Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The unbearable insanity of being in the state of North Carolina

So three years ago, I moved away from a state that half of the residents want to leave. We left Illinois to settle (for now) in the Tar Heel state.

And I have to say - coming from a state everyone wants to leave, a state that has nothing in the coffers but a lot of IOUs to state employees looking for their pensions, a state with political corruption famous throughout the nation - nothing I witnessed in the Land of Lincoln has prepared me for politics in the Tea Party Tar Heel state. Nothing in Illinois - not a series of governors on the path to jail, not Blago and his big mouth (and fondness for Kipling), not RM Daley and his crony capitalism that helped the Loop grow pretty flower boxes and a very expensive Bean as the neighborhoods withered, not the epic failures of privatization set into play by Daley before he retired - none of this prepared me for politics in North Carolina.

That's how crazy it is in this state today.

When we moved to North Carolina from up north, it was in part because North Carolina had a reputation for being a moderate Southern state - purple, not blue or red. This is a Southern state that even went for Obama in 2008 (!!!)

Everything changed in 2010 when the GOP took over the state senate and house. And then it became one of the angriest red states in the country in 2012 when the GOP won all three branches of state government.

Since achieving super party status, the NCGOP has ripped up everything in the social contract - the NCGOP refused Medicaid expansion, initiated some of the worst voter suppression legislation in the country, looked the other way when a big donor started polluting the Dan River, shrank unemployment compensation (which shrank the labor force participation rate), slashed a huge amount of money from the UNC-system budget (no raises for professors either, under NCGOP rule), etc. and so on.

It has been more than half a decade since K-12 teachers were given a substantive raise. A couple years ago, they got a 1.2% raise - but that's not a raise - that didn't even cover cost-of-living increases since the last raise. It was PR that could be spun as a raise, but really, the "raise" probably wouldn't even cover a state politician's Starbucks budget.

Last week, the Republican governor proposed a modest pay raise for many (not all) teachers, and to do so, he had to pull money from the UNC system budget to cover the raises.

Today, after years of starving K-12 teachers (their pay rank dropped from middle of the pack in 2008 to 46th in 2014), the NCGOP-led state Sentate magnanimously announced generous raises for all teachers - raises that would bring NC back up into the middle of the national pack on the teacher pay scale.

Of course there is a catch... teachers must give up tenure if they want the raise. Those who do not want to give up tenure do not get a raise.

Now I may not be the biggest fan of tenure, but this is not the way to get rid of it. To get a long-delayed, much deserved raise in North Carolina, a teacher must first align with NCGOP ideology that tenure has no purpose and no reason for being. In NC, K-12 "tenure" is the right of due process before being dismissed. With that protection removed, I can see a future where teachers who do not teach what the NCGOP deems ideologically appropriate will get fired.

This is a state that made it illegal in 2012 to discuss global warming trends. This is a state that today wants to make it a felony to discuss chemicals used in fracking. This is a state that passed legislation allowing guns in bars and in parks and on college campuses, but arrests citizens for exercising their right to peaceably assemble at the state capitol.

So it is not far-fetched to think that this is a state where untenured teachers who do not teach creationism will get fired.

And that is part of the unbearable insanity that comes with being and living and paying taxes and sending one's children to school in the state of North Carolina.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Geithner gets an F on his stress test.

I have not read Tim Geithner's memoir of the crash, Stress Test. [I did read Hank Paulson's memoir of the crash - and discovered that we shared three things in common - birding, residence in Barrington IL (I lived there once, a long time ago) and a love of the boundary waters near Ely MN. Otherwise, Paulson and I do not see eye-to-eye on much, particularly on his handling of the bailout.]

I don't know if I will read Geithner's book. It is well-written, says Michael Lewis (author of Liar's Poker) in a NY Times review. But as I read Lewis's review, I wanted to throw the book at a wall - and I don't even own the book. Lewis quotes Geithner as saying:
"We did save the economy, but we lost the country doing it..." 
(My God! Is the economy "saved"? Not in my neck of the woods! But the country was indeed lost as a result of the crash.)

Lewis goes on to say:

"Geithner seems genuinely to believe that the details of the behavior inside the financial industry are largely irrelevant — that investors who bought subprime mortgage bonds simply suffered from the same misconceptions as everyone else. But he doesn’t begin to explain why, if investors were so numb to risk, Wall Street went to such lengths to disguise that risk. Why did our financiers stuff so many bad loans into incomprehensibly complex securities that even sophisticated investors were unlikely to understand, and then pressure deeply conflicted ratings agencies to declare them risk-free?"
I can only imagine why the banks hid the risk of their activites, and it was not out of ignorance or stupidity. They knew what they were doing, and they were blessed by a US government seemingly uninterested in holding them accountable for egregious failures. For Geithner, holding bankers accountable is apparently some kind of "Old Testament vengeance" rather than the normal course of action when people screw up as spectacularly as bankers did.

Apparently Repo 105 and over-leveraging one's business and betting against the US housing market (there's no place like home if you're a Goldman Sachs banker looking to pad the bonus) are standard business practices we should continue to encourage. And funneling billions and billions and billions of dollars to bankers was the ONLY way to solve the issues of the financial sector (Geithner seems unaware that there was an economy outside of Wall Street, an economy that has ramped up to putter-speed right now, more than a half decade after the crash.)

Geithner spent time on the Daily Show this week, listening to Jon Stewart talk about the book. Stewart devoted quite a bit of time to talking about the book to Geithner - here's part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5 of the interview. You'll see if you watch the segments, that Geithner, former Treasury Secretary, could barely get a word in edgewise.

And that's the problem with Geithner.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Yes, Jill Abramson's firing had everything to do with gender

Earlier this year, Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, was not happy with the reception given to his wife's story in the Guardian about a cancer patient. Emma Keller's story looked at the "ethics of tweeting a terminal illness" and focused attention on Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman tweeting and blogging about living with Stage IV breast cancer. Emma's post was so polarizing that the Guardian took it down (here's a cached version.)

A couple days after Emma Keller published her story about Lisa Bonchek Adams, Bill Keller wrote a piece about Adams as well. It was called "Heroic Measures" and it essentially called on Lisa Adams to shut up and die already. Here's how he opened the essay:
LISA BONCHEK ADAMS has spent the last seven years in a fierce and very public cage fight with death. Since a mammogram detected the first toxic seeds of cancer in her left breast when she was 37, she has blogged and tweeted copiously about her contest with the advancing disease. She has tweeted through morphine haze and radiation burn. Even by contemporary standards of social-media self-disclosure, she is a phenomenon. (Last week she tweeted her 165,000th tweet.) A rapt audience of several thousand follows her unsparing narrative of mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, biopsies and scans, pumps and drains and catheters, grueling drug trials and grim side effects, along with her posts on how to tell the children, potshots at the breast cancer lobby, poetry and resolute calls to “persevere.”
Keller's essay unfortunately has some factual errors - I guess he's perhaps become a careless reporter (like so many reporters these days!) Keller misreports the number of children Adams has (he said two; she has three). He also misrepresents Adams' condition. Adams does not feel she is in a "cage fight with death." She feels she is an example of living with cancer - and she's seeking to prolong the time she has to spend with her very small children. Keller also seems unable to comprehend why/how Adams has amassed this "rapt audience of several thousand" people. And he thinks her efforts to persevere are wasteful and wrong:
"In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America."
In Keller's mind, instead of engaging in that "medical trench warfare," Adams should choose as his father-in-law chose - to die, rather than seek to prolong life (because young mothers and very old men diagnosed with cancer should always choose death so as not to be a drain on the healthcare system).

Here's how Keller ends his essay: