Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Thorough Supreme Court Ass Kicking

It is a well known fact that racism is the core of the middle class's dumbness, whether you're talking the 1830s, the 1880s, 1980s, or today. After a temporary recovery in the 1950s and 1960s, our beloved m-c got stupid again during school segregation and the great busing backlashes in Boston, L.A., and lots of other places. That is, they took their eye off the economic ball. They started to think that their biggest problem was black kids in the school down the street. Yes the long bus rides were in fact terrible - leave it to us to make desegregation as nasty as possible. But the white middle-class went way overboard, started hating public school and public stuff in general and voting for Prop 13 and starving the social services that had created the middle-class to begin with, taking their kids out of public schools and then not wanting to pay for them, and deciding to get the black people off welfare and complaining about how only Mexicans used the county hospital so why should they pay for that shit? Whoops, goodbye affordable health care for you too, pal.

Today the Supreme Court majority continued the dumbness (conservative rule requires it) by declaring desegregation programs in Seattle and Louisville schools to be unconstitutional. Everyone will focus on Chief Justice Roberts majority opinion, which did win after all. But the amazing work on the case is actually Justice Breyer's dissent, which will go down as one of the great Supreme Court opinions on race in America since Brown v. Board. Breyer offers a devastating deployment of the actual history of the desegregation efforts of the districts in question (and their enemies), a relentless evisceration of the taboo against race-consciousness based on the SC's own decisions, plus a fairly amazing survey of many many desegregation plans showing how any success depends on some kind of race consciousness, and show that anyway all that crap Justice Kennedy says they should try - they already tried it.

Read it and get your brain back. (Breyer starts at browser page 109 of 185.) The m-c would do a lot better if it lined up with this.

Yes Anna Nicole Smith WAS a big Breyer fan. There she is visiting the Supreme Court.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rule 4

Rule 4: when you are working at the top as someone from (or representing) the middle, notice when all your effort goes into keeping the worst from happening. Then stop that.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rule 3

Rule 3 is: Fight your enemy.

The middle class doesn't know who its enemy is. And it has no idea how to fight.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rule 2

Rule 2 is that you can't think about the good society by thinking about a strong economy.

Here's a review of a good book that explains why.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rule 1

Rule 1 for ending a middle-class death trip: Assume that business leaders do nothing for the sake of efficiency.

Assume they do everything for an advantage. Their advantage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Culture War Dumbness

David "Schoolboy" Brooks outdoes himself today with a particularly desparate, silly piece blaming fears of immigration on college elites. Don't ask about the logic, which would be like looking for the Sermon on the Mount in a long dribble of uncooked batter. The basic idea is that working people don't have any real economic problems after 30 years of Republican rule that has seen zero real income growth for about 80% of the population - they just don't like the liberal cosmopolitanism of college-educated elites. The essay is an aggravating five-minute escape from any known reality here on Earth One, where Schoolboy's culture-warrior pals have been helping destroy the economic base of their beloved "regular folks" while telling them their real enemies are liberals who send money to save Darfur. Gaaah!

Schoolboy's New York Times pals wrote a good editorial on Monday that he obviously didn't read. The editorial reported that accoreding to a study by Frank Levy and Peter Temin, two MIT economists, the top 1 percent of Americans (average income, $1.1 million) took almost a quarter of the nations income, "their largest share since 1929." There's a connection between the Republican's happy inequality boom and the anger of Brooks' "nationalists," which someday may finally focus on the real cause - conservative economic policies that reward the destruction of jobs.

A better account of growing inequality appeared in the same paper on Sunday. "The orthodoxy surrounding income inequality is being undermined by research that looks at institutional issues: changes in the way the corporate world measures the performance of workers, the decline of unions, and government wage and tax policy." Doh!

And for a sad tale of the king of Clintonian economics, Larry Summers, now suprised by inequality, see a short Sunday Magazine piece. "I'm finding my way," Summers says about the effects of his own policies. Far better is an interview with the producer of "Entourage," Doug Ellin, with his jaundiced desire to exploit the dumbness of Beemer lust and related more expensive desires. He doesn't make the Schoolboy mistake of confusing the desire to be rich with a noble vision for a red-state America.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Squeeze Them While They're Young

Today's Sunday New York Times has a good front-page piece on the role private loan companies are playing in creating the current crisis in student indebtedness. Meet Lucia De Poi, for example, a first-generation college student who went to Tufts and now pays $900 a month in student loans, some to private companies at 13% interest.
College was supposed to be the gateway to the middle-class. It's increasingly the gateway to a treadmill of debt. There goes your savings for the down payment on the house college was supposed to help you buy. While we were sleeping, the middle-class forget to maintain the pipeline for its next generation of members. Doh!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Dumbness and the Fight Against It

Today's New York Times has a nice illustration of the battle for what's left of the middle-class mind. There's Paul Krugman fighting dumbness by showing how the media has turned politics into a beauty contest that prevents people from voting on the basis of issues. "listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush's tax lies [in the 2000 campaign], not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern."

In the other corner, representing dumbness, is David "Schoolboy" Brooks, with another of his grandiloquent philosophical frameworks leading to Reaganite cliches. Painting himself as a "Hamilitonian" in an epic battle with "mainstream liberals" and populists, he concludes, "Government is really bad at rigging or softening competition. It can do some good when it helps people compete." This distinction rests on a Schoolboy contrast between job retraining, job protections, and jobs programs (where gov is bad), and portable pensions and health insurance and skill-based immigration and encouragement of marriage (where gov is good). In fact all Schoolboy does is slam programs for workers and praise programs for the middle-classes. Blue-collar is bad, white-collar is good. Programs that make blue-collar people like white-collar people are good. Schoolboy wants a world in which gated commuters are subsidized and nobody else is - a paradise of bobos, paid for by everybody else.

If we don't start catching on to this classic middle-class dumbness, were not going anywhere except down.

Which reminds me: in March I blogged about Pakistani lawyers in revolt; this past week the U.S. press has realized that the protests have spread widely enough to be threatening to the Musharraf regime.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Green Truckers in LA

One of the dumbest ideas of the past 25 years is that blue-collars folks are, well, dumb - by comparison to white-collar managers and middle-class folks in general. The implication has been that college folks were the future and the working-class was the past. The latter couldn't keep up with modernity and took up regressive positions. They were the backbone of the Reaganite anti-feminist backlash against women in the workplace - remember the stereotype of the wolf-whistling construction worker - and didn't care about the environment.

Today's Los Angeles Times has a good piece about independent port truckers coming out in support of environmental regulations. They explain why they didn't come out before, and it ain't what you've been told.

Article Begins Here:

Port drivers steer toward clean-truck program
'On this issue, we stand with the authorities,' one worker says of the push to curb pollution.
By Louis Sahagun and Ronald D. White

June 6, 2007

About 300 drivers of the dirtiest and oldest trucks serving the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex gathered in Wilmington on Tuesday to support a program that would impose stricter pollution standards on harbor vehicles.

Port authorities and environmentalists were encouraged by the strong show of support for the program, part of a plan designed to cut air pollution 80% within five years by allowing only newer, low-emission diesel trucks to work the ports.

"It's a surprising turnout," said Rafael Pizarro of Coalition for Clean Air, an advocacy group. "You don't see this many truck drivers agree on anything outside of a strike."

Many of the mostly immigrant, Spanish-speaking independent drivers who filled an auditorium at Banning's Landing stepped up to a lectern and personally urged a joint panel of Long Beach and Los Angeles port commissioners to approve the program.

The proposed clean-truck program is part of the Clean Air Action Plan, which was approved in November. The program would scrap and replace the oldest trucks, and retrofit the others, with the assistance of a port-sponsored grant subsidy.

Among the speakers was Edgar Sanchez, 48, of Long Beach who said he could not afford to clean up his rig without a subsidy. Sanchez, who is among the area's 16,000 mostly low-income drivers who service the ports, said he was emboldened to speak his mind on the issue by the widespread support the program has received from environmentalists, religious workers, business coalitions and political leaders.

"Before we didn't have the courage or the confidence to tell people how we feel out of fear we'd be fired or labeled as troublemakers," Sanchez said.

"Not anymore. We see the smoke pouring out of our trucks and we breathe it all day, every day," he said. "But we also work long hours at minimum rates. We can be fired at any moment, like slaves without a voice."

Sanchez added, "Now we have the guts and the anger to say that on this issue, we stand with the authorities."

Maria Agamenon of Long Beach, 45, spoke on behalf of her husband, Raul, a port driver of 23 years who earns roughly $7 an hour, and their three children, two of whom have asthma.

"It's sad to see how my husband is mistreated; I cry with him," she said. "He can't breathe at night. Sometimes he shares the respirator we bought for the children."

The San Pedro Bay ports spew more soot and smog than half a million cars, a refinery and a power plant combined, port authorities said. Port trucks produce 30% to 40% of that pollution, which has been linked to higher risks of cancer, bronchitis and other respiratory ailments.

Jose Rayo, 43, who has worked the port for two decades, blamed much of the area's pollution on inefficiency, which forces drivers to spend hours waiting — with engines idling — to transfer loads. Rayo, a Los Angeles resident, was among a small number of critics of the program who worried that it would "sweep away the small businessman."

"The plan opens the doors for the big trucking outfits to monopolize the port business, but who's to say they will pay fair wages?" Rayo said. "If it doesn't work out, we'll have to fight it with lawsuits."

A week ago, the California Trucking Assn., which claims 2,300 members and about 250,000 trucks across the state, said that the ports lacked the authority "to completely change our industry" as the program could.

"The California Trucking Assn. does support the objective of cleaner air and would like to see reductions in pollutions and the greening of our side of the supply, but there are two problems with this plan," said Patty Senecal, vice president of sales and marketing for Transport Express of Rancho Dominguez, who spoke on behalf of the association. "We question the legality and the constitutionality of it."

The association questioned the program's constitutionality, saying that it would illegally supercede interstate commerce laws. The group also said it was unfair to single out port trucks. Studies have shown that the average age of a California cargo truck is 12.2 years, or just seven months younger than a port truck.

But German Merino, 53, said that his 1996 Freightliner Condo, which has several hundred thousand miles on it, was a heavy polluter. "I smell the oil burning and the diesel all day, and I work 14 to 16 hours a day," the Bellflower resident said. "For 23 years I have been part of this awful system. It has to change.",1,2593982.story

See another example of working folks getting screwed - this time, in construction.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Dumbest of Death Trips

About six months after the invasion of Iraq, around November of 2003, I had dinner with my father, who lives in Los Angeles and was in Santa Barbara for the day. He's voted Republican ever since I could remember, so I was surprised when all of the sudden he said, "I hate Bush." "Why, dad," I asked? And mentally finished the sentence - you voted for him in 2000, and he cut your taxes. Dad replied, "because he kills people for no reason."

That pretty much sums up the situation. We're still stuck in the DMPWE (Dumbest Most Pointless War Ever, though "ever" should really be "recently."). The death on all sides is disgusting, and I am sorry to have to remind us that we are going to pay and pay and pay for the dumb guys' unbelievable, heartless, brainless errors.

The only bright spot is that the press is running some good obituaries, and the LA Times had several today, including this particularly wrenching one, about the death of a perfect son, Felix Gonzalez-Iraheta from Sun Valley, CA. I call this a bright spot only because it has forced big newspapers to talk about regular folks for a change, meaning we can read about the invisible ones, the non-rich and non-famous who keep going and keep everything going at the same time. When we forget who works - quite different from who runs things - we have collectively lost our souls.

R.I.P Sgt. Gonzalez-Iraheta, and Steven Packer, and Christopher Moore, and the other 37 of you that DOD announced as dead in the DMPWE. We will honor you by getting our souls back.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Wake Up - We're Brown

There's all this focus on immi- gration, and then there's the population that's already here. The National Bureau of Education Statistics issued a good report on the racial and ethnic composition of the country's schools. Two highlights, based in part on Sam Dillon's good piece in the New York Times yesterday:
  • the "minority" share of the school population has gone from 22% to 42% since 1972. In the West, whites fell from 73% to 46%. Latino enrollments went from 6% in 1972 to 20% in 2005. Black enrollments stayed about the same (14.8% to 15.6%). Rock the continent!
  • Students study more now than they did then, and more kids of every race take Advanced Placement courses. For example, "in 1980, 7 % of 19th graders reported spending 10 hours a week or more on homework, but by 2002 that number had risen to 37%, more than a fivefold increase."
Anyone ready to freak out about the browning of America might stop for one second to wonder if there's link between more minority students and more studying and achievement. It's not linear, but it's fun to think about. Asian American students have an eligibility rate for the University of California that is three times higher than that of whites. A study by Dick Flacks at UC Santa Barbara showed that students of color spend many more hours a week studying and working for fee and rent money than do their white counterparts. There's more where those facts came from.

But there's a big gap between the people who vote (overwhelmingly white) and the people who have kids in public school (much less white). Stereotypes die hard, and mere facts aren't going to keep voters from voting to cut their own taxes with the excuse that those ghetto kids can't or won't learn anyway so why fix their falling-down schools?

That's too bad, because as this blog loves to point out, there's never been a middle class in the history of the world that didn't depend on good public services. Meaning roads, hospitals, schools and the rest of the new deal. So we can either vote to tax and spend and lift everybody up, or let racial suspicion continue the current decline. Plan A or Plan D - there are no other plans.

Don't be dumb.