Thursday, August 28, 2014

How The Confederacy Hopes to Win the Civil War. Finally.

In this taped speech Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell outlines how it will unfold if they win in November. How he will shut down the government, something Obama has been able to prevent them from doing thus far. EPA, gone. Affordable Care Act, gone. SEC? Gone. All regulations of corporations and banks and industries and trade fairness? Gone. Workers' rights? Gone. Consumer protections? Gone. Wind the clock back to 1860, to that halcyon period before working people had weekends off and paid vacations and health insurance and retirement, back to a time when children worked six or seven days a week.

Think of it this way…

Lincoln faced a determined, well armed, intractable enemy who wanted to bring down our national government once and for all. The government shaped by the U. S. Constitution. This enemy was called The Confederacy.

Today that Confederacy controls one house of Congress and the Supreme Court.

If they win in November they will control both houses of Congress and the Confederacy will finally have won the Civil War.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How We Think About The Dead

The New York Times described Michael Brown as “no angel.” An unfortunate choice of words on the day of his funeral. Especially if you consider (as Vox does here) the carefully worded descriptions they had published about some well-known mass killers. Timothy McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, the Columbine shooter, and others were described as "just like you and me." Was Michael Brown unlike you and me?

There is a very subtle mechanism we all insert into our judgments, to rationalize what has happened, to explain why it happened, to excuse it, to justify it. In the case of the white murderers it was a “who could have known?” rationalization. In the case of the young black man wrongly killed a week away from freshman year in college it is a reassurance that “Hell, he wasn’t really innocent at all.” A mechanism to help us not feel so bad about it, or at least not guilty ourselves.

Vox's Matthew Yglesias turns this on its head and asks the necessary question: what might happen to any of us in our own youthful brushes with the law if we were the color of Michael Brown?

We have a long and persistent habit of racism in this country. As William Faulkner said “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In his poem Let America Be America Again, Langston Hughes describes how different our inheritance of liberty and freedom and opportunity is depending on our skin color. It resonates especially loudly this month in Ferguson, Missouri.


Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

American newspaper archives are full of photographs from the last century and before of happy laughing crowds of white people gathered around the tortured, burned, disfigured, hung corpses of black men. The atmosphere is that of a town picnic. Who are those people? They are our ancestors. How should they be described in the New York Times? We know how the men they murdered were described.

A bit of history. A lynching in Omaha in 1919. Our ancestors were there and took part. We can't rationalize that away.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lincoln Was Hated Too

...Until they killed him.

On the day Obama was inaugurated Republican leaders met in private and swore to oppose everything, EVERYTHING, the new president tried to accomplish. This article in Tikkun summarizes it well. So do these articles: Washington Post, the Guardian, and DailyKos.

In at least one press interview these Republican conspirators compared their opposition to the Taliban. An interesting choice, considering they spent a lot of the first year screaming that Obama wasn’t killing enough Taliban in Afghanistan.

For two years the blockade leaked. Democrats got bills passed. The economy began to recover. The Affordable Care Act passed against a fierce fire from Republicans, never mind that the plan was designed around mandates and a healthcare marketplace first proposed by the Heritage Foundation. When Democrats found Republican points they could agree on Republicans hated them for it. They didn’t want compromise. They wanted dysfunction. They wanted war.

In 2010, corporations (whom the Supreme Court had reclassified as people) poured hundreds of millions of dollars (which the Supreme Court had reclassified as protected speech) to Republican candidates. Most of these candidates didn’t hide their anarchist fervor on the stump, and the wave of Republicans who retook the House of Representatives were the most radical the institution had ever seen. Radicals who scorned the rules and traditions of the House itself. They were anarchists. Their sole wish was to make the Congress cease to function. Their goal being to make Obama’s presidency a failure.

Now the opposition was total because they had the numbers. They refused to compromise on anything and could block everything. They used procedural maneuvers to prevent majority measures from passing. They used procedure to slow up ordinary congressional business. Routine stuff like departmental appointments which the opposition party generally allowed because departments needed people doing the work.

Not this time. No judges. No heads of various departments. Bush appointees were therefore left in place, which pleased the Republicans. Understaffed government agencies began to function less efficiently. Brilliant! This was exactly what the Republicans wanted. They wanted the government that did things to cease doing things like helping the unemployed, like treating veterans, like helping veterans of their wars find jobs. Maximum pain was the goal.

Then there was the debt limit. Bush had started two wars and kept their trillion dollar cost off the books. Obama put them back on the books, in a refreshing act of accounting honesty. But Republicans decided they didn't want to pay this debt. Just as they didn't want to pay unemployment benefits to vets. Or the upkeep of the nation's highways. Or relief to people suffering from the economic collapse. They didn't want to spend any money unless they could cut the taxes owed by their wealthy clients. International markets downgraded U.S. Treasury Bills, our sovereign debt. Republicans cheered. Something they wanted to happen couldn't possibly be their fault. It was the president's fault.

Republicans in the House voted more than 50 times to overturn the Affordable Care Act. They wanted to undo Obama’s signature achievement. Republicans who controlled red states refused to enact the ACA in their states, refusing federal money to assist their citizens who didn’t have healthcare coverage. A Scroogelike opposition.

Nice guys, these Republicans. Millions cheered them on. Why?

What was different? Was it because the president was….(black)? Perish the thought. Apparently it was because he was a foreign born Muslim, a silly falsehood Republicans raised again and again. Why did they raise it again and again? Because their constituents believed it. They believed it because their political masters told them to.

They hated Obama. They have hated him ever since he was elected. They hated him the moment he became black, which they prefer to believe was not in Hawaii.

People hated Lincoln too. People North and South, but mostly in the South. Until they killed him.

Lincoln had one advantage. He tried to solve serious problems that Americans had kicked down the road for generations, but he didn’t have to deal with a Confederacy that controlled the Congress and the Supreme Court. Today the Confederacy, the Lost Cause of sacred memory, lives in the Republican Party.

It didn’t die in 1865. The Confederacy lived on in Jim Crow all across the South where blacks could be lynched for registering to vote or for looking at a white person the wrong way, and there were a lot of wrong ways, whole etiquette books of them (the South was and is famously courteous.)

After LBJ passed civil rights and voting rights Southerners blamed the Democratic Party and became Republicans overnight. Nixon devised a whole program to welcome the racists and the anti-unionists and the male supremacists into the Republican fold. It was called the Southern Strategy. It was carefully written to enable white folks to hate and oppress black folks without calling them n*****s. So the Confederacy lives again. No white hoods required, just stubborn willingness to pour sand in the works of our democracy. Why? Racist spite seems extremely probable. You need to work very hard not to think so.

And it’s working brilliantly. Oppose everything, block everything Obama tries to do––even those proposals first made by Republicans––show willingness to make the nation default. The Republicans’ plan contained an explicit desire to make Americans suffer. They’ve laughingly admitted this. They know Americans will blame the president for all of their pain and frustration even if its caused by his enemies. Which is the purest, sickest, most unAmerican kind of cynicism. They've willed his exclusion from the public conversation, hogtied his economic recovery and carefully orchestrated hatred and blame from half of the country. They've gagged him and criticize him for not talking. When he does speak they damn him for poisoning the air––because they disagree. It is hard to be a black leader in a country with a history of racism. It's gotten so bad the news media feel compelled to minimize Obama's achievements. He has achieved a great deal, but who remembers? We've come a long way back since the previous president drove us into the ditch. How could a successful president be this unpopular? It is hard to explain.

So the harm is done. And we’ve let it be done. Our news media has hidden what has been done because to describe this kind of behavior honestly would appear partisan. So they soften it, disguise it, create phony balance. If the president’s opposition behaves in a racist fashion, well Obama must be a racist too.

It’s like that other case in Ferguson, Missouri, where the black man was wrongfully arrested, beaten, jailed and when the police discovered they’d arrested an innocent man from out of town they charged him with destruction of police property. While they’d been beating him up he’d bled on their uniforms.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Final Sorting

We are distorting the way our economy works, refashioning and refitting it to serve fewer people and thereby cutting more people out of it. The rich are behaving in a completely predictable way. The more we pay them the more they want, and every desire is quickly turned into a basic need.

(I wrote about this over a decade ago and nobody thought it was worth discussing.)

For the rest of us every basic need is redefined an expensive option, a remote "maybe", something we’re not entitled to.

It’s gotten to the point where the word “entitlement" is used as a pejorative term. We, who work for a living, are no longer entitled to anything. And the small minority of people who own for a living are entitled to everything.

We need to relearn what history taught us. We can allow people to grow rich, but being rich must bring obligations too. (Here's a good history lesson about this from the Washington Post. Anybody remember Magna Carta? We should have learned something from how England created its democracy.)

The bad old days were barely a century ago. (Does anyone remember the Ludlow Massacre?) We earned a better living standard the hard way. Our parents and grandparents got fed up and changed things. They organized, and elected a president who believed they had the right to be organized. That has been undone since.

In the past thirty years this has all been taken away and we have let it be taken away.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Racist Narrative

Here's an interview Chicago TV news had with a young African American. Cute kid, nice conversation. But they edited it to make it appear this black child wants to grow up to be a gang member with a big gun when he actually wants to grow up to be a policeman.

Here's FoxNews editing President Obama’s remarks about Ferguson, MO, taking out the portion where he deplores public violence against police, then accusing him of being anti-police.

There is a narrative which a certain part of our society prefers to hear, one that shows President Obama not being the evenhanded fair-minded leader he is, one that shows African Americans in a negative light to gin up the partisan and irrational feelings of white Americans.

This is racism. As William Faulkner said "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." A determined effort by deep dyed racists and deeply partisan forces in this country has worked very hard (and very profitably) to turn America back into a tribal society, where there is no honest public conversation, only confrontations with two sides screaming their different opinions at each other. Different races, different party affiliations, nativists and immigrants (and all those "nativists" descended from immigrants.)

FoxNews and talk radio prefer conflict, disagreement and hatred more than they have ever been interested in truth. The point isn't to promote honesty and facts, it's to attract viewers to their anger machine, to gin up team spirit.

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Friday, August 15, 2014


The author of this op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register served for eight years in the George W. Bush administration. He says the GOP has become a party of extremists.

Here's another lifelong dyed-in-the-wool Republican wondering what the hell happened to his party.

On a lighter note, this woman was chosen by the GOP as their best candidate for Vice President in 2008. (This video is a hoot, as is she.) She’s still a marquee draw at all conservative and Republican confabs. What message does that send?

I’ll let noted communist sympathizer George Will tell about where this whole Nixonian legacy began in 1968.

This is where this sorry history began. (You didn’t read about deep skullduggery in the Eisenhower years. Not domestically anyway. We know what happened in Iran and Guatemala.) In 1968 Nixon wanted so badly not to lose again that he sabotaged a truce that had been arranged between North and South Vietnam. It would have saved many thousands of American and Vietnamese lives, but it would have helped Humphrey win the presidency. What followed? Watergate. Bill Casey arranging for the Iranians to hold American hostages till after Reagan was sworn in as president. Iran Contra. The appointment of George W. Bush by the Supreme Court after the halt of the Florida recount. And today we have a Republican Party that proudly opposes everything done by the elected government of the United States, modeling their opposition on the Taliban and on the Confederacy.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

David Brooks Instructs the Poor On How To Be Better People

THE CHARACTER FACTORY (July 31, 2014) David Brooks

(With useful annotations and explanations of the author’s possible meaning)

Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children. Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t. [Do conservatives really want government to instruct all Americans on the content of their character, or only poor Americans? Are we to assume that poverty springs from failure of character? Do corporations of better character succeed and those of low character fail, or does it have more to do with luck, the way riches and poverty do? Is ruthlessness considered a positive character trait in a poor person? It's certainly essential in a corporation. When taxpayers rescue a company, say via bankruptcy, do they weigh the character of the CEO or the entire board of directors? Do they measure the character of every shareholder? No. We rescue corporations based upon collateral, the same as we rescue rich people. Often it is because that collateral is comprised of employees who didn't cause the company to fail, or the broader economy which might suffer, if the corporation is a bank and is large enough. Brooks hasn't begun well, has he?]

Most Democratic antipoverty programs consist of transferring money, providing jobs or otherwise addressing the material deprivation of the poor. Most Republican antipoverty programs likewise consist of adjusting the economic incentives or regulatory barriers faced by the disadvantaged.

As Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution pointed out recently in National Affairs, both orthodox progressive and conservative approaches treat individuals as if they were abstractions — as if they were part of a species of “hollow man” whose destiny is shaped by economic structures alone, and not by character and behavior. [What Mr. Brooks calls “abstraction” is what policymakers might call lack of prejudice. An attempt to make the grant of benefits less about whether the bureaucrat likes the look of the applicant. Once an applicant for assistance is concrete and no longer abstract, other forms of judgment come in. What we call “discrimination”. Does this sound familiar? Does the applicant look like someone you’d ask to lunch? Did your son play lacrosse with him at Choate? Is he “the sort of person” you’d like to have move in next door? Once the terms become concrete the decision is less about the applicant and more about the person granting the benefits, the person deciding the terms.]

It’s easy to understand why policy makers would skirt the issue of character. Nobody wants to be seen blaming the victim — spreading the calumny that the poor are that way because they don’t love their children enough, or don’t have good values. Furthermore, most sensible people wonder if government can do anything to alter character anyway. [Insert a silent “But…" Here is where Brooks gets credit for saying he won’t say something before he spends the rest of the column saying it.]

The problem is that policies that ignore character and behavior have produced disappointing results. [Disappointing to whom? By whose standards? Disappointing to conservatives who despise welfare programs? Disappointing in the way conservatives enjoy being disappointed? The way they have a habit of being disappointed? And who are the rich to judge the character of the poor? Seems like a lot of the failures of character in recent years have been by rich folks. Do we give Social Security benefits based upon “character”? No. Medicare? No. Not even corporate welfare programs are based upon character, otherwise corporations who run themselves into the ground might be found wanting. Only programs for the poor require extra tests to see if the recipients are worthy. And the only instances when corporate welfare is said by conservatives to require extra worthiness tests is when the rescue is called for to save the jobs of the employees who were not to blame for the corporate failure.] Social research over the last decade or so has reinforced the point that would have been self-evident in any other era — that if you can’t help people become more resilient, conscientious or prudent, then all the cash transfers in the world will not produce permanent benefits. [Perhaps this research (whose research?) has shown this uniformly discouraging result because by 2004 the U.S. had already degraded a lot of the meaningful and effective instruments of our social welfare system, and beefed up the systems devised to make obtaining welfare a hard job in itself, by creating bars and tests and restrictions, by erecting barriers to discourage the poor from getting help. These systems also shifted critical dollars away from the actual welfare and into the pockets of the functionaries hired to make welfare more difficult to obtain. And it happened at a time when working class incomes were in swift decline and jobs were being shipped overseas where they could be done by children for 50¢ an hour with no benefits and no 40 hour work week. The poor in other countries have more “character” than our own poor, they'll say, which means the poor will work longer and harder for less than America's poor. That's not character. That's inferior status. And fear.]

Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment demonstrated that delayed gratification skills learned by age 4 produce important benefits into adulthood. [Or maybe the children who failed were simply more hungry than the ones who succeeded? Mightn't this delayed gratification training be better applied to the preschoolers who will one day be corporate executives? Wouldn't you say that the impulsive self-centeredness and impatient greed of the 1% does more harm than the undisguised hunger of preschoolers? If delayed gratification signifies superior character, wouldn't 450 years of delayed gratification mean that descendents of slaves have a lot to teach the rest of us?] Carol Dweck’s work has shown that people who have a growth mind-set — who believe their basic qualities can be developed through hard work — do better than people who believe their basic talents are fixed and innate. [True. But is this a greater deficiency among the poor? Is it a fair calculus to apply to persons of innately limited ability, who also tend to wind up poor? Conservatives hate the “everyone is special” philosophy taught during the '70s, but they seem to think everyone is equally able. True? Or not? Should we punish the unlucky? Should we add a “character test” for those who God, in His wisdom, decided to bless with limited abilities?Perhaps this test would be more usefully applied to the scions of the wealthy classes whose lives will float happily on a tax-free pillow of inherited wealth, whatever their innate abilities––if David Brooks can persuade our men and women in Congress to eliminate the inheritance tax.] Angela Duckworth has shown how important grit and perseverance are to lifetime outcomes. [You want to see grit and determination? Spend some time with the horribly underpaid working classes in this country. After a full week working at Walmart or McDonalds and whatever other second job they have, they still have to expend the effort to jump through the foodstamp hurdles and endure the opprobrium of cashiers and fellow shoppers when they use these benefits. Enduring the scorn of others is real endurance. Don't get me started on the long commutes some of the working poor endure every day to get to their jobs, or the thousands taken from each of them via legal systematic wage theft by their employers and creditors.] College students who report that they finish whatever they begin have higher grades than their peers, even ones with higher SATs. Spelling bee contestants who scored significantly higher on grit scores were 41 percent more likely to advance to later rounds than less resilient competitors. [Can I obtain my Grit Score from the Grit Bureau the same way I get my Credit Score? Of course not. It's a fiction. Grit is one of those words that should be reserved for individuals enduring the indignity of menial work, not for the cosseted classes Mr. Brooks is more familiar with.]

Summarizing the research in this area, Reeves estimates that measures of drive and self-control influence academic achievement roughly as much as cognitive skills. [Shall we include the negative effects that persistent systematic discouragement and sense of class inferiority learned from the indignities the poor and persons of color suffer every day? That has a more measurable effect on achievement. Let's not include that, though, because it may skew the reassuring conclusions Mr. Brooks prefers with his breakfast. And I'm sure his is a nutritious hot one, enjoyed with the New York Times, neither of which are as available in many poor working class households. I'll bet the poor hardly ever see a decent half grapefruit between one Christmas and the next, and seldom enjoy the better kinds of granola.] Recent research has also shown that there are very different levels of self-control up and down the income scale. Poorer children grow up with more stress and more disruption, and these disadvantages produce effects on the brain. [Ya think? Amazing how this factoid is relegated to the bottom of one of the middle paragraphs, where the author sorts the things he wants you to dismiss quickly while giving him credit for mentioning them. How fair and honorable of Mr. Brooks. One star for Gryffindor!] Researchers often use dull tests to see who can focus attention and stay on task. Children raised in the top income quintile were two-and-a-half times more likely to score well on these tests than students raised in the bottom quintile. [I'm afraid I scored badly on this paragraph. Can someone untangle the previous sentence?]

But these effects are reversible with the proper experiences. [Like what, par example... Experiences like pony camp? Computer camp? Computer camp followed by ownership of a computer, perhaps even a current model with decent software? We'd be better off sorting the prospects of Mac children vs. the losers who grow up with Windows.]

People who have studied character development through the ages have generally found hectoring lectures don’t help. [This is inserted to correct the idea that David Brooks is hectoring, which he would never do. A poor person would need to have a subscription to the Times to feel hectored. The brilliance of this rhetorical strategy is astonishing. What is the Latin expression for it?] The superficial “character education” programs implanted into some schools of late haven’t done much either. [Here I will not say anything using David Brooks and superficial in the same sentence.] Instead, sages over years have generally found at least four effective avenues to make it easier to climb. [Stairs? Stairs that actually go up? Stairs that don't have double-locked doors at the top? Stairs which don't have a No Persons Of Color sign painted above them? I'm speaking in metaphors here.] Government-supported programs can contribute in all realms. [Brooks is saying this is government's responsibility. Or is this a clever trick?]

First, habits. If you can change behavior you eventually change disposition. [Shall we also consider changing the negative behaviors of people other than those needing social welfare programs? For instance the people who pay them miserably and get rich thereby? Red lining and other forms of economic prejudice are not habits of the poor or people of color. They're the habits of the outside groups who decide the destinies of poor people without regard to their worthiness or character or hard work.] People who practice small acts of self-control find it easier to perform big acts in times of crisis. [Was it by several centuries of self control that African Americans found it easier to invent the only significant art forms America is known for? I'm sure that's too complicated for conservatives to answer. Did Mr. Brooks ever know someone whose self control enabled him to overcome the effects of several generations of poverty in his family? Such cases are not unknown, but they are outliers, they are not the rule. Why? Perhaps it would be more fair to blame the pervasive failure of poor and working class children to enter Princeton on some societal factors rather than on the individual's lack of “grit.” Perhaps it has something to do with the shrinking number of places available to “poor-people-with-grit” in places like Princeton, places which need to charge Westchester-and-Darien prices to stay, as they say, in the black. Let's face it, scholarship programs are more carefully directed at young people who are just a bit below the top quintile rather than those far below it. And perhaps there are many more “young ambitious poor persons with grit” who fail than there are “young ambitious rich persons with or without grit” who fail. Grit is less of a difference here than background and the learned experience that we call history. The rich child is likelier to land on his feet however things turn out.] Quality preschools, K.I.P.P. schools and parenting coaches have produced lasting effects by encouraging young parents and students to observe basic etiquette and practice small but regular acts of self-restraint. [Is this Brooks's subtly disguised hymn to charter and private education? 
“Private enterprise is the answer to everything.” From what I've read young black males learn to exhibit basic etiquette among whiter peers and adults earlier and better than young white males do. Self restraint is not something wealthy children tend to learn, but they don't spend their lives paying for that failure. The rest of us pay for their failures as well as our own.]

Second, opportunity. Maybe you can practice self-discipline through iron willpower. But most of us can only deny short-term pleasures because we see a realistic path between self-denial now and something better down the road. Young women who see affordable college prospects ahead are much less likely to become teen moms. [Gosh...did you read this in the same handbook I got from my health teacher in 1965? Quit insulting us and I'll quit insulting you. Did women deserve the vote and the right to property more because they waited centuries for it? I refer again to the centuries that African Americans waited for the right to basic civil rights in this country. We didn't withhold that to make them better people. In both cases we white males did it to make ourselves rich and powerful at their expense. The wrong class of people seems to be giving the character lectures here.]

Third, exemplars. Character is not developed individually. It is instilled by communities and transmitted by elders. [Translation: why the hell isn't every black father exactly like Bill Cosby? Meaning, I guess, wealthy, understandably irritable and articulate.] The centrist Democratic group Third Way suggests the government create a BoomerCorps. Every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, some of them could be recruited into an AmeriCorps-type program to help low-income families move up the mobility ladder. [Shall we get right on this when the person of color gets out of the White House? Because nuthin's gonna happen till he's gone. The Confederate Army now occupying Congress have made that plain. Still, not a bad idea. The people in our generation who will never be able to afford to retire will need something to do. And those who can will need something to do not to feel like lazy privileged jerks. Genuine lazy privileged jerks have no trouble dealing with idleness and wealth.]

Fourth, standards. People can only practice restraint after they have a certain definition of the sort of person they want to be. [Oh, I love this. Yardsticks. Standards. Always applied downward, never applied upward toward the persons pulling down enormous annual barely taxed pay packages despite dismal corporate performance. Here's a standard practice for you: If a CEO does a lousy job he pays the shareholders back out of his enormous package from the previous year. Here's another: If a Congress spends its entire two years in office doing nothing but withholding benefits from unemployed people and veterans, degrading our infrastructure, opposing everything and posturing, they don't get paid. Another: If they retire to a lucrative job as a lobbyist they surrender their retirement.] Research from Martin West of Harvard and others suggests that students at certain charter schools raise their own expectations for themselves, and judge themselves by more demanding criteria. [Or maybe it's just that those families who go to the effort to move their child to a different school are likelier to be more demanding. Here's another standard we might enact, but you won't like it: Expect all American companies to pay their employees a living wage, a wage sufficient to feed a family. This failure belongs to the employer not the employed, not the struggling worker or his and her children. This failure IS a failure of character that belongs to the very very rich in this country who have become rich by exploiting hardworking people. That is an old American tradition, exploiting workers, but it's not one we should be proud of. It may build character in the exploited but all the rewards accrue to the exploiter whose character is deficient if it exists at all. Wealth absolves a person from having his character or worthiness questioned. After a few generations he is automatically a better person than his economic inferiors––according to “conservative” beliefs. Even the wealth from generations of slave trading and slave-owning can confer superior character on the heirs.
Time launders the family as efficiently as it launders the wealth.]

Character development is an idiosyncratic, mysterious process. [Magical thinking is useful when the real variety gets sticky, so let’s finish with a vague compound aphorism:] But if families, communities and the government can envelop lives with attachments and institutions, then that might reduce the alienation and distrust that retards mobility and ruins dreams.  

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