A Frank defense of ideological disagreement

Lots of blogs have been circulating video clips and transcripts from Feb.1st’s “This Week” (ABC), hosted by George Stephanopoulous, with guests Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Federal Express CEO Fred Smith, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). The show featured an ideological (some might say “partisan”) battle between Frank and DeMint.

A few interesting tidbits to point out (transcript here): (more…)

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 4:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Republicans’ tax cut rhetoric is misplaced

After hearing so many Republican ideologues spouting their “tax cuts are always the solution for stimulus” rhetoric, I want to scream. Or maybe cry.

Perhaps there are other economic situations where tax cuts might be the way to go. This is not one of them, and it doesn’t take an economist to explain it. (more…)

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 5:22 pm  Comments (3)  

Excellent Bethany McLean interview on PBS’ NOW

On this week’s NOW, host David Brancaccio interviews Bethany McLean (the journalist who broke Enron) about the current financial crisis.  I thought it was a really excellent interview, very clear and detailed, and addresses the complexity of the issues involved.  

Also, her Vanity Fair article on the topic (which I haven’t read yet) can be found here

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Billions in Bogus Bonuses? . NOW on PBS“, posted with vodpod

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 2:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Bush, Big 3: Nope, you can’t pin this on the ‘little guy’

Friday Bush announced that some of the TARP funds intended for the financial industry will be used as a temporary lifeline to the Big 3 auto makers, after the Senate failed to pass the auto bailout bill last week.

From The New York Times:

The plan pumps $13.4 billion by mid-January into the companies from the fund that Congress authorized to rescue the financial industry. But the two companies have until March 31 to produce a plan for long-term profitability, including concessions from unions, creditors, suppliers and dealers. (emphasis mine)

The funding is on the condition that the union workers’ wages be reduced to the level of non-unionized workers at foreign auto plants. Now I’ve written this before, but I’m going to say it again: there were no such stipulations given to the financial industry bailout. I’m not opposed to restrictions and conditions, but the white collar/blue collar double standard in juxtaposing the two bailouts is astounding. (more…)

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 12:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Bush’s ‘Right of Conscience’ rule is unconscionable

Well, the threatened “right of conscience” regulation was pushed through by President Bush on Thursday as a “midnight regulation.” This regulation would allow anyone to refuse to participate in medical procedures they feel goes against their religious beliefs. “Employees” are defined broadly: from the pharmacist filling a prescription for antibiotics to a cashier refusing to ring out oral contraceptives, to the one who cleans the surgical tools after a procedure involving a blood transfusion. From The Washington Post:

The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.

The regulation is clearly targeted toward providing a way for medical professionals to opt out of performing or assisting in abortion procedures and prescribing and dispensing the “Morning after Pill.” But this isn’t *just* an issue of reproductive rights, as if that weren’t reason enough to be outraged. Refusing AIDS treatment to unmarried or gay patients, refusing blood transfusions to patients (Jehovah’s Witnesses), refusing to treat mental illness with anything but prayer (Christian Scientists) are all at risk. (more…)

Published in: on December 19, 2008 at 2:23 am  Comments (1)  

Well this just figures

According to Open Secrets, a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that many of the same corporations that have come to Washington spent a pretty penny underwriting this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions, just a few short months ago.

Embattled insurance giant American International Group (AIG), which received an $85 billion loan from the government just weeks after the GOP convention, gave $750,000 to each gathering. And AIG isn’t the only high-profile company that sought a handout from taxpayers after writing a big check toward the summer’s political gatherings. Others included Citigroup (which spent a total of $600,000 on the conventions), Goldman Sachs (which spent $505,000), Ford Motor Co. ($100,000 to each convention) and Bank of America (which spent $100,000, entirely on the Democratic convention). The federal government took over Freddie Mac just weeks after the mortgage buyer split half a million dollars between the two conventions.

Even more recently, Citi, the recent recipient of $2o billion in bailout funds, will still be paying $20 million per year for 20 years for naming rights to the new Mets Stadium.  AIG isn’t trimming its sponsorship budget either.

Glad our taxpayer dollars are going to some good use: funding overpriced political proms and naming stadiums that make more rich white guys even richer!

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 6:52 am  Leave a Comment  

John Stewart is full of win

Jon Stewart makes a great comeback to Huckabee, Heterosexual Questionnaire-style: “At what age did you choose to not be gay.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In Canada, here or here (not sure which).

Also, check out this post on what marriage would look like if we followed Biblical scripture.

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 11:11 pm  Comments (2)  

Bailouts and the corporate form

Some things have really been bothering me about the auto bailout talk vis-a-vis the financial sector bailout, and especially the recent Citigroup bailout.  

First, I agree with Rachel Maddow that something seems off when the (white collar) financial sector can get a quick bailout with few strings attached with no blame placed on employees and CEOs compensation structure (or any suggestion that it be revamped to take the federal funds), but in the case of the auto manufacturing sector, the quick blame is placed on the unionized workers, with their outrageous expectation for health care and decent wages.  These worker “demands” are unreasonably passed on to consumers in the form of higher vehicle prices, according to conservatives like Cal Thomas, and that’s the real reason US car manufacturer’s cannot compete. Meanwhile, CEOs still rake in overly inflated incomes, benefits, stock options, and other perks instead of lowering vehicle prices so as to not “pass on” health care costs to the consumer.  Be sure to check out this excellent analysis of the cost-per-employee figures being used to blame union labor.  

Class warfare, indeed.  I don’t mind criticizing compensation structure, but how is unionized labor being blamed for the failure of the auto industry?  What about the auto CEOs?  And finance CEOs compensation is irrelevant to their bailout?  This is akin to blaming welfare to the poor for the economic strain on the middle class, while the average compensation for an S & P 500 CEO in 2007 is projected to have been $14.2 million; in 2006 the average Fortune 500 CEO received $10.8 million, which is 364 times the average worker.  In 2007, the Ford CEO’s total compensation was $21,670,674, and GM’s CEO’s was $14,415,914.  The average of auto worker’s wages (not the pay of the average worker, but the average of workers’ pay) is $20.53/hour, or $42, 702/year–just below the median income.  And it’s the unions’ fault?

  Vodpod videos no longer available.


Second, (more…)

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 8:07 pm  Comments (3)  

Social institutionalization of heteronormative families

In sociology, one of the things we investigate is how the social forms we take as given are actually particular socio-cultural, historical forms.  Another aspect of sociological analysis is how ideologies guide the shape of our social institutions, as well as the way our identities are formed, as particularly races, sexed, gendered, and as people of particular sexual identities.  One thing I encounter in teaching introductory sociology is how we often assume that the way our society is set up is the only option–or that it is the necessarily best option.  I think part of this comes from American arrogance that “we” do everything right and we do it the best–the whole “envy of the world” bit.   No more do I see this than in talking about the family.

“Families come in many forms.”  Yes, this is what we say, but does this hold true in terms of our institutions, representations, and social supports?  There is a difference between merely accepting diversity and supporting a diversity of families.  The latter sees families as a system of supports that can take several forms, conferring legitimacy to many types of families and accounting for those valid and differentiated families when creating or reforming social policy; the former sees one type of family as ideal, and that there are others that exist, but their existence stems from an individual flaw (being pregnant-while-unmarried, divorce, cohabitation), and that no one really wants to have or should be encouraged to have “those” kind of families.   

I also talk a lot about how dominant identities and exclusionary thought become institutionalized in our society–ie institutionalized racism sexism, and heterosexism.  The idea behind something being “institutionalized” is that these -ism ideologies are carried out even if no one actively is discriminating, or hating, or believing the ideologies; such institutionalization also means that our society compels particular (appropriate) behaviors by making some practices and identities more valid and viable than others.  This happens by the way our society and its institutions are structured, taking a particular group or way of thought as the norm (privileging marriage, and excluding homosexuals from it), or by building damaging assumptions about particular groups into our social practices (i.e. racial profiling).   

Our society is marriage-centric, and as marriage is becoming less the rule while remaining the expectation, our society continues to be couple-centric (see the blog Onely for an excellent anti-heteronormative perspective on life).  The heterosexual married couple continues to be the assumed, ideal family, and any option types of families and they are responsible for dealing with the consequences of their non-normative family.  We may individually define our families in particular ways, but they are not socially or legally recognized as such.

I’ve been kind of vague so far, but I’m setting this up to propose a list I have been thinking about of how our society might be organized differently if single parent families, rather than two parent ones were the assumption for adults.  In other words, we would assume that all adults, with or without kids, work; adults working would be the “norm” and adults being expected to fill traditional gender roles would not be.  

  • we’d have universal daycare or graduated tax credits for daycare expenses, since we would never assume that an adult should stop working to care for their kids, thereby ceasing earning an income.
  • we wouldn’t give a tax break to married couples for their spousal dependent, a dependent who provides for the family the advantage of unpaid labor and/or childcare that single-adult families still have to do by either paying for it or by provide for themselves.  (i.e. currently, a two-parent family and a single family each earn the same income.  The two parent family pays less in taxes than the single parent family does–via having an extra dependent to deduct–and has the benefit of not having to pay for child care, which the single-parent family not only pays more in taxes but also has to pay a pretty penny for child care so that they can work at all.)
  • spouses wouldn’t be able to take advantage of their partner’s health care.
  • your sexual relationship to the person with whom you’d like to adopt a child would be irrelevant.
  • we’d have the same per capita work hours requirement to receive welfare services.
  • we’d offer tax deductions for rent, not just for mortgages*
  • I know there are more, but these have been on my mind.  

I think it’s clear, but some might wonder what’s wrong with having a family norm and with having people take responsibility for having kids only when “they can afford to”, with both time and money considerations.  Why shouldn’t they have to “pay the price” for choosing to be a single parent, or for “parenting-while-poor”?  The idea of having universal child care seems at first to giving some people a hand-out–an undue advantage over others; but the fact that we don’t have it means that in our society, we expect that certain adults should work and certain ones shouldn’t, and by not accounting for the necessity of child care, we are privileging those families who have an at-home parent.  The fact that single parents are supposed to suffer for their choice while two-parent families are benefitted by theirs demonstrates that our approach to social policies and structure privileges only one form of family. (more…)

Published in: on November 22, 2008 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Income disparity and “Middle Class” assumptions

I had wanted to write about the concept of the middle class and “who counts” back when McCain was criticizing Obama’s tax plans and Palin was self-labeling as a middle class American to explain why those media elites are against her, you betcha. At the same time, I have been teaching Sociology 101 for the first time (after majoring in it in undergrad), which obviously involves a lot of discussion over class, economic inequality, the meritocracy myth, the race-class connection, among other things that are the elephant in the room when addressing income, poverty, and taxation in the United States.

But teaching kept me I was super busy at the time, so I missed the opportunity to write about the realities of American’ income back then, but I have been given another chance with a recent Factcheck.org update, raising the issue of taxes and the poor that I want to discuss. I also thought it would be the perfect lead-in for my new blog, “Speak Truth to Power”, which will focus on social justice and issues of institutional inequality that I am interested in, but seem out of place on Don’t Ya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Smart Like Me?, my gender-sexuality cultural analysis blog.

So without further adieu, I want to delineate a few thoughts about income, the “middle class”, average Americans, and economic disparity. This first part goes back to those campaign moments that bothered me so. The second part takes a look at who exactly are the middle class. And the next parts will touch on issues of taxation, poverty, entitlement, and socialism that came up in the campaign and will not die.

1. During the first presidential debate, McCain made the following comment:

I know that the worst thing we could possibly do is to raise taxes on anybody, and a lot of people might be interested in Senator Obama’s definition of “rich.” (you can simultaneously read the transcript and watch the video here; clip begins at 11: 25 and the exact comment is made at 18:55). (more…)

Published in: on November 15, 2008 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment