dexterous teachers and doctors. Middle-class kids felt entitled to individual treatment when entering the wider world, but working-class kids felt constrained and tongue-tied.
The children Lareau describes in her book were playful 10-year-olds. Now they're in their early 20's, and their destinies are as you'd have predicted. The perhaps overprogrammed middle-class kids got into good colleges and are heading for careers as doctors and other professionals. The working-class kids are not doing well. The little girl who built dollhouses had a severe drug problem from ages 12 to 17. She had a child outside wedlock, a baby she gave away because she was afraid she would hurt the child. She now cleans houses with her mother.
Lareau told me that when she was doing the book, the working-class kids seemed younger; they got more excited by things like going out for pizza. Now the working-class kids seem older; they've seen and suffered more.
But the point is that the working-class parents were not bad parents. In a perhaps more old-fashioned manner, they were attentive. They taught right from wrong. In some ways they raised their kids in a healthier atmosphere. (When presented with the schedules of the more affluent families, they thought such a life would just make kids sad.)
While it's possible David Brooks actually read Lareau's book, it appears he cribbed this column from the UC Santra Cruz Currents website. One of the more interesting elements of Lareau's study is that class seems more important than race in how kids are raised. The full title of her book is Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life.
But they did not prepare their kids for a world in which verbal skills and the ability to thrive in organizations are so important. To help the worse-off parents, we should raise the earned-income tax credit to lessen their economic stress. But the core issue is that today's rich don't exploit the poor; they just outcompete them.
What Annette Lareau appears to have discovered is the way in which different child-rearing techniques affect upward mobility. That rich parents raise kids who can function in an environment of rich people, or middle class parents raise kids who function in an environment of middle class people is fairly obvious, almost a truism. Of course they know how to "outcompete" working class kids. Why they can is one of the "core issues" of the book (the other being the role, or non-role of race).
As for Brooks' last sentence, Lareau's conclusions have nothing to do with whether the rich exploit the poor. For one thing, the upper middle class is not rich. The rich in America comprise a very tiny sliver of society, and those who are in a position to exploit the poor are an even smaller sliver. For another, juxtaposing "exploit" and "outcompete" is like comparing apples and dishwashers.
Brooks' real point is that racism and poverty don't play a role in the lack of upward mobility. It's all about the "technique" with which the kids are raised. This is akin to finding a "genetic" reason for class stratification. It's not racism, or "class tracking," or bad schools, or even poverty. It's just how things are. This is why Brooks says all we can do is "lessen their economic stress." We can never level the playing field, nor should we try. It is what it is. If you're poor, you're fucked. Deal with it.
March 7, 2006
City Schools That Work
By JOHN TIERNEY
MILWAUKEE - At first glance, the near north side of Milwaukee can be a bleak place, now that it has lost the department stores, factories and other businesses that used to thrive there. But if you want to see inner-city children getting a good education, it's the most beautiful spot in America.
All of this hype about "school choice" and about comparisons between voucher systems and non-voucher systems obscures the truth about vouchers: it's really about using public tax dollars for religious schooling. In Milwaukee, 70% of the voucher schools are parochial schools. If this isn't a problem for you, so be it. But Tierney in all his columns is deliberately ignoring or downplaying this fact.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel refers to one of the area's arteries, North Avenue, as the Main Street of School Reform because of the new schools that have opened since the city's radical experiment in education began 15 years ago. At that time, there were two newspapers in Milwaukee, the liberal Journal and the conservative Sentinel, and they both editorialized against the new school-voucher program.
Now there's one combined newspaper with a different point of view. The Journal Sentinel, which endorsed John Kerry in 2004, has parted company with the Democratic Party on the voucher issue. It backed Republican efforts this year to expand the program, which has led to the creation of dozens of new private schools in Milwaukee.
This is a misread of the Journal Sentinel editorial. By supporting bills to expand the voucher program, what the newspaper really said was that "the bills would raise the cap on enrollment by roughly half - putting off a rationing system that would have dislocated thousands of students, shuttered some schools and sowed chaos in other ways." Because the voucher program has now been in place for fifteen years, without these bills, the system would collapse.
"We've seen what school choice can do," said Gregory Stanford, an editorial writer and a columnist at the paper. "It's impressive to go around to the voucher schools and see kids learning. Their parents are much more satisfied with these schools. And the fears that the public schools would be hurt have turned out to be wrong."
When mainstream editorial writers use the phrase "school choice," they're either unintentionally or deliberately buying into a right-wing framing device. The debate is over vouchers, not "school choice.".
In fact, the students in public schools have benefited from the competition. Two studies by Harvard researchers, one by Caroline Hoxby and another by Rajashri Chakrabarti, have shown that as the voucher program expanded in Milwaukee, there was a marked improvement in test scores at the public schools most threatened by the program (the ones with large numbers of low-income students eligible for the vouchers).
Caroline Hoxby has been hawking private schools and vouchers since at least 1994, when she was in her mid-twenties. Dr. Hoxby's surveys and conclusions have engendered a "bitter dispute" with Dr. Jesse Rothstein, a professor at Princeton, a debate that seems to have turned into an academic war. Rajashri Chakrabarti is a former recipient of a Bradley Fellowship to Harvard, funded by that same Bradley Foundation that paid for pro-voucher candidates to the Milwaukee School Board. Even so, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this past January, Chakrabarti's research "called the results in Milwaukee "mixed" when it came to improved student performance in public schools due to the voucher program," adding that virtually no new information has been available for several years. Whether "competition" was the reason why test scores improved over a fifteen-year period is certainly open to debate.
The competition spurred the public system to shift power from the central administration to individual schools, allowing councils of parents and teachers to decide who should teach there, instead of forcing the schools to accept incompetent teachers just because they had seniority.
"Poor teachers used to shuffle from one school on to another in what we called the dance of the lemons," says Ken Johnson, the head of the school board. "But we couldn't let that continue once our students had the option to go somewhere else. We had to react to students' needs. We had to start seeing them as customers, not just seat-fillers."
Ken Johnson was a paid pro-voucher advocate before he joined the school board. His co-horts on the Board were elected through a large influx of Bradley Foundation money (see the commentary on the earlier Tierney article for some of the links).
Some of the new voucher schools have flopped — but the advantage of a voucher program is that a bad private school can be shut down a lot faster than a bad public school. And while critics complain that there still isn't definitive evidence that voucher students are doing better over all in their new schools, the results so far in Milwaukee and other cities are more than enough to declare vouchers a success.
In researching this on the web, I haven't found any results to show that vouchers are a success, other than studies by pro-voucher propagandists such as Hoxby, Chakrabarti and Joseph Viteritti..
"All the good research, including the voucher opponents' work, shows that kids who accept vouchers are doing at least as well as their public school peers," says Joseph Viteritti of Hunter College. "That's remarkable, considering how much less money is being spent on the voucher students."
Joseph Viteritti's book Choosing Equality: School Choice, the Constitution, and Civil Society is considered a landmark pro-voucher work. Not surprisingly, his key 2002 article, "Vouchers on Trial," was published on the right-wing Hoover Institution website.
In Milwaukee, where the public system spends more than $10,000 per student, private schools get less than $6,400 for each voucher student. But when you see what can be done for that money, you realize what's wrong with Democrats' favorite solution for education: more money for the public-school monopoly.
The above linked Journal-Sentinel editorial notes that the voucher program, while slightly less expensive than the public school system, will significantly increase property taxes for Milwaukee residents. Once again, he's ignoring the role of religion in the voucher controversy.
At the CEO Leadership Academy, a high school with 125 students in the new wing of a Baptist church, you find students who compare the school to a family. They rhapsodize about small classes, teachers who stay after school to help them and the feeling that the school is a calm oasis from the streets — not what they got in their old public schools.
Note this: a high school with 125 students in the new wing of a Baptist Church. Property owners in the city of Milawuee are paying for Baptist religious instruction.
"When I first heard about this school, they told me the school day's longer and you have to wear a uniform," said Elliott Barnes, a ninth grader. "I didn't like that at all. But then I walked in here and noticed right away how many people were smiling in the hall. In my public school, when a stranger smiled at you there, you started worrying."
The school principal, Denise Pitchford, worked in the public schools, but she took a pay cut in exchange for less red tape. "I wanted the flexibility to give immediate personal attention to every student," she said. "To me, it represented less money but a better opportunity." Just like the whole voucher program.
What it really represents is yet another way the right-wing can breach the wall between church and state.
Addendum to March 5th David Brooks column: In retrospect, it's possible this entire column is a mean feat of misdirection. The real reason why people are concerned about the Dubai ports deal is not isolationism --- though many do question the idea that foreign countries can control our ports. The Bush Administration has been assuring Congress and the populace that the situation is in hand, that they're in control. The real problem is that people don't trust them. When they gang that couldn't shoot straight tells you the gun isn't loaded, you don't ask them to point it at you to find out. By focusing on fear, isolationism and even racism, Bush propagandists have pulled the wool over many people's eyes. The real story is not the deal or any of the official reasons why people don't like it; it's the Bush Administration itself.
March 5, 2006
It's Not Isolationism, but It's Not Attractive
By DAVID BROOKS
This was going to be a column on the growing isolationism of the American people. I was going to argue that in the post-Iraq era, the quickest way for an unprincipled cynic to get to the White House is by running as a smiling Democratic-Buchananite.
As opposed to George W. Bush, who ran as the only person who could protect America from the crazy Arabs. David Brooks starts his column by forgetting that little fact.
Attack the Dubai ports deal to burnish your security credentials. Call for less foreign adventurism and more spending at home to win the Democratic base. Go hard against illegal immigration to win the working class. Rail against China and free trade deals to build support in the Midwest. Bash France just for the fun of it. Bingo! You're cruising to Inauguration Day.
As we've learned in the past week, there are several reasons to question the Dubai ports deal, from the contract that allows Dubai to keep its records offshore (in case of lawsuits) to legitimate security issues. By this stage, Brooks knows this. Because he's attacking willy-nilly, he talks about the Democratic base as well as the Republican base (France-bashing). Of course, at one time, Brooks himself never defended France against the bashers, but he's never been one to stand on memory.
Unfortunately, before I had finished that column, I looked at the facts. The bulk of the evidence suggests there is no rising tide of isolationism in this country, even with the bloodshed in Iraq.
Let's look at this more closely:
The Dubai Ports deal: This isn't about isolationism. It's about a secret deal with a company owned by a foreign country with security issues.
Foreign adventurism: The Iraq War was conceived in secret and promoted with lies and deceptions.
More spending at home: State budgets are suffering to pay for the Iraq War and tax cuts for the wealthy.
Illegal Immigration: Illegal immigration has nothing to do with isolationism. It has to do with (gulp) illegal immigration.
China: Does Brooks think China's continued vioaltions of human rights is a good thing, particularly since America has so many sweetheart deals over there?
Free Trade Deals: Most of Congress supports these deals, which benefit large corporations at the expense of nations and peoples, and those who come out against free trade do so at the risk of loss of corporate campaign contributions.
Bash France: This one's ridiculous. Anti-France hysteria came in the wake of the push for involvement in Iraq.
In order to make a rather dubious point, Brooks has redefined "isolationism." When we think of "isolationism," we think of foreign adventurism to be sure. What we don't think about is the anti-globalization movement, which concerns the transcendence of nations by the multinational corporate structure. We don't think about outsourcing to China; or about the takeover of our ports by foreign countries, or about illegal immigration. He's conflating several things in order to confuse the issue and create premises and conclusions that are unwarranted.
A polling analyst, Ruy Teixeira, has taken the closest look at the data over at his Web site, Donkey Rising. Teixeira argues that instead of seeing a turn to isolationism, what we are seeing in poll after poll is public opinion returning to normal post-World War II levels, after the unusual 9/11 blip.
Donkey Rising is part of the Emerging Democratic Majority weblog. Teixeira is a fellow at the Center for American Preogress and the Brookings Institute. He's a DLC Democrat. The DLC is a firm believer in free trade. (I don't know Teixeira's personal position on the issue).
That post 9/11 blip was more than a blip. It was an avalanche. In the fall of 2001, nearly 90% of the polled American public was in favor of an invasion of Afghanistan. Those numbers fell substantially, but support for the War in Iraq was extremely widespread.
But here Brooks is playing a bit of a game. He uses the phrase "post World War II levels" without defining what that means. Does he mean '50s Cold War levels? Post Vietnam levels? Are both the same? If they are, his comments below make no sense. If not, then what are we really talking about?
Much of the isolationist talk started when a Pew survey found that 42 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. should mind its own business internationally, a 12-point rise over three years. But Teixeira points out that the 42 percent number puts Americans back where they were throughout the Clinton years, when Americans supported more foreign interventions than ever before.
So America suddenly became isolationist during the Clinton years? Not really. What happened during the Clinton years was the emergence of the Republican noise machine, supported by talk radio and FoxNews. Those people were isolationist when it came to Clinton's use of American troops in Somalia and Yugoslavia. They were isolationist not because they were isolationist but because they were anti-Clinton. Even had 9/11 not happened, they would have turned around and supported any Bush action overseas. And their listeners would have followed suit.
Meanwhile, the rest of the evidence shows high engagement in foreign affairs. Public support for multilateral action remains phenomenally strong. Support for foreign aid is higher than it's been. International issues like global terrorism remain among Americans' top concerns.
That's because terrorism happened on American soil and because the Bush Administration/right-wing media pushed interventionism thereafter.
Attitudes toward economic globalization are, if anything, more positive than they have been historically. In 1953, 54 percent of Americans favored free trade. In 2000, 64 percent of Americans said free trade was good for the U.S. In 2004, 64 percent said globalization was good for the U.S. and 65 percent agreed international trade was good for "your standard of living."
This one's silly. Even if considering free trade as part of an isolationist arc, we're talking about two different worlds, one in which only the wealthy traveled abroad, media was localized, America was blue-collar, and the technological revolution had barely begun. The term "globalization" had not been invented. Maybe we should go back and talk about 1820, or 1880, or 1750. What did the population of the U.S. think about globalization before the Civil War compared to after? Brooks himself wasn't even born in 1953.
In the late 1940's, Americans were asked if the U.S. should be active abroad or stay out of world affairs. Back then, during the heyday of American internationalism, 69 percent said the U.S. should be active abroad. Today, the share of people who say that is the same: 69 percent.
Not surprising. The late 1940s was the era of the Marshall Plan and the start of the Cold War. America had intervened successfully in World War II and for a five year period was the world's sole superpower. Compare that to today, when America is again the world's sole superpower, and 9/11 had intervened in all our lives. When did isolationism re-emerge in the U.S.? After the Korean War, of course, when it became clear that American power had its limits.
On the Republican side, there has been no surge of Pat Buchanan-style paleoconservatism. On the contrary, the influence of Reagan and Bush, and the growing evangelical interest in foreign affairs, have virtually eliminated isolationism from the Republican Party, its traditional home.
Brooks is leaving out the Republican propaganda machine, which has ensured that anything the Bush Administration does will have broad support. Is isolationism growing now in the wake of the Iraqi disaster? Who's to say? We're in the midst of a time where polls will fluctuate wildly.
Meanwhile, the likely Democratic presidential nominee is Hillary Clinton, who has been barely distinguishable from John McCain on foreign policy matters (aside from her ports pandering).
A gratuitous slice at Hillary. Probably deserved. But the Clintons themselves have never been isolationist.
In short, Iraq, in this sphere as in so many, is not Vietnam. The Vietnam War caused America to swing from extroversion to introversion. The Iraq war has a different dynamic.
So when he talked of post Wolrd War II levels, he wasn't talking about Vietnam? Or was he? What's the phrase he used? "Normal"? What's "normal." But lets follow the logic, which runs something like this: Vietnam turned America isolationist; Iraq is not turning America isolationist. Ergo, comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq are false.
This is nonsense. Vietnam did not turn American policy isolationist. Jimmy Carter's policy was relatively interventionist in terms of human rights. Reagan's policy was interventionist in Lebanon and in Grenada. Bush Sr. was interventionist in Kuwait. And let's not forget the invasion of Panama. Clinton was interventionist in the Balkans and in Somalia, and regrets not acting in Rwanda. Did Vietnam sour Americans in general on foreign intervention? Of course it did. The Left did not like foreign adventures, and the right pandered to isolationism.
That's because in the late 1960's, the Vietnamese were not going around the world carrying out suicide attacks. Vietnamese were not rioting over cartoons. The Vietnamese did not fly planes into skyscrapers. The current conflict has an element of existential menace Vietnam did not have.
After 55,000 Americans uselessly lost their lives, the American public had had enough of adventurism, particularly adventurism without an exit strategy (much like Iraq, where some comparisons are apt). The current conflict's existential menace is real: America was attacked on its own soil. The propaganda is real.
Thus the chief effect of Iraq is not to move the U.S. toward isolationism; it has been to shift American opinion from one form of internationalism to another.
There is no "thus" here. He hasn't made an argument. What he's implying, however, is ludicrous. Americans haven't quite trusted the Arab world for a long time, certainly since the Second World War. For one thing, there's our close ally Israel versus the Palestinians. For another, there was the 1973 oil embargo --- at which point many people in this country were calling for energy independence. Thomas Friedman has been making that case in the New York Times for many years. Doesn't Brooks remember the Ayatollah's takeover of Iran and the year-long hostage crisis that ensued? What of images from the destruction of Lebanon? The Iran-Iraq War, with its thousands of child casualties? Or the much publicized relationship between the Saudi government and first, Palestinian terrorists and later, al Queda? Or how about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Or the fatwa against Salman Rushdie? .
George Bush's brand was based on the premise that Arabs aren't very different from anybody else, and can be brought into the family of democratic nations. This brand is, sadly, fading.
Watch the rat jump from the sinking ship. (Though Brooks offers himself a way out: is he talking about the American public's point of view or some objective truth?)
The rising internationalism is based, by contrast, on Arab exceptionalism. This is the belief that while most of the world is chugging toward a globally integrated future, the Arab world remains caught in its own medieval whirlpool of horror. The Arab countries cannot become quickly democratic; their people aren't ready for pluralistic modernity; they just have to be walled off so they don't hurt us again.
People won't express such quasi-racial views directly to pollsters, but the attitude shows up in the mammoth reaction to the Dubai ports deal, in the spike of people who want the U.S. to eliminate its dependence on Middle East oil, in the reaction to the cartoon riots. A similar attitudinal shift is evident in Europe — in spades.
It's true there's an attitudinal shift in Europe. Here in America, the way the neocons used racism to convince Americans to support the invasion of Iraq has come back to haunt them. Every event of the past few months has reinforced the initial propaganda, which itself had an historical basis in the events I recounted above.
As I tried to argue in a column about the ports deal, this reaction is a crude overgeneralization, but it's there. As the election season progresses, voters are going to pull candidates in a gritty, bloody-minded direction. No more uplifting talk about freedom. Soon the contest will be over who can be toughest on the crescent menace.
America isn't growing more isolationist. Americans are going to be happy to integrate with the world, just not with the Arab world.
The decision to conflate al Queda and Saddam to drum up support for an Iraq War meant bringing in everyone in the Arab world as the enemy. Any attempt to differentiate secular Arabs from Islamists was met with hoo-hah. And people like David Brooks did not object. Brooks himself still often conflates al Queda with the Iranian mullahs, and that only furthers blurring of the lines. If David Brooks wants to understand why America has turned so broadly anti-Arab, and why politicans are taking advantage of that fact, he should look into a mirror.
The arguments in this column are frankly ridiculous. The American public's emergence from isolationism is directly related to Arabs as America's enemies, not America's friends. We're too close to both 9/11 and too close to the invasion and subsequent disaster in Iraq to get a real read on general trends in the American psyche. Getting back to Brooks' previous column, this is sophistry of the worst kind.
March 4, 2006
Free Harvard! (Or Not)
By JOHN TIERNEY
After the faculty's coup d'etat at Harvard, I asked some contrarian academics if there was any way to wrest control of universities from the faculty. I started off with one possible reform: how about eliminating tenure for professors?
Lawrence Summer's departure from Harvard was not a "faculty coup d'etat." There's no question that faculty entrenchment is severe, but it's also true that Summers was not the person to fix things. But that, of course, is really not what this column, or the other columns, is about.
What they're all about is the right-wing myth that American college campuses are so filled with left-wing ideologues that nobody is teaching what should be taught.
Forget it, most of the academics said, and not entirely because they liked that perk of their jobs. One of them pointed to a practical problem: "As long as the classics department has the right to choose the next generation of professors, you'd better give them tenure, because otherwise they'll never choose someone better than they are."
Notice how Tierney refuses to name the academic. Because Tierney has no problem naming a right-winger and a DLC-er below, it seems most likely that the "academic" here is none other than John Tierney himself, or a member of his family. Unattributed comments in John Tierney or David Brooks columns (or on FoxNews) must be taken with a grain of salt the size of the planet earth.
He wasn't arguing that professors are particularly petty, just that they work in a world with peculiar incentives. Authority is so diffuse that no one's accountable. Lawrence Summers was ostensibly in charge of Harvard, but he had little power to fire or hire anyone. The candidates are picked after a vote in each department. Summers could veto new hires and try to push departments in new directions — but once the faculty got annoyed, he was out of a job.
The flip side is that if the president has full power to hire and fire faculty, a single micro-managing individual could destroy an institution in months. Since college presidents are often selected for political reasons (and I don't mean liberal vs. conservative here necessarily), faculty personnel decisions will be made on the basis of political (or more likely, financial) reasons, rather than academic ones. It could also mean, as Fred Siegel suggests below, that even more entrenchment could occur in order to placate the faculty.
If newspapers were run like this, by committees of tenured journalists unconcerned with circulation and ad revenue, we wouldn't spend much time trying to improve the weather map or the news summaries or movie listings. We'd all be too busy writing 27-part series to be submitted for peer review by the Pulitzer board.
Is Tierney arguing that faculty committees should be more focused on making the university more commercially viable? He says he isn't, but that's exactly what his analogy reinforces. If that isn't what he means, then comparing newspapers to universities is an apples-and-oranges thing, and his analogy is shot to hell.
After a while, as we hired more reporters like ourselves, we'd be surprised when outsiders complained.
Right-wingers complained vociferously about the "liberal media," in which journalists only hired other journalists like themselves. Remember all those studies about how many reporters are liberal? Today we have an intimidated mainstream media on the one hand, and a right-wing media system on the other, and they're still complaining about being outsiders.
These days, it's not as if right-wing academics have trouble making ends meet. The two contrarians named in this column are both doing quite well in and out of academia, as are all the other "contrarian" academics Brooks and Tierney have cited since both began their columns. It's a control issue. They don't have it, and they want it, though what Fred Siegel wants is certainly not what Roger Meiners wants. Remember all the talk by Republicans about entrenchment in Washington prior to the 1994 congressional elections? Remember term limits and all the other "Idealist" proposals that ostensibly had nothing to do with who's in power? Remember what happened after 1994? Contrarians can certainly muster up good arguments against the current university system, and there are many who actually just want to reform it. But you have to be careful.
We'd be as genuinely puzzled as the Harvard professors who wrote to me after I mentioned an issue that arose under Summers: the complaint that the history department didn't offer a traditional survey course on the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution.
The letter writers defended the history department as being more student-friendly than other departments, which may well be true. They noted, correctly, that there are courses in various departments and programs dealing with the American Revolution and the Constitution. But those are not the nuts-and-bolts survey courses traditionalists want.
What Tierney and the "traditionalists" (no longer contrarians) are demanding is what we used to call "American History 101." It was generally given in a giant lecture hall by a bored junior assistant professor and was taken only because it was required. Such courses were, and are, the bane of academia. They're boring, they fill in no details, and the students who most need them generally find ways to pass (or even get As) without actually learning anything. Doesn't Tierney remember anything from his college days? These survey courses are always for freshmen and they often substitute for material that should have been taught in High School.
I'm a sufficient traditionalist to agree that students do need that kind of background before moving on to in-depth study. But it's not up to me, or John Tierney, to dictate university curricula. We don't have to teach the classes or develop the syllabus. Telling others what they should do is easy; getting down to doing it is a different story..
Humanities survey courses are out of favor now, partly because they're too concerned with dead white males, and partly because professors can save time by teaching their own specialized work. The system rewards professors for not focusing on teaching. The incentive is to devote yourself to research — at least until you get tenure, at which point even the research becomes optional.
Tierney is throwing two separate ideas together as one. The first idea, why humanities survey courses are out of favor now, ignores the real reason they're out of favor, which is that they're dull and don't accomplish much. Notice also that he's just leapt from "American History 101" to "Humanities survey courses." The implication is that American history is filled with dead white males, which is the reason it's not taught. I suspect the real reason it's not taught is because any student attending Harvard should already know the rudiments of American history. As those letter writers noted, there are several courses that deal with the American Revolution and the Constitution in greater depth.
The second half of the paragraph has nothing to do with the first. It's true the system rewards professors for not focusing on teaching. This is a flaw in the system. But it's nothing new. It's the same flaw that was in effect back in the 1960s. In those days, tenured professors who lived on research were opposed by young leftist Turks who were there to TEACH and not play the publish-or-perish game. In other words, nothing has changed.
One way to fix this would be to give university presidents the hiring and firing authority that most executives have. That way, they could insist on more attention to teaching. They could require tenured professors to keep doing productive research. They could hire a more intellectually and politically diverse faculty.
And endowing organizations would directly have a say in faculty hires. What Tierney is arguing for will result in a K Street Project for universities. Corporations and right-wing interests (through their foundations) would be able to lobby university presidents, using money as a hook. And without tenure or a voice, college faculties will be then under the control of the same corporate interests that now control the political and media worlds.
They could do all those things — but would they? University presidents don't face the same market pressures as C.E.O.'s. If it's a school with a good reputation, the president can count on income from tuition, alumni gifts and the endowment. If it's a state school, the president can also count on public money.
Once the door is open to allowing money to influence the decision-making process, all bets are off. University professors won't face the same market pressures as CEOs, but they'll face market pressures they don't face now. Tierney is kidding himself if he thinks that won't happen. The other view, of Fred Siegel, is also a possibility, but one is always foolish to discount the role of money in any organizational decision-making process.
Without outside pressure, the president's chief concern would be the same as it today: to avoid any unpleasant public battles with the faculty. As the incumbents with the most direct stake in the institution, they'd still be a power. Roger Meiners, the co-author of "Faulty Towers," a critique of academia, doesn't think that eliminating tenure would make much difference in how university administrators behaved.
"Any dean who would fire anyone would have a reputation as a nasty person and could never advance in academic administration," said Meiners, an economist at the University of Texas. "You get ahead by massaging the system as it is, not attempting so-called radical reform by dumping academic dolts."
In some cases, a brave board might stand by a reformer like Summers. But most academics I talked to — the contrarians who supported Summers — figure that giving university presidents more power would only make things worse.
"Abolishing tenure could just turn the decision making over to deans who come out of today's orthodox academic world," said Fred Siegel, a historian at Cooper Union. "That would mean that the few remaining non-leftists would get pushed out."
So is there any way to change academia? "The Achilles heel of academics is their status anxiety," Siegel said. "The only way to attack them is with mockery."
Fred Siegel is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, a foundation devoted to the ideas of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) (Lawrence Summers also has strong ties to the DLC). Siegel also writes fairly regularly for the New Partisan, where he rails about leftists and "Deaniacs" in the Democratic Party and mocks phrases like "the vast right-wing conspiracy" (Apparently he hasn't googled The Bradley Foundation lately). The New Partisan describes itself: "We are partisans of the radical center, aspiring to raise the flag of the late and lamented Partisan Review. We are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, open to conversation but not with those who hate our culture for that very openness. We take seriously Norman Podhoretz’s idea that America is now engaged in World War IV, but are deeply concerned with how the nation is presently executing this war." Siegel is best known for a mostly uncritical biography of Rudy Giuliani.
March 2, 2006
Harvard-Bound? Chin Up
By DAVID BROOKS
With the entire neocon movement crumbling, Bush's popularity sinking to 34% (and Cheney's to 18%), the War in Iraq exploding, and so on, it's time for David Brooks to go back to his roots and attack university professors, particularly (since the Summers incident) those at Harvard.
I've got great news! You're young and you're smart and next year you're beginning college. Unfortunately, I've also got bad news. The only school you got into is Harvard, where, as Peter Beinart of The New Republic notes, students often graduate "without the kind of core knowledge that you'd expect from a good high school student," and required courses can be "a hodgepodge of arbitrary, esoteric classes that cohere into nothing at all."
Peter Beinart graduated Yale in 1993 and went on to get a Masters in Philosophy in Oxford. He's been editor of New Republic since 1999. Speaking of core knowledge, this is the man who said on television during the build-up to the War in Iraq that the reason why Europeans don't understand Americans today is that they've never experienced the horrors of 9/11. Apparently one of the courses Beinart himself missed was 20th century European History.
Brooks' little joke about "the only school you got into is Harvard" might be funnier if we didn't know that some people probably don't get the joke.
But don't despair. I've consulted with a bevy of sages, and I've come up with a list. If you do everything on this list, you'll get a great education, no matter what college you attend:
Read Reinhold Niebuhr. Religion is a crucial driving force of this century, and Niebuhr is the wisest guide. As Alan Wolfe of Boston College notes, if everyone read Niebuhr, "The devout would learn that public piety corrupts private faith and that faith must play a prophetic role in society. The atheists would learn that some people who believe in God are really, really smart. All of them would learn that good and evil really do exist — and that it is never as easy as it seems to know which is which. And none of them, so long as they absorbed what they were reading, could believe that the best way to divide opinion is between liberals on the one hand and conservatives on the other."
Now come the howlers. Niebuhr would be appalled by today's public scolds like David Brooks, Joe Lieberman and William Bennett, all of whom are so unctious in their public piety. Alan Wolfe is a distinguished thinker who reserves some pretty harsh words for the Bush Administration, and castigates both right and left for thinking small. I suspect Alan Wolfe is not a big fan of David Brooks (though for all I know they could be best buds). What's clear is that he's no Straussian (see below).
Read Plato's "Gorgias." As Robert George of Princeton observes, "The explicit point of the dialogue is to demonstrate the superiority of philosophy (the quest for wisdom and truth) to rhetoric (the art of persuasion in the cause of victory). At a deeper level, it teaches that the worldly honors that one may win by being a good speaker ... can all too easily erode one's devotion to truth — a devotion that is critical to our integrity as persons. So rhetorical skills are dangerous, potentially soul-imperiling, gifts." Explains everything you need to know about politics and punditry.
Another howler. Brooks is a master of rhetoric. His columns, as we can see through in-depth reading, are full of tricks and games, obfuscations, outright lies, mendaciousness, snideness, and every tactic of the rhetoritician. What his columns lack is a sense of wisdom. You have to wonder if Brooks is serious about this or laughing hysterically behind our backs.
If Brooks were being honest with us though, he'd tell us to read Plato's "Republic," which offers philosopher-kings who are better than we are and who make decisions the common polity isn't smart or enlightened enough to make. One person who based much of his philosophy on this element in Platonic thought was a University of Chicago professor named Leo Strauss whose influence on such neocons as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol continues to this day (Strauss died in 1973). In fact, the more one reads about the Straussian philosophy the more one understands the entire neo-con position. As Shadia B. Drury says, The trouble with the Straussians is that they are compulsive liars. But it is not altogether their fault. Strauss was very pre-occupied with secrecy because he was convinced that the truth is too harsh for any society to bear; and that the truth-bearers are likely to be persecuted by society - specially a liberal society - because liberal democracy is about as far as one can get from the truth as Strauss understood it......It is ironic that American neoconservatives have decided to conquer the world in the name of liberty and democracy, when they have so little regard for either. From Nicholas Xenos piece on "Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror:" It was shocking in some ways when the New York Times hired David Brooks as a regular columnist, but it was not a shock when he very soon afterward wrote a column on the persecution of conservatives in American universities and interviewed Straussian professors to drive the point home. Why mention all of this? Because Straussians tend to be secretive about their political philosophy, and because of the connections between David Brooks and the Straussians. There are strong reasons to believe David Brooks is, if not a closet Straussian himself, a strong believer in the Straussian philosophy. As you'll notice, this list of books does not include Leo Strauss nor his disciples. Again, as Mr. Drury says, "they (Straussians) are compulsive liars."
Take a course on ancient Greece. For 2,500 years, educators knew that the core of their mission was to bring students into contact with heroes like Pericles, Socrates and Leonidas. "No habit is so important to acquire," Aristotle wrote, as the ability "to delight in fine characters and noble actions." Alfred North Whitehead agreed, saying, "Moral education is impossible without the habitual vision of greatness."
Leo Strauss drew his philosophy from an examination of ancient Greece, its politics and its philosophers.
That core educational principle was abandoned about a generation ago, during a spasm of radical egalitarianism. And once that principle was lost, the entire coherence of higher education was lost with it. So now you've got to find your own ways to learn about history's heroes, the figures who will serve as models to emulate and who will provide you with standards to use to measure your own conduct. Remember, as the British educator Richard Livingstone once wrote, "One is apt to think of moral failure as due to weakness of character: more often it is due to an inadequate ideal."
More Straussian thought.
Sir Richard Livingstone (1880-1960) was a scholar and lecturer who believed knowledge should be life-long. He was also an early advocate of women's studies.
Learn a foreign language. The biographer Ron Chernow observes, "My impression is that many students have turned into cunning little careerists, jockeying for advancement." To counteract this, he suggests taking "wildly impractical" courses like art history and Elizabethan drama. "They should especially try to master a foreign language as a way to annex another culture and discover unseen sides to themselves. As we have evolved into a matchless global power, we have simply become provincial on an ever larger stage."
Spend a year abroad. Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland believes that all major universities should require a year abroad: "All evidence suggests this, more than any other, is a transforming experience for students that lasts a lifetime."
Does Brooks actually believe that spending a year abroad and learning a language will somehow turn one into a neocon? At this stage, most Americans abroad are appalled by the conservative American govenrment. The last person a one-year emigre will want to emulate is David Brooks.
Take a course in neuroscience. In the next 50 years, half the explanations you hear for human behavior are going to involve brain structure and function. You've got to know which are serious and which are cockamamie.
Take statistics. Sorry, but you'll find later in life that it's handy to know what a standard deviation is.
Forget about your career for once in your life. This was the core message from everyone I contacted. Raised to be workaholics, students today have developed a "carapace, an enveloping shell that hinders them from seeing the full, rich variety of intellectual and practical opportunities offered by the world," observes Charles Hill of Yale. You've got to burst out of that narrow careerist mentality.
But wait! What about "Human Capital," the idea that Americans should all train themselves for careers in order to stay ahead (or even with) countries like China and India? Doesn't David Brooks even look at his earlier columns?
Of course, it will be hard when you're surrounded by so many narrow careerist professors building their little subdisciplinary empires. But you can do it. I have faith. .
And let's close with a cheap shot. Reinhold Neibuhr and Plato would approve.
February 28, 2006
The Happiest Wives
By JOHN TIERNEY
Freud confessed that his "thirty years of research into the feminine soul" left him unable to answer one great question: "What does a woman want?" Modern feminists have been arguing for decades over a variation of it: What should a woman want?
A tiny little yes set you could almost slip past. No one questions the first sentence, but the second sentence is a lie and demeans the entire feminist movement. This particular column is open to question for three reasons: first, the intial survey may be biased; second, John Tierney may be inaccurate in his summary; and third, Tierney does not differentiate from survey results and his own opinions and extrapolations. Essentially, this column says that women should go back to the kitchen where they belong.
This week two sociologists from the University of Virginia are publishing the answer to a more manageable variation. Drawing on one of the most thorough surveys ever done of married couples, they've crunched the numbers and asked: What makes a woman happy with her marriage?
Steven Nock is director of the Marriage Matters project at the University of Virginia, and is a strong supporter of covenant marriage, defined as virtually a non-divorce arrangement. Marriage Matters is funded by the university as well as by an unnamed private foundation. Bradford Wilcox is a fellow at the Institute for American Values, yet another think tank funded by the usual suspects (in this case the Bradley Foundation and the William E. Simon Foundation). His academic focus is on the relationship fo marriage to religion. To give an idea of Wilcox' ideological perspective, among his articles are "Conservative Protestant Parenting: Authoritarian or Authoritative?" and "The Evangelical Family Paradox: Conservative Rhetoric, Progressive Practice."
Because both Nock and Wilcox have their own axes to grind --- Nock as a proponent of old-style marriage concepts, and Wilcox in his role as sociologist for evangelicals --- and given that the survey (surprise!) confirms their previously held ideas, one could well question the impartiality of the survey and its conclusions.
Their answer doesn't quite jibe with current conventional wisdom. Three decades ago, two-thirds of Americans surveyed said it was better for wives to focus on homemaking and husbands to focus on breadwinning, but by the 1990's, only a third embraced the traditional division of labor. The new ideal — in theory, not in practice — became a partnership of equals who split duties inside and outside the home.
This new egalitarian marriage was hailed by academics and relationship gurus as a recipe for a happier union. As wives went off to work and husbands took on new jobs at home, couples would supposedly have more in common and more to talk about. Husbands would do more "emotion work," as sociologists call it, and wives would be more fulfilled.
That was the theory tested by the Virginia sociologists, Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock, who analyzed a survey of more than 5,000 couples. Sure enough, they found that husbands' "emotion work" was crucial to wives' happiness. Having an affectionate and understanding husband was by far the most important predictor of a woman's satisfaction with her marriage.
But it turns out that an equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.
These male providers-in-chief were regarded fondly by even the most feminist-minded women — the ones who said they believed in dividing duties equally. In theory these wives were egalitarians, but in their own lives they preferred more traditional arrangements.
"Women today expect more help around the home and more emotional engagement from their husbands," Wilcox says. "But they still want their husbands to be providers who give them financial security and freedom."
These results, of course, are just averages. Plenty of people are happy with different arrangements — including Nock, who makes less than his wife and does the cooking at home. He says that nontraditional marriages may be a strain on many women simply because they've been forced to be social pioneers. "As society adjusts to women's new roles," he says, "women may become happier in egalitarian marriages."
But I'd bet there's a limit to egalitarianism. Consider what's happened with housework, that perpetual sore point. From the 1960's through the 80's, wives cut back on housework as husbands did more. In the 1990's, though, the equalizing trend leveled off, leaving wives still doing nearly twice as much of the work at home.
That seems terribly unfair unless you look at how men and women behave when they're living by themselves: the women do twice as much housework as the men do. Single men do less cooking and cleaning, because those jobs don't seem as important to them. They can live with unmade beds and frozen dinners.
Similarly, there's a gender gap in enthusiasm for some outside jobs. Men are much more willing to take a job that pays a premium in exchange for long hours away from home or the risk of being killed. The extra money doesn't seem as important to women.
In a more egalitarian world, there would be more wives mining coal and driving trucks, and more husbands cooking dinners and taking children to doctor's appointments. But that wouldn't be a fairer world, as Nock and Wilcox found.
The happiest wives in their study were the ones who said that housework was divided fairly between them and their husbands. But those same happy wives also did more of the work at home while their husbands did more work outside home. Nock doesn't claim to have divined the feminine soul, but he does have one answer to Freud's question.
"A woman wants equity," he says. "That's not necessarily the same as equality."
Sure enough. If you look hard enough, you can always find something to confirm your previously held conceptions. What makes this column disturbing, however, is how much right-wing money is being spent to produce propaganda designed to put women back in the kitchen. All women, not just women who want to be there.
February 26, 2006
Keeping the Faith in Democracy
By DAVID BROOKS
It's like a conference of Kerenskys. I've come to Doha, Qatar, to a conference that brought Americans together with some of the leading moderates of the Arab world. These Muslims are democrats, activists and heroes. They've spent their lives promoting pluralism, championing elections and sometimes going to jail on behalf of the values we hold dear.
And their project, as they know, has been a failure. There is no mass support in the Arab world for the secular liberal democracies of their dreams. There are no giant rallies on their behalf, no prospects for their success. The urbane moderates at this conference are the short cut that failed.
So now these democrats face a choice: live with the corrupt regimes of the status quo or embrace the rising Islamist parties like Hamas.
Of the two, they prefer the Islamists. "I've been dealing with autocrats my whole life. At least these ones are honest," says Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian activist who recently served jail time for his efforts.
In the sessions, in the hallways, over meals, they fill your ears with their new convictions: The Hamas victory in Palestine was a step forward for democracy in the Middle East. Within a year, Hamas will have been transformed into a more moderate organization. The U.S. must now engage with Hamas.
Sure, the Arab moderates allow, the Islamists can sound radical, but so did Ariel Sharon once. There's already been a "sea change," says Ziad Abu Amr, a Palestinian scholar who was recently elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Not long ago the Islamists insisted that democracy was incompatible with their faith. Now they run in municipal and national elections. Now they have internal primaries to determine party direction. Now they enforce cease-fires and seek "ways to achieve objectives other than violence," Amr says.
Soon they will even make agreements with Israel and, unlike Fatah, they will be disciplined enough to live up to them.
The reformers are betting their lives on Islamist moderation. "We Arab democrats know if the Islamic victories turn out badly, we will be the ones they come after," Ibrahim says. "Nevertheless, we are willing to take that risk. I am willing to take that risk."
The Arab reformers are proud of the elections that were held in the Palestinian territories. And they have faith, now more than ever, in the democratic creed — in the power of the democratic process to erode zealotry and encourage compromise.
It's said that America is trying to impose democracy on the Middle East, but at this conference the Arabs have more faith in democracy than the Americans do. It's the Americans who argue, politely, that beliefs, especially religious beliefs, are not malleable; that democracy does not quickly dissolve the granite of divinely inspired conviction.
When David Brooks speaks about "the Americans," he's most likely talking about himself. His column on the film Munich is an example of his attitude prior to this conference. This must have been an eye-opener.
It's the Americans who point out that the leaders of Hamas are willing to die for their beliefs and that it is condescending not to take their beliefs seriously.
And indeed, the leaders of Hamas are open about their convictions, and they have nothing to do with embracing democracy or peace. "The conflict with Israel is not a matter of land. It's a matter of ideology," one Hamas supporter told David Remnick of The New Yorker recently. "The truth is on our side. The Israelis have the illusion that truth is on their side, but the Koran is the last revelation," said another.
Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy reminded his reformer friends at this conference that Hamas may be tactically brilliant, but it has never compromised on principle. Hamas, Satloff warns, will take "a difficult but resolvable national dispute and transform it into an irresolvable religious conflict."
And so while the Arab democrats remain upbeat, the Americans are more likely to be grim-eyed. While the Arabs assume that in the Middle East there is always a big gap between what people say and what they believe, the Americans are more likely to take people at their word.
While it would be great to argue with Brooks over this, we should remember that it was the American left that said back in '79 that Khomeini would moderate himself when he came to power in Iran, that the Mullahs were just talking tough. Boy, were they wrong.
There is one old guy from a famous family in Egypt who doesn't fit either camp. He spoke in Arabic. He went on at embarrassing length, about the evils of homosexuality, about how the only proper meaning of democracy is obedience to God's law. Everybody looked uncomfortable as he droned on. He had unpolished conference manners.
But this great contest of creeds — between democracy and orthodox Islam — will be resolved in the breasts of people like him, territory neither the reformers nor the Americans really understand.
Apparently every so often (and this is the first time since I started this blog back on October), David Brooiks actually functions as a journalist. This could be one of those times. Of course, information in this column has been, in one form or another, available to anyone who reads mainstream news. But Brooks isn't writing for those people. He's writing for those who see Hamas as evil, with no qualifications.
February 25, 2006
The Faculty Club
By JOHN TIERNEY
This is the kind of column you get when a no-nothing with a political agenda starts throwing his opinions around. It's not that Tierney is necessarily wrong in explaining the differences between Lawrence Summers and the Harvard faculty --- both sides have their own perspectives to be sure --- but that he's missing an extremely key point, which is that Summers --- even by his own admission --- was a lousy communicator and administrator, and all sides point to that fact as the single breaking point.
Now that Lawrence Summers has resigned, it's time for the editor of The Harvard Crimson to follow his example. There is no excuse for the paper's decision to publish a poll showing that students, by a three to one margin, wanted Summers to remain the president of Harvard.
Lawrence Summers was totally cool. He showed up at campus mixers, he autographed twenty dollar bills, he had a great rapport with students, and he fought with entrenched members of the faculty. This is not to denigrate student support for Summers, but to note that one should be careful about reading too much into his popularity just to make a political point.
Telling Harvard professors their opinions are not shared by everyone can only further disrupt the "collegial" atmosphere required by their delicate psyches. And it was so unnecessary. Since when should the opinions of students make any difference in choosing Harvard's president?
Actually, as the New York Times reported, a history of Harvard shows that since its founding in 1636, Harvard has ceded unusually strong power to its faculties over their different budgets, endowments and perquisites; the presidency, in turn, is designed to be a relatively weak office. That the faculty had a say in Summers' resignation is actually a key part of the Harvard tradition.
Harvard is an institution run for the benefit of the tenured faculty, as Summers discovered too late. His attempts to shake it up appealed to students and the junior faculty, but tenured professors were appalled when he told them to work harder. He dared to suggest that professors teach survey courses geared to undergraduates' needs — an onerous idea to academics accustomed to teaching whatever's in their latest book.
It is important to separate Summers' goals from his management style. Whatever his goals, the guy was headstrong and diffiuclt to deal with. According to the Times, he had to apologize repeatedly for his communication skills. He was dealing with a recalcitrant faculty, and he was unable to walk the necessary tightrope.
As the son of a hard-working professor, I'd never suggest that academics are inherently lazy. But as Adam Smith observed two centuries ago, the university tends to be organized "not for the benefit of the students" but "for the ease of the masters." And nowhere is this more true than at an elite college like Harvard.
"Elite" is a right-wing buzz word, by the way. It's true Harvard is an elite college in a very specific sense, but the momdent we add the word "liberal" to "elite," as many will do, we're moving into the sea of pure propaganda. The connection in a Tierney column is implicit.
In most industries, a company would cater to customers paying $41,000 per year, but Harvard has been able to take its undergraduates for granted. (It was a radical innovation when Summers called attention to surveys measuring students' dissatisfaction.) Harvard has long known that the best students will keep coming, not for its classes but simply for its reputation. Smart students want to go where the other smart students go.
The more we read about Summers' reforms, by the way, the more we understand how badly he blew it. The faculty wasn't going to change; they would only accept these changes kicking and screaming. It required great delicacy on the part of Summers, delicacy that wasn't in his nature.
Suppose people picked hotels based on how intelligent they expected the other guests to be. Once a hotel got the reputation as a brain magnet, smart people would automatically go there, and hotel employees could afford to get complacent. They'd be more interested in their own welfare than their guests' — especially if their jobs came with lifetime tenure.
An example of lazy thinking. Teachers are not maids and bellhops; a hotel is not a university. The analogy is tenuous at best. Actually, in reading it again, it makes absolutely no sense.
At a university, the senior employees not only have tenure but are also used to controlling their own fiefs: departments vote on who's hired and decide who teaches what. Unless a university president is willing to be less than collegial — and is backed by a board with more gumption than Harvard's — there's not much that can be accomplished.
Based on the Times article, that's not altogether true. Summers' tenure began with high hopes. But Summers himself was off-putting. His comments sometimes were just plain weird, and he alienated people as he went along. John Tierney obviously has never worked in a business where the boss, however brilliant, has terrible management skills.
Senior professors can shunt off the more tedious jobs, like teaching freshmen or grading papers, to low-caste graduate students or visiting lecturers. Or they just neglect the jobs that don't appeal to them. That's why Summers had to push them to teach survey courses and other basics.
There's no question he had a tough job. But frankly, the guy blew it. Big time.
You might expect the Harvard history department to devote a course or two to the American Revolution or the Constitution, but those topics are too mundane. Instead, there's a course on the diaries of ordinary citizens during the Revolution, and another, "American Revolutions," that considers the American and Haitian Revolutions as "a continuous sequence of radical challenges to established authority."
Four things: First, what is John Tierney, a man who thinks it would be okay if we all drove Hummers, doing dictating university curricula to anyone? If John Tierney wants his kids to go to a school with courses on the American Revolution or the Constitution, he can find a school that teaches them. Second, why should we trust that Tierney has his facts straight, that no such classes exist? Third, even if they don't, the non-existence of these courses may not be controversial to any of the parties concerned. Fourth, considering the American and Haitian Revolutions as "a continuous sequence of radical challenges to established authority" sounds like a pretty good idea, i.e. observing history of a progression of contiguous events rather than separating out one event from another as if they both exist in a vacuum. It also means the American Revolution is taught at Harvard, at least in that class. In that context, what Tierney is actually questioning is the way the American Revolution is taught at Harvard, which comes back to his own right-wing biases.
Summers had some allies in his reform efforts, especially in the professional schools. The professors in the business, law and medical schools know their schools' reputations depend on properly training students for jobs in the outside world. The opposition to Summers was concentrated among the college professors who aren't accustomed to being judged by anyone except fellow academics.
From the New York Times article: Dr. Summers apologized repeatedly for his communication skills, if not for his management. But his remarks about women in the sciences led to last year's 218-to-185 no-confidence vote, and, several professors said, that anger never dissipated. Professors at the School of Public Health considered a similar vote last year before forgoing one. Dr. Summers also had sharp critics at the Law School and the Graduate School of Education. (my italics)
Conservatives don't like teaching that makes people think. That's because these students aren't people, these are commodities whose value is only in the context of a workforce. Critical thinking of any sort is a luxury and should be avoided.
They've been insulated from reality in a political monoculture. The faculty discourse — or at least the discourse among those who bother to go to faculty meetings — has been so dominated by paleoliberals that Summers, a Democrat and a Clinton appointee, struck them as reactionary.
The university as Ivory Tower, insulated from the "real world"? Yes, yes, and yes. That's what the university has always been, and to some degree, that's what it always should be. If someone wants vocational training, they should go to a vocational training school, or a business school, not a school in arts and humanities.
But beyond that, let's posit that Summers' reforms were all necessary. That doesn't mean he didn't screw up. From the New York Times article: To many officials and professors, the rift had become personality-driven, and Dr. Summers had not changed his behavior after promising to do so. "It's very hard for adults to change their personality, and Harvard needs a personality who can get all the faculty and schools to work together for the good of the university," said Bruce Alberts, a member of Harvard's Board of Overseers. It's extremely easy (and a cheap shot) for an outsider looking at any institution to see only good guys and bad guys: those who want changes and those who fight against them. In truth, it's not always that simple, particularly when the person in question is extremely difficult to deal with.
His great gaffe on campus was suggesting that bias by patriarchal white men might not be the only reason for the shortage of women professors in science and math. After making the ritual genuflections to discrimination, he dared to note that there are many more men who score at the upper extreme (and the lower extreme) on math tests.
According to the New York Times, Summers said (or implied) that "intrinsic aptitude could help explain why fewer women than men reached the highest ranks of science and math in universities." This is a far cry from "noting" that more men score at either extreme on math tests or from simply saying that "bias might not be the only reason for the shortage of female professors in science and math." Tierney is being disingenuous.
This will come as no surprise to the high school students who have taken the math part of the SAT, a test in which there are three boys in the top percentile for every girl. Perhaps a few of these students will now wonder how much intellectual stimulation they'll get at a university where inconvenient facts are taboo.
Tierney's columns are rife with unmentioned inconvenient facts, and Tierney supports an administration where inconvenient facts are taboo. But I digress.
But most of them will probably be happy to go there just because it's Harvard.
Lawrence Summers opened his mouth and put his foot in it once too often. That's a large part of the story. He did have a strong agenda which was, as the Times says, divisive. Could he have succeeded in his goals? Maybe yes, maybe no. But his style remained more Washington than Cambridge --- He was driven in a black limousine with a license plate reading "1636," the year of Harvard's founding; Dr. Bok, by contrast, had driven his own Volkswagen bus. And Dr. Summers hired his own public relations adviser, who had previously worked for Tony Blair.
Addendum to David Brooks Feb. 23 column: David Sirota of Working for Change explains the real reasons behind the Ports agreement with Dubai: The Bush administration is in the middle of a two-year push to ink a corporate-backed "free" trade accord with the UAE. At the end of 2004, in fact, it was Bush Trade Representative Robert Zoellick who proudly boasted of his trip to the UAE to begin negotiating the trade accord. Rejecting this port security deal might have set back that trade pact. Accepting the port security deal - regardless of the security consequences - likely greases the wheels for the pact. That's probably why instead of backing off the deal, President Bush - supposedly Mr. Tough on National Secuirty - took the extraordinary step of threatening to use the first veto of his entire presidency to protect the UAE's interests. Because he knows protecting those interetsts - regardless of the security implications for America - is integral to the "free" trade agenda all of his corporate supporters are demanding. He goes on: The fact that no politicians and almost no media wants to even explore this simple fact is telling. Here we have a major US security scandal with the same country we are simultaneously negotiating a free trade pact with, and no one in Washington is saying a thing. The silence tells you all you need to know about a political/media establishment that is so totally owned by Big Money interests they won't even talk about what's potentially at the heart of a burgeoning national security scandal.
As I said in my conclusion, we haven't heard the last of the machinations.
February 23, 2006
Kicking Arabs in the Teeth
By DAVID BROOKS
It's come to my attention that many of the foreign goods we import into our country are made by foreigners who speak foreign languages and are foreign. It's come to my attention that many varieties of hummus and other vital bread schmears are made by Arabs, the group responsible for 9/11. Furthermore, it's come to my attention that the Chinese have a menacing death grip on America's pacifier, blankie, bunny and rattle supplies, and have thus established crushing domination of the entire non-pharmaceutical child sedative industry.
More heavy-handed irony from David Brooks. Going into this column, my question was how can Brooks possibly rationalize a deal that not only involves Bush cronyism, a naked obliviousness to standard practices, and a potential breach of national security all at the same time. C'mon, let's find out.
It's therefore time for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Frist and Peter King to work together to write the National Security Ethnic Profiling Save Our Children Act, which would prevent Muslims from buying port management firms, the Chinese from buying oil and mouth-toy companies, and the Norwegians from using their secret control of U.S fluoridation levels to sap our precious bodily fluids at the Winter Olympics.
So here we have the frame: Brooks is ignoring Dubai's role in the funding apparatus that enabled the events of 9/11 to occur. It's about xenophobia and racism. Funny thing is, to a great degree, it is about xenophobia and racism. But the xenophobia and racism are so strong because the Bush Administration has used them to maintain support for the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, allowing torture, and so on. More on that below.
In other words, what we need to protect our security and way of life is a broad-based, xenophobic Know Nothing campaign of dressed-up photo-op nativism to show foreigners we will no longer submit to their wily ways.
Never mind — the nativist, isolationist mass hysteria is already here.
Nativist mass hysteria has been the stock-in-trade of the Bush Administration's so-called war on terrorism. Look out for those ragheads! Some of them might want to blow up your children, and only the Bush Administration can save you.
This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades.
Does David Brooks remember the alerts that went from green to yellow to orange to red? The little old ladies being strip-searched (what, for being AARP terrorists?) at airports in late 2001 and into 2002? The frightened screaming by Bush sycophants over Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? The Bush Administration has been playing the collective mania card nearly every day since September 11, 2001.
What's the phrase? Hoisted on their own petard?
First seized by the radio hatemonger Michael Savage, it's been embraced by reactionaries of left and right, exploited by Empire State panderers, and enabled by a bipartisan horde of politicians who don't have the guts to stand in front of a xenophobic tsunami.
From the Washington Post: Many Republicans and Democrats who represent the seaport regions remain deeply skeptical of a UAE-owned company playing such a central role at some of the most sensitive entry points in the country. They noted that some of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial hub. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called on Bush to delay the takeover and reevaluate the security risk. In other words, the idea that Congress might want to do its own investigation is a "xenophobic tsunami" even though the Administration rammed through what should have been a 45-day review in under three weeks, and the president himself was not kept abreast of the deal.
But let's be clear: the opposition to the acquisition by Dubai Ports World is completely bogus.
The deal would have no significant effect on port security. Regardless of who operates the ports, the Coast Guard still controls their physical security. The Customs Service still controls container security. The harbor patrols, the port authorities and the harbor police still do their jobs. Nearly every expert who actually knows something about port security says the ownership of the operating companies is the least of our concerns. "This kind of reaction is totally illogical," Philip Damas, research director of Drewry Shipping Consultants, told The Times. "The location of the headquarters of a company in the age of globalism is irrelevant."
The events of 9/11 are illogical. The never-ending "war on terror" is illogical. Most of the Bush Administration's policies are based on illogic. The anger over Dubai is, again, a direct outgrowth of four years of terrorism hysteria. Drewry, by the way, works with the global oil industry. Damas' comments may be correct, but he'd be fired if he said otherwise. Also, the Emirate of Dubai owns the company; the location is merely part of a larger picture.
Nor would the deal radically alter the workplace. If the Dubai holding company does acquire the operating firm, the American longshoremen would stay on the job, the American unions would still be there to organize them, and most or all of the management would probably stay, too.
Nor would the deal be particularly new in the world of global shipping. Dick Meyer of CBS News reports that Dubai Ports World already operates facilities in Australia, China, Korea and Germany. It's seeking to acquire facilities in 18 other countries — none of them caught up in an isolationist fever like the one we see here. Eighty percent of the facilities at the port of Los Angeles are run by foreign firms — somehow without national collapse — including one owned by the government of Singapore.
What David Brooks is not mentioning is that when it comes to port security, Homeland Security is a joke. Only 10% of all shipping is even checked as it comes through our harbors. With underfunded laxness as the American policy, do we really need or want a country connected with al Queda running our ports? Letting Dubai in the door, under these circumstances, becomes a leap of faith.
Nor is Dubai a bastion of Taliban radicalism. All Arabs may look alike to certain blowhard senators, but the United Arab Emirates is a modernizing, globalizing place.
Last March, a conflict erupted in Dubai because a schoolbook, Friends Forever, used in an international private school showed two Jewish children with the caption, "We play together, we stick together." Authorities were planning to review the book and most likely remove it from circulation.
It was the first country in the region to sign the U.S. Container Security Initiative. It's signed agreements to bar the passage of nuclear material and to suppress terror financing. U.A.E. ports service U.S. military ships, and U.A.E. firms have made major investments in Chrysler and Time Warner, somehow without turning them into fundamentalist bastions.
In short, there is no evidence this deal will do any harm. But it is certain that the xenophobic hysteria will come back to harm the U.S.
As Joshua Holland points out at alternet.org, the national security issue (and attendant racism) obscure the real story, which is about procurement contracts and the relationship between the American government and international corporations. Holland goes on to say that " If it were a German company -- 9/11 was planned there as well -- nobody would say "boo" about this deal."
The oil-rich nations of the Middle East have plenty of places to invest their money and don't need to do favors for nations that kick them in the teeth.
In other words, given 9/11, the Emirate of Dubai would never understand why Americans might object to having its government run several of our ports and would take serious umbrage. Does Brooks remember how the Bush Administration has treated its traditional democratic allies in Europe? How John Bolton treats the United Nations? Yet we, as Americans, are supposed to worry what the unelected Emirs of Dubai think about us.
Moreover, this is a region in the midst of traumatic democratic change. The strongest argument the fundamentalists have is that they are engaged in a holy war against the racist West, which imposes one set of harsh rules on Arabs and another set of rules on everybody else. Now comes a group of politicians to prove them gloriously right.
This "traumatic democratic change" came at the end of an American rifle. The result in Iraq is chaos leading to Civil War. Brooks has the audacity to make this statement on the day after one of Shi'a's most important shrines is blown up and all signs point to Civil War. The U.S. is supposedly engaged in a "war on terror." The United Arab Emirates have served as stomping grounds for members of al Queda. Funding for 9/11 went directly through Dubas. And Congress is questioning a decision made by people in the Administration with financial ties to Dubai.
Because David Brooks does not want to delve deeper into the real questions behind the deal, he can fall back on the charge of racism, thus countering one hysterical notion with another. The fact is that, after 9/11 and Afghanistan and Iraq, it's pretty hard for Americans to wrap their brains around an Arab corporation running United States ports. What's that phrase? The pigeons are coming home to roost.
God must love Hamas and Moktada al-Sadr. He has given them the America First brigades of Capitol Hill. God must love the folks at Al Jazeera. They won't have to work to stoke resentments this week. All the garbage they need will be spewing forth from press conferences and photo ops on C-Span and CNN.
David Brooks does make a point. Foreign companies already run a handful of American ports. American management and control will be maintained (we assume), even if the company is owned by Dubai. Given the lack of safety at American ports as it is, this deal probably will make no difference. However, this is a sweetheart deal involving Bush cronies, made in the dead of night, in which America's shadow-enemies are being given a certain unconditional access to American ports. Congress is asking for the right to investigate the deal, in a proper time frame. Is this that hard to comprehend? This is not a routine deal.and we have not heard the last of the machinations. Only investigation by the press (and perhaps by an emboldened Congress) will let Americans know whether this deal is a proper or an improper one. Rumors are surfacing today that Dick Cheney was well in his cups when he shot Whittington (he needed the 20 hours to fully sober up) and might have committed a felony under Texas law. This material would not have come to light if the press hadn't been so "hysterical" last week.
February 21, 2006
Let Your People Stay
By JOHN TIERNEY
Addendum Feb. 22: The reason why Tierney does not give any actual statistics on the success or failure of the Milwaukee program is that a state-mandated academic evaluation during the earlier years of the experiment showed no major differences academically between public and voucher students. Last year, four poorly-run schools were forced to close, which is the reason why oversight has become a primary concern of Wisconsin legislators. In June 2005, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a series of articles on the voucher program. Among the findings: Voucher schools feel a whole lot like public schools; around 10% of the voucher schools have "alarming deficiencies;" the voucher program has brought in fresh energy, and there are as many outstanding schools as poor ones; around 70% of the schools are religious in nature (which means that an unprecedented amount of tax dollars is going to fund religious education); the program rejuvenated Catholic and Lutheran schools which were experiencing declining enrollment; it hasn't "creamed" the best public school students nor has parental choice forced bad schools to close; the fifty new schools engendered by the program run the gamut from excellent to very poor. In other words, when you clear out the underbrush, the major change is that nearly three-quarters of voucher schools are religious institutions, which is an underlying reason why the right-wing supports these programs. It's not about choice; it's not about capitalism. It's about taxpayer-funded religious instruction.
It would probably also be safe to say the reason Jason Fields supports the program is that he understands that an end to it would force an educational dislocation that would hurt more students than any change would help. It's not about vouchers: it's about students.
John Tierney is obsessed with vouchers, this being the fifth column on the subject in the past year. Understanding a New York Times audience is hip to the fact that vouchers are high on the right-wing uber-capitalist priority list, Tierney is now into explaining how they're good for black folks. The most recent column, of January 7th of this year (2/3 down the January archive) focused on an unconstitutional Florida program that involved 700 students.
MILWAUKEE -- If you were a Democrat watching Coretta Scott King's funeral, you could congratulate yourself on the party's role in past civil rights struggles. But if you saw what's been on television in Milwaukee in the past month, you'd wonder what's become of your party.
Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, looks like public enemy No. 1 for African-American schoolchildren. "He's throwing away my dream," one Milwaukee student says in a TV commercial supporting the city's school voucher program for low-income families. Another commercial shows a black father on the verge of tears saying: "School choice is good enough for the governor's family. I ought to be able to have it, too."
The Wisconsin voucher program, according to People for the American Way, is funded by the Bradley Foundation, a right-wing funding source..Tierney is following up on an article on the Heartland Institute's (another right-wing think tank/funding source/propaganda mill) website about the Milwaukee program. If you'll notice, Tierney does not quote news articles, but rather paid political advertisements (paid, most likely by the Bradley Foundation).
Radio audiences have been hearing an ad calling the voucher battle "one of the greatest social justice issues we have in the country." The speaker is Ken Johnson, an African-American who leads Milwaukee's school board.
Ken Johnson and other members of the Board, again according to People for the American Way, violated open meeting laws in a crusade to create vouchers in the city of Milwaukee, at which point the Foundation submitted a legal complaint, Ken Johnson, incidentally, wrote a 2001 article in praise of vouchers for the Washington Times (no longer on-line). The Black Commentator, a website co-founded by Glen Ford and Peter Gamble, two respected Black journalists, takes a rather dim view of these radio and television ads.
You read that correctly: the head of the public school board supports giving students in his system a chance to escape public schools. That would be unthinkable in most cities, but Milwaukee's voucher program has been so successful over the past 15 years that it's won a wide array of converts — except among the Democrats terrified of teachers' unions.
Not quite. As Bob Peterson, a fifth grade teacher in the Milwaukee School System, points out in this article concerning the April 2003 school board election, Johnson and the other pro-voucher members of the Board were essentially supported by right-wing cash in a hijacking of the school system by stealth candidates. More from Peterson on the School Board elections. More on the voucher controversy from EducationNews.org. The more one reads about Johnson and company, the creepier the story gets.
The governor repeatedly vetoed bills passed by Republican legislators who were trying to head off a problem that became official yesterday: there aren't enough vouchers for all the students who want them. The original law limited the number of vouchers to 15 percent of the city's public school enrollment — which works out to almost 15,000 vouchers — but the program has grown beyond that limit.
So the state announced a rationing plan yesterday that would deny vouchers next year to thousands of students, many of them already using vouchers to attend private schools. These students and their parents have been appearing in television commercials, paid for by a pro-voucher group, and showing up at the State Capitol carrying signs reading, "Governor Doyle, Don't Cap My Future."
And who is paying for these ads? From Bob Peterson's website: In the 1999 school board election, pro-voucher candidate John Gardner won, spending more than $190,000, or nearly four times as much as his opponent. This does not include the significant independent political expenditures made by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) on his behalf. His contributor lists that year and this year read like a who's who in the conservative right wing movement and the Milwaukee business community. For example, Wal-Mart heir John Walton, and his wife Christy, both contributed the maximum $3,000. They also contributed the maximum of $800 to several of the district candidates.
Tierney also does not mention that these very ads have the audacity to mention Governor Doyle in the same breath as Orville Faubus. Disgusting.
The pressure has worked. The governor and the Republicans have negotiated a last-minute deal — expected to be enacted shortly — to stave off the rationing plan by allotting extra vouchers. That would spare the Democrats from the immediate prospect of kicking black children out of private schools.
But it still leaves the party in Wisconsin and elsewhere with long-term problems. How long will blacks vote for a party that opposes the voucher programs they strongly favor? And how can Democratic leaders keep preaching their devotion to public schools while sending their own children to private schools, as Governor Doyle does? He's what I call a Lypsy, an acronym for Let Your People Stay.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the stumbling block has been, and continues to be, private school accountability. This has proven to be the primary difficulty with most voucher programs, as witness the one Tierney wrote about in January. What's clear is that underneath the entire controversy sits the question of where curriculum control resides: with public secular entities, or with churches and propaganda mills. This is the part of the story that Tierney does not want to reveal because it would compromise his position.
Doyle told me that he wasn't bothered by the personal attacks, and that he had compromised only to avoid disrupting students' education. He said he was still philosophically opposed to vouchers and didn't fear reprisals from black voters. "I don't think this is an issue that moves voters," he said, arguing that blacks distrust Republicans on too many other issues.
Not to mention Bob Peterson's assertion that less than 20% of voters participated in School Board elections, or the article from Education News which quotes several local community leaders asserting that vouchers have played little role in the minds of most Milwaukee citizens in past elections.
He may be right — for now. Howard Fuller, a prominent advocate for vouchers as well as a former superintendent of Milwaukee's public schools, told me he hadn't seen the popularity of the voucher program translate into much affection for Republicans among his fellow African-Americans, especially his civil rights comrades.
"Those people you saw at Coretta Scott King's funeral are not going to change," he said. "My generation pushed for social change through government solutions, but younger blacks are much more interested in private initiatives. They understand that the public school system cannot by itself be the solution to educating low-income children."
People for the American Way explains who Howard Fuller is, and what money supports him, most notably the Bradley Foundation, which supports the formation of Fuller's Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. Presidential candidate George W. Bush asked Fuller to join his education policy advisory group in 1999, along with fellows from the right-wing Hoover Institution and Hudson Institute. It's a small world after all.
One of those younger blacks is Jason Fields, a first-term state legislator who has defied his fellow Democrats by supporting vouchers. "If the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the little guy, where do we get off opposing a chance to help those with the least of all?" he asked. The answer he's heard from his party is that supporting vouchers can end your career if the teachers' union supports a candidate against you in the Democratic primary.
But Fields, who represents a predominantly black district in Milwaukee, is that rare Democrat who will stand up for his constituents against the union. "If they run someone against me, so be it," Fields said. "I'm willing to leave it up to the voters to decide who really cares about African-Americans, and who's just spitting out rhetoric."
According to Milwaukee Sentinel Journal columnist Patrick McIlheran, Fields is a strong supporter of vouchers, or "school choice," as the spin puts it. How does Fields feel about the other issues involved in vouchers? Don't rely on John Tierney. Ask Fields. His e-mail address is email@example.com
February 19, 2006
Questions of Culture
By DAVID BROOKS
A standard two-tier Brooks column. On the one hand, using material from IMF and World Bank researchers, he's discussing the "new" idea that cultural mores play a role in economics. However, by not discussing what this really means in terms of governmental or financial policy, it looks like he's gunning for something else. Because he focuses on how globalization reinforces cultural stereotypes, Brooks is, in essence, arguing against those who see globalization as part of a culture-destroying imperialist hegemony. In other words, if cultures are strengthened (for good or ill) by the encroachment of globalization, then it can be perforce a good thing for everyone, if we can iron out the kinks.
Once, not that long ago, economics was the queen of the social sciences. Human beings were assumed to be profit-maximizing creatures, trending toward reasonableness. As societies grew richer and more modern, it was assumed, they would become more secular. As people became better educated, primitive passions like tribalism and nationalism would fade away and global institutions would rise to take their place. As communications technology improved, there would be greater cooperation and understanding. As voters became more educated, they would become more independent-minded and rational.
The unsaid obverse is that local cultures and values are homogenized into a single Western capitalist based uber-culture.
None of these suppositions turned out to be true. As the world has become richer and better educated, religion hasn't withered; it has become stronger and more fundamentalist. Nationalism and tribalism haven't faded away. Instead, transnational institutions like the U.N. and the European Union are weak and in crisis.
Brooks ignores the idea that this could be a reaction to globalization itself.
Communications technology hasn't brought people closer together; it has led to greater cultural segmentation, across the world and even within the United States. Education hasn't made people moderate and independent-minded. In the U.S. highly educated voters are more polarized than less educated voters, and in the Arab world some of the most educated people are also the most fanatical.
Brooks has done it again with a new "yes set". Highly educated voters in the U.S. are not more polarized than less educated voters. Check out who listens to talk radio and Fox News. The polarization started with right-wing hate radio. His comment about the Arab world comes from nowhere.
All of this has thrown a certain sort of materialistic vision into crisis. We now know that global economic and technological forces do not gradually erode local cultures and values.
However, global economic and technological forces do change local cultures and values. We know that subway stations in Tokyo are announced in English; Starbucks can be found in Paris; Disneylands exist around the world, and American movies are ubiquitous. Is Brooks claiming this cultural intrusion has no effect on the population?
Instead, cultures and values shape economic development.
This doesn't necessarily follow from what comes before, though it's clearly the thesis of Huntington and Harrison and others affiliated with the IMF and the World Bank (see below). Anthropologists have known for years that when a foreign culture meets an indigenous culture, the latter will change. What was endemic to the culture will mutate. To say that globalization does not "erode" local cultures is to avoid talking about the mutation process.
Moreover, as people are empowered by greater wealth and education, cultural differences become more pronounced, not less, as different groups chase different visions of the good life, and react in aggressive ways to perceived slights to their cultural dignity.
The global megaculture includes the Internet, cell phones, ipods, gameboys, palm pilots and so on. Not to mention Starbucks, McDonalds, Disneylands and Hollywood product. Of course differences are more pronounced, but only because they're seen in the context of such broad-based similarity. Cultures are forced to fight for themselves against this tidal wave. France has been doing it for the past five decades, to little avail.
Economics, which assumes people are basically reasonable and respond straightforwardly to incentives, is no longer queen of the social sciences.
A queen in whose mind? David Brooks? The real queen of the social sciences has always been anthropology. But economics pays better, with the world a petri dish for any number of theories.
The events of the past years have thrown us back to the murky realms of theology, sociology, anthropology and history. Even economists know this, and are migrating to more behaviorialist and cultural approaches.
The fundamental change is that human beings now look less like self-interested individuals and more like socially embedded products of family and group.
Is this really a revelation? For whom?
Alan Greenspan said that he once assumed that capitalism was "human nature." But after watching the collapse of the Russian economy, he had come to consider it "was not human nature at all, but culture."
Someone who could not tell the difference between societal mores and human nature ran our national economic system for so many years? That's scary.
During the first few years of life, parents, communities and societies unconsciously impart ways of being and of perceiving reality that we are only subliminally aware of. How distinct is the individual from the community? Does history move forward or is it cyclical? How do I fulfill my yearning for righteousness? What is possible and what is impossible?
The answers to these questions are wildly diverse, and once worldviews have been absorbed, they produce wildly different levels and types of social and cultural capital. East Asians and Jews, for example, seem to thrive commercially wherever they settle.
Be very afraid. When Brooks produces paragraphs like this, he's working in yes-set mode.
It turns out that it's hard to change the destinies of nations and individuals just by pulling economic levers. Over the past few decades, America has transferred large amounts of money to Africa to build factories and spur economic development. None of this has worked. As the economists Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian demonstrated, there is no correlation between aid and growth.
Raghuram Rajan is chief economics for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Subramanian is Division Chief of the Research Department of the IMF. The Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby discusses the two papers written by Rajan and Subramanian and concludes that "the biggest lesson from Rajan and Subramanian goes beyond aid. It's that our engagement with global poverty needs to get broader." This doesn't negate Brooks' statement, but it does change the meaning.
At home, we spend more money on education than any other nation. We have undertaken a million experiments to restructure schools and bureaucracies. But students who lack cultural and social capital because they did not come from intact, organized families continue to fall further and further behind — unless they come into contact with some great mentor who can not only teach, but also change values and behavior.
Here we come to it. David Brooks pulls something right out of his ass. This is no correlation whatsoever between the earlier statements in the column and this paragraph. Where's he getting this? From movies like Antwone Fisher and Finding Forrester? Is this the Denzel Washington theory of economics? The racial subtext of this paragraph is startling in its obviousness.
It all amounts to this: Events have forced different questions on us. If the big contest of the 20th century was between planned and free market economies, the big questions of the next century will be understanding how cultures change and can be changed, how social and cultural capital can be nurtured and developed, how destructive cultural conflict can be turned to healthy cultural competition.
Brooks says "how destructive cultural conflict can be turned to healthy cultural competition," instead of "how destructive cultural conflict can be turned into something positive." By using the word "competition," he's staying within the cultural-specific mode he's trying to escape.
People who think about global development are out in front in thinking about these matters. (I'd recommend rival anthologies: "Culture Matters," edited by Lawrence Harrison and Samuel Huntington, and "Culture and Public Action," edited by Vijayendra Rao and Michael Walton.) But the rest of us will catch up soon.
John Tierney discussed "Culture Matters" as part of a December 21, 2003 puff piece on American policy in Iraq in the New York Times. Harrison is a professor at Tufts. Huntington's book "Who Are We" is reviewed by Publisher's Weekly as "an aggressive polemic whose central argument-that America, at heart, has been and in many ways should remain a Christian, Anglocentric country-wouldn't be out of place on many a conservative radio station." Rao and Walton both work for the World Bank.
February 18, 2006
The Inalienable Right to Hot Copy
By JOHN TIERNEY
Harry Whittington tried to calm the furor yesterday, but we must not let him. Leaving the hospital, he expressed regret for Dick Cheney's troubles over what he considered a simple hunting accident at a friend's ranch. But it was so much more. It was a violation of the public's right to know. Apologists for Dick Cheney argue that the public was informed of the accident, but it took 20 hours — almost an entire news cycle! The Sunday morning talk shows, deprived of what was rightfully their story, were tragically forced to discuss the National Security Agency and Michelle Kwan's injured groin.
The propaganda technique used by both Brooks and Tierney in the Cheney incident is one in which context is removed from news coverage. Cheney's office is known for its secrecy and its dissembling. Therefore, this event was not taken by the press as a separate entity but in the context of previous actions as an example of how the Cheney Vice Presidency functions. Removing it from this context can make the coverage seem like overkill.
Even worse, the news was released by a nonprofessional — a "private person," as a CBS reporter said accusingly at a White House briefing — with no qualifications except being the owner of the ranch and a witness at the scene of the accident. Incredibly, instead of issuing a press release to the national press corps, she chose to be interviewed by a local newspaper reporter. How long can the First Amendment survive such assaults?
Ah, such sarcasm. Consider, however --- the Vice President has just shot someone, and the press is not told by the Vice President's office but by a third party. This is the Vice President here, not a private citizen.
Cheney's apologists say this was a private incident with no connection to his official duties, but they should know there are higher duties for any public figure in Washington — or Hollywood or Manhattan. To prevent any further dereliction, we need to enshrine these duties in federal law.
This is not a private incident because all the actions of an elected official are open to scrutiny. That Cheney did not have a proper license; that Cheney did not follow standard hunting rules: these play into who he is and what he does. If a Senator, any senator, gets into a car wreck, it is up to the press to discover what really happened, particularly if the Senator's office is not forthcoming. Wouldn't Tierney or Books agree to that?
The most logical name for it would be Harry's Law. But since Whittington is being so uncooperative with reporters — yesterday he took none of their questions! — let's honor NBC's David Gregory for his leadership in expressing the press corps's outrage at the White House's conspiracy of silence. (He called Scott McClellan "a jerk.") Here's an outline of David's Law:
1. By this Act of Congress, let it be known that any individual recognized in libel law as a Public Figure (P.F.), in exchange for the financial remunerations and other perquisites of said position, is hereby obliged to provide the press with what are known professionally as "personal dramas," "human-interest stories," "hot copy" and "the goods."
Tierney is playing some specific spin here: he is equating the coverage of the Cheney shooting with America's obsession with celebrity. It is sly, and it is false. The Vice President shot someone. This is a news story.
2. This law shall apply in the event that a P.F. commits news, defined as any act whose reporting could reasonably be expected to raise the ratings for a television news program by at least 20 percent. Such events include, but are not limited to, any criminal charges and the following:
i) Accidents involving firearms, automobiles, bicycles, stairs, golf balls, household appliances, pretzels.
Apples and oranges here. Dick Cheney's actions injured another person and involved possible criminal negligence.
ii) Altercations at hotels and restaurants, including any encounters with ex-spouses.
iii) Discoveries of photographs taken at any date with an individual currently under indictment.
iv) Discoveries of videos made by former sexual partners.
v) Allegations made by summer interns.
vi) Any significant life event, including pregnancy, marriage, cosmetic surgery, divorce, admission to a rehabilitation clinic, unorthodox acts of parenting (e.g., dangling baby from balcony).
3. Within four hours of such act, the Mainstream Media (MSM), as defined in Appendix A, shall be notified by a Certified Flack (C.F.) who on at least six prior occasions has been identified in the MSM as a "spokesperson," "media handler," "communications consultant" or "spinmeister."
4. Within six hours, the C.F. shall provide MSM with appropriate video and photographs, including mug shots when available. When announcing a divorce or spousal murder, C.F. shall release at least one past photograph of the couple suitable to appear above the caption "In happier times."
5. At a news conference, to be scheduled at a time suitable for members of the MSM working on second-day stories, the P.F. shall answer all MSM questions. Whether the P.F. apologizes or offers an excuse (e.g., stress, drugs, political enemies, low self-esteem, dehydration), the following sentence shall be uttered: "At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with the family."
6. Within four days of an incident, the P.F. shall conduct a sit-down interview with the host of a national TV program. Tears shall not be mandatory during the interview, but the P.F. shall display emotion and draw a "larger lesson" from the incident.
7. If the MSM pursues a story beyond five days, the P.F. shall visit "Oprah" and announce plans either to seek personal treatment with Dr. Phil or to work to "raise public awareness of this problem."
8. The P.F. shall address all "lingering questions" raised until the seventh day after the incident. At such time, but not before, the P.F. may issue an appeal to "move on" and "respect my right to privacy."
9. Nothing in this law shall be construed to grant any such right.
By switching gears and focusing on celebrity journalism, Tierney has confused the issue. This isn't about celebrity journalism. This is about actions by the Vice President of the United States that could have resulted in criminal charges. .