Saturday, April 30, 2011
Ben Stein Canned as Speaker at Citigroup for Allegedly Cracking Sexist Joke
Stein is an outspoken conservative. That was the real problem
Economist Ben Stein is one of the country’s most visible libertarians. He‘s a regular contributor to conservative publications and he’s well-known on the conservative and business speaking circuits. And in May he’s scheduled to speak in New York at a Citigroup-hosted event for pension and endowment funds.
Or rather he was scheduled. He’s now been canned after a women accused him of making sexist jokes at an event earlier this year.
If you just look at the allegations, the case seems open and shut. Sexist jokes no longer have a place in society. He apparently cracked some. But then you hear this: the woman who made the accusations (via e-mail) admits she couldn’t exactly remember the jokes, so she copied them off the internet, and Stein denies telling them the way she claims he did.
Making things even more interesting? The new vice chairman of Citigroup’s investment bank is Obama’s former budget director, Peter Orszag. He is also scheduled to be a speaker at the May event. And guess who forwarded the woman’s e-mail complaint to the sales executives? Orszag, who is the furthest thing from a libertarian.
“We have decided to present the conference without Mr. Stein’s participation,” Citi spokeswoman Danielle Romero-Apsilos
told Bloomberg News.
The accuser, 41-year-old Lynda Villarreal, attended a March event in Dallas where Stein was speaking. According to Bloomberg and the e-mail Villarreal sent to Citi and Bloomberg, one of the jokes involved a woman taking her clothes off on an airplane:
Villarreal’s e-mail to Orszag told of three jokes at the Dallas conference she said were disparaging to women. One joke was about a wealthy man, his wife and his mistress, she said.
Another involved a female airline passenger who, realizing the flight is about to crash, takes off her clothes and asks if there is a man aboard who will “make me feel like a woman,” according to Villarreal’s e-mail, which was also sent to Bloomberg News. A cowboy in a hat removes his shirt, hands it to the woman, tells her to iron it and fetch him a beer. But that differs from Stein’s account:
Stein, in an interview, said his jokes were mischaracterized and that the company didn’t call him before canceling.
Stein, a Yale University-educated lawyer and former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon who played the droning high-school economics teacher in the 1986 movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” said in an interview that his jokes at the Dallas conference had been incorrectly retold.
“I’ve been in this speaking-gig business for a number of years, I’ve told these jokes before, and I have never gotten one syllable of complaint,” he said. “I don’t think any woman in the world would call me a misogynist. For this woman to say this is just fantasy.” ....
Stein, who has written columns for Bloomberg News and appeared as a guest on Bloomberg Television, said in the interview that the joke targeted the man, not the woman, and that in his Dallas telling the woman didn’t remove clothing.
“It’s usually a joke understood to be making fun of a kind of cloddish, dopey guy,” Stein explained to Bloomberg. “When I was finished with this speech, dozens of women in the room came up to me and wanted their pictures taken with me, wanted autographs from me. Dozens of them. I got fan mail from women who had been at the group saying how much they liked the speech.”
Apparently, Stein‘s contract stipulates that he will get paid even if he’s canceled.
As for Villarreal, vice president of business development at Trident Trust, which provides accounting services to hedge funds and private-equity firms, she couldn’t be happier:
“I am delighted that Citi has taken this action,” she told Bloomberg. “It shows their corporate leadership and respect for women in the financial industry as well as their clients.”
I wonder if Orszag is, too.
Yesterday's show of British institutions at their best hides years of political vandalism that wrecked our constitution
Although this country remains in serious economic trouble, two of our greatest institutions (the monarchy and the Armed Forces) proved yesterday that Britain can still put on a brilliant show when required and captivate a global TV audience. And for a few days at least, London has seemed like the centre of the world again.
At such times, it is customary for the British to feel a self-congratulatory warm glow about the enduring security of our great institutions and how fortunate we are to have such a strong constitutional structure in this country. The truth, I’m afraid, is very different. Underneath all the pomp, our constitution is badly broken.
Yesterday’s wedding obscures a painful fact: the British constitution — which took centuries to evolve — has been all but wrecked by just a few decades of vandalism inflicted by opportunistic politicians from all the main parties. They have been assisted by liberal judges, bien pensant academics and Leftist commentators intent on demolishing a system that actually worked rather well.
Their malevolent handiwork has led to the complete transformation of our constitutional and governing arrangements — with predictably calamitous results.
Britain is no longer self-governing. Huge powers have been transferred to Brussels and our national sovereignty has been signed away to Europe. Many of our laws and regulations are not really made by Parliament in London. They come direct from Brussels and are merely rubber-stamped by supine MPs.
Take employment law, one of the areas where the over-weening EU has been most aggressive. Since Britain signed up to the Social Chapter there has been a slew of anti-enterprise impositions on businesses and an explosion in workers’ rights and the number of costly industrial tribunals. This discourages hiring and the job creation that is so badly needed after a deep recession.
And when it comes to the massive immigration that comes with the EU’s open borders, myriad health and safety rules and environmental edicts (with endless interfering regulations on recycling), Parliament is also powerless.
Even Britain’s right to choose something as basic as its own weights and measures has been lost.Then there’s the sick condition of the ‘United’ Kingdom and the devolution debacle. Separate parliaments or assemblies were given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by Labour because it was claimed that this would be enough to satisfy the demands of the separatist local politicians. But already those separatists are back demanding (and getting) more powers.
Although the majority population in England does not have its own parliament, it is forced to subsidise the Scots and Welsh — leading to greatly unfair disparities in the provision of public services.
For example, in Scotland there is free care for the elderly, a long list of NHS-supplied drugs which are denied to English patients as well as free tuition for Scottish and EU students (but, unsurprisingly, not for any English youngsters who might want to study there). Devolution has badly loosened the ties that once bound the UK so strongly together.
The ‘reform’ of the second chamber was a similar Blairite disaster. The ancient House of Lords that combined hereditary peers with law Lords and some appointed experts was not perfect, but it worked well for centuries as a revising chamber. It was swept away, and the place stuffed with political appointees. Reform created a flawed system that was worse than the one it replaced.
At the same time, another great institution — the senior civil service — was degraded and politicised by those in power desperate to alter its composition and make it more politically correct.
However, the mandarin class is not daft and has responded by switching its allegiance to the EU (often taking Europe’s side in arguments with ministers). The civil servants realise that real power now often lies with Brussels bureaucrats and unaccountable European judges.
The recent controversy over prisoners’ voting rights shows their cynical calculation is right. Our elected representatives in the Commons voted against the enfranchising of murderers, but then unelected European judges over-ruled them. Politicians may talk about asserting Parliament’s supremacy, but this is mere posturing and David Cameron knows it.
Meanwhile, our judges in our new Supreme Court (another Blair folly) connive with Europe in its daily interference in our democracy. This follows New Labour foolishly incorporating into law the European Court’s human rights laws. As a result, unaccountable judges use the Court’s laws to issue gagging orders against the Press as they try to create their own privacy laws — something that should be the domain of Parliament.
All these huge changes were presented to voters as being in keeping with the British tradition of a steadily evolving constitution that adapts to new circumstances while keeping the traditional underpinnings intact. But that was a lie.
When Britain joined the European Union — or the European Economic Community as it then was in 1973 — this country suffered an historic loss of power. Under the terms of the Treaty of Rome, for the first time since Henry VIII refused to accept the Pope’s authority, a foreign body was placed above our national Parliament and the Crown.
Until that point, the underlying assumption had been clear. Britain — with a constitutional monarchy, an independent Parliament, accountable law courts and a robust, free press — governed itself. It was on these rocks that our security and great prosperity were built.
But then things started to change. Losing our empire and super-power status in the years after World War II produced something akin to a collective nervous breakdown in parts of the British establishment. For much of the ruling class, the idea of throwing our lot in with the Europeans was seen as the only answer to our problems. Many honourable people (including a misguided Margaret Thatcher) were deceived. What was originally a free trade organisation rapidly became an anti-democratic supra-national monster.
But the most fervent Europhiles — such as Tony Blair — were very cunning. They realised that to make Britain more European they would have to dismantle steadily the traditional structures of government and erode this country’s sense of its own distinctive institutions. This was done under the banner of ‘modernisation’ and ‘Cool Britannia’. Hence, we were given devolution based on the European model, European human rights law was incorporated into British law and there were attempts to ditch the pound and replace it with the euro.
Modernisers such as Nick Clegg have since taken up where Blair left off, seeking to impose all sorts of unnecessary changes to the character of our national life.
The most recent attack has focused on the traditional voting system for elections. Next Thursday is the referendum on whether to replace the traditional ‘first past the post’ system with AV, a system that will make coalitions, where politicians do deals with each other to stay in power, more likely. Mercifully, opinion polls suggest common sense will prevail and voters will decide to keep the traditional electoral system that has served this country so well for years.
Yet even if Clegg is snubbed by voters over AV, he won’t give up and will immediately begin planning his next piece of constitutional vandalism. The House of Lords is in his sights — he wants an elected Lords because it would give the Lib Dems more seats and more power.
It is quite extraordinary that a Tory Prime Minister has allowed the Lib Dems to embark on this wrecking spree — when his own Conservative Party supposedly stands for the defence of the constitution. Yet David Cameron has allowed Clegg his cherished AV referendum and is helping him gerrymander the Lords to the Lib Dems’ advantage.
Indeed, what is most deeply troubling is that none of the political parties seems prepared to defend the little that is left of our constitution, or to set about reclaiming what has been surrendered.
That means that when the inevitable sad day comes and the Queen — who personifies the bulwark defence of this country’s institutions and traditions — is no longer with us, Britain will be in treacherous waters.
Make no mistake: the monarchy itself will be the next target of modernisers and republicans demanding radical change. Who will there be to stop them as they embark on their final big battle in their war to kill off the British constitution?
The Malthusians who masquerade as Marxists
Both radical and mainstream authors now frequently attack ‘neo-liberalism’ and ‘free-market fundamentalism’. But their alternative to these largely mythical creeds would be far, far worse
One of the great puzzles of contemporary political debate is what exactly critics of Western governments mean by the term ‘neo-liberalism’. Typically, the concept is associated with the ideas propagated by a familiar cast of conservative villains, including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Behind the scenes, pulling the strings, are said to be the financial powers of Wall Street and the City of London. But this will not do as a definition. It is rarely made clear whether the ultimate object of their attack is a theory, a set of policies, a phase of capitalism, or something else.
The mystery deepens when it comes to David Harvey, one of the most sophisticated exponents of the concept of neo-liberalism. In the current intellectual climate, it would probably come as a surprise to many to learn that the work of a 75-year-old professor of anthropology and self-proclaimed Marxist is so popular. Yet his 2010 YouTube lecture on the crises of capitalism has received over one million hits. Other critics of neo-liberalism also widely cite Harvey’s many books as authorities on the subject.
Fortunately the publication in paperback of Harvey’s latest book, The Enigma of Capital, provides an opportunity to probe the notion of neo-liberalism more closely. If anyone can spell out exactly what it means it should be him. Indeed, by page 10 he does attempt to define the term: ‘My view is that it refers to a class project that coalesced in the 1970s. Masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the virtues of privatisation, it legitimised draconian policies designed to restore and consolidate capitalist class power.’
But on closer inspection, even this definition is ambiguous. Are the ideas he mentions just superficial ‘rhetoric’ or is the legitimising role of this ideology the defining feature of the neo-liberal project? Or perhaps the draconian policies themselves are the essence of neo-liberalism? The whole of Harvey’s work is imbued with such lack of precision, and sometimes even with blatant inconsistencies.
Nevertheless it is possible to identify three broad claims running through the book that are central to Harvey’s argument: the dominance of neo-liberal ideology since the 1970s; the manipulative role of all-powerful banks; and the need to curb economic growth for the sake of the planet. If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Stripped of their Marxist language, such views are entirely mainstream.
Even so, it is worth examining each of Harvey’s contentions in more detail. By doing so it is not only possible to pinpoint his mistakes, but also to start to identify what is genuinely novel about recent developments. Identifying the real character of the attacks on popular living standards is a vital task for anyone who wants to resist them. There is no doubt that Western governments are starting to impose austerity on their populations. But the attack is not coming from free-market ideologues.
In Harvey’s view, neo-liberal ideas, based on the fusion of neo-classical economics and liberal politics, first came to the fore in the economic crisis of the 1970s. Although the ideas were not new, the growing popularity of free-market economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek reflected their increased importance. In political terms they were taken up first by General Augusto Pinochet, who led a bloody coup in Chile in 1973, followed by Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in America.
Harvey is careful to note the gap between neo-liberal rhetoric and practice. This is just as well for him, as successive Western governments have conspicuously failed to cut state spending over the medium or long term. Although there are differences between countries, the level of state spending in the West typically varies between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of GDP – a long way from the minimal state favoured by the likes of Friedman and Hayek (1). Instead Harvey makes the more limited claim that the neo-liberals have tried to cut welfare spending as well as noting their drive to repress wages. However, he even partly backtracks from these claims when he acknowledges how hard Britain and Scandinavia have found it to make cuts in health spending.
The first thing to notice about Harvey’s discussion of neo-liberalism is that most of the central figures are either dead or elderly. It is also over two decades since they were in office. Pinochet, Chile’s brutal dictator from 1973 to 1990, died in 2006; Reagan, America’s president from 1981 to 1989, died in 2004; Thatcher, Britain’s prime minister from 1979 to 1990, is 85. Among the free-market economists, Friedrich Hayek died in 1992 and Milton Friedman in 2006.
But even these dates give an exaggerated view of the influence of neo-liberal ideas. As Harvey acknowledges, if the essence of neo-liberal theory is support for a minimal state – that it should confine itself to providing an army, police force, judiciary and basic infrastructure – then it was never implemented in practice. Yet even on a rhetorical level politicians were backing away from it during the 1980s. As Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize-winning economist and no radical, has noted: ‘By 1992, monetarist and rational expectations theorists had lost virtually all influence over actual policy, in the United States and elsewhere.’ (2)
The likes of David Cameron in Britain or Barack Obama in America might sometimes be accused of being neo-liberal, but neither of them argues that a minimal state is politically desirable. When Cameron, for instance, demands spending cuts in Britain, he typically uses the language of an accountant: it is a regrettable necessity because the books do not balance. To the extent that there is a debate today, it focuses on the exact timing and scale of the cuts necessary.....
Harvey’s casual aside on the neo-liberals finding it to hard to cut health spending in Britain over the years also reveals his poor grasp of important trends. For many years, health spending in Britain rose significantly in real terms rather than falling. However, as Michael Fitzpatrick has discussed extensively in spiked and elsewhere, this coincided with an intrusive trend towards health promotion (3). The health authorities increasingly took on the role of interfering in the most intimate aspects of the lives of ordinary people. It has become commonplace for medical practitioners to devise detailed rules about permissible foods, alcohol consumption and sexual practices. Harvey’s focus on cardboard cut-out neo-liberals as the enemy blinds him to important assaults on the personal lives of ordinary people.
The Engima of Capital concludes with a call for a vaguely defined anti-capitalist alliance of workers, the dispossessed, grassroots organisations, traditional left-wing organisations and others. Harvey even claims there are millions of ‘de facto communists’ around, although they apparently do not realise it.
It is not necessary to do a detailed textual analysis to see that Harvey’s points are entirely at odds with the thrust of Marx’s argument. The main aim of Capital, Marx’s theoretical masterwork, is to show how under capitalism the drive to raise productivity (produce more stuff) comes into conflict with the imperatives of profitability. Although capitalism can produce growth, which Marx welcomes, it tends to be uneven and crisis-ridden. For Marx, it was desirable to overthrow capitalism in order to attain an even more productive society.
Ending the scourge of scarcity is, in Marx’s view, a necessary pre-condition for realising the human potential. It is only then that people can be truly free to do as they please. Should they so wish, as Marx puts it, they can ‘hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner’ (4). The good life cannot be achieved in a society still dominated by want.
Harvey’s arguments, in contrast, are more akin to those of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), the notorious campaigner against ‘overpopulation’. Whereas Marx wanted society to produce more, both Malthus and Harvey present output as inherently limited. And where Marx wanted to remove economic constraints, both Malthus and Harvey view the imposition of extra limits as necessary. Indeed, the essence of Harvey’s convoluted attack on neo-liberalism is a demand for economic restraint.
In effect, Harvey has turned Marx into a green and has transformed left into right. Whereas socialist movements used to campaign for popular prosperity – higher working-class living standards in the old terminology – the critics of neo-liberalism rail against what they see as excess consumption. The green egalitarianism that Harvey advocates is essentially a call to share out the misery more widely across society.
Ultimately, most critics of contemporary society do the same thing. They use such terms as ‘market fundamentalism’ (Joseph Stiglitz), the ‘shock doctrine’ (Naomi Klein), the ‘Washington Consensus’, or ‘globalisation’. And ultimately, these all represent narrow and backward-looking critiques of capitalism. If Harvey differs from the others, it is mainly in being less explicit in his desire for the state to play the central role in curbing economic progress.
The prevailing outlook of austerity is not neo-liberalism but green anti-capitalism. Mainstream notions of environmental restraint are far more influential than belief in the free market. Anyone wishing to defend popular living standards first needs to challenge this Malthusian dogma, even when - or rather especially when - it is dressed up in the language of Marx.
Australia: Carrot approach replaces big stick in Queensland prisons
Another triumph of theory over reality
JAIL staff banned from punishing unruly prisoners could now be ordered to reward them for toeing the line. Prisoners who are polite, undertake work and stay off drugs look set to be offered inducements such as extra jail visits, phone calls, better accommodation and more recreation.
A leaked memo obtained by The Courier-Mail revealed Queensland Corrective Services had developed the framework for a new reward scheme.
The change of philosophy in prisoner management comes after a 2009 Ombudsman's report criticised the agency's approach to prisoner discipline and a year after officers were stripped of disciplinary powers. Now in an attempt to appease frontline staff, QCS has proposed working groups starting this week develop policy recommendations on how to manage criminals through inducements.
QCS deputy commissioner Marlene Morison said it would be the first broad policy of rewarding prisoners to be implemented in the state's 15 jails.
Inmates who remained incident and drug free, were employed, completed required programs and training, maintained good relationships with other prisoners and who were "polite and co-operative" would be rewarded. "This ranges from access to the range of privileges (e.g. visits, phone calls) through to access of less restrictive environments (e.g. residential accommodation or low custody) to additional access to recreation ... " the memo said.
Ms Morison said well-behaved prisoners could also score better jobs while in jail. "It is as much about ensuring poor behaviour has a fair and real consequence as it is about giving reasons for prisoners to behave well," she said. Prison expert Dr Dot Goulding, of Curtin University, called the plan a "huge step forward".
"I'm delighted to hear that someone has some vision that the stick doesn't always work; sometimes the carrot and reward system is a far better way of looking at things," she said. "(The plan) is looking at positives rather than just the negative and to prepare these people to be job-ready and ready to be law-abiding citizens in the community."
However, Opposition corrective services spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the plan reeked of desperation. "Prison officers have been forced to resort to (this plan) ... just to get unruly prisoners to behave," he said. "The establishment of this working group was an admission that Labor's soft prisoner discipline system was a complete failure and needed to be fixed."
Ms Morison said the plan's draft policy would be developed by the end of next month and available for consultation with staff and the Queensland Public Sector Union, which represents prison officers.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.