Saturday, March 17, 2007

Middle Classes of the World, Unite!

It would be nice to see the middle classes in the US protest when they get screwed. The war in Iraq has as of this minute cost about $410 billion. See the counter at the National Priorities Project, which points out that this amount is the equivalent of almost 20 million scholarships to college for four years. The human but also the social and monetary waste is literally crazy. Happy Fourth Anniversary of the start of the Iraq invasion. This is the war that no level of protest OR of human rights violations, mayhem, or strategic failure has affected. How do we make it stop?

Those middle-class protesters in the picture are lawyers and their supporters in Pakistan. The shot was taken March 14th, when lawyers took to the street to protest after Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, fired his chief justice. Salman Masood reported to the New York Times that "Hundreds of lawyers gathered outside the Supreme Court to give Chief Justice Chaudhry a hero’s welcome. Wearing black arm and head bands, lawyers and activists chanted slogans — 'Go, Musharraf, go!' and 'A regime of bullet and baton will not do' — in the face of a heavy contingent of police officers. The Chief Justice had been suspended on the basis of secret charges.

The suspended Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, had clashed with Musharraf in the past, particularly on the issue of "forced disappearances," unlawful detentions of people by the government's security forces. Chaudhry was liked to have presided over a challenge to the legality of Musharraf's occupation of the presidency. More recently, Masood writes, "Chief Justice Chaudhry had considerably embarrassed the government by overturning the much-publicized privatization of a steel mill, which tainted Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz for approving the underpriced sale of a major national asset."

Governmental lawlessness, the routine disappearing of dissidents, crony-driven privatization, the crushing of an independent judiciary - they all violate the basic tenets of the "open society" that capitalist markets are supposed to guarantee. Elites who want capitalism should help their restive middle-classes to defeat this kind of tyranny. If they don't, middle-class movements will more widely equate capitalism with tyranny, just as many of their working-class predecessors did.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Smarter Than Their Parents

The LA Times has a story covering the UC Regents meeting yesterday, where they voted 13-6 for a 7% increase in undergraduate fees next year, raising the average annual tuition for a UC undergrad to about $7350. The frame successfully created by the Office of the President (UCOP) was that it would be worse for you if you lived in Texas or Virigina, where fees are higher, so look on the bright side. This doesn't change the fact that the state is steadily replacing public with private funding, and that the university's social and personal impacts will change as a result. We'll talk a little about this in lecture today.

Another ominous note is that the Regents approved a proposal led by the law schools at Berkeley and UCLA to remove the cap on tuition increases there, meaning that they will soon rise from their current level of around $25k to $35k or more. The damage to public-interest law is obvious, since now even graduates of public universities can't afford to take the five-figure jobs that those non-profit entities can afford to pay.

The damage to the concept of public higher education is subtler but just as deep: as students and parents pay more for eduation out of their own pockets, they are naturally less interested in paying more for education in taxes. A few of the protesting students mentioned that the "high-tuition, high-financial aid" model wasn't working for them, but most people haven't figured out that only public funding can support higher ed that combines high-qualty with high-volume. That includes the middle-class folks who in many cases are middle-class only because they took a few steps up the social ladder because of very cheap but very good college instruction. To repeat a lecture question: will the California middle-classes give away the conditions of their own existence?