Limited, Inc.

“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, February 08, 2016

science tells us clinton was influenced by her wall street money. Class consciousness denies it.

There is really no mystery about influence and money. It has been studied. Here’s a report from the frontlines of study:
“A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
This being so, I’ve been puzzled that Sanders health care proposals have been exhaustively explained by the explainers – such as the neo-liberals at Vox – while, so far, I’ve seen no policy wonk jump up and say, that it is as likely that Clinton is influenced by the money she has made on Wall Street as it is that humans influence Climate change.
I’m not surprised. Not because the explainers are in Clinton’s camp. Rather, this is an issue of class. Many studies have shown that people in the upper and upper middle class view friendship and gifts differently.
But how do these class norms work? A small part of the answer was provided by Charlotte Linde, who did ethnographic work to find out how identification with a group worked. Interestingly, she found out that it works both in the present and on the way people interpret their past. I’ve written about this before, so I am going to largely quote from my blog.
“Charlotte Linde is a rather brilliant ethnographer broadly within the symbolic interaction school – although not participating in that schools downhill slide into the irrelevance of infinitely coding conversations to make the smallest of small bore points. Rather, she has taken Labov’s idea that a story is a distinguishable discursive unit and researched Life Stories – she wrote the standard book on the subject.
In 2000, she wrote an article about her study of the synbolic dynamics at an insurance firm with the truly great title, “The acquisition of a speaker by a story: how history becomes memory and identity.” Identity, with its columnally Latinate Id seemingly standing for noun in general, has during the course of my lifetime been dipped in the acid of the verbal form, and now little leagurers talk of identifying with their team – their grandparents would, of course, used identify to talk not of a subjective process of belonging, but an objective process of witnessing, as in, can you identify the man who you saw shoot mr x in this courtroom? Conservative hearts break as the columnar Id falls to the ground, but that’s life, kiddo.
Linde’s article introduces a marvelous phrase: narrative induction. “I define narrative induction as the process by which people come to take on an existing set of stories as their own story…” (2000:608)My editor’s eye was pleased and did a little dance all over my face to see that this was the second sentence in the article – getting people to forthrightly state their topic is, surprisingly, one of the hardest things about editing academic papers. Most graduate students have concluded, from experience, that the best way to make a point is to hide it somewhere, perhaps on page 5, and hope that their advisor doesn’t see it for fear of being attacked. The rough and tumble of intellectual debate is the Ur-traumatic experience of the classroom – funny that this hasn’t been investigated, rather than mindlessly celebrated. But alors, avancez, boys and girls!
Narrative induction properly locates story as part of a process of initiation (which, being a “native” thing, or occult, failed to qualify for the verbal place held by identify with). Linde, in this paper, is obviously moving from her concern with stories people tell about themselves – the point of which is to say something significant about the self, and not the world – to stories people tell about the world. Those stories often are about experiences not one’s own. They are non-participant narratives.
Linde divides the NPN process– as she calls it – into three bits: how a person comes to take on someone else’s story; how a person comes to tell their own story in a way shaped by the stories of others; and how that story is heard by others as an instance of a normative pattern.
There is an area, as Linde points out, where work on this has been done: in religious studies. Specifically, the study of metanoia, conversion stories. But there’s metanoia and then there’s metanoia. There’s St. Paul on the way to Damascas, and there’s Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, on the way to the relative wealth of a Toyota Car Dealership, owned by his father-in-law. Linde, not having access to St. Paul, opted to study Midwestern insurance sales people. Like Labov, Linde is interested in class issues. In particular, stories of occupational choice. In her Life Stories book, she presented some evidence that professionals present their occupational choice stories in terms of some vocation or calling, while working class speakers present it, more often, in terms of accident or need for money. Philosophy professors rarely will say, for instance, well, I needed a steady paycheck, looked at the job security of tenure, loved the idea of travel and vacation time, so I went into philosophy. They will give a story rooted in their view of themselves as emotional/cognitive critters. Labov’s work was done in the seventies, and my guess is that there has been some shift. The notion that it is all chance for the blue collar worker, all vocation for the white collar, actually tallies well with the political economists notion that abstract labor is a thing like clay, to mold as you want to: we will train workers over here in the steel producing sector, and take off some here who are growing tomatoes. They won't mind - human products are infinitely re-trainable, and have no feelings about what they do.
But that feeling for abstract labor changes as one goes up the class scale. And it is here that I think we can locate the incredulity and surprise and the suspicion of innuendo when Sanders says that Clinton took a shitload of money from Wall Street and is likely to be influenced in her views as president by that closeness to Wall Street. For to the upper class ear, this sounds like saying Clinton did something low and blue collar like accept money for her views, instead of high and upper class like making the kind of money she deserved (as past secretaries of state and senators, going all the way back to … the eighties have done) as her due.
The knot of money received and the story that one’s life is actually determined by one’s feelings and beliefs and higher vocation – it comes out here.
I would bet that if you took a survey of the highly visible journalists, those who work for the NYT and WAPO and the networks, and you ask them what drove their vocational choice, we would hear all about ideals, and nothing about high salaries. Because high salaries, or large amounts of cultural capital, go with forgetting money, in a sense. It becomes a sort of imaginary friend.
This, of course, has been the premise for many a comedy about some richly salaried person coming abruptly down the ladder in life, where money becomes the overt motive for what you do.

While it would be acceptable - that is, it would conform to our class perceptions - for a truck driver to tell us that he or she was motivated by the excellent pay, a presidential candidate who said the same thing would cause a scandal. We expect instead a different ethos in the best and brightest. Which is why one feels a semiotic jar between Hillary Clinton expressing a certain humility about serving in public office and the same person saying that she made 675,000 dollars for three speeches because "that is what they offered".

Saturday, February 06, 2016

the naivete of peace

D.C., as we all know, swims in a culture of impunity. Denizens of the New Republic, who in the Bush years showed such a hawkish appetite for the invasion of Iraq that the jaws of the advocates seemed to be dripping with the blood – let me hasten to say, with the blood of freedom, free enterprise and muscular liberalism – are out in force throwing contempt on Sanders’ lack of foreign policy knowledge and … muscular liberalism.
This article from Business Insider is typical Clinton wants to lead in the Middle East, whereas Sanders idea that there could be a coalition between Iran and Saudi Arabia is just “puzzling”. Indeed it is, since it calls the game: do the Saudis really want to defeat Isis? After all that money from Saudi sources flowed to Isis at the beginning of their revolt against Iraq?

I agree with the criticism that Sanders is a bit naïve about foreign policy, in as much as he hasn’t oriented himself to pounding into the heads of the populace that negotiation is not a sign of weakness, but of humanity. But to see the Clinton camp, unquestioned, tell us Sanders wants to let Iranian soldiers into Syria, on “the very border of Israel”, begs questions of its own.
For instance, here’s one, a lonely one, so far unasked by any reporter that I can see:
What does Clinton think of the fact that the Cia has supervised Saudi training and arming of rebels in Syria in  2013?  Does she  think the Saudis are trying to forge a secular state in Syria?
Ah, but why ask that question – a question that has been answered in the past, with the Mujahedeen in Afganistan, and with Sunni insurgents in Iraq during the occupation, and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain during Clinton’s term of office at State – when it betrays terrible naivete! Why, everything will turn out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. In maybe fifteen years – about the amount of time  the US and all of King Saul’s army has been battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I do fault Sanders for not questioning this more. If, as the odds show, Clinton is nominated, there will not  be a chance again to question the utter bankruptcy of hawkish policy in the Middle East.  

Thursday, February 04, 2016

quid pro quo culture

The quid pro quo culture
Clinton’s response to the question about being paid 625,000 dollars for giving three speeches to Goldman Sachs stirred up some interest, and a lot of vitriol from Sanders supporters. While I understand the vitriol, I think it is important to broaden the response. Clinton didn’t invent this culture. She simply floats in it.
It is a matter not so much of being bought, but of being cognitively captured – which by easy degrees effects the career arc. Instead of using Clinton as an example, lets use Bernanke.
In 2009, the Fed, along with Treasury, engineered a controversial bailout of AIG. AIG was the party to financial instruments – bets – made, on a tremendous scale, by numerous counterparties. Among those counterparties was Citadel, a Chicago based hedge fund.
Now, Citadel was hit by the meltdown in 2008. According to Bloomberg Business:

“Investors in Citadel Investment Group’s two main hedge funds can take solace in the fact that 2008 has finally come to an end. Of course, that won’t ease the pain of seeing those two porfolios lose about 53% of their value going into the final week of the year.

Thus, there is every reason to believe that Citadel was on its last legs in 2009. But it survived. One of the bright spots in that year was that AIG, far from dealing with Citadel as a bankrupt insurance firm and thus paying out a penny on the dollar, dealt with Citadel as a company with the infinite resources of the U.S. Government behind it and paid out a dollar on a dollar – 200 million of them.
Thus, Citadel owes its continued existence, in no small part, to the decisions of Ben Bernanke.
And now Ben Bernanke is making a considerable sum – probably in the millions – working for Citadel.
Do I think that Ken Griffen, Citadel’s Daddy Bucks, sat down with Ben B. and said, you get us that 200 million and you have a job with us, wink wink? No, of course not. Rather, in the course of time, as Bernanke was feeling his way to the exit at the Fed, an offer to a highly respected figure in the financial community was perhaps made by some intermediary that led to Bernanke taking his job with Citadel. That’s how the revolving door works.

This is the problem that Sanders is hammering on. Clinton was not bribed to do anything in particular for Goldman Sachs. But it is very likely that Goldman Sachs will get a very respectful hearing when she is president. I expect she will be president, in fact. I am hoping that Sanders shrill denunciations make the relationship between the Clinton administration and the banks much less comfortable. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

morning in santa monica

Morning in Santa Monica. For a long time, now, I have been walking Adam to school and then returning home to work, or to read. I’ve been enclosed in a little capsule of winter routine. Today I decided to walk down to the ocean. The beach was largely empty – meaning, really, that there were few people there. I walked across the expanse of sand to where the bank over where the ocean was lapping up on shore, then loped my way down the beach, heading away from the pier, towards Malibu. I encountered birds, lots of seabirds. One colony of very large pelicans, five of them, with those faces, elongated, brightly colored, somehow reminiscent of an African mask, or of Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon. Slightly frightening, the length of beak. As I passed them I actually glanced back, as if they might be following me.
I came upon a curlew. It was on the edge of the watermark left by the ocean, which at this hour was rumpled by low tide. It had the nice curved beak, not the sandpiper’s straight beak. I stopped. The curlew stopped. I began to think about the curlew’s life. We are told that the beasts of the air and those that creep upon the ground are driven primarily by sex and food. There’s some validity to that p.o.v. – it is one in which we have simply the species and the vehicle of the species, the contingent piece of it. However, what the p.o.v. doesn’t indicate is all the down time in between. This curlew, for instance, stopped perhaps because of me, perhaps because he just stopped. He was evidently having as much of a down time moment as I was myself. First, he waggled his tail, then he strutted a bit, then he stopped. He seemed to be contemplating his bill. If he were a character in a Victorian novel, I would say that he was contemplating his bill with enormous satisfaction.  He also had his head cocked in a certain way, so that he seemed to be listening to the ocean’s eternal laundering. Of course, I am aware that my ocean and my sounds depend entirely on my sensory equipment, which is at setting different from his. Birds, I have read, commonly hear sounds at a higher frequency than humans. If that makes sense. And of course the whole rods n cones arrangement of the eyes is different. The curlew was seeing or processing different pictures than I was. Probably it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to take what we know about bird physiology and fashion some Virtual Reality helmet so that we see and hear on the settings that they see and hear. Yet I don’t think this would get us too near what the bird – what my bird, the curlew – is like, to use Nagel’s phrase. It would be like reading a bad and misleading translation of a book from a foreign language.
The curlew, at rest, stood first on his two legs, then, after a while, on one leg only. I didn’t catch it when he lifted up the other leg. It happened in an instant. I must say that my concentration on the bird was interupted by glances up the beach, and oceanward. I wondered again when we were ever going to visit the Catalina Islands. I wondered about a few things that I decided were distracting me from the beach, like the news. Fuck the news.
Then the curlew was back in a two legged posture, and then it strutted down to the watermark. It stood there and the ocean came up and foamed around its talons. It was indifferent to the water. When the water receded, it started hunting with its curved beak in the sand, and finding things I couldn’t see. The vehicle was seized by the species urge. I bestirred myself and made off in the direction of the pedestrian bridge that is right after the repairs they are making to the entrance to the PCH at California ave.  When I got on the bridge, I saw two men filming a man and a woman. The man, a lanky, older white guy, bald, but with a fringe of somewhat ridiculous long hair, was doing a dance step in synch with a lithe younger black woman. Two steps to one side, two steps to the other side, throw your arms up. I could see the man was the worse dancer. I could tell the dancer from the dance easy enough. I interrupted the session and crossed over the bridge.
Those dancers, I thought. Species or vehicle, vehicle or species.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

the solution-suck: Sanders single payer plan and the neo-liberal attack dogs

You will have noticed that Sanders single payer plan has been extensively attacked. It has been dismissed by Paul Krugman and savaged by Vox, which is turning into the 21st century version of the old New Republic (the Marty Peretz New Republic that marketed its liberal reputation to put across reactionary ideas).

These logic behind these political attacks is pretty simple. Sanders has been hammering on a problem, a massive problem, with healthcare in America. It is fantastically expensive; and, for the majority of people, that is, those who live in households thatmake below around 100 thousand, it is a subject of constant, rational worry, since it is precisely those households for which every rachet upward of the medical machine makes medical care ruinous.  32 million non-elderly Americans are still uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And even for those who are insured,  According to the Commonwealth Fund:

“New estimates from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, 2014, indicate that 23 percent of 19-to-64-year-old adults who were insured all year—or 31 million people—had such high out-of-pocket costs or deductibles relative to their incomes that they were underinsured. These estimates are statistically unchanged from 2010 and 2012, but nearly double those found in 2003 when the measure was first introduced in the survey. The share of continuously insured adults with high deductibles has tripled, rising from 3 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2014. Half (51%) of underinsured adults reported problems with medical bills or debt and more than two of five (44%) reported not getting needed care because of cost. Among adults who were paying off medical bills, half of underinsured adults and 41 percent of privately insured adults with high deductibles had debt loads of $4,000 or more.
Even this survey doesn’t represent the reality of the medical care burden. Those in the 19 to 64 group are connected by family ties to those in the 64 and above group, and often have to dip into what savings they have for medical expenses that the retirees can’t pay.
This survey received a lot of news coverage. It is relevant to the medical care crisis:
“Approximately 63% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a survey released Wednesday of 1,000 adults by personal finance website, up slightly from 62% last year. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (23%), borrowing from family and/or friends (15%) or using credit cards to bridge the gap (15%).
It is in this environment of economic precarity that we are seeing a rather amazing rise in the cost of medicines: From Business insider:
“Cost trends for prescription drug coverage are projected to increase by 8.6% in 2015 and by 11.3% in 2016 for active plan and retiree plan members under 65, according to a survey released Thursday by benefits, compensation and human resources consulting firm The Segal Group Inc. That compares with an increase of 10.7% in 2014.
New York-based Segal predicts the cost trend rate for specialty and biotechnology drugs, which treat conditions like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, will hit 19.4% in 2015 and 18.9% in 2016, the survey showed.”
This is of course an impressionistic survey of the medical landscape, but it is enough of one to pose the question: is there a problem here?
This question is not, however, posed by any of the attacks on Sanders so far. What one wants is a comprehensive survey of the costs to the American public of medical care, and then a comparison of the two plans, Clintons and Sanders, which address it. Instead, what we are getting is the well known solution-suck program. One concentrates on the flaws in a solution to the elimination of everything else. In this way, we forget that even if we have no plan, we have a crisis in costs in the US. The difference, of course, is in who is going to pay for it: whether it is going to continue to be on the backs of the working class, or whether the costs are going to be met through some universal medical care system. The second question is whether the costs can be mitigated or even lowered by government action.
What is never said about the later question is that the costs are siginificantly increased by government action. There are three drivers of cost in the US: guilds, monopolies and intermediaries. Guilds are labor forces that are artificially restricted by government required licences. Monopolies are both IP driven and trust driven. And intermediaries are complex interactions that include both insurance companies and health care providers. When I have to go to a doctor to get a prescription to get a drug, I am paying an intermediary premium.
We might well want doctors and nurses to be licenced, and patent protection to work. But this doesn’t mean that we have to have the system we have now. For instance, patents, as Dean Baker has suggested, should better be treated as a premium on licencing products. Instead of the inventors of x drug having a 20 year monopoly on producing it, Baker’s suggestion is that the government auction the design of the drug and give a percentage of the profits of the drug to the inventor from all those who bid to produce it. Thus, we would have both competition and a fair compensation for invention.
In any case, the solution-suck strategy is being pulled on Sanders. The way to fight back is to bring the conversation continually, obsessively back to the problem. Because in reality, the solution-suck strategy is simply neo-liberalism’s way of keeping things the way they are. And the way they are is becoming, increasingly, a horror.

Friday, January 29, 2016

trump and white euphemism culture

In the advent of Donald Trump, I have been thinking, we are seeing both the result and the decline of White Euphemism culture.
White Euphemism culture accompanied the liquidation of traditional liberal-left policies in the post-Cold War era. As the mass incarceration of blacks and hispanics got into high gear, and as the precarious economic gains of black household either stagnate or collapsed, the governing class promoted a politics of linguistic civil rights. Reading the Ferguson Report (a small paperback that nobody included on the "Books we Love" list last year, putting in question, I think, the notion that books should be loved, or that the love of books actually maps the effect of books) one notices that - as Rand Paul, of all people, remarked in the debate - the predominantly black population is not only poor, but is subject to an enormous machinery of fines and petty imprisonments that is exactly the same as the Jim Crow era. And Ferguson is hardly alone. Go to anyplace with similar conditions - a black majority population and a white majority police force or court house or judicial system - and you will find the same thing. This is how America administers its Sowetos.
At the end of 2008, the neo-liberal culture went into overdrive about this wonderful ‘post racial’ nation we had here.
However, anybody who has any acquaintance with the internet (and I’ve had a blog going, continously since 2001, which has made me very aware of Internety things) knows that the forces of misogyny, racism and psychosis were definitely abroad in the land. I’m reminded of this fact reading Joan Walsh’s piece in the Nation about her support for Clinton.
Joan Walsh has been on the Internet for longer than my blog has been up, since Salon's salad days in the Clinton impeachment era. In the article, Walsh justly points out that the smears and the threats that she has received for being for Clinton, and that her daughter has received, go beyond sexist and reach psychotic. She’s 100 percent right. The rape by comment culture is alive and well, and certainly finds expression among some Sanders supporters. But I had one caveat, which is that, as Walsh well knows, no matter what the ideology one supports as a woman on the Internet, the rape by comment people will be there. I have read, on supposedly liberal or left blogs, that Ann Coulter, the far right figure, was a dyke, should be raped, should be shut up with a bullet, should have her body dismembered, was a whore, etc., etc. I am pretty sure that female Sanders supporters get the same treatment.
The hope of the euphemism culture was that, without interference from the state, the private sector would not only pump out growth and prosperity for all, but that it would, with proper nudging, bring about a “post-racial, post-gender” society. Now, it isn’t that there has been no progress. But the progress has not been enough, not nearly enough, in comparison with the older liberal interventionist model.
Trump has torn off the bandage. But what was underneath is not new.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

adventures in subpar parenting

While Adam Smith was propounding the elements of capitalist anthropology – that it is in the nature of humans to truck and barter – Rousseau was imagining teaching a child different elements altogether. Rousseau’s Emile might break his furniture and his window – but he must bear the consequences of broken furniture and cold winds. “It is better that he should have a cold”, Rousseau says, “than be crazy.” Fou – by fou Rousseau meant, be like other children of his century.
Notice, though, that there is no substitution here – no trucking and bartering. There is no – if you break your chair, you can’t have dinner. Because this introduces both an equivalence – furniture/dinner – and a mode of thinking in which all objects dissolve into substitutes in an exchange.
Now, myself, I have always been impressed with the idea of ‘deal-less’ childrearing. Although I’m definitely not going to leave a window broken, I do like making it clear that there are natural implications for action, rather than implications that depend upon the whim of the parent.
With these notions, I was naturally setting myself up for failure.
A couple of days ago, I had one of those moments of parental discouragement. Adam did not want to take a bath. He did not want to so much that there were tears and tantrums. He did not want to so much that there was kicking. He did not want to so much that talking wasn’t working – nor a bit of yelling. There was a part of me that admired his stubbornness, I must admit, but mostly, I was getting worn down.
So I bartered. I told him that if he didn’t take a bath, we were going to put him to bed with no stories and with the lights out immediately.
You will notice that there is zero connection between taking a bath and telling a story. That is, until I made it. Until I made a deal.
Adam folded. This was a relief. However, I do feel like I am starting a pattern of easy discipline, of truck and barter, that can’t be good. On the other hand, Emile’s tutor was simply that – he seems to have no other function. While me, as a parent, I do have many other functions. I don’t have infinite patience. I for one thing wanted to start dinner.  I had a schedule I was following that evening.

Well, I know you can’t raise a child against all the social currents that one lives within. But there are moments of … what shall I call it? Moral disarmament in parenting, I guess, that are discouraging. Or at least peal off a bit of the gilding of the little icon you make of yourself as the good parent.