Kathy G

The World According to Camille Paglia Is a Strange World

When last we left Camille Paglia, she was in full swoon mode with the latest female celebrity who's giving her a moistie, Sarah Palin.

I must confess to wondering if La Paglia's girlcrush could possibly survive the brutal revelations of the last couple of weeks. Look at some of the things we've learned about Palin since then:

-- while mayor of Wasilla, she forced rape victims to pay for their own rape kits (at a cost of up to $1200 per kit);
-- as governor, she's made it clear that she doesn't give a shit about Alaska's epidemic of sex crimes and domestic violence;
-- she didn't know what the Bush doctrine is;
-- she couldn't name a single newspaper or magazine she reads;
-- she couldn't identify a single Supreme Court decision that she disagrees with other than Roe v. Wade;
-- asked to name what she thought was the worst thing Dick Cheney has done as Vice President, she answered, "the duck-hunting accident;"
-- she gave a disgraceful performance in the vice presidential debate, spewing out sheer gibberish and avoiding answering many of the moderator's questions;
-- she has made vicious and scurrilous attacks on Barack Obama, openly questioning his patriotism and his commitment to the troops, and all but calling him a terrorist.

Call me crazy, but I kinda thought any one of those things would give one serious pause. And that all those things in combination would most definitely be a dealbreaker. Particularly for anyone who identifies herself as a "feminist" and an Obama supporter.

Well, I thought wrong. Here's our Camille in her latest Salon column:

McCain Insider Admits to Writing Fraudulent Letters to the Editor

Salon has got itself a scoop: they've published an insider's account of how she wrote fraudulent letters to the editor on behalf of the McCain campaign. Working out of the campaign's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, the author, Margriet Oostveen, produced pro-McCain letters that would then be signed by supporters in battleground states and placed in local papers.

The ghostwriters were openly encouraged to blatantly lie. Oostveen quotes McCain staffer Phil Tuchman exhorting the volunteers: "You can be whoever you want to be. You can be a beggar or a millionaire. A mom or a husband. Whatever. You decide!" Oostveen describes how she wrote her first letter, a shamelessly treacly concoction in which she falsely claimed to be the mother of a soldier stationed in Iraq. The letter got a big thumbs-up from the McCain people, with staffer Tuchman raving, "It appeals to the hearts of people. Can you write more letters?"

What Caused the Financial Crisis?

Chris Hayes has a very interesting post explaining the roots of the current financial meltdown. He says it has two basic causes: one is too much leverage, i.e., making investments where the amount of borrowed capital far exceeds the amount you have in assets. That seems fairly obvious.

The other explanation he gives is much more counterintuitive: too much capital. He explains:

This insight isn't mine. It comes largely from an episode of This American Life called The Global Pool of Money (an absolute can't miss episode, the best explanation of the whole crisis I've encountered.) This is a strange way to think about the problem, perhaps, but it's illuminating. The entire amount of capital that needs to find a home in the financial markets is roughly $70 trillion (in fixed income securities). But here's the thing, the size of this pool in 2000 was just 36 trillion. As Adam Davidson says in the TAL: "It took several hundreds years to get to 36 trillion and then it took six years to get to another 36 trillion."

The Whistleblower in the Cindy McCain Drug Scandal Speaks

After a long public silence, Tom Gosinski, the whistleblower in the Cindy McCain drug scandal, is speaking out. And what he has to say about John McCain is damning. Matt Stoller's got the goods, which you can read here.

As you probably know, during the 1990s Cindy McCain was addicted to prescription drugs, and was busted for stealing drugs from the medical charity she ran. If that was the end of the story, it would be sordid and sad, but not really a political issue, and not anything that's especially damaging to McCain. Practically every family I know has been touched with substance abuse in one form or another.

But there is much, much more to the story than that. For example, McCain lied about when he first became aware of Cindy's addiction -- he says he didn't find out until 1994. But Cindy, who was consuming  up to 50 Vicodin and Percocet pills a daily, had overdosed in 1991, and McCain knew about it (he visited her in the hospital and pressured the hospital to keep Cindy's overdose a secret).

Far more damaging, though, is that, as Stoller puts it, "it appears that McCain used his Senate staff and resources to cover upCindy's drug use, and potentially to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency from investigating his wife's theft of illegal prescription drugs."

Stoller sums it up:

Price Fixing and the Return of the Robber Barons

One of the most sweeping yet little noted changes that has occurred in American life over the past several decades, and especially within the last couple of years, has been the ever rightward drift of the nation's highest courts on economic issues. Nathan Newman recently noted that in recent rulings by the Supreme Court, "in almost every case where corporations challenged state regulations or taxing powers this term, the corporations won and state power lost." Yet few people seem to have taken notice.

The scant attention these rulings have received is in stark contrast to their potentially dramatic effects. Take, for example, last year's ruling in the case of Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS.  By a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned a 1911 precedent and, in the words of a front page article in today's Wall Street Journal, ruled that manufacturers could "set minimum prices on their products and force retailers to refrain from discounting."

The War on the Working Class Marches on

Proving once again why the Wall Street Journal should be required reading for all good lefties, today the paper reports on yet another way corporate America has found to screw the wage slaves among us. As the Journal explains, companies are using our pension funds to finance lavish executive perks:

At a time when scores of companies are freezing pensions for their workers, some are quietly converting their pension plans into resources to finance their executives' retirement benefits and pay.

In recent years, companies from Intel Corp. to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives' supplemental benefits and compensation.

What's the problem with this? Well, there are basically two of them: a) it's illegal, and b) it causes serious harm to ordinary workers:

A close examination by The Wall Street Journal shows how it works and reveals that the maneuver, besides being a dubious use of tax law, risks harming regular workers. It can drain assets from pension plans and make them more likely to fail. Now, with the current bear market in stocks weakening many pension plans, this practice could put more in jeopardy.

Worse, your tax dollars, and mine, are subsidizing the perks for these already extravagantly compensated execs:

Her Vagina Belongs to Daddy

I heart Digby for many reasons, but one of them is that she was among the first to write about the ghastly "purity balls" -- those sick Christian right rituals in which little girls pledge their "purity" to their daddies. She's written another post about this nauseating patriarchal rite, and it's especially sharp, because it concerns two of the things she understands best: the complete freaking horror show that is the American right, and the shallow, patronizing, bizarrely other-directed and thoroughly phony and dishonest spectacle that is the American mainstream media.

Time magazine has published a piece on the purity balls, and apparently, Time thinks they're just swell. Digby's take on this is spot-on as usual, but I especially enjoyed this:

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Racial Discrimination Alive and Well in Finance Biz

Responding to this post, a Certain Someone writes:

Credit is one of those weird areas where there is a lot of belief in discrimination, but as far as I can tell, not all that much evidence.

[. . .]

Yes, I've seen the research arguing that people in black communities get worse loan terms than their credit score suggests. As far as I can tell, this research failed to control for some pretty major factors, like assets. . .

[. . .]

Most of the aggregate research I've seen fails to reject the null hypothesis that there is no discrimination in loan markets . . .

Would that that were true. But actually, the bulk of the academic literature on this subject suggests that there is a significant degree of racial discrimination in loan and credit markets.

To be fair, it's not easy to determine the extent to which discrimination occurs. The available datasets are incomplete. Researchers don't necessarily know which variables the lenders and creditors are looking at when considering credit or loan applications, or how those variables are weighted.

Nevertheless, researchers have been able to get their hands on some unusually rich datasets, which they've examined using the most plausible specifications as to the lending criteria.

There are basically two types of credit discrimination that occur: discrimination based on the race of the applicant, and discrimination based on the racial composition of the neighborhood where the applicant resides (the latter type of discrimination is known as "redlining").

Speaking Ill of the Dead

I've noticed that a few (though fortunately not too many) bloggers have refrained from commenting on the death of Jesse Helms, on the grounds that they "don't want to speak ill of the dead." I find this reluctance to be genuinely puzzling. Obviously, just on the basis of Miss Manners 101, if you know someone personally who has recently lost a loved one, you're not going to go up to them and start railing about what a complete and utter wanker the deceased was. I mean, hardly anyone is big enough of an asshole to do that, are they?

Barack Obama and the Left

One thing before I get to anything else --if you're as disgusted as I am by the way Barack Obama and the rest of the Dems folded like a cheap camera on the FISA issue, do something positive about it -- donate money to Georgia state senator Regina Thomas. Thomas is an African-American who is running in the July 15th Democratic primary for Congress in Georgia's 12th district against the reactionary, pro-war, anti-inheritance tax, anti-immigrant, pro-telecom immunity incumbent, John Barrow. Thomas has sterling progressive credentials and given the fact that she's running against a conservative white man in a Democratic primary where 70% of voters are African-American, a lot of people think she has an excellent shot at winning.

Bloggers such as Digby, Matt Stoller, and the crew at Firedoglake have already come out in support of Thomas.   

To donate money to Regina Thomas via ActBlue, click here.

Now, on to the main subject of this post -- if you're a liberal Obama supporter, this past week or so has sucked pretty hard. We've seen Obama move sharply to the right on a number of fronts, including:

--  hiring the centrist, pro-Walmart economist Jason Furman as his economic policy director (and yes, I know that Furman's done good work on issues like Social Security privatization, but if you're truly committed to a progressive economic vision, he's not the guy you'd be hiring);

-- naming, as his campaign chief of staff, Jim Messina, who served as chief of staff to Max Baucus, and who appears to strongly support Baucus's pro-corporate agenda;

--  forming a Working Group on National Security that consists mainly of reanimated corpses from the 80s and 90s (Warren Christopher, Sam Nunn, David Boren, Madeleine Albright) rather than fresh, bold new thinkers like Samantha Power;

-- making statements
that are strongly supportive of NAFTA and that conflict with his position during the primaries (Obama is now saying he won't unilaterally re-open NAFTA);

--  releasing a campaign ad, his first of the general election, which hits on right-wing rather than progressive themes (it emphasizes "cutting taxes" and "moving people from welfare to work" -- why not "universal health care" and "getting the hell out of Iraq"?);

-- and, finally, throwing his weight behind the FISA "compromise," which deservedly earned him Atrios's dreaded "wanker of the day" award.

The Research Does Not Support An Anti-Divorce Position

In an earlier post of mine, I took Slate's Emily Yoffe to task for her ill-informed and intellectually dishonest characterization of the research about the impact of single motherhood on children. Over at the Freakonomics blog, economist Justin Wolfers looks at two new studies that concern a similar subject: the economic impact of marriage and divorce. Viewing these studies side by side is highly edifying. Call the the pair of them the Goofus and Gallant of divorce research. The Do-Bee and the Don't-Bee. Or what you will.

One of the studies is a scholarly paper in a peer-reviewed journal which seeks to disentangle the question of whether, in Wolfers' words, "divorce causes lower income, or whether lower income (or its correlates) cause divorce." The authors, Elizabeth Ananat and Guy Michaels, attack the problem of determining the direction of the causality by using what is called an instrumental variables approach. An instrumental variable (IV) is a variable which is correlated with something that is believed to be causing the outcome, but is not believed to be correlated with other unknown and unmeasured factors which may also be causing the outcome. In other words, it needs to be fairly random in nature.

The paper Wolfers looks at wants to measure the impact of divorce on income. To do an IV analysis, the researchers needed to find a factor that is correlated with divorce, but is not correlated with other unmeasured factors that may also have a causal impact on income (such as, for example, a person's health status). The IV they settle on is the sex of the first-born child. Research strongly suggests that if the first-born child is female, a couple is more likely to divorce, all other factors held constant. Therefore, the sex of the first -born seems to be a good IV, because while it does impact the likelihood of divorce it does not seem to be related to unmeasured factors that may have an impact on income.

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