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Overpaid Professors

June 13, 2013

David C. Levy’s “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough” (Washington Post 23 March 2012) is a red herring.  I don’t know whether tenured professors work hard enough because I’ve never been one.  What’s more to the point, it’s difficult to believe that Levy, an experienced college administrator, is unaware that the majority of college teachers are not the well-compensated tenured professors whose privileges he decries.  Most college teachers are now “contingent” faculty, part-time, temporary, and even contract workers.  Their salaries are in many cases less per hour than fast-food workers.  Contingent faculty often have no benefits such as health insurance, so that a colleague of mine worked with an untreated broken ankle for weeks.  Contingent faculty often have no job security, not knowing from term to term whether they will work, unable to resist censorship of their teaching, and encouraged to inflate grades by administrators’ overreliance on evaluations by students.  Another colleague of mine is slated for dismissal after 20 years of service because the college has changed the qualifications for the job.  I didn’t know that I would be laid off this term until it was too late to find another job.   

Surprisingly, Levy is not wrong about everything.  I would welcome the opportunity to teach during the summer, but that’s seldom available to contingent faculty.  Running all American schools year-round is an idea which deserves careful scrutiny.

Although Levy disassociates himself from “the political right,” his prescription shows how far to the right political discourse has shifted.  As usual, the elite answer to economic problems is to reduce labor costs.  But high teacher salaries are not the major drain on college budgets.    

Levy says, “increased public support has probably facilitated rising tuitions.” He has it backward.  It’s really significant that Levy admits that it has been for the last three decades that college costs have outstripped inflation.  According to the World Bank, the United States’ public spending on education in 1980 was 6.5% of GDP, but by 2010 it had fallen to 5.5.  For three decades, i.e., since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, public expenditures on education as a fraction of the GDP have shrunk because “the political right” has succeeded in reducing taxes on millionaires, billionaires, and the corporations which they control.  This has shifted the burden to students, who are now being crushed by debt while the corporate elite haven’t had it so good since 1929.  What a coincidence.     

The increasing cost of education, as that of health care, housing, food, and transportation is because for the past three decades, conservative politicians have convinced ordinary people that it is best for them if the government is small.  What that really means is that the world is increasingly controlled by big business.  Our present economic distress is the result of three decades of an unrestrained market which has concentrated power in the hands of a few multinational corporations, all controlled by the same people who sit on the boards of directors of multiple corporations.  Blaming workers for high costs is just part of the continuing program to shift money and power to the managers of multinational corporations.  Whether or not Levy knows this, that is the effect of his argument.    


Obama as Socialist

June 13, 2013

First of all, I consider socialism a good thing.  A dictionary definition says that it means government or public ownership of the means of production and distribution.  That’s too much for my taste.  I don’t think that government ownership of auto companies, farms, or railroads would be a good thing.  Most people are motivated by rewards for themselves and their families, so that capitalist economies are more productive than controlled economies such as the late Soviet Union.

On the other hand, the market fundamentalism pioneered by Reagan and continued mostly by Clinton and the younger Bush doesn’t work very well except for the very rich.  Tax cuts mostly for the rich, deregulation, free trade, and union-busting have landed us in the economic toilet.

The ideal economy seems to be some combination of capitalism and socialism, as exemplified by Western Europe and Japan.  While these countries are suffering in the global recession, their people are still better educated and healthier than Americans.  Germany, where corporations are required to have workers on their boards of directors, solar energy is very successfully replacing nuclear, and even Walmart employees have a union and 3 weeks paid vacation, is beating the crap out of America economically.

So how does Obama fit into this picture?  He’s made some very timid reforms in our corporatist, Atlas Shrugged nuthouse.  The main feature of Obamacare, the requirment to buy private health insurance, was proposed by the right-wing shills of the Heritage Foundation and enacted by Willard “Mitt” Romney.  Dodd-Frank, the reform of Wall Street, has done almost nothing to correct the high-stakes government-guaranteed gambling which brought us the recession of 2009.  Obama has merely replaced the quagmire of Iraq with the quagmire of Afghanistan.  Obama continues the fascistic behavior of the Bush national security regime with plans for unlimited arrest, imprisonment, and execution of whomever the President identifies as a “terrorist.” 

A genuine socialist would have fought for single-payer Medicare for all, break-up of too-big-to-fail banks, and rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq.  He would also restore high taxes on the rich, high taxes on imports, government regulation to protect the public from pollution, toxic food, and fraud, and protection of worker’s rights, especially the right to union representation.  This genuine socialist would be emulating Harry Truman, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Geo. Washington, who advocated the things which I mentioned.

Socialism is a bad word in America.  Americans don’t understand that it really means ordinary people using the government to protect themselves from predatory capitalists.  Resistance to predatory capitalism has been an essential part of the American tradition, going back to the Boston Tea Party, which was an attack on the British East India Company, which was trying to impose a monopoly in America.   

Career Politician

June 13, 2013

Politics has always been a career. 

For example, George Washington was born in 1732.  From ages 17 to 19 he was official surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia, a lazy, overpaid government worker, no doubt.  At 20 he became adjutant, at a yearly salary of 100 pounds, for the southern distict of the Virginia militia, in which he served for 7 years, .  At 21 Maj. Washington carried an ultimatum from the governor of Virginia to the French in the Ohio valley. At 22 Lt. Col. Washington led 160 men to attack the French near what is now Pittsburgh, igniting the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France. At 23 he served heroically with British Gen. William Braddock, who was disastrously defeated and killed, and Washington received command of the Virginia militia, a post he held until age 27.  Rejected for a commission in the British Army, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses at 27, serving for 15 years, until age 42.     

From age 42 to 43 Washington served in the Continental Congress, which elected him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, where he served for 8 years, until age 51. At 51 he retired from politics for 4 years, but while running his plantation he lobbied for a canal between the Potomac and Ohio rivers, which the Potomac Company, of which he was the president, would build and own.   

At 55, he was elected president of the Constitutional Convention. When the Constitution was signed, he conducted a discreet campaign for its ratification. He was elected president of the United States at 56. He served from age 57 to 65. He died after less than 3 years of retirement.

This little biography shows that Washington spent only 8 years of his 51-year adult life off the public payroll. This should show that there is nothing wrong with being a “career politician.” It’s just another example of conservative disinformation that politics is supposedly a field where lack of experience is a good thing.  Inexperienced politicians are more easily manipulated by corporate lobbyists, which is what the GOP wants.

Targeted Assassination

June 13, 2013

Barack Obama has been a profound disappointment to progressives, from the Wall Street insiders advising him, to his groveling before the GOP minority and Democrats-in-name-only during the last Congress.  Probably the worst of Obama’s misdeeds is the assassination of alleged terrorists.  As a constitutional lawyer, Obama has read the 5th Amendment which states that “no person…shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”  The method by which persons are marked for assassination can hardly be deemed “due process,” since it is secret.  While I am not an attorney, it is difficult to imagine a constitutional justification for intentional killing, apart from combat in a theater of war, of an individual not convicted of a crime.  I’ll vote for Ron Paul in the Michigan GOP primary because despite his naive economics, he seems serious about civil liberties.  I will probably vote for Obama in November as the best of a really bad lot of candidates, but I’ll not only hold my nose but wear a gas mask.