Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Teabaggers' Treasure Is This Blogger's Dreck!

On the eve of tricks or treats, Ben Sargent struck a chord with this blogger with the reference to "dreck in today's editorial 'toon.

[x Austin Fishwrap]
Campaign Dreck
By Ben Sargent

Click on image to enlarge
Copyright © 2010 The Austin American-Statesman/Ben Sargent

[Ben Sargent was the editorial cartoonist for the Austin American-Statesman from 1974 to 2009; Sargent's cartoons still appear on an irregular basis. His cartoons are also distributed nationally by Universal Press Syndicate. Sargent was born in Amarillo, Texas, into a newspaper family. He learned the printing trade from age twelve and started working for the local daily as a proof runner at fourteen. He attended Amarillo College and received a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1970. Sargent won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1982. He has also received awards from Women in Communications, Inc., Common Cause of Texas, and Cox Newspapers. He is the author of Texas Statehouse Blues (1980) and Big Brother Blues (1984).]

If this is (fair & balanced) scatological analysis of dreck — aka Glenn Dreck — in this blog, so be it.

[x MoJo]
Glenn Beck, America’s Historian Laureate
By Greg Grandin

Tag Cloud of the following article

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Americans, it's been said, learn geography when they go to war. Now, it seems, many get their history when they go to a Tea Party rally or tune in to Glenn Beck.

History is a "battlefield of ideas," as Beck recently put it, while looking professorial in front of a blackboard filled with his trademark circled names connected by multidirectional arrows, his hands covered with chalk dust. In this struggle, movement historians like Beck go all in, advancing a comprehensive interpretation of American history meant to provide analytical clarity to believers and potential converts alike. As paranoid as it may be, this history is neither radical nor revisionist, since the Tea Party activists and their fellow travelers pluck at some of the major chords of American nationalism.

It's easy to dismiss the iconography of the movement: the wigs and knee breeches, the founding-father fetishism, the coiled snakes, and, yes, the tea bags. It's no less easy to laugh at recent historical howlers like the claims of Dick Armey, who heads FreedomWorks, a corporate Tea Party front, that Jamestown was settled by "socialists" or the Texas School Board's airbrushing of Deist Thomas Jefferson from its history textbooks. It's fun to ridicule Beck, as Jon Stewart recently did, when he goes all "Da Vinci Code," and starts connecting Woodrow Wilson, Mussolini, and ACORN in order to explain 2008's economic collapse.

But historical analysis is about making connections, and there is, in fact, coherence to the Tea Party version of history, which allows conservative cadres not just to interpret the world but to act in it. And yes, it is all about race.

The 1040 Archipelago

At the heart of Tea Party history is the argument that "progressivism is fascism is communism." Conceptually, such a claim helps frame what many call "American exceptionalism," a belief that the exclusive role of government is to protect individual rights—to speech, to assembly, to carry guns, and, of course, to own property—and not to deliver social rights like health care, education, or welfare.

At Tea Party rallies and on right-wing blogs, it's common to hear that, since the time of President Woodrow Wilson, progressives have been waging a "hundred-year-long war" on America's unique values. This bit of wisdom comes directly from Beck, who has become something like the historian laureate of American exceptionalism, devoting many on-air hours to why progressivism is a threat equal to Nazism and Stalinism.

Progressives, he typically says, "started a hundred-year time bomb. They planted it in the early 1900s." Beck has compared himself to "Israeli Nazi hunters," promising, with language more easily associated with the Nazis than those who pursued them, to track down the progressive "vampires" who are "sucking the blood out of the republic."

As Michael Lind pointed out in a recent essay at, behind such Sturm-und-Drang language lurks a small group of relatively obscure historians, teaching in peaceful, leafy liberal arts colleges, many of them influenced by the late University of Chicago political theorist Leo Strauss. They argue that the early twentieth-century progressive movement betrayed the very idea of universal natural rights invested in the individual, embracing instead a relativist "cult of the state." As a result, a quest for "social justice" was elevated above the defense of "liberty"—a path which led straight to the gulag and the 1040 short form. From there, it was an easy leap to History's terminus: the Obamacare Death Panels.

These historians and their popular interpreters, especially Beck and Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism, naturally ignore the real threats to individualism that the turn-of-the-twentieth-century progressive movement was responding to—namely a massive concentration of corporate political and economic power and Gilded Era "wage slavery." Instead, they present history as a zero-sum, all-or-nothing "battlefield of ideas," with the founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill on one side, and Jefferson Davis, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, and Obama on the other. The individual versus the state. Freedom versus slavery.

In such an epic view of American history, there is, however, a fly in the ointment or, more accurately, a Confederate in the conceptual attic—and that's the inability of the Tea Party and affiliated right-wing movements to whistle past Dixie.

Is the Tea Party Racist?

Of course it is. Polls confirm that Tea Party militants entertain deep-seated racial resentment. In April, a New York Times/CBS News study revealed that most tea partiers tend to be over 45, white, male, affluent, and educated and think that "too much has been made of the problems facing black people." A high percentage of them also believe that Obama favors blacks over whites.

But to say the movement is racist based only on the spit and vitriol hurled at African-American congressmen and civil rights activists like Emanuel Cleaver, or on the placards depicting Obama as a monkey or a pimp, allows for rebuttal. The minute the reality of the spitting incident is challenged and "Don't Tread on Me" is substituted for "Go Back to Kenya," voilĂ , the movement is instantly as wholesome as apple pie.

A debate over a recent University of Washington poll helps us understand why the movement is racist no matter which slogans and symbols it chooses to use. The poll found that "support for the Tea Party remains a valid predictor of racial resentment." When right-wingers offered the criticism that the pollsters' methodology conflated racism with support for small-government ideology, they reexamined their data and found themselves in agreement (of a sort) with their critics. "Ideology," they wrote in a follow up, was indeed an important factor, for "as people become more conservative, it increases by 23 percent the chance that they're racially resentful." In other words, it wasn't membership in the Tea Party movement per se that predicted racism, but conservatism itself (though the Tea Party does have a higher percentage of members who displayed racism than conservatism in general).

This should surprise no one. After all, the Founding Fathers cut Thomas Jefferson's description of slavery as an "execrable commerce" and an "assemblage of horrors" from the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, and race has been crucially embedded in the conception of the patriot ideal of the sovereign individual ever since. As Harvard historian Jill Lepore has written about the original Boston Tea Party, the colonists had a choice: "either abolish slavery... [or] resist parliamentary rule. It could not do both." Many in Virginia, of course, didn't want to do both. Instead, they simply defined the defense of slavery as part of American liberty.

While Jefferson, himself a slaveholder, failed in his effort to extend the notion of individual inalienable rights to blacks, he was successful in setting two rhetorical precedents that would continue to influence American political culture. First, he used chattel slavery as a metaphor for British tyranny, equating the oppression of Africans with the oppression of the white colonists. At the same time, he stoked racial fears to incite rebellion: King George III, he wrote, was "exciting" blacks to "rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering" whites. One could draw a straight line from these words to George H.W. Bush's infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad.

From then on, the ideal of the assertion and protection of individual rights was regularly bound up with racial demonology. Anglo genocidal campaigns against and land theft from Native Americans, for instance, contributed to the influential theories concerning property of John Locke, who before Beck arrived on the scene, was considered "America's philosopher," the man most associated with the notion of God-given inalienable individual rights and restricted government.

Once such theories were formulated, they were then used to further justify dispossession, contributing, as law professor Howard Berman put it, to the "Americanization of the law of real property." The nineteenth century was known for a frenzied speculative capitalism that generated staggering inequality. At the same time, eliminationist wars that drove Indian removal, the illegal invasion of Mexico by the United States in 1846, and the ongoing subjugation of African Americans helped stabilize the Daniel Boone-like image of a disciplined, propertied, white male self—and did so by contrasting it with racial enemies who were imagined to be unbridled (like the speculative capitalists), but also abject and property-less.

The Civil War cemented the metaphor whereby the free individual was defined by (and endangered by) his opposite, the slave, and has been used ever since to frame conflicts that often, on the surface at least, don't seem to be about race at all. It's a point nicely illustrated recently by Dale Robertson, a prominent Tea Party organizer, who carried a sign at a rally that read: "Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar." Beck, for his part, has identified ACORN, the Service Employees International Union or SEIU, the census, and the healthcare bill, among other threats, as laying the foundation for a "modern-day slave state" in which, of course, his overwhelmingly white following could be reduced to the status of slaves. As to progressives, he has said that, "back in Samuel Adams' day, they used to call them tyrants. A little later I think they were also called slave owners, people who encourage you to become more dependent on them."

Sometimes, though, it really is just about race: "Obama's Plan," announced one placard at a Wisconsin Tea Party gathering, would lead to "White Slavery."

Lock-And-Load Populism

When Tea Partiers say "Obama is trying to turn us into something we are not," as one did recently on cable TV, they are not wrong. It's an honest statement, acknowledging that attempts to implement any government policies to help the poor would signal an assault on American exceptionalism, defined by Beck and likeminded others as extreme individualism.

The issue is not really the specific content of any particular policy. As any number of frustrated observers can testify, it is no use pointing out that, say, the healthcare legislation that passed is fundamentally conservative and similar to past Republican healthcare plans, or that Obama has actually lowered taxes for most Americans, or that he gets an F rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The issue is the idea of public policy itself, which, for many on the right, violates an ideal of absolute individual rights.

In other words, any version of progressive taxation, policy, and regulation, no matter how mild, or for that matter, of social "justice" and the "common good"—qualities the Texas School Board recently deleted from its textbook definition of "good citizenship"—are not simply codes for race. They are race. To put it another way, individual supremacy has been, historically speaking, white supremacy.

This helps explain why it is impossible for the anti-Obama backlash to restrain its Tourette-like references to the Civil War to frame its fight, or its rhetorical spasms invoking secession and nullification, or its urge to carry Confederate flags as well as signs equating taxpayers with slaves. That America's first Black president's first major social legislation was health care—something so intimately, even invasively about the body, the place where the social relations of race are physically inscribed (and recorded in differential mortality rates)—pushed the world-turned-upside-down carnival on display every night on Fox News, where the privileged fancy themselves powerless, another step toward the absurd.

The deepest contradiction may, however, lie in this: the teabaggers who reject any move by Big Government when it comes to social policy at home remain devoted, as Andrew Sullivan recently wrote, to the Biggest Budget-Busting Government of All, the "military-industrial-ideological complex" and its all-powerful commander-in-chief executive (and surprising numbers of them are also dependent on that complex's give-away welfare state when it comes to their livelihoods).

As James Bovard, a consistent libertarian, has observed, "many 'tea party' activists staunchly oppose big government, except when it is warring, wiretapping, or waterboarding." For all the signs asking "Who is John Galt?," the movement has openly embraced Arizona's new "show-me-your-papers" immigration law and mutters not one complaint over the fact that America is "the most incarcerated society on earth," something Robert Perkinson detailed in Texas Tough, his book on the Lone Star roots of the US penitentiary system. The skin color of those being tortured, rounded up, and jailed obviously has something to do with the selective libertarianism of much of the conservative movement. But this passion for pain and punishment is also an admission that the crisis-prone ideal of absolute individualism, forged in racial violence, would be unsustainable without further state violence.

Behind the lock-and-load populism and the kitsch calls to "rearm for revolution" is a recognition that the right's agenda of corporate deregulation—the effects of which are evident in exploding coal mines in West Virginia and apocalyptic oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico—can only be achieved through ceaseless mobilization against enemies domestic and foreign.

Here's an example: "I know that the safety and health of coal miners is my most important job," said Don Blankenship at a corporate-funded Friends of America rally held in West Virginia last Labor Day, where speakers such as Ted Nugent and Sean Hannity spoke out against tyrants, regulation, "Obama and his cronies," taxes, cap-and-trade legislation, unnamed "cockroaches," China, green technology, and, naturally, gun control. Blankenship just happens to be the CEO of Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 workers recently lost their lives.

He is also famous for waving the banner of individual rights even as he presides over a company that any totalitarian state worth its salt would envy, one that intimidates "its workers into a type of lock-step compliance that most often takes the form of silence," including threats to fire workers who take time off to attend the funerals of the dead miners. Wrapping himself in the American flag—literally, wearing a stars-and-strips shirt and baseball cap—Blankenship told that Labor Day crowd that he didn't "need Washington politicians to tell" him about mine safety. Seven months later, 29 miners are dead.

The End of American Exceptionalism

And here's the irony, or one of them anyway: in the process of defining American exceptionalism as little more than a pitchfork loyalty to individual rights, Beck and other right-wingers are themselves becoming the destroyers of what was exceptional, governmentally speaking, about the United States. Like John Locke's celebration of inalienable rights, Founding Father James Madison's distrust of the masses became a distinctive feature of American political culture. Madison valued individual rights, but in the tripartite American system of government he worked hard to help fashion, a bulwark meant to contain the passions he knew they generated. "Liberty is to faction what air is to fire," he wrote in 1787, and in the centuries that followed, American politicians would consistently define their unique democracy against the populist and revolutionary excesses of other countries.

Today, though, not just Fox News Jacobins like Beck and Hannity but nearly the entire leadership of the Republican Party are fanning those flames. Newt Gingrich hopes the Tea Party will become the "militant wing of the Republican Party," looking to hitch his political fortunes to a movement now regularly calling for a "second bloody revolution." It is hard to think of another time in American history when one half of the political establishment has so wholly embraced insurrectionary populism as an electoral strategy.

Considering the right's success at mimicking the organizing tactics of the left, it would be tempting to see recent calls for rebellion and violence as signs that the conservative movement is entering its Weathermen phase—the moment in the 1960s and 1970s when some left-wing activists succumbed to revolutionary fantasies, contributing to the New Left's crackup. Except that violence did not really come all that easy to the American leftists of that moment. There was endless theorizing and agonizing, Leninist justifying and Dostoevskian moralizing, from which the left, considering the ongoing finger-pointing and mea culpas, still hasn't recovered.

In contrast, conservative entitlement to the threat of violence is so baked into American history that, in moments like this, it seems to be taken for granted. The Tea Party crowd, along with its militia, NRA, and Oath Keeper friends, would just as easily threaten to overthrow the federal government—or waterboard Nancy Pelosi—as go golfing.

On the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building, which left 168 people dead and 600 wounded, gun-rights militants held a rally at the capital mall in Washington, along with a smaller, heavily armed one across the Potomac, where speaker after speaker threatened revolution and invoked the federal siege of Waco to justify the Oklahoma bombing. This is the kind of militancy Gingrich believes the Republicans can harness and which he tenderly calls a "natural expression" of frustration.

Where all this will lead, who knows? But you still "don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Ω

[Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University. His most recent book, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (2009), just published in paperback, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was picked by the New York Times, the New Yorker, and NPR for their "best of" lists. A new edition of his previous book, Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006), will be published later this year. Grandin received degrees in history from Brooklyn College (BA), CUNY (MA), and Yale (PhD).]

Copyright © 2010 Mother Jones/Foundation for National Progress

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Problem O'The Day? It's The Stupidity, Stupid!

The great philosopher, Forrest Gump, said: "Stupid is as stupid does." The Hee-Haws are calling the Dumbos... dumber than dirt. We will get the government we deserve on November 2, 2010. If this is (fair & balanced) vacuity, so be it.

[x Salon]
It's The Stupidity, Stupid
By David Sirota

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Redistributionist — as epithets go, the moniker is so mild, so... 2008. Today, we're hammered by screeds against Democrats' alleged socialism and President Obama's supposed Marxism. The class war is clearly on — the paranoids and royalists of the world have united, seizing the means of propaganda production in these waning days of this year's election campaign.

The onslaught, of course, is predictable. After all, this is an election season, which inevitably evokes redbaiting crusades by the plutocrats. Less predictable is this crusade's traction. As Wall Street executives make bank off bailouts, as millions of Americans see paychecks slashed and as our economic Darwinism sends more wealth up the income ladder, it's surprising that appeals to capitalist piggery carry more electoral agency than ever.

What could cause this intensifying politics of free-market fundamentalism at the very historical moment that proves the failure of such an ideology? Two new academic studies suggest all roads lead to ignorance.

The first ["Building A Better America — One Wealth Quintile At A Time" (PDF)], by Harvard's Michael Norton and Duke's Dan Ariely, finds that Americans grossly underestimate how much inequality our economy produces. Among the survey respondents, the vast majority said they believe the richest 20 percent own 59 percent of the wealth, when, in fact, that quintile owns 84 percent of the wealth. In other words, in spite of the data, many believe our system produces the moderate equality we desire, which means many see efforts to better spread wealth as a confiscatory overreach.

That, however, is not the full story of 2010. Because this now-ascendant economic view relies on misperceptions about inequality, we are still left to wonder: What accounts for those misperceptions?

Some of it undoubtedly stems from debt's illusions. In a country of overused MasterCards, we are surrounded by luxury cars, McMansions and flat-screen TVs purchased on credit. Such ubiquitous bling feigns a widespread prosperity that doesn't really exist.

Some of it is also televisual iconography. In the media's fun-house mirror we see a news world populated exclusively by six- and seven-figure salaried journalists — as if that wealth is a societal norm. Meanwhile, on the entertainment side, our beloved sitcom families trick us into thinking our nation is less stratified than it is: We were led to believe the super-rich Huxtables epitomized the middle class just like we are now asked to regard "Modern Family's" affluence in the same way.

But, as insidious as artificial aesthetics are, the most powerful factor in our economic illiteracy is found in the other new academic report — the one examining our innate denial reflex. ["When In Doubt, Shout!" (Abstract)]

As Northwestern University's David Gal and Derek Rucker recently documented in a paper titled "When in Doubt, Shout!," many Americans respond to convention-challenging facts not by reevaluating their worldview. Shaken by an assault on their assumptions, many become more adamant in defense of wrongheaded ideas.

So, for instance, we may be aware that our broken economy is creating destructive inequality; we may know the neighbor's opulence is underwritten by loans; we may understand that Brian Williams' multimillion-dollar NBC salary is uncommon; and we may appreciate that seemingly average "30 Rock" characters make above-average salaries. We may get all this, and we may even see the connection between our personal financial struggles and Census figures showing inequality at a record high. But many of us nonetheless react by more passionately insisting our economic system sows equality — and worse, by embracing a free-market-worshiping politics aimed at halting systemic change.

This means the current crisis is deeper than we imagine. In a past recession, we could all at least concede that the challenge was "the economy, stupid." Now, though, we can't even agree on that truism. Our problem is the stupidity, stupid -- and solving that will take far more than an election. Ω

[David Sirota attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he earned his bachelor's degree with honors in journalism and political science. Sirota is a political journalist, nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist and bestselling author living in Denver, CO. As one of the only national columnists living and reporting outside of Washington, DC, he is widely known for his coverage of political corruption, globalization and working-class economic issues often ignored by both of America’s political parties. David Sirota is the author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government—And How We Take It Back (2006) and The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington (2008).]

Copyright © 2010 Salon Media Group, Inc.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Today (With An H/T To A Reader Up North), A Corrective To The Flatster's Anti-Union Snark

Yesterday afternoon, too late for posting yesterday, an e-mail landed in this blogger's In Box. A reader from the Dairy State had this to say:

Hello Neil,
First, I continue to enjoy the articles you dig out for your blog.

In a recent Friedman essay you displayed he said, "Let’s kowtow even more to public service unions so they’ll make even more money than private sector workers, so they’ll give even more money to Democrats who will give them even more generous pensions, so not only California and New York will go bankrupt but every other state too." It caught my attention because of some recent studies I've read about. So I went hunting and came up with the following recent one.... [Link omitted because the article is posted below.]

I'm not sure this speaks directly to Friedman's claims, but it is closely related to the same topic. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
A Reader Up North

Mea culpa, Reader. The Flatster's snark about public employee unions was off-key, but this blogger posted that Op-Ed piece without comment. Most of The Flatster's barbs were spot-on and this blogger gave The Flatster a pass on his bleat about avaricious public employee unions. So, without further ado, here is the corrective to The Flatster's antipathy toward public employees that echoes Teabagger hatred of "overpaid government bureaucrats." If this is (fair & balanced) chagrin, so be it.

P.S. H/T is defined here.
P.P.S. The same drill prevails for enlarging images — Click on it!

[x Center For American Progress]
Correcting Myths About Federal Pay
By Lauren Smith

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More than half of Americans mistakenly believe that federal workers are overpaid, and a third also wrongly think they are underqualified, according to a recent Washington Post poll. The truth is federal workers earn 22 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The public’s misperception of federal employees as overfed bureaucrats underscores the recent success of conservative commentators at perpetuating false stereotypes about public servants, co-opting even USA Today, America’s second-largest newspaper, which recently published a misleading analysis of public and private sector pay levels. These myths fuel antigovernment resentment and buttress right-wing talking points on this topic on the campaign trail.

One of many cases in point: House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) says that taxpayers are subsidizing "fattened salaries and pensions of federal bureaucrats who are out there right now making it harder to create private sector jobs." In fact, the federal workforce today as a proportion of the total U.S. workforce is about half what it was in 1970. This downsizing has come as the government’s responsibilities have increased in size and complexity.

Yes, it’s true—according to unadjusted numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis—that the average government salary was $123,049 in 2009, and that the private sector worker’s average was $61,051, as USA Today reported in August. That does not mean federal workers are paid more than their private sector counterparts. The newspaper made the elementary mistake of comparing apples to oranges. It didn’t compare similar job types, educational level, time on the job, or geographic location.

So in the newspaper’s analysis, the salary of a McDonald's cook and that of a federal prosecutor are given equal weight in the average. USA Today did acknowledge this weakness in its August article, but attributes criticism of its approach to “public employee unions,” as if it were a political point rather than a factual one.

Federal workers on average not only are better educated than those in the private sector—in 2008, 42 percent of employees in the public sector had at least a college degree, compared with just 28 percent in the private sector—but also more experienced. This further explains the so-called compensation gap that appears when you look at unadjusted averages. More than half of federal workers are 45 or older, compared to 38 percent of private sector workers.

The libertarian CATO Institute conducted a similarly flawed study in August. It used Bureau of Economic Analysis data to track average changes in pay over time, finding that federal pay is rising faster than are private sector salaries. According to John Berry, the government's personnel chief, not only does the CATO report also compare apples to oranges, but it masks the changing nature of the federal workforce. “Thirty years ago over 22 percent of [the federal] workforce was in blue collar jobs,” Berry said in an August 16 statement. “Now that percentage has dropped by half while the percentage of IT and Health professionals has doubled.”

As the federal workforce becomes better educated and more skilled than the private sector, it’s natural that average wages would go up. Moreover, these higher-skilled federal workers are underpaid relative to their private sector peers. When properly compared, accountants and auditors in the federal sector earn $74,871 while their private sector counterpart earns $100,152. And a federal engineer makes $90,180, while a private sector engineer working at the same level takes home $111,794.

It’s also important to note that low-skill jobs make up a much smaller percentage of the federal workforce than in the private sector. Retail salespersons, cashiers, and foodservice workers were the three largest occupations in the private sector in May 2009, making up over 9 percent of the private workforce. Those three occupations combined account for less than 1 percent of federal workers.

Aside from the U.S. Postal Service, the largest occupation categories in the federal workforce include people who oversee compliance of health and safety regulations, computer specialists who work on complex software systems, and nurses, all of whom require advanced training and specialized expertise.

Berry has repeatedly pushed back against the myopic conservative attack, warning of the danger of fueling mistrust of federal workers. “If the American public knew the data that was the basis for these outrageous claims, they'd see how ideologically biased it is,” Berry told The Washington Post. With four out of five hires under Obama going to defense and homeland security jobs and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Berry was right to ask: “Which one of those people would you like to fire?”

In contrast to Berry’s sober-minded analysis, Tad DeHaven, the budget analyst who wrote many of CATO’s reports on federal versus private pay, recently told Federal News Radio that “the numbers are a secondary issue.” His analysis is driven by a foundational assumption that federal workers necessarily earn their benefits and compensation at the expense of the private sector.

In fact, kicking people off the federal payroll when jobs are scarce only increases the taxpayer’s burden, as separated workers file for unemployment and other benefits. And many federal workers, such as the thousands who approve patents for new products and drugs for medical breakthroughs, help stimulate the economy through their work.

To be sure, at a time of budget constraints the American public and policymakers should welcome a serious discussion about the federal workforce, including potential reforms. But good benefits and better job security in the federal workforce are valuable components of compensation packages and should be duly considered when comparing the relative rewards of public versus private employment.

President Barack Obama indicated that his administration will soon take up the topic. The president said he may consider leaving unfilled federal jobs open, and did not rule out unpaid furloughs, acknowledging that as the private sector struggles, “government should have to tighten its belt as well.”

Whatever the outcome, the debate should be grounded by a responsible and accurate statistical analysis, not one designed to score cheap political points. Ω

[Lauren Smith is a research assistant with the Doing What Works team at the Center for American Progress. Lauren graduated from Wesleyan University with bachelor’s degrees in science in society and sociology, as well as a certificate in international relations.]

Copyright © 2010 Center For American Progress

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Take This Blog Out To The Ball Game?

The Fall Classic (As the flacks are wont to say.) has begun in San Francisco and the former sadsacks of the American League — the Texas Strangers — didn't bring their hearts to a Game One blowout. Of course, The Strangers came from behind to win the American League Division Series at the expense of the Tampa Bay Rays (who play their games in St. Petersburg), so a one-game deficit might be meaningless. Or, it could result in a 4-game sweep a'la 1954 when the then-New York Giants last won a World Series. So, instead of Hold 'Em, the name of the game is Pick 'Em. If this is (fair & balanced) baseballiana, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
World Series 2010: Deciding Which Team To Root For (And Against)
By Hampton Stevens

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Baseball is like a lover that America just can't shake. For years, she has been treating us bad, taking our love for granted. She's gone on strike, locked us out, and cheated on us, too—juicing balls, then players. Yet, every spring we take her back.

She charms everybody in those first, few giddy weeks, thawing even the frozen hearts with seductively whispered dreams of the postseason. All through the lazy summer, she flirts and teases, fickle as the hot wind. She will bore you to tears yammering about her past one minute, and thrill you the next with something you've never seen. She will promise the world, break your heart, and then make you fall in love all over again within a single, sunny afternoon. All the while, she methodically ticks off the days, inexorably winnowing away suitors, bearing her rich fruit briefly in autumn before she inevitably vanishes and leaves us to face the winter alone.

She can be generous and cruel, giving us a dazzling gift like Stephen Strasburg only to take him back a month later. She can be as sublime as Ichiro, extending his own record of 200-hit seasons to an even ten straight. She can be as ridiculous as Manny Ramirez, now peddling his played-out shtick and suspiciously popless bat to American League bottom-feeders. She can be sublime precisely because she is ridiculous, like when an umpire's blown call somehow makes an almost-perfect game more perfect than the two true perfect games which preceded it.

She is no cheap date, but money alone won't win her—just look at the two teams in this year's World Series, which begins tonight in San Francisco. The Giants barely crack the top ten Major League payrolls. The Rangers, a lowly 26th in team salary, spent less than a third of the Yankees this year. But the Bombers are at home—along with the Red Sox, Cubs, Phillies, and the rest of baseball's big spenders.

And she doesn't make life easy, even for her most loyal fans. Take the case of this year's fall classic—how can you decide who to root for? There are plenty of reasons to root for either team. The Giants boast the biggest collection of oddballs and cranks since the "idiot" Red Sox. The team of misfits—in black and orange for the holiday—could only have borne fruit under San Francisco's supremely indulgent care. Where else could "Let's get weird!" be a battle cry? In what other city would a guy nicknamed The Freak not even be the freakiest guy on the team?

The Rangers, for your Oscar consideration, present Josh Hamilton, who went from number one draft pick to alcoholic drug addict to ALCS MVP in the course of 11 years. This dynamic athlete, wearing his scars on his sleeves, offers a real-world story of salvation with the emotional resonance that no dramatized life could hope to match. Perhaps millions of Americans, sadly, will see this World Series from inside the living hell of addiction. Some, if only by accident, will hear Hamilton's story of redemption for the first time. If even one person finds Josh an inspiration, if even one soul can use Hamilton's strength to find new strength of their own and fight back to freedom, the whole world becomes a better place.

Kind of hard to root against him, isn't it?

But human interest can only take a fan so far. Unless you live in Dallas or San Francisco—in which case, incidentally, now might be good time to quit reading—you probably don't give a flying fig about Brian Wilson's beard or the Claws and Antlers. You will probably express mild interest when you hear that a contractual quirk guarantees Bengie Molina—a catcher who was traded from San Francisco to Texas this summer—is a World Series ring no matter who wins. And then flip the channel.

But the real problem with this World Series, especially for casual fans, is not finding someone to root for. The problem is deciding whom to root against. Without arrogant Yankee fans or pretentious Red Sox nation to root against, without any East Coast teams at all in the Fall Classic, just who is the rest of the country supposed to be booing?

Hating the Giants was so easy when Barry Bonds was there. But now? Well, it's still simple. They play in an incredibly provincial city—a city perpetually basking in its own glory, with citizens who not only openly express total contempt the rest of the country, they act genuinely surprised if anyone bothers to disagree. Blinded by fog, numbed by cold, San Franciscans seem simply unable to comprehend that other American cities, places like Chicago and Atlanta for instance, not only have paved roads and indoor plumbing, but even art galleries, restaurants, movie theaters and pretty buildings—just like "The City." This is a people so convinced of their own importance they felt the need to articulate a foreign policy—passing a 2008 ballot initiative declaring it "City policy" to cut off all funding for the Iraqi War. Tax dollars well-spent, San Francisco. Mission accomplished.

They don't oppose America's wars much in Texas. They fight them. They don't burn draft cards and American flags, either. They burn fossil fuels, and they burn them like it's going out of style. Which, not coincidentally, it is. The only city in America where the pickup qualifies as a compact, Dallas, or the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington Urban Megasprawl if you prefer, is the archetypal Red State town—a perfect Yin to San Francisco's Yang. Hating the place is easy—a city where bad 1980's hairstyles go to die—but don't. A city where cowboys and cowgirls who have never been on a horse love to dish folksy wisdom, Texas-style. These are the folks who'll say stuff like "Never kick a cowchip on a hot day," then smile like they said something profound.

Besides, baseball for Texas is just something to kill time between football seasons. The Rangers could win a dozen pennants and they would still be sent to the back of the sports page by Tony Romo's collarbone. And by the Longhorns, and Aggies, and by whatever high school team is playing well that week. Also, George W. Bush was a part-owner before he was president, still goes to games and the cameras always find him. This isn't a partisan thing. Politicians of any stripe make terrible celebrity cameos. Actors, comics, rappers—anything else works. One look at a divisive figure like George Bush—or Nancy Pelosi—and a World Series watch party can turn to a political debate. That's not what baseball is made for.

But the best reason to root against the Rangers? Their team name. It's an insult to the Greatest of All Men. There is only one Texas Ranger, people. His name is Chuck Norris, and he doesn't need any help to win the World Series. He doesn't have to court the goddess baseball. She courts him. Ω

[Hampton Stevens writes for's Page 2 and ESPN the Magazine, as well as The Atlantic and His work has appeared in Playboy, Maxim, the Kansas City Star, and many other regional and national publications. Stevens is a graduate of the University of Kansas.]

Copyright © 2010 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today, The Flatster Tells Us Why We're Toast — We're Stupid!

The Flatster (Thomas L. Friedman, author of the best-selling The Earth Is Flat) dishes up some tough snark today. More snark is supplied by ABC's John Stossel's 2006 report on "20/20" — "Stupid in America." [The transcript of this show is here.]

[x YouTube/GrillRotten Channel]
"Stupid in America"
By John Stossel

However, Stossel wants to blame the schools (teachers and administrators included). That ain't the enemy. The enemy as Pogo put it years ago is us. We have the schools we deserve. We have the elected officials we deserve. And we will be at the bottom of the global heap by 2050 because that is what we deserve. If this is (fair & balanced) harsh reality, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Can’t Keep a Bad Idea Down
By Thomas L. Friedman

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

I confess, I find it dispiriting to read the polls and see candidates, mostly Republicans, leading in various midterm races while promoting many of the very same ideas that got us into this mess. Am I hearing right?

Let’s have more tax cuts, unlinked to any specific spending cuts and while we’re still fighting two wars — because that worked so well during the Bush years to make our economy strong and our deficit small. Let’s immediately cut government spending, instead of phasing cuts in gradually, while we’re still mired in a recession — because that worked so well in the Great Depression. Let’s roll back financial regulation — because we’ve learned from experience that Wall Street can police itself and average Americans will never have to bail it out.

Let’s have no limits on corporate campaign spending so oil and coal companies can more easily and anonymously strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to limit pollution in the air our kids breathe. Let’s discriminate against gays and lesbians who want to join the military and fight for their country. Let’s restrict immigration, because, after all, we don’t live in a world where America’s most important competitive advantage is its ability to attract the world’s best brains. Let’s repeal our limited health care reform rather than see what works and then fix it. Let’s oppose the free-trade system that made us rich.

Let’s kowtow even more to public service unions so they’ll make even more money than private sector workers, so they’ll give even more money to Democrats who will give them even more generous pensions, so not only California and New York will go bankrupt but every other state too. Let’s pay for more tax cuts by uncovering waste I can’t identify, fraud I haven’t found and abuse that I’ll get back to you on later.

All that’s missing is any realistic diagnosis of where we are as a country and what we need to get back to sustainable growth. Actually, such a diagnosis has been done. A nonpartisan group of America’s most distinguished engineers, scientists, educators and industrialists unveiled just such a study in the midst of this campaign.

Here is the story: In 2005 our National Academies responded to a call from a bipartisan group of senators to recommend 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so America could successfully compete in the 21st century. Their response was published in a study, spearheaded by the industrialist Norman Augustine, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”

Charles M. Vest, the former M.I.T. president, worked on the study and noted in a speech recently that “Gathering Storm,” together with work by the Council on Competitiveness, led to the America Competes Act of 2007, which increased funding for the basic science research that underlies our industrial economy. Other recommendations, like improving K-12 science education, were not substantively addressed.

So, on September 23, the same group released a follow-up report: “Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.” “The subtitle, ‘Rapidly Approaching Category 5,’ says it all,” noted Vest. “The committee’s conclusion is that ‘in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.’ ”

But I thought: “We’re number 1!”

“Here is a little dose of reality about where we actually rank today,” says Vest: sixth in global innovation-based competitiveness, but 40th in rate of change over the last decade; 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school; 16th in college completion rate; 22nd in broadband Internet access; 24th in life expectancy at birth; 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education; and 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.

“This is not a pretty picture, and it cannot be wished away,” said Vest. The study recommended a series of steps — some that President Obama has already initiated, some that still need Congress’s support — designed to increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education, to reinforce long-term basic research, and to create the right tax and policy incentives so we can develop, recruit and retain the best and brightest students, scientists and engineers in the world. The goal is to make America the premier place to innovate and invest in innovation to create high-paying jobs.

You’ll have to Google it, though. The report hasn’t received 1/100th of the attention given to Juan Williams’s remarks on Muslims.

A dysfunctional political system is one that knows the right answers but can’t even discuss them rationally, let alone act on them, and one that devotes vastly more attention to cable TV preachers than to recommendations by its best scientists and engineers. Ω

[Thomas L. Friedman became The New York Times' foreign-affairs columnist in 1995. He won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, his third (The earlier Prizes were awarded in 1983 and 1988.) Pulitzer for the Times. Friedman's major book, The World Is Flat (2005), won the inaugural Goldman Sachs/Financial Times Business Book of the Year award. Friedman received a B.A. degree in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis University in 1975. In 1978 he received a Master of Philosophy degree in Modern Middle East studies from Oxford.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves