Category Archives: Social values

Obama Pretends to Put Immigration Reform in Play

I’m reluctant to write about immigration reform, given that when the topic of illegal aliens comes up in posts on labor policy, too often there’s an upsurge of xenophobic, even racist, comments and a dearth of thoughtful discussion. So let this introduction serve as a warning: I’d like to use this piece to serve as a point of departure for discussing what a good immigration reform policy would look like, so we can have benchmarks for measuring what comes out of Obama’s promise that he would move immigration reform reform forward in an address Thursday evening.

But bear in mind that Obama’s speech and proposal for immigration reform is almost all public relations to cover up an action that is hard to swallow: making a bad situation worse by suspending deportations for illegal immigrants. Of course, cynics might argue that we’ve had flagrant non-enforcement of the law as far as elite bankers were concerned; why not extend that privilege to the other end of the food chain?

Obama’s pretext is that this action is a forcing device to get the Republicans to pass a “responsible” immigration reform bill. But the real political calculus is all too obvious.

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Wisconsin as a Frontier of School Privatization: Will Anyone Notice the Looting?

I never dreamed that a class I took in college, The Politics of Popular Education, which covered the nineteenth century in France and England, would prove to be germane in America. I didn’t have any particular interest in the topic; the reason for selecting the course was that the more serious students picked their classes based on the caliber of the instructor, and this professor, Kate Auspitz, got particularly high marks. The course framed both the policy fights and the broader debate over public education in terms of class, regional, and ideological interests.

The participants in these struggles were acutely aware that the struggle over schooling was to influence the future of society: what sort of citizens would these institutions help create?

As the post below on the march of school privatization in Wisconsin demonstrates, those concerns are remarkably absent from current debates. The training of children is simply another looting opportunity, like privatizing parking meters and roads.

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Does It Pay for Firms to Invest in Their Workers’ Wellbeing?

Yves here. While the findings of this short paper on the merits of employers promoting their workers’ job conditions, that viewpoint is perversely unfashionable today. It is somehow seen as more beneficial to employers to keep their minions cowed and fearful. One of the most active threats is the ease of firing workers. And of course, the belief that employment is tenuous works against the notion of making any investment in employees, even ones that are actually self-serving. But notice that this article does have a specific definition as to what “wellbeing” amounts to, which is workplace satisfaction. A major element appears to be bosses not acting like jerks.

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University of Southern Maine Becomes “Administration of Southern Maine” as Students Protest Faculty Firings

Earlier this year, it looked as if the University of Southern Maine might become one of the rare places where students and faculty would be able to hold the line against the yet more looting by the bureaucratic classes. The woes besetting the USM are a microcosm of how higher education expenses are escalating as a result of administration feather-bedding and vanity projects. When those prove to be too costly, it’s the faculty and students that bear the brunt of the expense-shedding. As Lambert wrote in March:

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Satyajit Das: Animal Crackers – Watching Bankers Watching etc.

Anthropologists study humans. Ethnographers, a related social science, study people and cultures, trying to understand specific human societies through observation and recording. Once, it entailed well-meaning, idealistic, ambitious, shy, lonely or misanthropic [cross out as required] men and women travelling to distant and exotic locations to study less well known tribes and peoples. Like a great deal of social science, the work reveals more about the structure of knowledge, methodology and the researchers than in does about the subject of study. Writing in the 21 July 1988 edition of The Guardian, Nancy Banks-Smith provided an astute assessment of anthropology: “the science which tells us that people are the same the whole world over—except when they are different”.

In recent times, with the increasing scarcity of newly discovered, loin clothed natives, researchers have turned their attention to professional ‘tribes’ within developed societies, including financiers.

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Young and Under Pressure – Europe’s Lost Generation

Yves here. Even though this post hews to the convention of a describing the labor market conditions in Europe in clinical terms, the data reveals deeply troubling conditions, such as a high and in some countries rising level of families with no wage earner, which sets the stage for the continuation of poverty, as well as putting them in danger of becoming homeless. “Lost generation” is too kind a term to depict the conditions facing the young. Instead of being able to make choices and at least to a degree, shape their future, they are desperately trying to find a foothold of any kind.

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Hedges and Wolin on How New-Style Propagandizing Promotes Inverted Totalitarianism

Yves here. The Real News Network continues with its discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin of what Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” One of the focuses here is how skillful fragmentation of the public, and keeping various groups separate from, and better yet, suspicious of each other, has helped greatly reduced the cost of keeping this system in place.

Younger readers may not recognize how radical the transformation of public discourse has been over the last 40 years. While there were always intellectuals who were largely above consuming much mass media, as well as political groups on the far right and left that also largely rejected it, in the 1960s and well into the 1980s, mass media shaped political discourse. There were only three major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS. They hewed to generally the same outlook. Similarly, there were only two major news magazines: Time and Newsweek, again with not much distance between in their political outlook. The Wall Street Journal was a stock market newspaper with little general news coverage. The New York Times didn’t aspire to be a national newspaper until the 1990s. Local newspapers were much more influential in their markets then than now, but they seldom deviated much from the national middle of the road, pro-middle class sentiment. The sort of fragmentation that this interview mentions is in part a result of the Karl Rove strategy of focusing on hot-button interests of narrowly-sliced interest groups, along with media fragmentation which has made it easier to target, as in isolate, them.

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Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on Inverted Totalitarianism as a Threat to Democracy

Yves here. We’ve been featuring what we consider to be standout segments in an important Real News Network series, an extended discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on capitalism and democracy. This offering focuses on what Wolin calls “inverted totalirianism,” or how corporations and government are working together to keep the general public in thrall. Wolin discusses how propaganda and the suppression of critical thinking serve to a promote pro-growth, pro-business ideology which sees democracy as dispensable, and potentially an obstacle to what they consider to be progress. They also discuss how America is governed by two pro-corproate parties and how nay “popular” as in populist, candidate gets stomped on.

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Bob Goodwin: ‘Drug’ is a Teetering Social Concept

Yves here. Bob Goodwin discusses how the idea of legal versus illegal drugs has become a more obviously porous barrier than it was in his youth, even given the differences in how those differences are enforced across income/racial groups.

One thing that Bob may have deemed to be so obvious as to not be worth discussing is the casualness of prescribing what amount to performance-enhancing drugs to children, such as Ritalin and Adderall, along with troublingly frequent dispensing of antidepressants. Studies on safety are all short term; the idea of messing with the chemistry of developing brains, save in circumstances when the child is in acute distress, is heinous. Yet in parallel, kids have wised up and use various prescription stimulants, most notably Adderall, as study and test aids. I recall reading a New Yorker article on it at least a decade and maybe even more than a dozen years ago, on how utterly routine it was for kids in elite private schools to get these drugs prescribed, or filch their parents’ supplies, and trade them among their peers. My understanding is that the use of these drugs during exams, and for some students, on an ongoing basis, is routine.

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The Unattainable Illusion of Meritocracy

I’m a big fan of Richard Bookstaber, the author of the important book A Demon of Our Own Design. And while I’m glad to see a rare new post from him, on how to deal with the matter of inequality (as in whether to deal with the problem ex ante, by creating more equal opportunities, or ex post, by trying to reduce disparities of outcomes), I found one of the core parts of his discussion, on merit and meritocracy, to be maddening. In fairness, this isn’t Bookstaber’s fault; he’s working within an established framework of thinking on this topic.

Repeat after me: in complex societies and organizations, merit is a complete illusion.

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Can Capitalism and Democracy Co-Exist?

Yves here. Real News Network is running an eight-part series on capitalism and democracy, with Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin as interlocutors. I thought the second segment in the series, which is historically focused, to be particularly strong. It seeks to trace the evolution of what they call corporate capitalism, or what we’ve sometimes called Mussolini-style corporatism.

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