Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Even More Sunday Links!

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* Breaking Bad as austerity narrative.

The three bosses of Breaking Bad, Tuco, Gus, and Lydia, follow a trajectory from feudal control of territory, Tuco; to Fordist standardization of production, Gus; and finally to Lydia’s control over brand identity. In this way the trajectory mirrors The Wire’s trajectory from Avon to Stringer and Marlo. It is a trajectory from control of territory through control of product to control over brand. What is Gus but a successful Stringer Bell? It would take too long to go into this, but it is worth pointing out that in each case the last one, the one concerned with reputation (in the case of Marlo), or brand (in the case of Lydia), is also the one who is most brutal, most comfortable with killing off the competition (even if, in the case of Lydia, she closes her eyes while walking through the corpses).In the final season the logic of austerity shifts from work, from keeping one’s job or becoming one’s own boss, to keeping control of one’s savings. It becomes a question of retirement. The massive piles of money is both the possibility of a future and the greatest risk to the present. Following Frédéric Lordon we could say that this anxiety over money, combined with the absence of any conspicuous consumption follows an affective shift in the relation to money, money is not an object of hope, the possibility of desires realized, but the object of fear, the fears and threats that it staves off and the threat of its loss.

What passes for reform today, Ravitch writes, is “a deliberate effort” to replace public schools with a market system. The “unnatural focus on testing” has produced “perverse but predictable results.” It has narrowed curriculums to testable subjects, to the exclusion of the arts and the full capaciousness of culture. And it has encouraged the manipulation of scores on state exams. “Teaching to the test, once considered unprofessional and unethical,” is now “common.”

* Perverse incentive watch: Private prisons suing states for millions if they don’t stay full.

* Perverse incentive watch, part two: Looting Public Pensions: A New Think-Tank Study.

1)     Many states and cities have been under-paying or non-paying their required contributions into public pension funds for years, causing massive shortfalls that are seldom reported upon by local outlets.

2)     As a solution to the fiscal crises, unions and voters are being told that a key solution is seeking higher yields or more diversity through “alternative investments,” whose high fees cost nearly as much as the cuts being demanded of workers, making this a pretty straightforward wealth transfer. A series of other middlemen are also in on this game, siphoning off millions in fees from states that are publicly claiming to be broke.

3)     Many of the “alternative investments” these funds end up putting their money in are hedge funds or PE funds run by men and women who have lobbied politically against traditional union pension plans in the past, meaning union members have been giving away millions of their own retirement money essentially to fund political movements against them.

* And then there’s just a world of horrors and nightmares: A New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities. More here.

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