Friday, April 13, 2012

Whether Ann Romney understands plight of average woman depends on if she has cook or personal assistant

By Marc Jampole

The news media immediately jumped on Democratic factotum Hillary Rosen when she accused Ann Romney, wife of the presumed Republican presidential nominee, of being unqualified to speak about the economy and the struggles of most women because Ann has ”never worked a day in her life.”

Many have taken the remark to be a slur on housewives who don’t work outside of the home. Suddenly the question of Ann Romney’s competence to speak about economic matters has morphed into an insult to stay-at-home moms. Even President Obama and Vice President Biden defended Ann Romney and by inference those women who, for whatever reason, do not hold a paying job.

But I think that everyone missed the point, because Rosen used the word “work” ambiguously. I don’t think Rosen meant that Ann Romney has never held down a job, but that she has literally never worked, at least not since marrying her robber-baron-turned-hypocrite hubby.

The crux of my argument (and what I think Rosen was really trying to say) depends on yes answers to at least several of the following questions.
  • Does Ann Romney, owner of several houses in various places, have a cook?
  • Does she have a housekeeper or cleaning service working more than 16 hours a week in one or more of her homes?
  • A driver?
  • A personal assistant?
  • Someone who routinely is paid to do the food shopping? A gardener or landscape service that works on any one of her properties more than a couple hours a week?

I’m guessing that the answer to all of these questions is yes.

Virtually all women in the United States work very hard. Household chores, shopping and most of the non-fun part of child-rearing fall on the shoulders of the stay-at-home housewife. Women who have jobs typically do more of the housework and childrearing tasks than their spouses, and usually it’s a lot more.

If empathy only comes from experience then Ann Romney definitely cannot relate to most women, be they stay-at-homers, careerists or those burdened with dual responsibilities. Her actually experience in the work force is next to nil and I’m reasonably confident that she has even less experience scrubbing floors and toilet bowls.

But we’re not being given the choice of voting for Ann Romney. It’s her husband not Ann who is running for office. It is true that we have had a run of accomplished first ladies with fine careers beginning with a slightly more famous Hillary and including librarian Laura Bush and attorney Michelle Obama. But we’ve also has housewives who have made perfectly fine first ladies, including the wonderful Betty Ford, who did work before her marriage to Gerry. There is no law that says a first lady has to have had a career or currently have one.

Here’s some advice to voters that often gets lost in the avalanche of non-news stories revolving around personalities, petty spats, verbal blunders and he-said-she saids: Don’t vote for either candidate because you like their spouse or dislike the other’s spouse. Vote for the candidate on the stands he (and maybe someday she) takes and his/her fast track record.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Does making making list of Top 10 growth cities indicate vitality or regressiveness?

By Marc Jampole

Earlier this week, CNN Money published a list of the 10 cities in the United States that achieved the greatest population growth from 2000 to 2010.

I’ll save you the trouble of clicking through all 10 web pages to see all the top-growing cities by telescoping it to a single quarter page:
  1. Charlotte, NC
  2. Raleigh, NC
  3. Cape Coral, FL
  4. Provo, UT
  5. Austin, TX
  6. Las Vegas, NV
  7. McAllen, TX
  8. Knoxville, TN
  9. Greenville, SC
  10. San Antonio, TX

The first thing we note is that all of these cities are in the South and Southwest, where much of U.S. population growth has been over the past two decades. That besides population growth, being in these states means that these cities have:

  • Lower wages for most people than in the North, Midwest and Far West
  • Anti-union laws for decades (except Nevada)
  • Less extensive social nets for the poor, young, ill and elderly.

Politically these cities are all located in red states, although North Carolina and Nevada are in the process of moving towards the Democrats. Eight of the 10 cities were part of the United States in 1861, and all 8 of these joined the oppressive slave-owning Confederate States of America.

Before giving right-wingers the chance to say that this growth demonstrates that the conservative mix of free market economics and authoritarian social values works, let me point out a few things:

  • These states all receive more in federal funds and benefits than they pay in all federal taxes. From the time of the Roman Republic through the medieval French fairs and until today, places thrive when governments give them money.
  • The low-wage jobs that attracted people to most of these places took away other jobs which paid higher wages in other parts of the country which have better social service networks and more public services places. (Note that government and universities played the major role in Austin and Raleigh, while Las Vegas is in sui generis, its own thing).
  • These cities are all new and in parts of the country that resisted urbanization longer than the Northeast and Midwest. Newer cities grow faster than mature cities. By definition, regions undergoing urbanization send more people to the cities than regions that have already been urbanized.

I like Raleigh a little, and I’m told that I would enjoy Austin as I do Eugene, Madison, Ithaca and other university towns. But on the whole, this list symbolizes what’s wrong with America today. As a group, these cities are centered on malls that look like each other filled with stores that look each other. These cities are built for cars and not for pedestrians or mass transit. The cities all look more like suburbs than traditional pedestrian-filled, urban mixed use spaces. The states containing these cities have higher rates of poverty and infant mortality and lower rates of people with health insurance. The wages are too low for many workers and less money is spent on providing social services, public education and public spaces than in other states.

And then there’s Las Vegas.

Growth is not always good. Cancer is also a growth.

Since World War II a slow-growing cancer has been poisoning the United States: the car-and mall-centric suburban consumer lifestyle; this wasteful lifestyle in which every celebration, emotional response or other manifestation of a mental state consists of buying something, usually by first getting in your car and driving somewhere. For the same standard of living, we use many times more energy and other natural resources than Western Europeans and the Japanese. These top 10 growth cities all symbolize the reason why the United States is the major contributor to global warming and resource shortages.

These cities represent the growth of sprawl. I would feel much better about the future of the country and the world if at least a few of America’s fastest growing cities were of the traditional type, with great mass transit, beautiful urban parks, lots of interesting local stores, major museums and other arts institutions, many walkers during all times of day and lots of public spaces.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sunday NY Times loaded with articles that communicate hidden ideology to an unsuspecting public

By Marc Jampole

You ever wonder why Americans so easily follow our leaders into stupid wars or believe such nonsense as it’s uncool to do well in school or be smart?

It’s because hidden in the subtext of what we read, hear and see are a group of ideological assumptions that define how we live and think. The mass media spoon little messages into the hash of information and entertainment they feed us every day. These messages tell us what to believe or assume that we all believe the same thing:

The free market is best. Private sector solutions are always better than government solutions. All human relationships can be expressed and reduced to buying things. Society is best when we all act in our own self interest and not for the good of the whole. Learning and intellectualism are unappealing in both men and women. The United States is an exceptional country iwth a special role to lead the world.

We’re hammered with these false ideas day after day, and sometimes we don’t even know it.

Ideological subtext infects breaking news stories, but it drives feature news media, such as celebrity news, business, book reviews, entertainment and sports. Today’s New York Times shows two well-worn but contrasting ways to imbed ideology into feature articles.

In his weekly chess article, Dylan Loeb McClain reports on a Canadian TV show, “Endgame,” about a former world chess champion who never leaves his luxury hotel suite because he suffers from agoraphobia, which means he is afraid to be in wide-open spaces, crowds, and uncontrollable social situations such as shopping malls, airports, and on bridges.

Here we go again: a genius with severe emotional or relationship problems, unable to adjust, weird, unappealing, a nerd!!!

McClain, who has been doing a good job of telling the public about an exciting new generation of chess players like Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, did not have to do a story on this foreign TV show, which was never popular and was cancelled after one season. He chose to do the story, which means that he chose to perpetuate the myth that chess players are strange beasts.

Yes, Bobby Fischer, probably the greatest chess player of all time, was a nutcase. But Lasker, Euwe, Botvinnik, Karpov, Kasparov and most other world champs have been pretty normal people. I have hung around chess circles all my life and known hundreds of chess players. And some of them have been socially or emotionally off-balanced. Yet, it’s about the same as the percentage of nuts whom I have encountered among Scrabble players, poets, baseball and softball players, public relations professionals and boards of synagogues, social service agencies and other charitable organizations.

McClain’s completely nonjudgmental article focuses on how “Endgame” tries to get the chess right. But as a promoter of chess, McClain should care more about getting the image of chess right. Based on knowing hundreds of chess players, here’s the accurate image of the typical great chess player: a young man who does well in school, is a great athlete and has lots of friends of both sexes. That describes about 15 of the top 18-20 teenage chess players in the Pittsburgh area when my son was playing.

What we have then is one of the most important promoters of the game most associated with intelligence and intellectualism accepting as a given the premise that chess players are weird.

Now let’s turn to one of the cover stories of today's Book Review in which Jonathan Freedland proves once again that the Times book section is always interested in airing the full spectrum of opinion from right-of-center to right-of-center.

Freedland reviews new books on contemporary American geopolitics by Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and policy wonk Robert Kagan. The premise of the review, as lifted in a quote made large in the wide outside margin of the page, is that “Brzezinski from the left and Kagan from the right agree that America should remain dominant.”

The first distortion is to label Brzezinski as a leftist. When he first appeared in the public imagination in the mid-70’s, it was as a centrist wanting to continue to normalize relations with China and the Soviet Union and interested in pursuing the business interests of large U.S. based multinational corporations. His views on Israel and the Middle East seem right of center to me. Kagan’s own views, as expressed in his new book, have been endorsed by President Obama, the avatar of right-of-center internationalism. Kagan may be to the right of Brzezinski but only by a hair or two.

After setting up the false dichotomy between left and right by portraying one center-rightist as a leftist and another as a rightist, Freedland expresses surprise to learn how much they agree with each other, especially on what matters.” Of course they agree with each other. They both belong in the Jack Kennedy-Scoop Jackson-Richard Nixon-Bill Clinton school of right-looking centrists on international matters.

This school, and American government officials and policy wonks in general, always feel the need to justify American imperial power plays abroad by placing the United States on the twin moral pedestals of pursuing democracy and free market capitalism. No wonder, then, that Kagan is able to write that “The two authors agree that it’s in everyone’s interest, not just America’s, for the United States to remain dominant.”

These two distinguished authors may say it and Kagan may repeat it, but it’s little more than a pretty fiction that our leaders have been telling us, and themselves, for decades. I’m not questioning the need for the United States to remain dominant for the benefit of U.S. multinationals and their political and academic factotums to thrive. And with economic and military dominance, it will be easier for these ruling elites to keep most of the rest of us satisfied with the crumbs from their tables.

What I object to is the false statement that U.S. dominance will be good for the rest of the world. It’s self-serving jingoism, and it’s based on the ideology of American exceptionalism. Like McClain’s covert (and perhaps unknowing) advocacy of anti-intellectualism, Freedland embeds the ideology of exceptionalism into his article by accepting it as an undeniable premise.