Posts tagged Washington Post

The only Good Government is No Government

To-day at The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty:

Guest Column | by Charles Johnson

Is the Problem Really Too Little Trust in Government?

Posted August 23, 2010

There is one point where I can unequivocally agree with E.J. Dionne’s column “Can We Reverse the Tide on Government Distrust” (Washington Post, May 6, 2010) – when he tells us that So far, the Obama administration has missed the opportunity to demonstrate … how it is changing the way government works. How is its approach to … regulations different from what was done before? … How are its priorities different?

How indeed?

Two years in, if there’s any noticeable difference between Bush’s policies of corporate privilege, endless warfare, bailouts, executive power, and bureaucratic expansion, and Obama’s policies of corporate privilege, endless warfare, bailouts, executive power, and bureaucratic expansion, I’d like to know where to find it. The difference between me and E.J. Dionne is that Dionne is apparently surprised by this outcome — why hasn’t Obama done better? At issue is what used to be called Good Government – the problem of ensuring that a centralized managerial State, with expansive powers to intervene in all matters economic, social, or hygienic, will be run cleanly, and competently, by qualified experts. Dionne insists that financial market meltdowns, oil spills, and coal-mine disasters reveal the catastrophic results of a few years of Bush-era government neglect. Those of us who remember the Bush administration may have a hard time accepting the claim that it was an era in which government was not doing enough; and we see these headline-grabbing catastrophes as only the tail end of a decades-long crisis – a bipartisan, politically created crisis of institutional incentives and industry best practice-ism, created, nurtured, and protected by government itself.

. . .

Dionne may present his article as a commentary on recent news, but the headlines are only carelessly chosen illustrations for a message that seems copied out of a children’s civics textbook circa 1948. Elected government’s task is to stand up for the many against the few, to make sure that corporations are properly supervised, and to protect those with weaker bargaining positions … against the harm that those in stronger bargaining positions might inflict. Our problem is simply that we do not trust the political means enough. According to Dionne, if we are ever to solve these politically created crises, we need to know that government in a free society is not a distant force but, rather, something that all of us influence and shape.

To be sure, government is not very distant from the downtown offices of the Washington Post.[1] For the rest of us, though, access is somewhat more limited, and not “all of us” have the same influence in shaping government policy. That is done by political insiders and economic incumbents: As scholars like Gabriel Kolko and Butler Shafer have repeatedly shown, government regulatory bodies from the FTC to the MSHA to the SEC have consistently been captured by the incumbents in the industries they are supposed to regulate, systematically rigging government regulations in such a way as to build up cartels, exclude competition, and protect businessmen from liability for harmful practices.

Even with the record of regulatory capture and industry-driven policy, Dionne, like many Progressives, simply insists that politicians need even more trust and fewer restraints on action to give them the independence to do the right thing. You might call this kind of Progressivism a theory of trickle-down politics: When government devotes the overwhelming majority of its power and resources to foolish or destructive programs directed by concentrated interests – subsidies, bailouts, anticompetitive regulations, or an ever-growing military-industrial “National Security” complex – the proposed solution is to give that same government even more strength and greater resources to dispose of, on the hope that some of the surplus will eventually make it through the net of insider control to reach programs that offer a pittance to the little guy.

Individualists know that when you reward the institutions that created crisis, you are going to get more crises. Greater regulatory powers will only make government more attractive to industry incumbents; the more politics is involved in industry, the more that political pull pays off for the industrialists. The root causes of the crises we’ve faced in recent years are not problems of competence or corruption. They are problems of cartelization and capture. The solution is not more trust in government; it’s to realize there are things the political means just cannot accomplish, which should instead be addressed through decentralized, peaceful social cooperation. . . .

— Charles Johnson, The Freeman Online (23 August 2010): Is the Problem Really Too Little Trust in Government?

The article also includes some brief recapitulations of the Money Monopoly, the Land and Natural Resource monopolies, and the recent history of BP, Massey Energy, and the MSHA. You can read the whole thing at The Freeman Online to-day.

Thanks to Sheldon Richman, again, for making this possible, and for his invaluable aid as an editor. My only complaint is that I think The Freeman really should have chosen a better author photo for me than the one they have at the top of the story. In that one the camera adds about 20 years, and a lot of corporate liberalism.

  1. [1] [Less than a mile from the Executive Branch! Check it out on Google Maps! —R.G.]

In fifteen words or fewer: Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post on immigration and poverty statistics

(Via Kerry Howley @ Hit and Run 2008-05-15, via John Markley @ The Superfluous Man 2008-05-19.)

Robert J. Samuelson, in the Washington Post (2008-05-14):

Finally, let’s discuss poverty. Everyone’s against it, but hardly anyone admits that most of the increase in the past 15 years reflects immigration — new immigrants or children of recent immigrants. Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won’t reduce poverty. Period. That doesn’t mean we should try to expel the 12 million illegal immigrants already here — an impossible and morally dubious task. Many families have been here for years; many have American children. We need a pragmatic accommodation: assimilate most people now here; shift future immigration to the highly skilled.

— Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post (2008-05-14): Truth Serum on The Trail

Shorter Samuelson: Let’s reduce poverty by forcing all the poor people to be poor in other countries.

See also:

Well thank God #7: Sagging and the new sumptuary laws

A couple years ago, the Virginia state legislature took bold action against a grave and gathering threat to democracy, freedom, and our way of life:

The House of Delegates voted 60 to 34 Tuesday to impose a $50 fine on anyone found wearing pants low enough that a substantial portion of undergarments is showing. Note the vote: It wasn’t even close.

About those pants: Lots of kids these days are conducting a large-scale experiment to see if trousers can defy gravity. This results in the widespread public exposure of underpants.

This greatly offends Del. Algie Howell Jr., a Democrat from Norfolk and author of the no-low-pants bill, which still faces a vote in the generally more skeptical Senate. People that live in my neighborhood don’t want to have to see undergarments, Howell told me. It’s not about individual rights; it’s about values. I own a group home; we take in kids who’ve been in trouble. Most of the men who come in in shackles and handcuffs are trying to hold up their pants. The way you dress does have something to do with how you behave.

Since the state has an interest in fighting unemployment and crime, Howell figures the state is right to ban a practice that he says makes young people less attractive as employees and more likely to turn to crime.

— Marc Fisher, Washington Post (2005-02-10): Droopy Drawers Drive Va. House To Distraction

Now here’s the latest from Delcambre, Louisiana:

The Delcambre Board of Aldermen outlawed indecent exposure in the form of sagging pants Monday, but not before several residents voiced their objections.

The board voted unanimously to make it illegal for anyone to wear clothing that exposes them or reveals their underwear in public.

The ordinance states, It shall be unlawful for any person in any public place or in view of the public to be found in a state of nudity, or partial nudity, or in dress not becoming to his or her sex, or in any indecent exposure of his or her person or undergarments, or be guilty of any indecent or lewd behavior.

It is punishable by up to a $500 fine or up to six months in jail, or both.

Delcambre Police Chief James Broussard said violators can be arrested if officers spot them while on patrol, or if another resident files a complaint.

— Jeff Moore, The Daily Iberian (2007-06-12): Sagging bagged by town

Radley Balko informs us that there is a movement afoot amongst the Real Americans, in both Red states and Blue:

Moreover, civic organizers in Atlanta, Detroit, Nashville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., are planning antisagging rallies, says Pastor Dianne Robinson of Jacksonville, Fla., who last week handed out 78 donated belts at a belt rally. This sagging of the pants is to me a defiant act, and it has all kinds of implications, says Ms. Robinson, who is black. If you can’t get up in the morning and pull your pants up, that says a lot about you, even if I don’t know anything about you.

— quoted by Radley Balko, The Agitator (2007-07-20): Droopy Drawers Banners See Cracks in Opposition

Now that we already have a professional cadre of bureaucrats running behind us all, yelling You’ll put an eye out with that! and Don’t drink that, it’ll stunt your growth!, how could our statesmen and civic organizers possibly refuse their duty to set the Law running around after people wearing dress not becoming to his or her sex [sic!] and black kids committing defiant acts, screaming You’re not going out like that, are you?! and Don’t you take that attitude with me, young man!

Student strike at Gallaudet University

(I heard about the recent events through the Movement for a Democratic Society announcement list.)

Here is what Oliver Sacks wrote about the legacy of the 1988 Deaf President Now student strike at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal-arts university designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and a backbone of Deaf culture in the United States. This is from his beautiful book, Seeing Voices:

All sorts of changes, administrative, educational, social, psychological, are already beginning at Gallaudet. But what is clearest at this point is the much-altered bearing of its students, a bearing that conveys a new, wholly unself-conscious sense of pleasure and vindication, of confidence and dignity. This new sense of themselves represents a decisive break from the past, which could not have been imagined just a few months ago.

But has all been changed? Will there be a lasting transformation of consciousness? Will deaf people at Gallaudet, and the deaf community at large, indeed find the opportunities they seek? Will we, the hearing, allow them these opportunities? Allow them to be themselves, a unique culture in our midst, yet admit them as co-equals, to every sphere of activity? One hopes the events at Gallaudet will be but the beginning.

— Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (ISBN 0-06-097347-1), pp. 162–163.

Unfortunately, the answer from the Gallaudet University administration and Board of Trustees—even those who were direct beneficiaries of the Deaf President Now movement—appears to be No, not yet. Here’s the story from The Washington Post (2006-10-07):

Hundreds of protesters took over the main classroom building at Gallaudet University on Thursday night and refused to leave yesterday, demanding that the board of trustees reopen the search for a president.

With trustees meeting on campus and celebrating outgoing President I. King Jordan, students pitched tents outside the entrances to Hall Memorial and blocked the doors. Inside, trash cans and desks held elevator doors ajar, and the floor was covered with sleeping bags, cans of energy drink and fliers that spread messages to the school for the deaf: THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES WON’T LISTEN TO US! and DO NOT LET ANYONE IN.

When security officers arrived early yesterday, students said, they couldn’t understand what officers were saying — that officers gave orders without sign language and did not seem to understand that the protest was peaceful. Some people were injured when officers shoved their way through and used pepper spray, students said.

A lot of people are scared, Leah Katz-Hernandez wrote on a neon yellow notepad, and some faculty members were in tears as they signed with students.

Communication with security staff is an emotional issue at the university. In 1990, a student died while being restrained by security officers; his hands were cuffed, so he couldn’t use sign language.

The administration has denied that pepper spray was used and said that officers used sign language and that no students were hurt.

… The choice of the school’s next leader has divided campus since the spring, prompting faculty no-confidence votes and protests last semester and continuing opposition by a coalition of faculty, students, staff and alumni. In a scene reminiscent of student takeovers of District universities in past decades, protesters barricaded doors and refused to compromise.

At some schools for the deaf elsewhere in the country, groups pitched tents and made signs supporting the Gallaudet protesters.

The leaders of the National Association of the Deaf issued an open letter saying the campus is in crisis and asking the board to exercise leadership and for the university to immediately cease any confrontational tactics toward campus faculty, students, and staff.

In May, when the board of trustees announced that then-Provost Jane K. Fernandes would be the next president of Gallaudet University, students stood up and walked out of the auditorium, climbed onto the front gates and began to protest.

They said that the search process was unfair, that Fernandes was not strong enough to lead a school often seen as the cultural backbone of the deaf world and that the board had ignored their concerns.

Because longtime President I. King Jordan swept into office after students demanded a deaf president now and started a civil rights movement, the selection of Fernandes had particular weight for the deaf community.

— Susan Kinzie and Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post (2006-10-07): Protesters Occupy Gallaudet Classroom Building

From The Washington Post (2006-10-10):

Since May, protesters say, the university has only become more deeply divided.

What is her plan? And, what is she waiting for? She had all summer to bring the community together, but as you can see, [that] didn’t happen, wrote Andrew J. Lange, president of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association, which is setting up an independent Web site because it cannot send e-mail to alumni without university approval.

The second wave of demonstrations began last week when the board of trustees met on campus. Protesters say that the way Fernandes was chosen was unfair and that the board has ignored people on campus for too long.

Last night, hundreds of students agreed to spend one more night in the classroom building. They awaited a response from administrators to a proposal that they would leave the building if the university satisfied 24 demands, including guaranteeing their right to protest in specific areas.

The students also are seeking a public apology from university President I. King Jordan, whom they accuse of making misleading statements about the protesters. The students are not backing down from their original demands to reopen the presidential search process and to guarantee that protesters would not be retaliated against.

In May, faculty members passed a series of no-confidence votes after it was announced that Fernandes, then the provost, would become president.

Trustees have said that their decision is nonnegotiable and that they have chosen the strongest candidate. This summer, Fernandes stepped down as provost to work on her transition to the presidency.

… Jordan, who is stepping down at the end of this year, said yesterday that Fernandes’s leadership since May has been outstanding.

— Susan Kinzie, Washington Post (2006-10-10): Intensity of Gallaudet Unrest Surprised Incoming Leader

From The Washington Post (2006-10-14): Dozens of Protesters Arrested On Gallaudet President’s Order:

Campus police arrested dozens of student demonstrators at Gallaudet University last night to reopen the famed college for the deaf after a three-day shutdown staged in a long-simmering protest over the appointment of a new president.

The arrests began shortly before 9 p.m., when police began carrying away students from a jeering throng that had been blocking the school’s Sixth Street NE entrance. Students hollered and signed, This is our school! By early this morning, police said, about 80 had been arrested. Witnesses said many students were still awaiting arrest.

Teams of officers, acting on orders from President I. King Jordan and aided by interpreters in orange vests, picked up individual students, who went limp, and carried them to a D.C. police van.

The students were to be taken from the school, at 800 Florida Ave. NE, to a police training facility in Southwest Washington for processing, officials said.

The arrests brought to a head a bitter dispute that began in May between the administration and students angry about the appointment of then-provost Jane K. Fernandes as the university’s next president. She is scheduled to replace Jordan, who is to step down in December.

Protesters expressed dislike for Fernandes, saying she was remote and divisive. They argued that other candidates, especially minorities, had been overlooked. And they called for her to step aside.

She has refused, saying she is the target of student extremists. And earlier yesterday, speaking to the protesters for the first time this week, she said: This has gone on long enough.

About 7 p.m., Jordan announced to demonstrators at the school’s main gate on Florida Avenue that they faced arrest if they did not disperse. I deeply regret being forced to take this action, he said. But the protesters have left me no choice.

Two hours later, after three warnings from campus Police Chief Melodye Batten-Mickens, arrests began at the Sixth Street entrance.

— Susan Kinzie and Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post (2006-10-14): Dozens of Protesters Arrested On Gallaudet President’s Order

There’s a lot of discussion from a lot of different points of view at the DeafDC group weblog. See especially the statements from Julie Hochgesang (2006-10-13): Why I’m Still Protesting at Gallaudet, Allison Kaftan (2006-10-11): Worlds Apart: Divergences in Perspectives on the Protest, and David Stuckless (2006-10-14): Today, Irving Shot the Buffalo, the criticism from Juanita Garcia (2006-10-13): This Week The World Snubbed Gallaudet and Kristi Merriweather (2006-10-14): A Fictitious Protest for Fictitious Reasons, and the proposals from Bobby White (2006-10-16): Concerned Students Take a Step Forward and Tom Willard (2006-10-16): A Few Ideas to End the Stalemate. The Gallaudet University Faculty, Staff, Students & Alumni coalition, which is coordinating the protests, offers news updates through their website. There’s also more at WikiPedia: Gallaudet United Now Movement.

I have no particularly strong opinion on the groups, the individuals, or the actions involved in the student strike and lock-in at Gallaudet. How would I know? I’m not deaf (or Deaf), I have no personal connections with Gallaudet or anyone there, and I haven’t done research beyond reading through news stories, Op-Eds, and weblogs for an hour or two today. But I do have some experience with abusive power-mongering and cronyism from University Trustees and administrators. I also do know enough to know that these issues are particularly sensitive for Deaf students, many of whom are sick and tired of being ignored, patronized, and manhandled by know-it-all suits connected with the established power structure. From what I can see, it looks to me like Fernandes had damn well better step aside in light of the vocal opposition to her from students, faculty, and staff.

Further reading:

Brain Mutilation for Fun and Profit: The Story of Walter Freeman

A while ago I was looking for some good pages to reference about some of psychiatry’s more barbaric procedures. Along the way, I stumbled across the Washington Post’s peculiar profile of Dr. Walter Freeman, the pioneer of the ice-pick lobotomy and one of the most controversial figures in the past few decades of clinical psychiatry.

For those who aren’t familiar, Freeman performed thousands of lobotomies on people suffering from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, mental retardation, and other disorders. Sublimely apathetic to the fact that there was no actual evidence that his treatment worked, he carried on mutilating people’s brains—knocking them out by electroshock or anesthesia, and then hammering an icepick through the tear duct and swinging it around in the frontal lobe to destroy the connection with the thalamus.

Freeman made his fame, and a great deal of money, by refining Egas Moniz’s techniques for human lobotomy and touring the country evangelizing its use to psychiatric hospitals. Because lobotomy succeeded in making some trouble-making patients more docile, it was widely adopted by psychiatric hospitals after presentations by Freeman. It didn’t seem to bother them that most patients suffered severe losses of functioning after the procedure, that adult patients ended up pissing on themselves and having to be re-taught how to eat. It didn’t even matter to them that Freeman had forcibly anesthetized patients in order to carry out his assault on their brain whether they wanted it or not. What mattered to them was that patients were docile and manageable, not whether their humanity was being respected or their underlying mental conditions improved. In the period of Freeman’s greatest activity, between 1936 and the late 1950s, somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 Americans were subjected to lobotomies.

Along the way, Freeman managed to kill several of his patients in surgery and to try bizarre experiments to refine his technique, such as a case where he followed the lobotomy of 14 patients with an injection of hot water into the brain, in which he was prepared to accept two fatalities. Prior to his career as a lobotomist, he had also personally introduced electroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock therapy to the hospital in which he worked.

A few of the incidents are recounted by the Post:

When the day arrived, Mrs. Hammatt tried to change her mind when she found out that her head had to be shaved. Freeman and Watts promised to spare as much of her hair as they could, before forcibly anesthetizing her. Later, Freeman recorded that her last words before surgery were, Who is that man? What does he want here? What’s he going to do to me? Tell him to go away. Oh, I don’t want to see him, followed by a scream.

The Post doesn’t bother to point it out, but what Freeman and Watts had just done was to cut into a person’s brain against her will, committing a bizarre and wantonly cruel surgical assault. Later in his brain-slicing career, he committed what could only be called murder from depraved indifference to human life:

At Cherokee State Hospital in Iowa, he accidentally killed a patient when he stepped back to take a photo during the surgery and allowed the leucotome to sink deep into the patient’s midbrain.

We’ll leave alone the question of why he was never put in prison for his crimes; so many atrocities against mental patients have gone unpunished. But why is it that the Washington Post has decided to portray Dr. Freeman, whose wanton disregard for human life and barbarous procedures should put his medical influence alongside that of Dr. Josef Mengele, as some kind of unheralded psychiatric innovator? They conclude their profile by writing:

Lobotomy also raised high hopes in its day. During the late 1950s, when the new tranquilizing drugs had grown popular in state hospitals, Freeman wrote letters to his psychosurgical colleagues around the world, praying for a time when brain operations would again gain wide favor in the battle against mental illness. It didn’t happen in his lifetime.

Now that it might happen in ours, Freeman’s presence is unwelcome. He flits around, a pesky spirit looking for the recognition he believes he is due, an unwanted ghost causing sighs and regret.

Poor Walter Freeman! As to the reason for these sighs and regret, the Post writes that The answer lies in the complex tangle of Freeman’s personality and motivations, and in the public’s fear of past abuses.

Perhaps the Post should reconsider the possibility that Freeman is discredited not only because of a grating personality and lingering public hysteria. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that he was an irresponsible, sadistic asshole who killed several people and ruined the lives of tens of thousands more with a procedure that was completely useless, cruel, and barbaric.

Of course, methods which are not much more refined are carried on today—the ice-pick lobotomy was replaced with the chemical lobotomy of tranquilizers and other disabling psychiatric medications. The article would have been no more responsible if it had stridently condemned Freeman but uncritically endorsed these modern methods. But I really have to wonder what could have blinded the Post to something so thoroughly obvious as the evil that Freeman perpetrated on innocent people. It’s a fucking ice-pick driven through the skull. Even some of his psychiatric contemporaries, who regularly used electroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock, fainted at the sight of Freeman’s procedure. Can’t we expect at least that much sympathy out of those of us who have lived to have the benefit of hindsight on the horrors that Freeman wrought?