It's always been odd to me to see working class people vote for Republicans, a political party that would like to see their children enslaved. OK, maybe that's a little extreme... but GOP policies point, at the minimum, toward indentured servitude or serfdom for the vast majority of Americans.
Of course, it isn't only Republicans. Ben Nelson's political career has always been based on class war in favor of the 1%. He's not only one of the richest members of Congress (2008 net worth was over $12 million), he remains an unswerving warrior for the corporations that have handed him a life of Riley, despite the consequences for the useful idiots in his home state who vote for him. Nelson has a "D" next to his name, but his patterns-- and, to a large extent, his voting record-- are pure GOP. Many Nebraskans don't know how lucky they are that he's finally leaving, even if the net result is to just encourage Democrats in the state to build up a pathetically weak bench and force them to reach out to their neighbors and explain that the Fox explanation for the difference between progressives and reactionaries is, at the very least, inadequate.
And we don't even get into discussions of Tiffany's revolving credit, Jon Huntsman's billionaire dad or Mitt Romney's ass-backwards remarks about Marie Antoinette yesterday to show how joined at the hip the party is to the plutocracy. This week at AlterNet Sarah Jaffe singled out 10 ultra-rich congresspeople who 'represent' some of the most financially screwed districts. "The hard times that most Americans continue to experience," she writes, "don't seem to be making an impact on their representatives in Washington."
Now a new report might shed some light on why. According to a Washington Post story this week, ?Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home equity.?
Members of Congress have only been getting richer over the last 25 years.
?Over the same period,? the Post continued, ?the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500."
1. Rep. Mike Kelly, Republican, Pennsylvania District 3
The Post quoted Kelly, who represents a working-class Western Pennsylvania district, as saying, ?Let?s stop railing against the really wealthy because I got to tell you something, as a guy who has had to pay his own way his whole life, I am greatly offended by the idea that somehow someone in Washington knows how to spend my money better than I do.?
But Kelly's idea of paying his own way includes inheriting a car dealership, marrying a wealthy oil heiress, and making some money from the government bailout of the auto industry. As a car dealer, he also profited from the government's ?Cash for Clunkers? program. In 2010, he was the 22nd richest member of Congress, with an average net worth of $34,612,518.
Meanwhile, 16 percent of the people in his district-- and a whopping 46 percent of its African-American population-- live in poverty. 33,403 children, or 24 percent, are poor, and 9.2 percent of the adults are unemployed. The household median wage is a mere $42,639-- almost $8,000 less than the national average-- and 9 percent make less than $10,000 a year. Only 1.5 percent make over $200,000 a year, and nearly 14 percent used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (commonly known as SNAP or food stamps) in the past year.
2. Rep. Diane Lynn Black, Republican, Tennessee District 6
Black was elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party class in 2010, from a mostly suburban and rural area east of Nashville, and is the 25th richest member of Congress, with an average net worth, according to the Post, of $31,272,522. Her husband is CEO of a company called Aegis Sciences Corp., which according to its Web site ?was founded as a sports anti-doping laboratory at Vanderbilt University? and ?has evolved into a full service forensic sciences company providing toxicology and consulting services.?
Despite the fact that 16 percent of her constituents live in poverty, including 23 percent of the children and a full 39 percent of Latino residents, Black voted against the payroll tax cut and unemployment extension. (Her district also has 11.1 percent unemployment.) The median income for a household is $43,712 a year, and 8.1 percent make under $10,000 a year, with 15.2 percent needing food stamps to help feed their families.
3. Rep. Jim Renacci, Republican, Ohio District 16
Jim Renacci was also elected to Congress in 2010, and with his average net worth of $42,060,709, became the 20th richest lawmaker. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, his fortune comes from nursing homes, real estate investments, car and motorcycle dealerships, a bar and grill, an arena football team and a minor-league baseball team. The Plain Dealer also reported that he sold 40 cars worth $754,167 under the Cash for Clunkers program, and that he had to pay $1.3 million in back taxes in 2006 to make up for misreporting on his 2000 form.
Meanwhile, in Renacci's district, unemployment is 11 percent, 83,518 people (or 13 percent) live in poverty, which includes 22 percent of the children and 39 percent of African Americans. Only 2.2 percent make over $200,000 a year, while 6.5 percent make less than $10,000 a year and the median household income is around $46,000.
4. Rep. Kenny Marchant, Republican, Texas District 24
Marchant was a close ally of then-Texas governor George W. Bush, and according to the Sunlight Foundation has the fifth-largest holdings in oil companies among members of Congress. The 17th richest Congressperson in 2010 is a member of the Tea Party Caucus and has an average net worth of $49,340,275. Marchant is a real estate developer who owns a home construction company.
Marchant's district is fairly well-off, with a median income of $57,031 a year, but 20 percent of its children still live in poverty as does 23 percent of its Latino population.
5. Sen. James E. Risch, Republican, Idaho
Risch was elected to replace the disgraced Senator Larry Craig (who was arrested for soliciting in an airport bathroom). He's the 16th richest member of Congress, with an average net worth of $54,088,026. A longtime politician and former Idaho governor, Risch apparently came to his wealth through his time as a lawyer. According to the Spokesman-Review, ?Risch is well-known in Idaho as a self-made millionaire who built a fortune as one of the state?s most successful trial lawyers while also building a political career as a longtime state senator from Boise.?
Meanwhile, back in Idaho, 15.7 percent of the population are living in poverty, including 80,316 children. Thirty-two percent of the state's Native American population also fall beneath the poverty line. The median household income is only $43,490, and only 1.8 percent make more than $200,000. Ten percent of Idaho's civilian labor force is unemployed, and 12.5 percent were on food stamps at some point in the last year.
6. Sen. Bob Corker, Republican, Tennessee
Corker is the largest landowner in Hamilton County, Tennessee. He was accused, when mayor of Chattanooga, of illegally using his position to push through a land deal between one of his companies and Wal-Mart. The 15th richest congressman, Corker's average net worth in 2010 was $59,550,022, according to the Post. And he's a fan of the Bush tax cuts, which unsurprisingly keep his own taxes low.
Corker's constituents in Tennessee have a median wage just over $40,000 a year, and 17.7 percent of them are below the federal poverty line. Twenty-six percent of Tennessee's children, 29 percent of its African-American population, 34 percent of its Latinos and 36 percent of its Native American residents live in poverty, while 11.3 percent are unemployed and a full 17 percent used SNAP benefits to get through the last year.
7. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat, West Virginia
Yes, he's one of those Rockefellers. He's a great-grandson of the famed John D. Rockefeller, the first Democrat in a Republican family, and often a fairly progressive voice on economic issues. He offered a public health insurance option amendment to the Senate's version of the healthcare reform bill (it failed) and co-authored the CHIP program, which gives low-income children health insurance.
Still, the fact remains that Rockefeller is incredibly wealthy. The 10th richest member of Congress in 2010, his average net worth was $99,057,011 according to the Post. Meanwhile, his constituents are the poorest on this list-- 18.1 percent of West Virginians live in poverty, and the median household income in his state is $38,218. Just 1.4 percent make over $200,000, and 15.4 percent have used food stamps to get by this year. 8.9 percent of West Virginians are unemployed.
8. Rep. Vernon Buchanan, Republican, Florida, District 13
Buchanan, the eighth richest member of Congress in 2010 with a net worth somewhere around $136,152,641, was the founder of American Speedy Printing Centers and also got rich selling cars. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported in 2006 that Buchanan ?uses offshore reinsurance companies in Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands to reduce taxes on extended warranties sold by his auto dealerships,? which, it pointed out, is neither illegal nor uncommon, but is controversial and provoked a defensive statement from the then-candidate that he had always paid his taxes, ?But I don't think anyone should pay more taxes than they owe."
Buchanan's district has seen poverty rates increase since 2007, with 15 percent now under the poverty line and 13.7 percent unemployed. Nine percent have used food stamp benefits in the past year, and 6.1 percent are making less than $10,000 a year.
9. Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican, Texas District 10
McCaul is married to the daughter of Clear Channel Communications' chairman and was the second richest member of Congress in 2010, clocking in with an average net worth of $380,411,527. In addition to voting against the payroll tax cut, McCaul voted to cut off mortgage modification aid for underwater borrowers under the Home Affordable Modification Program and echoed the same old claim that the wealthy are ?job creators.?
But back at home in Texas, plenty of McCaul's constituents are still having a rough time: 7.3 percent of them are unemployed, and the poverty rate has increased since 2007, with 13 percent of the population and 18 percent of children living below the poverty line. Nearly half his district's poor (65,142 out of 128,357) are Latino.
10. Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican, California District 49
?In Mr. Issa?s case, it is sometimes difficult to separate the business of Congress from the business of Darrell Issa.?
Those were the words of Eric Lichtblau, writing in the New York Times this August about the activities of the man the Washington Post calls the richest in Congress. According to the Post, he has an average net worth of $448,125,017, and Lichtblau noted that unlike many other wealthy members of Congress (including Rockefeller and Sen. John Kerry), Issa takes a direct hand in running his outside business.
In Issa's Southern California district, 14 percent of the people and 21 percent of the children are living below the poverty line. 13.8 percent are unemployed, and 5.1 percent used food stamps in the past year. Median household income is relatively high-- $57,399-- but 5 percent still make less than 10K. While Issa has been good at bringing home projects that enhance his private wealth, it seems that many of his constituents are not feeling the benefits.
Lichtblau wrote, ?As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman?s government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.?
The Debunking Handbook is a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.
This is part five of a five-part series originally published at Skeptical Science.
Assuming you successfully negotiate the various backfire effects, what is the most effective way to debunk a myth? The challenge is that once misinformation gets into a person?s mind, it?s very difficult to remove. This is the case even when people remember and accept a correction.
This was demonstrated in an experiment in which people read a fictitious account of a warehouse fire.1,2,3 Mention was made of paint and gas cans along with explosions. Later in the story, it was clarified that paint and cans were not present at the fire. Even when people remembered and accepted this correction, they still cited the paint or cans when asked questions about the fire. When asked, ?Why do you think there was so much smoke??, people routinely invoked the oil paint despite having just acknowledged it as not being present.
When people hear misinformation, they build a mental model, with the myth providing an explanation. When the myth is debunked, a gap is left in their mental model. To deal with this dilemma, people prefer an incorrect model over an incomplete model. In the absence of a better explanation, they opt for the wrong explanation.4
In the warehouse fire experiment, when an alternative explanation involving lighter fluid and accelerant was provided, people were less likely to cite the paint and gas cans when queried about the fire. The most effective way to reduce the effect of misinformation is to provide an alternative explanation for the events covered by the misinformation.
This strategy is illustrated particularly clearly in fictional murder trials. Accusing an alternative suspect greatly reduced the number of guilty verdicts from participants who acted as jurors, compared to defences that merely explained why the defendant wasn?t guilty.5
For the alternative to be accepted, it must be plausible and explain all observed features of the event.6,1 When you debunk a myth, you create a gap in the person?s mind. To be effective, your debunking must fill that gap.
One gap that may require filling is explaining why the myth is wrong. This can be achieved by exposing the rhetorical techniques used to misinform. A handy reference of techniques common to many movements that deny a scientific consensus is found in Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?7 The techniques include cherry picking, conspiracy theories and fake experts.
Another alternative narrative might be to explain why the misinformer promoted the myth. Arousing suspicion of the source of misinformation has been shown to further reduce the influence of misinformation.8,9
Another key element to effective rebuttal is using an explicit warning (?watch out, you might be misled?) before mentioning the myth. Experimentation with different rebuttal structures found the most effective combination included an alternative explanation and an explicit warning.4
Graphics are also an important part of the debunker?s toolbox and are significantly more effective than text in reducing misconceptions. When people read a refutation that conflicts with their beliefs, they seize on ambiguities to construct an alternative interpretation. Graphics provide more clarity and less opportunity for misinterpretation. When self-identified Republicans were surveyed about their global warming beliefs, a significantly greater number accepted global warming when shown a graph of temperature trends compared to those who were given a written description.10
Another survey found that when shown data points representing surface temperature, people correctly judged a warming trend irrespective of their views towards global warming.11 If your content can be expressed visually, always opt for a graphic in your debunking.
The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.
The year 2011 brought the most billion-dollar climate disasters to the United States ever, piling history-making events on top of each other to catastrophic results. The litany of disaster included a scorching drought that rivaled the Dust Bowl summer of 1936, a tornado season twice as bad as the great 1974 tornado outbreak, and flooding worse than the the great 1927 flood on the Mississippi River. This year of disaster was the result of the unlimited burning of fossil fuels, which has trapped increasing amounts of heat in the atmosphere, disrupting our climate system.
In an interview with PBS News Hour, Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters described the effect of the hundreds of billions of tons of global warming pollution as being like “steroids for the atmosphere,” intensifying extreme weather to unprecedented results:
We look at heat waves, droughts, and flooding events. They all tend to get increased when you have this extra energy in the atmosphere. I call it being on steroids for the atmosphere. Normally, you have the everyday ups and downs of the weather, but if you pack a little bit of extra punch in there, it’s like a baseball hitter who’s on steroids. You expect to see a big home run total maybe from this slugger, but if you add a little bit of extra oomph to his swing by putting him on steroids, now we can have an unprecedented season, a 70 home run season. And that’s the way I look at this year. We had an unprecedented weather year that I don’t think would have happened unless we had had an extra bit of energy in the atmosphere due to climate change and global warming.
Watch the program:
Nationwide, more than 6,000 heat records were broken this year. On average, the U.S. has three or four events every year that are considered major natural disasters. But, this year, there were at least fourteen billion-dollar disasters. Damages are expected to exceed $53 billion.
Oh, Mitt, will you ever cease to parse?
"I am not going to be the technical divider of what's Wall Street or not. Wall Street is typically thought of as investment banking and banking and we were not an investment bank or a bank. But we were in the financial services sector generally," Romney said. "I am not a Wall Street guy, classically defined, but I am not going to quibble over definitions."
And then Romney proceeded to quibble away:
"I can tell you that I have run four different enterprises in my life. One was a consulting firm, one was a private equity and venture capital firm, one was an Olympics, and the other was a state. And my track record in those places speaks for itself," he said.
Except his record doesn't really speak for itself, at least not literally, because in many cases, his record has gone missing. As governor of Massachusetts, he deleted every email sent by his staff; he's refused to release his income tax returns; and in the same interview in which he claimed he wasn't a Wall Street guy, Romney claimed that Bain Capital hadn't received any funding from investment banks ... without offering any evidence.
"I don't believe any of the funding came from Wall Street, meaning from investment banks or the like," Romney told The Huffington Post on board his campaign bus as he barnstormed this state ahead of next Tuesday's caucuses, which kick off the Republican primary process.
"Our funding came from individuals, and then ultimately we got funding from a church pension fund, endowments -? I think our largest single investor group were endowments, colleges," Romney said. "And then we used those funds to either start businesses, venture capital, or to try and buy businesses in trouble and make them stronger. That's not technically Wall Street, that's not an investment banking function, but it is financial services."
So Mitt Romney wants us to know his business was primarily financed by churches and colleges. If that's true, fair enough, but why is Romney bothering to point this out? Does he believe that businesses that are funded by churches and colleges are more virtuous than ones funded by investment banks? And if it turns out his claim is not true, is Romney inadvertently saying Bain was founded with "dirty" money? I thought Republicans were supposed to be indifferent to this kind of stuff.
But whatever Romney's motivations, there's no evidence for his claim. As HuffPost's Jon Ward reports, a former Bain official said he believed Chase Bank, Banker's Trust and the Bank of Boston all were investors in the firm. Whether there's evidence or not, however, Romney says whatever he thinks he needs to say to win the moment. As with every other aspect of his public life, he's only consistent insofar as he believes consistency will serve his interest. And for the most part, that hasn't been very far at all.
Pondering his latest story change? (Reuters)Over the past couple of weeks, Iowa caucuses front-runner Ron Paul has been changing his story and then changing the changes about his role in publishing incendiary newsletters. Added to that now is scrutiny of Paul's 1987 book Freedom Under Siege: The U.S. Constitution after 200-Plus Years. It first saw the light of day in the run-up to his 1988 campaign for president on the Libertarian Party ticket and was republished in 2007.
Peter Hamby reports:
"The individual suffering from AIDS certainly is a victim?frequently a victim of his own lifestyle?but this same individual victimizes innocent citizens by forcing them to pay for his care," Paul wrote. ...
"Every year new groups organize to demand their 'rights,'" he continued. "White people who organize and expect the same attention as other groups are quickly and viciously condemned as dangerous bigots. Hispanic, black, and Jewish caucuses can exist in the U.S. Congress, but not a white caucus, demonstrating the absurdity of this approach for achieving rights for everyone." ...
"Employee rights are said to be valid when employers pressure employees into sexual activity," Paul wrote. "Why don't they quit once the so-called harassment starts? Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how can the harassee escape some responsibility for the problem? Seeking protection under civil rights legislation is hardly acceptable."
What a piece of work this guy is.
It would be heartening if some prominent Democrats, presidential candidates even, would say what Ron Paul is saying (mostly) about U.S. imperialism, what he is saying (mostly) about the War on Some DrugsTM, what he is saying (mostly) about civil liberties. In those arenas, the nation would be well served if he were broadly emulated.
But only by ignoring all his other odious points of view, offensive, disgusting, hate-filled points of view, can Ron Paul be defended. To ignore those is to condone racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, 1%erism, anti-environmentalism, victim-blaming, social safety net-shredding and conspiracy-mongering. If he makes it tougher for the Republicans to focus on their final choice for a presidential nominee, if he becomes a spoiler, huzzah to that. But anybody on the left who thinks he would be a worthy candidate for our side is afflicted with a serious case of tunnel vision.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who ran on a job creation agenda, and who used job creation as an excuse to assault the rights of workers, ended his first year in office having shrunk the size of the workforce in the state. The governor and the media are touting his job creation numbers, but Ohio blog Plunderbund does a masterful job taking those claims apart:
You see, Ohio?s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year. So until June 30, 2011, Ohio was still under Governor Ted Strickland?s last budget even though Kasich was Governor.
In pushing the legislature to pass it, Kasich said his ?Jobs Budget? was the reform-oriented group of policy proposals that would lead to job creation in Ohio. No other piece of legislation has Kasich claimed would do more good for the economy than his ?Jobs Budget.? It?s where JobsOhio got its funding source, it?s where the State repealed the estate tax (although not effective until June 30, 2013? because otherwise the legislature would have had to find a way to pay for it.) It?s is the alpha and omega, so far, of all of Kasich?s economic policies.
Most of the 46,600 jobs that Kasich touts as having been created in Ohio since he took office were created before his ?Jobs Budget? was in force. In fact, more than 82% of the jobs that were created since Kasich took office were created before July of this year (when Ohio was still under Governor Strickland?s budget.) In fact, over half of the new jobs created during Kasich?s entire term so far were created within the first 90 days of the Administration.
What did Kasich due during that time that warrants him receiving credit for those jobs? Nothing.
The Plunderbund post goes on to also report on the most important bit of context that needs to be taken into account when any job creation numbers are mentioned -- are people getting jobs or are they dropping out of the workforce? Can you guess what's happening in Ohio?
And as for the labor population (the measure of how many individuals are working or looking for work), the labor market shrank in the six months before the Jobs Budget became law by 15,000. Given that it shrank by 22,000 in November alone, do you really want to know the number of how much its shrunk in the five months since the Jobs Budget became law?
Over 48,000 Ohioans have dropped out of the labor market since the ?Jobs Budget? became law.
To put it another way, more Ohioans have dropped out of labor market in Ohio in the five months since the ?Jobs Budget? became law than all the jobs Ohio has created since January of this year.
In short, it?s hard to look at the totality of the objective economic data in Ohio and say that John Kasich deserves any credit. Quite the opposite, it?s easier to suggest a negative correlation, and that John Kasich?s agenda has actually hurt job creation, rather than helped it.
Another day means another new poll of the Iowa caucuses and it is more good news for Mitt Romney. According to the Marist/NBC poll Mitt Romney leads in the state followed by Ron Paul in a close second. From Marist.[...]
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Call it the Meryl Streep money shot, the scene most likely to appear in the Oscar montage for best actress. Margaret Thatcher sits in a patient?s paper gown, grasping for her wits through a fog of Alzheimer?s, aware she must perform a charade of competency. A young doctor peppers her with questions about whether she?s experiencing hallucinations and how she's feeling. And just like that, the anxious old woman transforms, replaced by a former U.K. prime minister who draws herself up, fixes her opponent with a glare, and issues a flinty indictment about the tyranny of modern life, dominated by those who ?care more about feelings than thoughts and ideas.?
The irony is that the much-anticipated The Iron Lady hews precisely to this formula. Long on sentiment but short on statement, the film is a star vehicle for Streep, who does her usual, impeccable job of conjuring flesh and blood out of a stale script. This time she?s channeling director Phyllida Lloyd?s take on Thatcher as a grocer?s daughter who battled stuffed-shirt sexism to become one of the most powerful and controversial leaders in the world. Lloyd catches her subject on the downswing, however, recounting the story of Thatcher?s reign through a series of senility-induced flashbacks. By telling this story from the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator, Lloyd presents a more intimate than iconic portrait of Thatcher?a small-screen lady Lear on the heath. As Thatcher is still alive, some of her supporters have looked askance at the film?s alleged insensitivity and invasion of privacy. Thatcher herself might have protested this treatment as well, but for different reasons. It seems unlikely that the powerhouse who shredded Britain?s post-war social-democratic contract, sacked scores of ministers, and went to war with ?the enemy without? (the Argentinian junta over the Falklands) and ?the enemy within? (striking miners at home) would prefer a profile more focused on Thatcher than Thatcherism, particularly if that portrait failed to reveal her relevance today.
With her embrace of free-market ideology, dismantling of public services and union power, and the sugar frosting/steel cake mien conservatives seem to favor in female politicians, Thatcher has become a Tea Party darling. More than any conservative before her, she understood that Britain?s social order was ripe for a fall?that the individualism of the 1960s could be yoked to a desire for upward mobility that would disrupt the country?s class and political affiliations. With the Housing Act of 1980, she granted millions of working-class families the right to buy their government-subsidized homes?and wooed them away from their Labour party stronghold. True, Thatcher was a grocer?s daughter, but her father, Alfred Roberts, was also the mayor of Grantham, and his politically savvy daughter tapped into the middle-class?s distaste for those who relied on handouts?government-granted or unearned inheritances alike?and turned it into in-your-face populism.
But Thatcher?s reign also provides a fair warning for our times. In her early years, she went after inflation rather than unemployment, cutting government spending and raising interest rates?a move that sent England down the road to recession. Unemployment doubled to three million, sparking riots, blackouts, and strikes that left garbage filling the streets. Thatcher, however, had implemented the recommendations of a government committee that called for a dramatic raise in police salaries?up to 45 percent in some cases?along with an increase in their recruitment, so she was ready to put a harsh end to the unrest.
Shortly thereafter, the Falkland War both bloodied and bailed her out, leaving Thatcher's well-primed to whack the next challenge to her power: the miners? union that had helped bring down her predecessor, Edward Heath, with a crippling strike in 1974. She?d stockpiled coal and used MI5 to infiltrate miners? groups before she fired a shot over the bow?a proposal to close down 20 pits employing some 20,000 workers, a move that sent the miners into a doomed strike. After a year of brinkmanship, Thatcher broke the trade unions? backs, and with a slash in public services, the fortunes of much of northern England, Scotland, and Wales. Inflation soared again and many who had bought their council homes found them repossessed. Her attempt to implement a poll tax sparked riots, and finally a ministerial mutiny that forced her exit from 10 Downing Street.
High drama, but one wouldn?t know it from The Iron Lady, which plays like a domestic weepie spliced together with a historical clip reel. The film is so interior as to be hermetic, with criticisms of Thatcher?s policies stuffed into two unenlightening tropes?either some angry mullet foaming and barking outside her limo window or the viperous hissing of "grocer?s daughter" by the public-school boys turned MPs. And for all of its urge to plumb the depths of the person behind the politician, The Iron Lady doesn?t even tap into some of the richest veins?how Thatcher?s muscular English nationalism fit in with her sexual allure (yes, you read that right), how she married a girls-are-better-than-boys playground rhetoric with staunch individualism, why she felt consensus was for Quislings. For a film set in a character?s autumnal years, a period often imbued with regret and reckoning, there?s little mention of Thatcher?s legacy of privatization, deregulation, and recalibration of the left far to the right of where it had been.
The Iron Lady could have forced Yank viewers to replace their outmoded ideas of Thatcher as all helmet hair, British teeth, and shoulder pads. Popular U.K. puppet-satire show ?Spitting Image? dressed her as a dominatrix, as did Barney?s window decorator Simon Doonan. Francois Mitterand said she had the ?eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.? As Julian Barnes wrote, ?If the House of Commons, with its incessant background noise, its schoolboy rowdiness, its dominant maleness, and its low level of repartée, often resembles nothing so much as the canteen in a minor public school, then Mrs. Thatcher is cast as Matron??a role she obviously relished when she told Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at a 1981 economic summit meeting to ?stop acting like a naughty schoolboy? and spanked Christopher Hitchens with a rolled-up parliamentary order. (That last is simply too good?scroll down to ?Naughty Maggie? for a read.) For the manky male political id, Thatcher?s dominance triggered both terror and desire, and therein underlay the sense of political anxiety, guilt, and relief at her ouster??It was like killing your mother,? said one British colleague.
Thatcher was certainly canny at using the rhetoric of good housekeeping and women?s superiority to back her points, uttering such bon mots as ?If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman,? even as she declared that she owed nothing to women?s liberation. Thatcher?s derogatory views on identity politics are in keeping with her fetishization of the exceptional, entrepreneurial individual?after all, by boot-strapping herself into power she provided a template for a whole nation and a role for herself as the schoolmarm who would beat you with her Yes, You Can stick. Not surprisingly, she had little time for the snoozy political consensus nor the social-welfare safety net that preceded her, and worked at dismantling its geopolitical equivalent with her early embrace of Mikhail Gorbachev. For Thatcher, the free market was the future. ?There is no alternative,? she famously declared, then sought to make it so. Now that the House That Thatcher Built (and New Labour helped renovate) is crumbling, there is no clear way forward ? and riots reminiscent of Thatcher?s early years just behind.
This is the story Meryl Streep deserved to sink her horsey prosthetic choppers into, but that grande dame seems doomed to put her shine into nickel-plated settings. A pity, as this could have been a film?not just a role?of real relevance. Thatcher galvanized political dialogue, fueled a renaissance of cultural discontent, and left behind a legacy of drastic change and increased social mobility?both upward and downward. Much of our current moment was born from her reign; it is no time to be lost, like The Iron Lady?s Thatcher, in a fog of forgetting, regret, and recrimination.
Many thanks to my colleagues Alexis Buisson and Kung Li for their insights, and particularly to Arun Kundnani for his trenchant analysis of the Thatcher years.
Screwball Football [...]
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New York City office cleaners represented by SEIU local 32BJ may go on strike this weekend if a contract agreement is not reached. A strike could affect more than 1,500 buildings; however, the New York Times reports that:
Despite the tough talk over the past two months, the city?s office cleaners and building owners still appear likely to reach an agreement on a new four-year contract by the Jan. 1 deadline, or shortly afterward. The owners have softened some of their language, and both sides say there has been progress. But a new contract is not expected to yield substantial gains in wages or benefits.
Building owners want to introduce a two-tier wage system in which new hires would make substantially less than current workers, who earn an average of $47,000 a year, and have "proposed changes in work rules and health benefits, which currently include full family medical insurance." In the public relations fight, the owners are relying on $47,000 to sound like a lot of money for a mere office cleaner to make, but this is New York City we're talking about:
In 2010, a family of two needed to bring in between $54,536 to live in lower-cost Queens and $78,476 to live in lower Manhattan and cover all of its own basic needs including food, shelter and health care, according to an annual measure released by The New York Self-Sufficiency Standard Steering Committee in June.
For these workers, what's at stake is health care, the ability to raise a family, and just plain making ends meet. Office cleaners in New Jersey and Connecticut have reached contract agreements; hopefully New York City will follow.