Sunday, October 31, 2010

Recovery Strategy for Very Serious People

So, it seems that David Broder has put into words what is on the Collectively Wise Mind of the Very Serious People in DC and it has put people into a bit of a tizzy. Links below:
Of all of them, Krugman has the most fun (and gets to the heart of the matter most quickly) with Broder's post.  I am a bit amazed at the seriousness of the responses, especially by the economists, who try to demonstrate the idiocy and denounce the suggestion. Paul's ironic, almost laconic, reply cuts to the chase: This is a pronouncement by one of the Very Serious People, and so must be taken more seriously than the silly scribbles of shrill economists or their equivalents in other intellectual fields. This is the High Priest of Bi-Partisanship who has spoken, and Bob Somerby's Incomparable Archives give us a decade of equally gobsmackingly dumb statements that have governed the course of the nation.

Yves Smith's NYT Op-Ed

For those of you who would prefer to not give the NYT your traffic, Yves has posted the text of the op-ed on her own site.

Our New York Times Op-Ed: How the Banks Put the Economy Underwater

The opening paragraphs:
In Congressional hearings last week, Obama administration officials acknowledged that uncertainty over foreclosures could delay the recovery of the housing market. The implications for the economy are serious. For instance, the International Monetary Fund found that the persistently high unemployment in the United States is largely the result of foreclosures and underwater mortgages, rather than widely cited causes like mismatches between job requirements and worker skills.

This chapter of the financial crisis is a self-inflicted wound. The major banks and their agents have for years taken shortcuts with their mortgage securitization documents — and not due to a momentary lack of attention, but as part of a systematic approach to save money and increase profits. The result can be seen in the stream of reports of colossal foreclosure mistakes: multiple banks foreclosing on the same borrower; banks trying to seize the homes of people who never had a mortgage or who had already entered into a refinancing program.
Read the whole thing.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Of Hicks and Hacks

I was reminded by the Spousal Unit of a post by Brad DeLong a little over a year ago (Health Care Reform: Memories of 1994) that fits quite well with the themes I've been writing about. DeLong notes (my emphasis):
After President Clinton's 43 percent plurality victory in the presidential election of 1992, I worked as a spear carrier in the U.S. Treasury Department under Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. The plurality view in the Treasury Department throughout 1993 and up through the middle of 1994 regarding the health-care reform situation had six analytical pieces:

(1) There were not even 50 votes available in the U.S. Senate for any health-care reform bill sponsored by President Clinton. It did not matter what the bill included or how good the policy might be, because key Democratic senators placed a higher priority on teaching the hick from Arkansas that he was not their boss; they were determined to vote against it. Thus even though the Democrats had a majority in the Senate, they could not pass Clinton's bill—whatever it was—even if the Republicans did not filibuster it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Plebian Acts

The Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, seems to be channeling my writings about the cultural Stevensonians all this week. He talks about the cultural blindness in The Fruits of Our Blinkered Elites:
“That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial,” Charles Murray wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. “That its members differ from former elites is not controversial.” Murray went on to explain what this means; according to Murray, this “New Elite” differs from earlier elites in that its members earn their status through high performance in universities and then in graduate schools.

After that, they inter-marry—and breed. The process starts again.

Clouds and Clarity

A picture of a hundred (or so) words is worth more than when they were spoken:

Obama's word cloud

Lambert's cloud formations, comparing Obama's words to FDR's, is self explanatory.

Update - While I agree that the word clouds are drawn form different kinds of speaking events (a closed conference and a public address respectively), the patterns of language are what fascinate me. In a smaller venue with members of the ostensible intelligentsia, I'd expect to see more substantive language. Given the condition of the economy, I'd expect to see a lot of terms addressing that topic. What I see is vapidity. With a national speech, I'd expect to see more generalities, more platitudes. Instead, I see action words, things asking people to do things or talking about paths to be taken. There is also a broad range of words that are emphasized more or less equally, in comparison to the verbal imbalance of the former.

I'd like to see the speeches reversed or to have a more recent president compared to Obama. If that's done, I'll link to it. Update - Please look in the comments. CMike has posted a set of links to word clouds of different president's inaugural addresses.


Marketing & Sales

I have to make mention of Yves Smith's excellent rant, Obama No Longer Bothering to Lie Credibly: Claims Financial Crisis Cost Less Than S&L Crisis (my emphasis):
I’m so offended by the latest Obama canard, that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 cost less than 1% of GDP, that I barely know where to begin. Not only does this Administration lie on a routine basis, it doesn’t even bother to tell credible lies. .And this one came directly from the top, not via minions. It’s not that this misrepresentation is earth-shaking, but that it epitomizes why the Obama Administration is well on its way to being an abject failure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

WKJM's Frustration

A friend sent me a link to a TPM editorial post by WKJM where the pool boy claims "Now, before saying anything else, let me say that there's never been a bigger fan of Bill Clinton's than me (though I had some wavering in 2008)." before launching into a totally bizarre put down of , well, you tell me (I'll provide the entire post so it is all in context):
A report surfaced today that Bill Clinton is frustrated as heck that the Dems can't manage to get a coherent or persuasive message together for the midterms. And he's even doing what he can to get together good talking points for candidates and stump in all the right places to help save the Democratic majorities even if the current leaders can't manage it themselves.

Now, before saying anything else, let me say that there's never been a bigger fan of Bill Clinton's than me (though I had some wavering in 2008). And I've never doubted his intuitive political skills, which make him -- whatever else you think of him -- one of the consummate, defining political players of the 20th century. And, as you've seen if you've read what I've written over the last three months, I've been distressed by the Democrats' inability or unwillingness to grasp hold of what winning political issues there are in such a rough climate.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Capital Expenditure

One of the most telling things George W. Bush is alleged to have said (I'm too lazy to look up the quote) was that if he had political capital, he was going to spend it. He said this as a comparison to his father's administration, which he believed lost political capital because it wouldn't spend it. ("Wouldn't be prudent!")

And, boy howdy, did he ever. He spent every last cent of political capital he gained from 9/11 to pursue his wars and cement his class's stranglehold on the nation's wealth - and pursuit of both happily coincided. Revolting as his actions were, he did what any strong, smart politician does, namely waste no opportunity in which to advance his interests, because at some point, you'll be out of power and you will no longer have those opportunities. That's what it means to spend capital. It is an investment in anticipated future returns, something that may begin as a debt but (through the miracle of compound interest and good borrowing terms) may turn into a very large asset indeed. If nothing else, your capital may get others to toss some of theirs into the kitty and then you can hold a "liquidity event" and cash out. The key here is using capital to raise more capital. It is an entrepreneurial mode and can fail catastrophically (see, LBJ, Vietnam) when a venture goes bad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Of Reds, Racists and Rubes

One of the reasons I don't blog much anymore is that I said most of what I had to say between November of 2007 and the election the following November, when the general ideas I had about the state of the liberal mind in America came to life before my very eyes. Those 480 posts were me theorizing out loud. The over-arching theme was the fault line within the Democratic Party (which I had been haphazardly posting about since the previous electoral cycle in 2006, when the Lieberman debacle started to expose the fissure) that has only widened.

Accusations of racism, obsession with reducing political opponents to racists, and a reflexive lunge for racism as the true root of opposition to the Obama administration/ health care/organic produce/ insert issue of the week here looks and sounds like nothing so much as the Red-baiting tactics of McCarthy and Nixon back in the day. Just as that obsession (revived today under the "Socialist! epithet being attached to someone whose policies are well to the right of Tricky Dick's) had roots in both the pre-New Deal strength of labor and the danger of the "Commie" Russians and Chinese (usually confounded with the fascist Nazis), so, too, does the racism obsession have it's roots in slavery and segregation. As I discussed in The Whiteness of the Whale, reversal of the Democratic Party's traditional defense of racism became the defining characteristic of the party after Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act Act (about which LBJ said "I know the risks are great and we might lose the South, but those sorts of states may be lost anyway.").

As with the Right's use of anti-Communism, the Left's use of racism as a political trope to delegitimize opponents (to be distinguished from battling actual racism, which would entail relinquishing the historical privilege those liberal elites enjoy, just as actually abiding by true capitalist/free market ideology would wipe out the "socialism for the rich" advantages of the Right's elite) is sounding more like the crazy uncle than describing any reality I can observe.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Attacking the 50 Foot Woman

While much of the blogosphere is talking about the audacity of Virginia Thomas trying to shame Anita Hill into taking back her testimony against Clarence (read Historiann's take on the matter), I want to bring up something that isn't online as far as I can tell, but needs some analysis. And it's kind of related to the nonsense being inflicted on Ms. Hill.

The Spousal Unit reads Mother Jones online a fair amount, mostly to follow Kevin Drum's blog and for the occasional article. A family member gave him a subscription to the dead-tree version of it as a birthday present and the first issue arrived yesterday.

The cover, which I looked for but could not find posted on the web site, is a variation on the iconic movie poster pictured here. In this pulp classic, a wealthy woman who is being abused and cheated on by her scumbag husband has a run in with an alien from outer space and is transformed into a 50 foot tall giant. Her husband attempts to murder her with a lethal injection, but fails. She goes after him and his mistress, kills the mistress and seizes him. She is killed by an explosion and her homicidal spouse is crushed when she falls with him grasped in her hand. Good cheesy fun.

The Mother Jones cover has turned the scantily clad, rampaging female into Sarah Palin standing over a suburban street and crushing a house in her left hand while minivans and SUVs careen in the street and tiny human figures (of tastefully multi-ethnic skin tones) flee in a panic.  The headlines emblazoned across the cover say "ATTACK ON THE MIDDLE CLASS!" "A confused & frightened citizenry votes against its own self-interest" "They say they're taking back America, but really they're taking... your money!!!"

No, really. It's just like that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Popular is as Popular Does

I laughed out loud at lunch today when I read this article in the LA Times, Clinton outshines Obama as campaign trail surrogate, poll finds:
According to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday, more voters of all political persuasions said they were more likely to back a candidate if Democrat Clinton campaigned for him or her, than if the campaigner were President Obama, who is fighting to keep Democrats in control of Congress.

The poll found that 53% of Democrats said Clinton’s personal endorsement would carry weight compared to 48% who said Obama’s would. On the negative side, 5% of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate if Clinton campaigned, while 6% said they would be more hostile if it were Obama. The differences between those numbers translates into what the poll said was a net of 48 for Clinton and 42 for Obama.

Clinton and Obama fare less well with Republicans and independents but the former president, free of the burden of actually being in office and having to make tough decisions, again gets the edge. Neither Democrat carries much weight with either group, but Clinton is less hurtful by a ratio of about 2 to 1 among Republicans.

Among independents, 21% said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who was baked by Clinton compared to 12% who said the same about Obama.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Not a full thought here, but a reflection on a deep problem with the locavore/localvore (I've seen it spelled both ways) "movement". The gist of their argument is that by eating "locally" (ostensibly food grown within a certain distance of their home and often including other conditions such as being organic, purchased "from the grower", and bought at a "farmers" market), you are using fewer resources, avoiding the horror of industrial farming, getting better quality/more nutritious foodstuffs and generally are are more virtuous person than your neighbor who buys vegetables from the big supermarket chain.

These claims have a ring of truth, especially the feelings of moral superiority. Intuitively, we think food grown nearby should have a smaller carbon footprint than food grown three states over or in another country. Isn't it better to have food that isn't grown with chemical pesticides? Aren't organic farming methods less destructive to farmland and riverine systems?

Safe Browsing

I wrote an article back in June for the readers of the fanfiction site I maintain, Henneth Annun Story Archive. The topic of the article is how to quickly and effectively configure your PC and browser to give you a fighting chance against the malware and nosy advertising firms. I wrote it to combat the rampant fear mongering in the computer world where it is more important to seem hip and cool by bashing Windows than it is to present practical information about how to avoid 99.9% of the trouble.

Safe Browsing

It is fairly comprehensive, with an explanation of how exploits happen and then a walk through of securing your computer, complete with screen grabs and helpful links. It is for Windows users running at least XP SP3, and discusses the two most popular browsers, IE and Firefox.

While you can jump right to the browser settings, I encourage you to go through the whole thing and build your security from the ground up. I spend time debunking Conventional Wisdom (just as moronic in the computer world as amongst the denizens of Versailles) and do my best to explain both how to get something done and why its a good idea to do so.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's Not Big Brother You Have to Worry About

Corrente regular twig has a post (All Your Informations Are Belong To Us!) that provides a link to a WSJ Article 'Scrapers' Dig Deep for Data on Web which does a decent job of reporting about the screen scraping industry. There's the usual hyperventilation in the comment threads in both locations, with good points all about, but most of all there seems to be some significant confusion about who is getting what and through what means.

I work for an organization that helps government agencies collect, store, combine, concatenate and utilize massive amounts of data. On the one hand, massive amounts of data is collected on a daily basis. On the other hand, there's not a hell of a lot the government can do with it. Why? Resource constraints. There aren't enough people and dollars to crunch the numbers, and even fewer to make sense of the information coming out the other end. On the third hand (yeah, I've got more hands than Kali), the data that does get analyzed is hedged around with very strict rules about who can read it, where it can go, and so forth. Audit trails usually include access to the information. It's hard to leak information without it being traceable back to the leaker. For the most part, the paranoid fantasies of what the government is doing with your information are laughably overblown. I add to that the ego-deflating fact that you just aren't that interesting. No one in power give a fuck who you are and what you say. The government gets bad-mouthed by bigger names than you.

As for the paranoiacs that see the gummint coming after them for taxes, ppphhhht. The IRS will probably find out that you tried to hide your gambling winnings and the cash-only rental unit in your garage, and sadly will do so with more zeal than it will look for the Merry Banksters' billions of dollars in public loot, but municipalities these days are so strapped for cash they can't afford to collect on outstanding debts below a certain threshold. The City of San Diego can't afford to track down parking violators to collect the fines, for example, unless they are really big.

The data collectors to worry about is where there is a profit to be made, namely in insurance and credit industries. There, weeding out (or, in credit's case, being able to target) marginal customers can make fractions add up rapidly. HR departments are probably next, to try to avoid hiring liabilities, but they're more likely to rely on your credit scores than your Facebook posts. Lots of bills to them means an inattentive or irresponsible employee, especially if accompanied by regular but short-tenure employment. Having been tapped to review resumes and conduct interviews in every one of my last six jobs, most people don't make the cut because they give shit-awful interviews. They never make it to the background check stage. But back to the data collectors. The insurance and credit industries are the folks with the deep pockets to buy, crunch and commodify your information. Their sole goal is to reduce you to an algorithm that can determine your position on a scorecard of likely customers. I consider this to be the most pernicious form of data collection.

There are also the marketeers who want to sell you shit and try to figure out your buying habits to sell you more of what you already buy and/or things similar to what you are buying. The holy grail of this crew is a universal web cookie that will track your every move and purchase. They rip through your emails on the major on-line providers, they stuff flash cookies on your system, they can conduct instant auctions based on your cookies and the page you are on to price, sell and push out targeted advertising. I admit to a certain respectful awe to the instantaneous nature of their markets.

Then there are the criminals who infest your system with worms and make zombies of your machines. They either want to key log your activities and clean out your bank account, or use your processing power for brute force attacks on database servers, or both. (News flash - using non-Microsoft products will not make you safer.) Criminal botnets will run as long as there is someone dumb enough to click a too-good-to-be-true email link. 

The fundamental problem is that the US does not recognize and protect a citizen's right to privacy. The practical problem is that people are a bunch of yahoos when it comes to protecting their own privacy.  Facebook participants don't seem to understand that they are the merchandise. Information about who you are and what you do can make someone else money. As I've said for years, Google's entire business model is get information about you and sell it to someone else as often as possible. It's not just online, though. Anything electronic can be used - your credit cards, your grocery rewards cards, your checks, your campaign contributions.

My biggest "privacy" breach at the moment is Huffington Post offering up my campaign contribution history to anyone who types in my name. Guess what? Arianna has just guaranteed that I will never again provide a campaign contribution. My next biggest problem (because I know how to prevent online data gathering - it pays to be in the industry) is from my credit card use. The credit companies sell my buying records and coordinate ad campaigns with large retail entities. For example, AMEX just sent me an offer to get $10 rebate if I'll buy 4 Fresh & Easy branded products and spend $50 before the end of the month, which means they searched for all card holders within X miles of the new F&E and created a dynamic offer. Yes, I took the offer as I could buy four products for less than $10. Yup, I'm one of the yahoos - and so are you.

If someone wanted to, they could piece together my blogger persona with my real life one, and I doubt that connection would cost me more than some embarrassment (and probably gain me some high-fives). The political writing is not what makes me vulnerable. The data that makes me vulnerable is the credit and health info. My credit is inextricable from having above the poverty level financial dealings. I can't move to all-cash and frankly wouldn't want to. Health specifics aren't listed on any web site. There's not much I an do about insurance records.

To the degree I have a digital privacy strategy, it is to stay away from Facebook and other social networking sites and carefully limit where I leave digital footprints when I'm online. That's more to deter the marketeers than anything.

My biggest solace is knowing, because I am involved in the IT side of things, how fragile digital information is. I know how easily it is lost and accidentally deleted, how bad the storage media are, how incompatible information schema can be, how quickly formats become irretrievable, how frantically companies try to make past records systems obsolete, and that as energy becomes more dear, data will get dumped.

It's fun to scare ourselves with fantasies of Big Brother, but the fears ring a little hollow when blared from Facebook and Blogger.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another Day, Another Dollar

Just over a year ago, I posted a pair of articles - Red Queen on Food and Do the Math - talking about how food fits into the budget of a family in poverty, and why food choices follow certain patterns when you face extreme budget constraints.

I'd like to draw my readers' attention to this photo essay by Jonathan Blaustein, The Value of a Dollar. In it, he presents 20 photographs, each of them depicting one dollar's worth of food. The photos I found most interesting were the picture of the fast food chain's hamburger, the juxtaposition of grapefruit from different stores, and the blueberries.

Also, as a follow on to my post Check Out, where I discussed the move away from personal checks in grocery stores, the Fresh & Easy store in my neighborhood opened recently and I've been to it a few times. It's an odd fish, that's for sure. While some may compare it to Trader Joe's because of the size, it has more in common with Ralphs or Albertsons. The food selection is more conventional (though it's approach to packaging fresh fruit & vegetables is clearly taken from TJs) and they carry more staple items. My back of the shopping list estimate is that it is cheaper on most staple items (butter, cooking oil, sugar) than the big markets and has a slightly wider selection than Traders. Prices at TJs are better, though. Their checkout is mostly self service and, as mentioned in the earlier post, is cash or card only.

My neighborhood is thrilled by the new addition. It has a slightly industrial grunge feel to it - a world away from the wholesome, handmade facade of Whole Foods - and already feels like it's been gently molding in the area for a few years. I've bought mostly staples there; a good deal on a two-pack of bacon, cheap granulated sugar and the best price in the area for peanut oil. Prices for bread and meat don't seem too bad. In short, it does seem to fill a niche left open by traditional grocers.

Where it can't compete is with the small local markets that sell odd and "ethnic" products, and seem to have the corner on vegetable seconds. There's the local IGA, a chain of "Mexican" markets and some specialty food places that provide slightly dinged and often downright weird vegetables and fruits that sell for a fraction of what the classier places can offer. $0.47/lb for cauliflower, $0.25/bunch for flat-leaf parsley, $0.49/head celery, and four different kinds of eggplant for less than $1.00/lb. You have to use them up within a day or so, but it's a better deal than anything else around. Even at these prices, though, the costs add up - especially when $1.00 can be spent on a hamburger that will keep a kid going for hours and someone else has paid the price for food storage and preparation, or seven packages of ramen which can stretch some meat leftovers and frozen vegetables for several meals.

Nutritious food is often more expensive than it needs to be, especially when wrapped in the marketing glitz of "organic", "local", and "natural." Even when purchased cheaply, it's not clear that it is a better deal than "junk" food if your budget is inflexible and you have to put enough calories on the table to work through the day.

I will say categorically that there is no way 10 blueberries are worth $1.00. Someone may be stupid enough to pay that much, but they aren't worth it.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Unforced Errors

As I read the follow-ups and comments on this issue in news paper columns, comments threads and blogs, it's clear that Brown's defenders do not understand what kind of political problem they have stepped into. I am reading too many claims that people are not understanding all the possible meanings and connotations of the word "whore" as applied to political figures, and that it isn't misogynistic, it is a true and factual description of Meg Whitman, and don't we know how she is double-dealing on the public employee pension reform, yadda-yadda, none of which addresses the political problem.

Let's be clear about Whitman. Meg Whitman is a member of the dominant social class that mostly identifies as Republican, but not always, and is currently trying to return this country to a pre-New Deal condition. She is trying to win office to protect the interests of her class and position herself for a run at the White House. Bashing public employees in California is hot this electoral season just as much as winning the support of those self-same people is crucial to ballot box success. She is cutting political deals to get enough votes to win the election, just like every other candidate does. Her actions are unexceptional and completely conventional in the context of campaigning. This does not make her into anything except a candidate. She is not a political problem for the Democrats though she is proving to be an electoral problem.

The political problem is the lackluster and tone-deaf campaign Jerry Brown is running and the larger failure of the Democrats to take seriously the disaffection of large blocks of Democratic constituencies after the horrific slash-and-burn primaries of 2008. In particular, the deliberate deployment of misogyny opened wounds that have not healed for many of us who previously and strongly identified as Democrats and who now are not willing to give candidates, especially male candidates, much leeway in how they and their campaigns deploy gender-based appeals and attacks.

Given that Hillary wiped the floor with The Precious in California in the primary back then and given the high proportion of female Democratic office holders, party functionaries and voters in California, you'd think Gov. Moonbeam would have the sense God gave geese and be very certain not to allow a breath of anything in or around his campaign that would hint of sexism or misogyny. That he and his staffers do not "get it" is the political problem. There is also the strategic problem that they have shut down attention to Whitman's Arianna Huffington-esque "nanny problem"that was keeping her on the defensive.

It also follows on the heels of Jerry making an ass of himself by attacking Bill Clinton after a series of clever ads by Whitman, with Moonbeam offering rude and crude comments about the Lewinsky mess. Big Dog had to come in and save Jerry's ass as well as showing the fool how an expert handles these things. Bill just smiled and thanked Whitman for bringing him back to the attention of the California electorate - with special thanks for bringing such a young and good looking version of himself back - and exclaimed about how popular he was and how much people were talking about him now, which forced a comparison between the peace and prosperity of his administration and the Republican mess that followed. He made the target of his attack the Republican record, not Jerry Brown's petulance over a decades old loss.

Further, the use of the term whore (sorry, I won't call it "the w-word") wasn't an outburst in the midst of a heated debate, but calmly put forth as a deliberate strategic move. How anyone could think that publicly calling a female opponent a whore could be a winning or advantageous strategy boggles the imagination.

But there is a further dimension to this political problem that is going unnoticed by most political analysts. On the Spanish language radio stations, Whitman is running some very careful ads. She's making clear that she did not support Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant Prop 187, a measure that rallied Hispanic voters in California and throughout the Southwest and brought many over to the Democrats. She's also very clear to say she does not support the current hoohah in Arizona. (The fact that Pete Wilson is running her campaign only makes the irony more delicious.) Appealing to Hispanic voters and peeling as many as possible away from the Democrats is necessary for a Whitman win. She needs to distance herself from the anti-immigrant fanatics in her party while connecting on traditional family and social norms.

This starts opening up that whole messy cultural signifiers stuff that the Democrats have been failing on for the last few electoral cycles. The term whore has a different resonance in a Hispanic family than it does for the Whole Foods Nation crowd. There, in Jerry's cultural clan, the term is more ironic (especially when a hip guy jokingly uses it as a put-down for another hip guy), understood in its more abstract sense and not implying actual prostitution. This comes through in the comments and columns trying to wangle out some technical, less-female centric connotation of the word.

In a family like my husband's, a good solid working-class, Central Valley, traditional Catholic group, whore means, well, whore - a deadly insult to the woman so named and an attack on the honor of her entire family. It doesn't matter if Jerry's Jerks didn't mean it that way. That's the semiotics of the word in that setting.

It is reminiscent of Obama's clueless blather on people who cling to guns and God because they don't know better, another statement made in a situation where only insiders were supposed to hear it. Such a statement could only be made by someone who hasn't a freaking clue of how those words will be interpreted by other audiences. I don't know which one is worse - a wholesale if impersonal dismissal of millions of voters by a callow and arrogant candidate or a deliberate, malicious and personal targeting of an opponent by a worn-out and arrogant candidate. Both have the effect of needlessly antagonizing Democratic constituencies.

At present, the only thing saving the Democrat's collective ass is the lack of effective candidates on the Right, mostly due to the infighting of the Republicans. The claim of the 2008 campaign that The Precious would bring a newer, younger, hipper, more culturally acceptable constituency to the Democrats has been proved false.

These are unforced errors on Brown's part, all the worse for doing damage within the Democratic fold.

Belated - Support Corrente!

Wading through my backlog of emails, I was embarrassed to find out that I totally missed Corrente's recent fund raising campaign.

Please visit Corrente and read up on all the incredible things the insightful and fearless crew over there provide on a daily basis.

Better yet, throw some spare change in the donate bin and, if your finances allow, consider subscribing.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Whores, sluts, cunts, and bitches

On Thursday, The Times reported that the Los Angeles Police Protective League provided an audio recording of Brown calling the union to discuss an endorsement. Brown apparently failed to hang up, and then had a conversation with his aides discussing strategy in response to potential police endorsements for Whitman. Whitman had earlier exempted public safety officials from key parts of her pension reform plan — at the same time she said Brown would bend to labor's desires on the issue.

An unidentified voice can be heard saying, "What about saying she's a whore?"

"Democrats urge Brown to apologize over remark about Whitman" - LA Times

I guess my surprise over this remark is that anyone is surprised. The article above tries to minimize the problem by placing it within the context of tough political infighting. The problem, however, is that this is an automatic response to obstreperous women as such and is not a result of tempers running high in an electoral contest.

The use of sexual slurs against women who refuse to behave the way their opponents or competitors want them to behave is normal behavior. It is a culturally acceptable standard for maintaining power relationships between the sexes - women who fail to comply are sexual misfits who deserve to be disciplined for their transgressions. The discipline ranges from name calling and public shaming to rape and murder.

Was Jerry Brown the person who said this? Irrelevant. What matters is that the political left is just as comfortable throwing this around as anyone on the right. Misogyny is an equal opportunity tool of power.

Can you imagine someone in the Brown campaign casually tossing out "What about saying she's a spic/nigger/coon/wop/chink?" (assuming the female opponent is a person of color)? Nope, not even in a private conversation. Yet using comparably derogatory gender-specific language is done without hesitation, and all-too-easily defended with a heated "But she is one!" as justification for the slur. Really? "Whore"? Why not hypocrite, panderer, liar, fraud or any other term that would have been applied to a male opponent? Terminology that is both more accurate and more politically appropriate.

The problem is the unproblematic acceptance of using of women's sexuality as a method to invalidate their participation in the public realm. No matter who the woman is, no matter her political affiliation, no matter her actual behavior, it is perfectly acceptable to casually refer to her as a cunt or a bitch in conversations in a way that calling someone a dago or a yid wouldn't fly and where fag or fairy is raising eyebrows. To describe a woman engaging in any kind of deals or agreements that her opponent dislikes (whether because they are objectionable transactions or merely that they gain her some perceived advantage) as a whore or slut - someone bargaining her sexual favors - is likewise acceptable. Using the term "whore" with regards to a man is not really intended to call his morals into question; it is to feminize and delegitimize him as someone ready to be penetrated.

Which starts to point back to the foundations for the derogation of women in the first place, of course, but that's a bigger topic. The tagline for this blog (You say I'm a bitch as if that were a bad thing...) points directly at the way my gender is used to deny my humanity - that I'm not just a dog, but I'm a female dog - normalizing male as fully human and female as something apart, ontologically distinct as it were. It's my starting point into my political thinking because it is the irreducible fact of my life - that I must provide arguments to demonstrate that I deserve to be treated as fully human.

Back to the gubernatorial campaign. An apology for calling a woman a whore for having engaged in ordinary campaign bargaining misses the mark. An apology is simply "Ooops, our bad. We'll hang up the phone next time. Sorry you feel offended. (snicker)". It is words. The only reassuring action would have been to hear, as the next element in the phone conversation, a roar of disgust that someone attached to the campaign would dare utter that suggestion.

It didn't happen. Sorry, Jerry. I'll be writing in your sister's name in November.