Feb 28

Deal with it

So, NY Times readers, not only does the paper continue to employ Thomas Friedman and his opinion column for dummies wherein trite platitudes and unchecked claims of fact rule the day, we now have a columnist who declares that people with flammable drinking water should just stop stamping their feet and get over it.

Joe Nocera, a business columnist for the Times, writes today from his lofty perch that hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” isn’t going away and we should just deal with it. He claims that notwithstanding the already copiously documented environmental consequences and irresponsible behavior of the oil and gas companies extracting the buoyant blight from the shale rock deep below the earth’s surface, we should roll over and take it because “ that gas is too important to leave it in the ground.” Continue reading

Feb 28

Fair Measure of Damages

With growing pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce the principal balance on underwater mortgages across the United States, It’s imperative that we all understand the scope of the damage.

People did not act irresponsibly en masse:

The public perception endures that so many American’s bought homes that they could not afford, that a large scale reduction in mortgage principal would amount to a rewarding of those who  knowingly bit off more than they could chew.  This is simply not the case. To be fair, a small number or individuals and families borrowed against what they believed was real equity in their homes to purchase cars, boats, garden gnomes, and all sort of toys and gadgets. However, the vast majority of those originating mortgages during the height of the housing bubble between 2002 and 2006 did so in an honest attempt to purchase housing for themselves and their families at what they believed was a fair price. Continue reading

Feb 27

It’s the Thinking Stupid, Sweater-Vest Edition

Rick Santorum, fresh from castigating college graduates and accusing Barack Obama of hating plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and mechanics of all shapes and sizes, defended his remarks on Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. First as a matter of housekeeping, and this should come as no surprise, Santorum took the President’s remarks completely out of context. More importantly however, he illustrated the Republican Party’s complete and utter lack of understanding of the purpose of education and their fundamental inability to see even the slightest distinction between any two things.

Santorum’s comments on Saturday:

“President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

“There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them,” “Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

On Sunday, Santorum refused to walk back his comments:

“I think because there are lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college, because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don’t include college,” Santorum said. “And to sort of lay out there that somehow this should be everybody’s goal, I think, devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don’t go to college and don’t want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college, you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them.”

And:

“I mean, you look at the colleges and universities,  this is not something that’s new for most Americans, is how liberal our colleges and universities are and how many children in fact are – look, I’ve gone through it. I went through it at Penn State.”

“You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed, you are — I can tell you personally. . . I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views. This is sort of a regular routine. You know the statistic . . . that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it. This is not a neutral setting.”

For the record, what Obama actually called for, first in 2009 was:

“Tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”

Let’s put aside the blatant falsehoods and give Santorum some credit for his own education. One would have to assume that he knows most of what he said is pure bullshit. For example, he must surely be aware that there is absolutely no evidence that anyone is indoctrinating students at major universities in the United States with some liberal 99% serum, and almost no evidence that “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”  However, bullshit or not, he misses the point of higher education entirely, and for that, he does his supporters, many of whom are in dire need of education, no favors.

Higher education is not about simply practically applying some set of skills to the labor market upon graduation.  One is free to attend a trade or vocational school, a community college, or embark on an apprenticeship at any point in their life. It need not be the second one completes high school, a point at which almost no one is actually psychologically mature enough nor emotionally prepared for a long term career of any kind.  In fact, in practice it is progressives who truly value the people who do the most difficult and back breaking work in America. It is progressives who fight for higher wages in the careers requiring the least education and the most labor intensive jobs in this nation. It is the Republican Party that seeks to manipulate the very lack of formal education in many folks to their own nefarious ends. That being said, I do not believe that Rick Santorum is bright or politically connected enough to be invited to the closed door meetings in which the conspiracy to limit access to education as a social strategy is planned. So his statements are nothing more than political pandering on the one hand, and a fundamental and sad misunderstanding of education on the other.

Education, more specifically higher education, is more than a means to an end. It is a pathway to a better and more well rounded life. College is where we learn about basic history, the system of government in the United States and differing systems around the world, basic accounting, literature, among many other disciplines that might just help a person in any career. It is where we are confronted by others who do not agree with us, or look like us, or think like us, and where we are forced to make decisions based upon this conflicting information.  There is no shame in not attending college in order to pursue a career. Santorum is correct in that not each and every person desires to be a doctor, lawyer, social worker, or teacher. Most importantly, and most downright frightening to Republicans and the 1%, is that college teaches us to question, to be curious, to not take each and every bit of information provided to us by those in power and simply accept it. We are taught to challenge information if we believe it to be false, and to fight to change public and private policies if they are unfair. Because of this, it is a fundamental right of all people to have access to affordable higher education. If one desires to become a carpenter, plumber, truck driver, or electrician, he or she will then have the benefit of new skills. Many of these skills will undoubtedly serve the person well in even these professions, most importantly if they become small business owners.

To Obama’s credit he hit back today saying:

“We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door handling a million dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school,” Obama told the governors. “We all want American getting those jobs of the future, so we’re going to have to make sure they’re getting the education they need.”

Whomever chooses to forgo higher education is no less one of us, as we are all ultimately inherently equal, but to sell the idea that rejecting college is somehow noble, is indeed a dangerous and treacherous idea.

 

Feb 24

Operation Shoot Yourself in the Foot

Just days before the Michigan Republican Primary, the rumblings of Operation Hilarity grow louder and louder. While I understand the goal of this action and those similar to it, I oppose it both on principle and as a practical matter.

First, while the thought of the Republican candidates pointing their tiny little hypocritical fingers at one another for weeks or even months longer than would otherwise be the case in this primary is an exciting idea, there is no reason for progressives to get knee deep into the proverbial “fight fire with fire” muck normally espoused by the right and it’s mouthpieces. For lack of a better justification for my position, it’s simply bad sportsmanship. It lacks a certain intellectual creativity I rather expect from progressives.

Second, Rick Santorum could ultimately win. He could absolutely ride the tidal wave of the insane Tea Party, Shoot First Study Later, They Took ‘R Jaaaabs masses, now wrapped up to their armpits in the kelp of anti-intellectualism all the way to the convention and wind up the Republican nominee. Moreover, we must not forget that the United States electorate saw fit to send George W. Bush to the Oval Office, not once, but twice. Rick Santorum, assisted by some ridiculous foolishness in the Eurozone or continued mass speculation in oil futures and derivatives, could find himself with a majority of the Electoral College this November.

The alternative, should the moneyed interests cabal conjure a stew of economic uncertainly and false nationalism, is an Obama loss to Mitt Romney, which I find to be far more palatable. For if there is one thing I know about Mitt Romney, it’s that if the public winds blow forth a call for socialized medicine and a National Park made only of half-pipes, organic kale and patchouli gardens, that is precisely what we’ll get.