Archive for October, 2010

We still runnin' this

What with my previous eye-rolling at Charles Murray’s “New Elite,” it’s worth noting that there is actually a class of elites in the country — the same class of elites that we’ve always had: old, rich white men.

For example, the U.S. Senate is fairly “elite.” Yet, despite the fact that I bet not many of them have watched “The Wire” or mountain biked or live in a community surrounded by non-college degree holders, there are 54 of them out of 100 who are worth more than $1 million. That means the median Senator is a millionaire. (I can hear the cries now of “but a million dollars isn’t what it used to be!”) (For comparison, the median U.S. household has ~$120,000 of net worth.) The median age in the Senate is 63. Furthermore, the youngest current members of the Senate (Goodwin, Lemieux) are both being replaced by old guys.

There are 17 women in the Senate, and 83 men. There is 1 black Senator, 1 Hispanic senator, 2 Asian/Pacific Islander Senators (not counting John Ensign) and 96 white Senators.

The House of Representatives is slightly more stratified, but not much. The median net worth in the House is $366,000. The median age is 58.

There are 76 women in the House of Representatives, and 357 men. (Oh, and that gender disparity ain’t gonna get much better, Mama Grizzlies notwithstanding.)

There are 42 black Reps, 25 Hispanic Reps, 5 Asian/Pacific Islander Reps, and 1 Native American Rep. This means, of course, that we have 360 white Reps.

Barack Obama’s net worth is around $1.3M. John McCain’s net worth is around $40M. Hillary Clinton’s is around $34M. Mitt Romney’s is around $200M. (see here)

The average age of S&P 500 CEOs is 54. Median compensation is around $9M.

There are 16 female CEOs of S&P 500 companies, and the rest are men. (The worst part of that Bloomberg article — implying that the glass ceiling is broken, when 3.2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women.)

The 2010 election will also be driven by the Tea Party — people who are generally richer, whiter, older, and maler than the general population.

Those in power tend to be rich, old, white and male, just like they used to be.

Why define a “New Elite” when the old one is still doing just fine?

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Now that Charles Murray’s godawful op-ed about “the new elite” has reached meme status, Claire Berlinski has given us a handy “How Elite Are You?” quiz.


1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?” Yes.

2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?” I’ve only seen selected episodes.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?” Of course.

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Yes.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? Nope.

5. How about pilates? I’m only about 30% sure I know what this is.

5. How about skiing? Have never skied.

6. Mountain biking? Is this still common among “the elite”? It’s hard to picture Joe Biden on a mountain bike.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? I know who both Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Johnson are. (Although I venture that none of my low-income urban students from last year could name this either… elitists.)

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? Oh, it means something. The worst “sport” ever.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly? Yes.

10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel? I have read SEVERAL.

11. How about a Harlequin romance? A few.

12. Do you take interesting vacations? Yeah.

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? Never been in the Sierras; I hear it’s boss.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? I know neither where this is, nor any B&B’s in the area.

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV? “Caught”? No. But I’ve been in one.

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? I have an aversion to cruises, but seriously, how is NOT going on a cruise “elitsit”? Do the “common people” just all go on cruises that I don’t know about?

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? You bet.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? No.

19. How about the Rotary Club? No.

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? No, but with 2/3 of Americans living in a major metropolitan area, this strikes me as silly.

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? No, but neither has most of the Tea Party.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? No, but again, the “anti-elite” Tea Party is no slouch in this department.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Yes.

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yes.

25. Have you worked on one? No.

I think the “New Elite” question could be phrased the same as it has always been phrased… how much cash do you have? I mean, if you just stratified by income, you would cover the bases pretty well and not have to worry about looking like an idiot, waving around some sort of perceived social knowledge.

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2-D > 3-D

I’m generally wary of wispy indie singer-songwriter dude-and-guitar music, but I’ll make an exception for this.

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In a recent Root article, Thomas Chatterton Williams proposes an alignment between hip hop and mainstream conservatism:

It’s not just that hip-hop is, to put the matter mildly, pro-gun rights (most mainstream rappers could be on the NRA’s payroll), atavistically homophobic (Byron Hurt documented this convincingly in Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, where even a “conscious” rapper like Talib Kweli is unwilling to go against the anti-gay grain) and spectacularly patriarchal (male-female inequality has always been the law of the hip-hop nation) — it is also unquestioningly God-fearing and, not infrequently, proselytizing.

In much of his analysis, Williams is on point. Hip hop’s themes of materialism, homophobia, misogyny and Horatio Alger striving are all perfectly in line with the GOP platform.

Yet, the reason that hip-hop is so anathema to a broader conservative worldview is because of conservatism’s long history of discrimination and hatred towards poor blacks. Moreover, the calculated exploitation of prejudice towards blacks is not just a small ancillary piece of modern conservatism. From Irving Kristol to William Buckley to Lee Atwater, conservatism’s view, however aligned it may be with the values of hip-hop, requires an anti-black effort.

Furthermore, I think the core of hip-hop — that it is, at its heart, an urban art form — runs up against any modern notion of conservatism. Hip-hop gives a detailed picture of failed (mostly liberal, it should be noted) urban policy. Urban policy is an area that conservatives have simply abandoned for electoral reasons.

A closer look at any of the songs Williams references reveals a much more complex core than any prevailing political ideology. From “Jesus Walks,” which Williams characterizes as proselytizing:

It’s kind of hard
Getting choked by detectives yeah, yeah now check the method
They be asking us questions, harass and arrest us
Saying “We eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast”
Huh? Y’all eat pieces of shit? What’s the basis?
We ain’t going nowhere but got suits and cases

I find it hard to characterize these rhymes as anything vaguely similar to modern conservatism. What would Irving Kristol make of a song decrying police brutality and defending the rights of drug traffickers? All the culture wars against urban populations — busing, drug prohibition, “the war on crime,” welfare queens, etc. — have created a conservatism that will largely be inaccessible to poor blacks.

One thing that irritates me about Williams’ article is the assertion that hip hop has not produced a great civil rights leader:

There is a reason the hip-hop generations have never produced a Huey Newton or a Malcolm X. Hip-hop — when it transcends the gutter and goes beyond the streets — doesn’t want to overthrow the system; on the contrary, it wants desperately and at any cost (“Get Rich or Die Tryin'”) to join it.

Well, jazz didn’t produce a civil rights leader, either. The blues never created a powerful national movement. The same argument could be made for rock ‘n’ roll.

I think we are trying too hard to pin an artistic movement to existing political ideologies. How many “Hip Hop and _______” classes do we really need? (OK, maybe this one) How much can we count on an art form to make policy decision for us?

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On Repeat

Can’t stop playing this.

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In the hullabaloo over Juan Williams’ axing at NPR (for which you can find better commentary here), there has become a weird view that Juan Williams’ deplorable statements of fear towards Muslims somehow represented “courage.”

Here’s what real courage looks like. These college students are putting their lives on the line and declaring themselves illegal immigrants. They are going to sit-ins, confronting arrest and deportation, and sacrificing what could be a discreet future as another anonymous illegal immigrant to become a symbol for a movement.

Courage doesn’t mean anything if you’re not risking anything. Juan Williams’ courage led him from one highly-compensated commentator job to another highly-compensated commentator job. The students who have protested to pass meaningful immigration reform legislation have decided to step out of the shadows. They have exposed themselves to the real consequences of a broad anti-immigrant system and risk their futures.

Bigotry isn’t courage. This is.

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We just can’t stop winning in Afghanistan!

I just can’t stop thinking about all the victories! A huge NYTimes story trumpets new successes of our brave boys in uniform! We’re on the path to victory! Go get that Taliban, G.I. Joe! Etc.

Yet, amidst all the yakking about our glorious victory over the (godless? over-god-filled?) Islamofascists, we keep forgetting the essential political problem with any “victory” in Afghanistan. Our entire operation is based on a loony, extremely corrupt Afghan government, headed by a stooge.

Whenever someone demands that I acknowledge that “the surge worked,” I point out that the “surge” only half-worked. The military tactics worked fine; the political ones failed. And the political element, in the end, is the linchpin of the whole affair. (see here; “a new U.S. strategy to stem the violence in Iraq and help the Iraqi government foster conditions for national reconciliation“).

What exactly do we accomplish with an extended stay in Afghanistan? What is our political mission? And if we can’t define that, maybe we should stop being so sure that we are “winning.”

The United States won every major military battle of the Vietnam War. We still lost.

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