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Posts Tagged ‘politics

“A world constructed from the familiar is the world in which there’s nothing to learn”*…

 

bubble

 

In a surprising new national survey, members of each major American political party were asked what they imagined to be the beliefs held by members of the other. The survey asked Democrats: “How many Republicans believe that racism is still a problem in America today?” Democrats guessed 50%. It’s actually 79%. The survey asked Republicans how many Democrats believe “most police are bad people”. Republicans estimated half; it’s really 15%.

The survey, published by the think tank More in Common as part of its Hidden Tribes of America project, was based on a sample of more than 2,000 people. One of the study’s findings: the wilder a person’s guess as to what the other party is thinking, the more likely they are to also personally disparage members of the opposite party as mean, selfish or bad. Not only do the two parties diverge on a great many issues, they also disagree on what they disagree on.

This much we might guess. But what’s startling is the further finding that higher education does not improve a person’s perceptions – and sometimes even hurts it. In their survey answers, highly educated Republicans were no more accurate in their ideas about Democratic opinion than poorly educated Republicans. For Democrats, the education effect was even worse: the more educated a Democrat is, according to the study, the less he or she understands the Republican worldview.

“This effect,” the report says, “is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree.” And the more politically engaged a person is, the greater the distortion.

What could be going on? Bubble-ism, the report suggests…

Arlie Hochschild explains: “Think Republicans are disconnected from reality? It’s even worse among liberals.”

* Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble

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As we contemplate commonality, we might recall that it was on this date in 37, following the death of Tiberius, that the Roman Senate annulled Tiberius’ will and confirmed Caligula, his grandnephew, the third Roman emperor.  (Tiberius had willed that the reign should be shared by his nephew [and adopted son] Germanicus and Germanicus’ son, Caligula.)

While he has been remembered as the poster boy for profligacy, Caligula (“Little Boots”) is generally agreed to have been a temperate ruler through the first six months of his reign.  His excesses after that– cruelty, extravagance, sexual perversity– are “known” to us via sources increasingly called into question.

Still, historians agree that Caligula did work hard to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor at the expense of the countervailing Principate; and he oversaw the construction of notoriously luxurious dwellings for himself.  In 41 CE, members of the Roman Senate and of Caligula’s household attempted a coup to restore the Republic.  They enlisted the Praetorian Guard, who killed Caligula– the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated (Julius Caesar was assassinated, but was Dictator, not Emperor).  In the event, the Praetorians thwarted the Republican dream by appointing (and supporting) Caligula’s uncle Claudius the next Emperor.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

March 18, 2020 at 1:01 am

“a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”*

 

White Collar Crime

 

Over the last two years, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.

And why wouldn’t they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. In January 2019, white-collar prosecutions fell to their lowest level since researchers started tracking them in 1998. Even within the dwindling number of prosecutions, most are cases against low-level con artists and small-fry financial schemes. Since 2015, criminal penalties levied by the Justice Department have fallen from $3.6 billion to roughly $110 million. Illicit profits seized by the Securities and Exchange Commission have reportedly dropped by more than half. In 2018, a year when nearly 19,000 people were sentenced in federal court for drug crimes alone, prosecutors convicted just 37 corporate criminals who worked at firms with more than 50 employees.

With few exceptions, the only rich people America prosecutes anymore are those who victimize their fellow elites. Pharma frat boy Martin Shkreli, to pick just one example, wasn’t prosecuted for hiking the price of a drug used to treat HIV from $13.50 to $750 per pill. He went to prison for scamming investors in a hedge fund scheme years before. Meanwhile, in 2016, the CEO whose company experienced the deadliest mining disaster since 1970 served less than one year in prison and paid a fine of 1.4 percent of his salary and stock bonuses the previous year. Why? Because overseeing a company that ignores warnings and causes the deaths of workers, even 29 of them, is a misdemeanor

A bracing look at an alarming phenomenon, and at the forces that drive it: “The Golden Age of White Collar Crime.”

See also this interactive “heat map” of “White Collar Crime Risk Zones,” from @sam_lavigne and his colleagues, and this paper on the cost of white collar crime– more than $300 Billion per year as of 2015; likely more now– and who pays for it (HBS pdf).

rich [Paul Noth in The New Yorker, via Jack Shalom]

* Criminologist Edwin Sutherland’s definition of white collar crime, 1939

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As we equilibrate equity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933, the day after the German Parliament building (the Reichstag) was damaged by arson, that President Hindenburg issues the Decree for the Protection of People and the Reich…

Though the origins of the fire are still unclear, in a propaganda maneuver, the coalition government (made up of Nazis and the Nationalists) blamed the Communists. They exploited the Reichstag fire to secure President Hindenburg’s approval for an emergency decree, popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree, that suspended individual rights and due process of law. The Reichstag Fire Decree permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge, dissolve political organizations, and to suppress publications. It also gave the central government the authority to overrule state and local laws and overthrow state and local governments. The decree was a key step in the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship. Germany became a police state in which citizens enjoyed no guaranteed basic rights and the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi state, wielded increasing authority through its control over the police.   [source]

 

Reichstag fire source

 

Written by LW

February 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Who are you?”*…

 

Detail-of-Francois-Vase-side-B-Theseus-and-the-11-Athenian-Youths-8522828050_d7f4aea77f_o

Detail of the François kratēr: the ship of Theseus (fragment from vase) source

 

In the metaphysics of identity, “the ship of Theseus” (legendary Greek hero and founder of Athens) is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object.  One of the oldest concepts in Western philosophy, it was discussed by the likes of Heraclitus and Plato by ca. 500-400 BC; it first appeared in written form in Plutarch:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same…

Vita Thesei, 22-23

Philosophers and theorists of identity still wrestle with the questions it raises…

Suppose that the famous ship has been kept in a harbor as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, all of the parts had been replaced.   The question then is if the “restored” ship is still the same object as the original.

If it is then supposed that each of the removed pieces were stored in a warehouse, and after the century, technology developed to cure their rotting and enabled them to be put back together to make a ship, then the question is if this “reconstructed” ship is still the original ship.  And if so, then what of the restored ship in the harbor?

Explore the puzzle at “The Ship of Theseus and the Question of Identity, ” “This thought experiment will have you questioning your identity,” “Identity, Persistence, and the Ship of Theseus,” and “Ship of Theseus.”

And for nifty list of appearances by the paradox in pop culture, see here.

* Peter Townsend and The Who

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As we interrogate identity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1856 that Millard Fillmore was nominated for the Presidency by the (altogether-accurately named far right nativist) Know-Nothing Party.  Fillmore, who had been elected Vice President in 1848 had ascended to the presidency in 1850, when Zachary Taylor died, but then failed to get his own party’s– the Whig’s– nomination to run for re-election in 1852.  In 1856, Fillmore turned to the Know-Nothings in (an ultimately unsuccessful) attempt actually to be elected to the highest office.

He was finally trumped by Gerald Ford, who was not even elected– but was appointed in 1973 by Richard Nixon– to the Vice-Presidency, then assumed the top job on Nixon’s resignation in 1974.  Ford beat back a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan to win the Republican nomination in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter.

Millard Fillmore, by Matthew Brady (1850)

 

Written by LW

February 18, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Genuine equality means not treating everyone the same, but attending equally to everyone’s different needs”*…

 

inequality

 

In 2014, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the “greatest dangers in the world.” A plurality put inequality first, ahead of “religious and ethnic hatred,” nuclear weapons, and environmental degradation. And yet people don’t agree about what, exactly, “equality” means. In the past year, for example, New York City residents have found themselves in a debate over the city’s élite public high schools, such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Some ethnicities are vastly overrepresented at the schools, while others are dramatically underrepresented. What to do? One side argues that the city should guarantee procedural equality: it should insure that all students and families are equally informed about and encouraged to study for the entrance exam. The other side argues for a more direct, representation-based form of equality: it would jettison the exam, adopting a new admissions system designed to produce student bodies reflective of the city’s demography. Both groups pursue worthy egalitarian goals, but each approach runs against the other. Because people and their circumstances differ, there is, Dworkin writes, a trade-off between treating people equally and treating them “as equals.”

The complexities of egalitarianism are especially frustrating because inequalities are so easy to grasp. C.E.O.s, on average, make almost three hundred times what their employees make; billionaire donors shape our politics; automation favors owners over workers; urban economies grow while rural areas stagnate; the best health care goes to the richest. Across the political spectrum, we grieve the loss of what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “general equality of conditions,” which, with the grievous exception of slavery, once shaped American society. It’s not just about money. Tocqueville, writing in 1835, noted that our “ordinary practices of life” were egalitarian, too: we behaved as if there weren’t many differences among us. Today, there are “premiere” lines for popcorn at the movies and five tiers of Uber; we still struggle to address obvious inequalities of all kinds based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity. Inequality is everywhere, and unignorable. We’ve diagnosed the disease. Why can’t we agree on a cure?…

We all agree that inequality is bad.  But what kind of equality is good?  A thoughtful consideration:  “The Equality Conundrum.”

* one answer, from Terry Eagleton

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As we seek balance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that the Nashville Sit-ins began.  Part of a nonviolent direct action campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, they ran through May 10.  The sit-in campaign, coordinated by the Nashville Student Movement and Nashville Christian Leadership Council, was notable for its early success and emphasis on disciplined nonviolence.  It was part of a broader sit-in movement that spread across the southern United States in the wake of the Greensboro sit-ins in North Carolina.

300px-Rodney_Powell_Nashville_sit-ins_1960 source

 

Written by LW

February 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The writing of history reflects the interests, predilections, and even prejudices of a given generation”*…

 

archive

History, as a discipline, comes out of the archive. The archive is not the library, but something else entirely. Libraries spread knowledge that’s been compressed into books and other media. Archives are where collections of papers are stored, usually within a library’s inner sanctum: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s papers, say, at the New York Public Library. Or Record Group 31 at the National Archives—a set of Federal Housing Administration documents from the 1930s to the ’70s. Usually, an archive contains materials from the people and institutions near it. So, the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford contains everything from Atari’s business plans to HP co-founder William Hewlett’s correspondence.

While libraries have become central actors in the digitization of knowledge, archives have generally resisted this trend. They are still almost overwhelmingly paper. Traditionally, you’d go to a place like this and sit there, day after day, “turning every page,” as the master biographer Robert Caro put it. You might spend weeks, months, or, like Caro, years working through all the boxes, taking extensive notes and making some (relatively expensive) photocopies. Fewer and fewer people have the time, money, or patience to do that. (If they ever did.)

Enter the smartphone, and cheap digital photography. Instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians can snap pictures of the documents and then look at them later. Ian Milligan, a historian at the University of Waterloo, noticed the trend among his colleagues and surveyed 250 historians, about half of them tenured or tenure-track, and half in other positions, about their work in the archives. The results quantified the new normal. While a subset of researchers (about 23 percent) took few (fewer than 200) photos, the plurality (about 40 percent) took more than 2,000 photographs for their “last substantive project.”

The driving force here is simple enough. Digital photos drive down the cost of archival research, allowing an individual to capture far more documents per hour. So an archival visit becomes a process of standing over documents, snapping pictures as quickly as possible. Some researchers organize their photos swiping on an iPhone, or with an open-source tool named Tropy; some, like Alex Wellerstein, a historian at Stevens Institute of Technology, have special digital-camera setups, and a standardized method. In my own work, I used Dropbox’s photo tools, which I used to output PDFs, which I dropped into Scrivener, my preferred writing software.

These practices might seem like a subtle shift—researchers are still going to collections and requesting boxes and reading papers—but the ways that information is collected and managed transmute what historians can learn from it. There has been, as Milligan put it, a “dramatic reshaping of historical practice.” Different histories will be written because the tools of the discipline are changing…

Alexis Madrigal takes a deep dive into how archives– and the ways that we use them– are morphing: “The Way We Write History Has Changed.”

* John Hope Franklin

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As we “turn every page,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1812 that Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry signed the redistricting legislation that led to his being accused of the first instance of “gerrymandering” in the U.S.

In 1812 the state adopted new constitutionally-mandated electoral district boundaries. The Republican-controlled legislature had created district boundaries designed to enhance their party’s control over state and national offices, leading to some oddly shaped legislative districts. Although Gerry was unhappy about the highly partisan districting (according to his son-in-law, he thought it “highly disagreeable”), he signed the legislation. The shape of one of the state senate districts in Essex County was compared to a salamander by a local Federalist newspaper in a political cartoon, calling it a “Gerry-mander.” Ever since, the creation of such districts has been called gerrymandering. [source]

220px-The_Gerry-Mander_Edit

The word “gerrymander” (originally written “Gerry-mander”) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette newspaper on March 26, 1812.[78] Appearing with the term, and helping spread and sustain its popularity, was this political cartoon, which depicts a state senate district in Essex County as a strange salamander-shaped animal with claws, wings and a dragon-type head, satirizing the district’s odd shape.

source

 

“In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull”*…

 

newspaper-inverted-1536x846

 

No one news source is trusted by a majority of U.S. adults, and Republicans trust Fox News far more than any other news outlet, according to a report out Friday from Pew. Democrats trust CNN about as much as Republicans trust Fox News, Pew found, but the difference is that while “no other source comes close to rivaling Fox News’ appeal to Republicans, a number of sources other than CNN are also highly trusted and frequently used by Democrats.”

Pew surveyed 12,043 U.S. adults about their trust of 30 news sources in November and December 2019. It found that, for political and election news, “greater portions of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic express trust than distrust in 22 of 30 news sources asked about. More Republicans and Republican leaners distrust than trust 20 of the 30 sources.”

Republican distrust in news has also risen over time. When Pew conducted a similar study in 2014, Republicans still distrusted the majority of sources asked about — but over the past five years there’s been “notable growth in Republicans’ distrust of CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times,” which also tend to be Trump’s favorite news sources to bash. Democrats’ trust levels have shifted significantly less since 2014.

It’s worth noting, though, that not trusting a news source is not the same as not watching or reading it. A previous Pew study found that 14 percent of Americans say they get news from a source they distrust; among conservatives, that number is 26 percent. Scholars have their theories why…

The bifurcation of civil discourse: “Republicans and Democrats live in “nearly inverse news media environments,” Pew finds.”  Read the Pew Report (part of their Election News Pathways Project) in full here.

* “In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamor. Enlil heard the clamor and he said to the gods in council, “The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer possible by reason of the babel.” So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind.”   – The Epic of Gilgamesh

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As we seek common ground, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that the Beatles gave their last public performance– an impromptu concert from the roof top of Apple Studios in London.  Neighbors complained about noise, and police broke up the concert…  at which point John Lennon closed with: “I’d like to say thank you very much on behalf of the group and myself, and I hope we passed the audition.”  Get Back!

source

 

Written by LW

January 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: ‘I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.'”*…

 

McKinsey

 

 

McKinsey has a lot of high-flying rhetoric about strategy, sustainability, and social justice. The company ostensibly pursues intellectual and business excellence, while also using its people skills to help Syrian refugees. That’s nice.

But let’s start with what McKinsey is really about, which is getting organizational leaders to pay a large amount of money for fairly pedestrian advice. In MacDougall’s article on McKinsey’s work on immigration, most of the conversation has been about McKinsey’s push to engage in cruel behavior towards detainees. But let’s not lose sight of the incentive driving the relationship, which was McKinsey’s political ability to extract cash from the government. Here’s the nub of that part of the story.

The consulting firm’s sway at ICE grew to the point that McKinsey’s staff even ghostwrote a government contracting document that defined the consulting team’s own responsibilities and justified the firm’s retention, a contract extension worth $2.2 million. “Can they do that?” an ICE official wrote to a contracting officer in May 2017.

The response reflects how deeply ICE had come to rely on McKinsey’s assistance. “Well it obviously isn’t ideal to have a contractor tell us what we want to ask them to do,” the contracting officer replied. But unless someone from the government could articulate the agency’s objectives, the officer added, “what other option is there?” ICE extended the contract.

Such practices used to be called “honest graft.” And let’s be clear, McKinsey’s services are very expensive. Back in August, I noted that McKinsey’s competitor, the Boston Consulting Group, charges the government $33,063.75/week for the time of a recent college grad to work as a contractor. Not to be outdone, McKinsey’s pricing is much much higher, with one McKinsey “business analyst” – someone with an undergraduate degree and no experience – lent to the government priced out at $56,707/week, or $2,948,764/year.

How does McKinsey do it? There are two answers…

The estimable Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) explains: “Why Taxpayers Pay McKinsey $3M a Year for a Recent College Graduate Contractor.”

See also: “How McKinsey Makes Its Own Rules.”

[Image above: source]

* “Everybody is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”  —  George Washington Plunkitt, New York State Senator and “Sage of Tammany Hall

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As we reconsider consultants, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, despondent after the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides, set himself afire in his home town of Sidi Bouzid… a central catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution— the Jasmine Revolution– and the wider Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes throughout the region.

220px-Mohamed_Bouazizi_2 source

 

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