Tuesday, October 31

Ghosts in the Machines

October 31, 2006
Ghosts in the Machines

WE are gathered here at the final end of what Bradbury called the October Country: a state of mind as much as it is a time. All the harvests are in, the frost is on the ground, there’s mist in the crisp night air and it’s time to tell ghost stories.

When I was growing up in England, Halloween was no time for celebration. It was the night when, we were assured, the dead walked, when all the things of night were loosed, and, sensibly, believing this, we children stayed at home, closed our windows, barred our doors, listened to the twigs rake and patter at the window-glass, shivered, and were content.

There were days that changed everything: birthdays and New Years and First Days of School, days that showed us that there was an order to all things, and the creatures of the night and the imagination understood this, just as we did. All Hallows’ Eve was their party, the night all their birthdays came at once. They had license — all the boundaries set between the living and the dead were breached — and there were witches, too, I decided, for I had never managed to be scared of ghosts, but witches, I knew, waited in the shadows, and they ate small boys.

I did not believe in witches, not in the daylight. Not really even at midnight. But on Halloween I believed in everything. I even believed that there was a country across the ocean where, on that night, people my age went from door to door in costumes, begging for sweets, threatening tricks.

Halloween was a secret, back then, something private, and I would hug myself inside on Halloween, as a boy, most gloriously afraid.

Now I write fictions, and sometimes those stories stray into the shadows, and then I find I have to explain myself to my loved ones and my friends.

Why do you write ghost stories? Is there any place for ghost stories in the 21st century?

As Alice said, there’s plenty of room. Technology does nothing to dispel the shadows at the edge of things. The ghost-story world still hovers at the limits of vision, making things stranger, darker, more magical, just as it always has ....

There’s a blog I don’t think anyone else reads. I ran across it searching for something else, and something about it, the tone of voice perhaps, so flat and bleak and hopeless, caught my attention. I bookmarked it.

If the girl who kept it knew that anyone was reading it, anybody cared, perhaps she would not have taken her own life. She even wrote about what she was going to do, the pills, the Nembutal and Seconal and the rest, that she had stolen a few at a time over the months from her stepfather’s bathroom, the plastic bag, the loneliness, and wrote about it in a flat, pragmatic way, explaining that while she knew that suicide attempts were cries for help, this really wasn’t, she just didn’t want to live any longer.

She counted down to the big day, and I kept reading, uncertain what to do, if anything. There was not enough identifying information on the Web page even to tell me which continent she lived on. No e-mail address. No way to leave comments. The last message said simply, “Tonight.”

I wondered whom I should tell, if anyone, and then I shrugged, and, best as I could, I swallowed the feeling that I had let the world down.

And then she started to post again. She says she’s cold and she’s lonely.

I think she knows I’m still reading ....

I remember the first time I found myself in New York for Halloween. The parade went past, and went past and went past, all witches and ghouls and demons and wicked queens and glorious, and I was, for a moment, 7 years old once more, and profoundly shocked. If you did this in England, I found myself thinking in the part of my head that makes stories, things would wake, all the things we burn our bonfires on Guy Fawkes’ to keep away. Perhaps they can do it here, because the things that watch are not English. Perhaps the dead do not walk here, on Halloween.

Then, a few years later, I moved to America and bought a house that looked as if it had been drawn by Charles Addams on a day he was feeling particularly morbid. For Halloween, I learned to carve pumpkins, then I stocked up on candies and waited for the first trick-or-treaters to arrive. Fourteen years later, I’m still waiting. Perhaps my house looks just a little too unsettling; perhaps it’s simply too far out of town.

And then there was the one who said, in her cellphone’s voicemail message, sounding amused as she said it, that she was afraid she had been murdered, but to leave a message and she would get back to us.

It wasn’t until we read the news, several days later, that we learned that she had indeed been murdered, apparently randomly and quite horribly.

But then she did get back to each of the people who had left her a message. By phone, at first, leaving cellphone messages that sounded like someone whispering in a gale, muffled wet sounds that never quite resolved into words.

Eventually, of course, she will return our calls in person.

And still they ask, Why tell ghost stories? Why read them or listen to them? Why take such pleasure in tales that have no purpose but, comfortably, to scare?

I don’t know. Not really. It goes way back. We have ghost stories from ancient Egypt, after all, ghost stories in the Bible, classical ghost stories from Rome (along with werewolves, cases of demonic possession and, of course, over and over, witches). We have been telling each other tales of otherness, of life beyond the grave, for a long time; stories that prickle the flesh and make the shadows deeper and, most important, remind us that we live, and that there is something special, something unique and remarkable about the state of being alive.

Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again. It’s always reassuring to know that you’re still here, still safe. That nothing strange has happened, not really. It’s good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fear — not governments, not regulations, not infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that don’t exist, and even if they do, can do nothing to hurt us.

And this time of year is best for a haunting, as even the most prosaic things cast the most disquieting shadows.

The things that haunt us can be tiny things: a Web page; a voicemail message; an article in a newspaper, perhaps, by an English writer, remembering Halloweens long gone and skeletal trees and winding lanes and darkness. An article containing fragments of ghost stories, and which, nonsensical although the idea has to be, nobody ever remembers reading but you, and which simply isn’t there the next time you go and look for it.

Neil Gaiman is the author of the novel “Anansi Boys” and “Fragile Things,” a collection of stories.

Monday, October 30

How to Spot a Demagogue

How to Spot a Demagogue

by Loren J. Samons II, author of What's Wrong with Democracy?

During this election season, the following tips may be helpful to those wishing to identify the native North American demagogue (Demagogus americanus). This prolific creature inhabits all areas of the United States, but congregates especially in the mid-Atlantic coastal region, where the combination of warm (not to mention hot) air, popular politics, and movable wealth create a fertile environment for demagoguery. Demagogues are often found along with great numbers of the semiparasitic companion species the North American lobbyist.

The North American demagogue—descended, it is believed, from the ancient Greek demagogue and closely related to the great crested European demagogue—may be identified chiefly by his song. He tends to sing in refrains of a particularly short length (known to specialists as “sound bites”) and returns frequently to certain themes. The “my opponent’s radical views” theme and the “what the American people want/deserve” theme can be heard with particular clarity in the fall of each year. Every two years, the demagogues become especially vocal, and every fourth year their calls and the accompanying rites of display reach a fever pitch, a phenomenon that demagogologists have come to call “the big song and dance.”

The migratory habits of the demagogue have proved tremendously interesting. Not unlike the Atlantic eel (which returns to the Sargasso Sea, the place of its birth), the North American demagogue leaves the mid-Atlantic coast and returns to the place of its spawning for short visits. During these times, demagogues attend well-publicized events at quaint local establishments (especially schools, churches, and American Legion halls) and feed voraciously. The preferred diet of the demagogue consists of publicity and contributions, without a steady supply of which demagogues deteriorate quickly. Captured demagogues have been known to expire after a mere twenty-four hours without mass media exposure.

Demagogues, like white-tailed deer and telemarketers, have become a nuisance species in most parts of America. Multiplying wherever elections are held, they quickly become almost impossible to eradicate. Their highly repetitive and shrill calls tend to infect the songs of other species (especially those of the North American journalist and the closely related common pundit), until it becomes difficult to pick out the cry of the demagogue from the calls of those around him. Although demagogues can breed in almost any environment, they much prefer democracy and proliferate among a relatively apathetic and narcissistic population.

No one has yet devised an effective means for ending demagogue infestation, but some believe that they can be controlled through the introduction of a competitor species, the North American leader. This species can sometimes be recognized by its very unusual song, especially by refrains of “Ask not what your country can do for you,” and “I believe the majority of Americans are wrong about this.” However, only a character test can prove conclusively that a leader (which resembles the demagogue superficially) is present.

Unfortunately, a North American leader has not been positively identified in some years, and many specialists have concluded that the species has long been extinct.

Saturday, October 28

Rather than amend bad behavior, businesses just seek immunity from future lawsuits

Businesses Seek New Protection On Legal Front
October 29, 2006, NYT

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 — Frustrated with laws and regulations that have made companies and accounting firms more open to lawsuits from investors and the government, corporate America — with the encouragement of the Bush administration — is preparing to fight back.

Now that corruption cases like Enron and WorldCom are falling out of the news, two influential industry groups with close ties to administration officials are hoping to swing the regulatory pendulum in the opposite direction. The groups are drafting proposals to provide broad new protections to corporations and accounting firms from criminal cases brought by federal and state prosecutors as well as a stronger shield against civil lawsuits from investors.

Although the details are still being worked out, the groups’ proposals aim to limit the liability of accounting firms for the work they do on behalf of clients, to force prosecutors to target individual wrongdoers rather than entire companies, and to scale back shareholder lawsuits.

The groups hope to reduce what they see as some burdens imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, landmark post-Enron legislation adopted in 2002. The law, which placed significant new auditing and governance requirements on companies, gave broad discretion for interpretation to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The groups are also interested in rolling back rules and policies that have been on the books for decades.

To alleviate concerns that the new Congress may not adopt the proposals — regardless of which party holds power in the legislative branch next year — many are being tailored so that they could be adopted through rulemaking by the S.E.C. and enforcement policy changes at the Justice Department.

The proposals will begin to be laid out in public shortly after Election Day, members of the groups said in recent interviews. One of the committees was formed by the United States Chamber of Commerce and until recently was headed by Robert K. Steel.

Mr. Steel was sworn in last Friday as the new Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, and he is the senior official in the department who will be formulating the Treasury’s views on the issues being studied by the two groups.

The second committee was formed by the Harvard Law professor Hal S. Scott, along with R. Glenn Hubbard, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Bush, and John L. Thornton, a former president of Goldman Sachs, where he worked with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.

That group has colloquially become known around Washington as the Paulson Committee because the relatively new Treasury secretary issued an encouraging statement when it was formed last month. But administration officials said Friday that he was not playing a role in the group’s deliberations.

Its members include Donald L. Evans, a former commerce secretary who remains a close friend of President Bush; Samuel A. DiPiazza Jr., chief executive of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting giant; Robert R. Glauber, former chairman and chief executive of the National Association of Securities Dealers, the private group that oversees the securities industry; and the chief executives of DuPont, Office Depot and the CIT Group.

Jennifer Zuccarelli, a spokeswoman at the Treasury Department, said on Friday that no decision had been made about which recommendations would be supported by the administration.

“While the department always wants to hear new ideas from academic and industry thought leaders, especially to encourage the strength of the U.S. capital markets, Treasury is not a member of these committees and is not collaborating on any findings,” Ms. Zuccarelli said.

But another official and committee members noted that Mr. Paulson had recently pressed the groups in private discussions to complete their work so it could be rolled out quickly after the November elections.

Moreover, committee members say that they expect many of their recommendations will be used as part of an overall administration effort to limit what they see as overzealous state prosecutions by such figures as the New York State attorney general Elliot Spitzer and abusive class action lawsuits by investors. The groups will also attempt to lower what they see as the excessive costs associated with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Their critics, however, see the effort as part of a plan to cater to the most well-heeled constituents of the administration and insulate politically connected companies from prosecution at the expense of investors.

One consideration in drafting the proposals has been the chain of events at Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that was convicted in 2002 of obstruction of justice for shredding Enron-related documents; the conviction was overturned in 2005 by the Supreme Court. The proposals being drafted would aim to limit the liability of auditing firms and include a policy shift to make it harder for prosecutors to bring cases against individuals and companies.

Even though Arthur Andersen played a prominent role in various corporate scandals, some business and legal experts have criticized the decision by the Bush administration to bring a criminal case that had the effect of shutting the firm down.

The proposed policies would emphasize the prosecution of culpable individuals rather than corporations and auditing firms. That shift could prove difficult for prosecutors because it is often harder to find sufficient evidence to show that specific people at a company were the ones who knowingly violated a law.

One proposal would recommend that the Justice Department sharply curtail its policy of forcing companies under investigation to withhold paying the legal fees of executives suspected of violating the law. Another one would require some investor lawsuits to be handled by arbitration panels, which are traditionally friendlier to defendants.

In an interview last week with Bloomberg News, Mr. Paulson repeated his criticism of the Sarbanes-Oxley law. While it had done some good, he said, it had contributed to “an atmosphere that has made it more burdensome for companies to operate.”

Mr. Paulson also repeated a line from his first speech, given at Columbia Business School last August, where he said, “Often the pendulum swings too far and we need to go through a period of readjustment.”

Some experts see Mr. Paulson’s complaint as a step backward.

“This is an escalation of the culture war against regulation,” said James D. Cox, a securities and corporate law professor at Duke Law School. He said many of the proposals, if adopted, “would be a dark day for investors.”

Professor Cox, who has studied 600 class action lawsuits over the last decade, said it was difficult to find “abusive or malicious” cases, particularly in light of new laws and court decisions that had made it more difficult to file such suits.

The number of securities class action lawsuits has dropped substantially in each of the last two years, he noted, arguing that the impact of the proposals from the business groups would be that “very few people would be prosecuted.”

People involved in the committees said that the timing of the proposals was being dictated by the political calendar: closely following Election Day and as far away as possible from the 2008 elections.

Mr. Hubbard, who is now dean of Columbia Business School, said the committee he helps lead would focus on the lack of proper economic foundation for a number of regulations. Most changes will be proposed through regulation, he said, because “the current political environment is simply not ripe for legislation.”

But the politics of changing the rules do not break cleanly along party lines. While some prominent Democrats would surely attack the pro-business efforts, there are others who in the past have been sympathetic.

People involved in the committees’ work said that their objective was to improve the attractiveness of American capital-raising markets by scaling back rules whose costs outweigh their benefits.

“We think the legal liability issues are the most serious ones,” said Professor Scott, the director of the committee singled out by Mr. Paulson. “Companies don’t want to use our markets because of what they see as the substantial, and in their view excessive, liability.”

Committee officials disputed the notion that they were simply catering to powerful business interests seeking to benefit from loosening regulations that could wind up hurting investors.

“It’s unfortunate to the extent that this has been politicized,” said Robert E. Litan, a former Justice Department official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is overseeing the committee’s legal liability subgroup. “The objectives are clearly not to gut such reforms as Sarbanes-Oxley. I’m for cost-effective regulation.”

The main Sarbanes-Oxley provision that both committees are focusing on is a part that is commonly called Section 404, which requires audits of companies’ internal financial controls. Some business experts praise this section as having made companies more transparent and better managed, but many smaller companies call the section too costly and unnecessary.

Members of the two committees said that they had reached a consensus that Section 404, along with greater threat of investor lawsuits and government prosecutions, had discouraged foreign companies from issuing new stock on exchanges in the United States in recent months.

The committee members said that an increase in stock offerings abroad was evidence that the American liability system and tougher auditing standards were taking a toll on the competitiveness of American markets. But others see different reasons for the trend and few links to liability and accounting rules.

Bill Daley, a former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration who is the co-chairman of the Chamber of Commerce group, expects proposed changes to liability standards for accounting firms and corporations to draw the most flak. But he said that the changes affecting accounting firms are of paramount importance to prevent the further decline in competition. Only four major firms were left after Andersen’s collapse.

Another contentious issue concerns a proposal to eliminate the use of a broadly written and long-established anti-fraud rule, known as Rule 10b-5, that allows shareholders to sue companies for fraud. The change could be accomplished by a vote of the S.E.C.

John C. Coffee, a professor of securities law at Columbia Law School and an adviser to the Paulson Committee, said that he had recommended that the S.E.C. adopt the exception to Rule 10b-5 so that only the commission could bring such lawsuits against corporations.

But other securities law experts warned that such a move would extinguish a fundamental check on corporate malfeasance.

“It would be a shocking turning back to say only the commission can bring fraud cases,” said Harvey J. Goldschmid, a former S.E.C. commissioner and law professor at Columbia University. “Private enforcement is a necessary supplement to the work that the S.E.C. does. It is also a safety valve against the potential capture of the agency by industry.”

Friday, October 27

Values, not issues, are what the Democratic Party should be talking about in this election and beyond

BERKELEY – Values, not issues, are what the Democratic Party should be talking about in this election and beyond, according to the panel of progressive movers and shakers who addressed a packed Wheeler Hall on campus Thursday night. They stressed values such as fairness and community (and cooperation and trust, their antecedents), saying they transcend both geography and the outdated idea of a left-center-right political spectrum, and speak to voters on an effective gut level.

At the same time, panelists said, progressives need to think long-term, and continue building an infrastructure that can disseminate ideas as effectively as the conservative network of think tanks and talk radio shows, without falling into the trap of creating "issue silos."

The "What Are Americans Voting For?" panelists included Joan Blades, cofounder of the progressive, 3.2 million-member juggernaut MoveOn.org (and a Berkeley alumna, '77); Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, the most-read political blog in the world, with 20 million visitors monthly; and George Lakoff, UC Berkeley cognitive science professor and best-selling author of several treatises on effective political language.

Pinch-hitting for Berkeley public policy professor Robert Reich, secretary of labor under President Clinton, who had a family emergency, was Paul Pierson. A Berkeley political science professor, Pierson is the author of an influential recent book about how the current incarnation of the Republican Party rose to power.

'We have a party that used to be focused on a few battleground states, and now we're competing in places like Wyoming, Nebraska, and even Idaho. If it were up to the party in D.C., those races would not be competitive. But Howard Dean has completely changed the equation.' -Markos Moulitsas, DailyKos founder

"I suppose the panel is fair and balanced the way Fox News is 'fair and balanced,'" joked moderator Bruce Cain, director of Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies, acknowledging the absence of any conservative viewpoints. "Tonight we're going to have an opportunity to have a discussion about what's happening inside progressive politics without worrying about bantering with Republicans."

Professional progressives

While all four panelists are progressives, they're of decidedly different flavors. If Blades is a grassroots activist in the traditional mold, then Moulitsas is a radical, take-no-prisoners "Netroots" version. Lakoff, whose theories of framing made him the darling of the Democratic party in 2004 and the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature story, is an academic-turned-insider. Sitting in for the missing Reich (an insider-turned-academic), Pierson believes that organizational and institutional infrastructure play much bigger roles in American politics than methods of communication.

Moulitsas and DailyKos's community of 800,000 active bloggers are credited with almost singlehandedly catapulting challenger Ned Lamont to victory against Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary in August, forcing Lieberman to run as an independent next week. "People actually made a difference in these elections," Moulitsas said proudly. But he clarified that he thinks elections are won by teams, and that the Netroots are just one piece of the puzzle. "We can funnel activists, volunteers, a little bit of money, and that can make a lot of difference."

The challenge for progressive-minded election teams, he argued, is that the modern political process has become about turning people off, not on, so that only the "most committed, rabid partisans" show up to vote. Progressives need to tap their activists to get everyone, not just partisans, to the polls in the same way that the Republican Party traditionally has done through its networks of churches and civic organizations.

To Moulitsas, that also means no district, no matter how "red," should be left behind. "We have a party that used to be focused on a few battleground states, and now we're competing in places like Wyoming, Nebraska, and even Idaho," he said. "If it were up to the party in D.C., those races would not be competitive. But Howard Dean has completely changed the equation."

Instead of talking about divisive issues "in the way that Republicans want us to talk about them," he said, Democrats must talk about the values underpinning those issues. Republicans, for example, love to push Democrats to talk about gay marriage, but smart Democrats in "red" districts can turn it into a discussion about fairness, as Paul Hackett did in Ohio.

"And nobody is against fairness," Moulitsas smiled. "There's nothing incompatible with those values, whether you're a Nebraska Democrat or a Berkeley Democrat."

Values appeal to the emotions, while issues appeal to the intellect. Moulitsas said that for too long, progressives have "tried to appeal to voters based on intellect, while the Republicans are hitting them right here in the gut. And guess what's winning?" He thinks it's understandable that Americans don't have time to follow politics the way he and most of the Berkeley audience presumably do, which is why progressives need to learn to tap emotion and passion more effectively.

A breakdown of family values

Lakoff, whose views are sometimes reduced by critics to the idea that the Democrats are the "mommy party" and the Republicans are the "daddy party," gave a brief, nuanced background on why he thinks politics come down to family values. In 1994, when he picked up a "Contract with America" booklet, he was mystified, he recalls. "Why were people who were against abortion also in favor of the flat tax? I realized that this was a cognitive science problem." That being his field, he tackled it.

What he found to unite these disparate stances, he explained, was an ideological schema of the family — everyone's "first experience of governance." Conservatives see the government's role as that of a "strict father": the philosophy of every man for himself (emphasizing, for example, pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps), where those who fail or break the rules are punished. Progressives, meanwhile, see government's ideal role as that of a "nurturant mother," in which "we're all in this together" and therefore believe in social safety nets, second chances, and community-based programs. (For more about this worldview, read the NewsCenter's October 2003 Q&A with Lakoff, "Framing the Issues.")

The most important element of the family-values frame, Lakoff argued, is that it's not either/or: everybody relies on some of both the strict-father and nurturant-mother philosophies. "There are lots of people in this country who are conservative in parts of their lives and progressive in others," he said. "Plenty of people identify as conservatives but love the land, or are progressive in their religious values. There are honest, progressive businesspeople who treat their employees well."

In short, there are a great many areas where residents have progressive values but call themselves conservative, and those are the voters Democrats should be trying to reach, Lakoff concluded.

Levees that some want to see break

Pierson objects to framing as it supports the "senior class president" view, in which elections are essentially a popularity contest between two candidates. "By definition, the candidate who wins must be the one closest to the electorate," he explained. (For a more detailed explanation, read the Berkeleyan's January 2006 article about Pierson, "The Republican Right, and How It Grew.") That's why candidates' teams focus on whatever messages they think will resonate most with voters, and use framing as spin — "I'm not saying these things are unimportant, but they're just one part," he said with a nod to Lakoff.

'We have a gratitude deficit. We've got people who risked their lives to come here to do all these jobs that make our lifestyle easier and possible, and at the least we ought to thank some folks, and maybe let them have health care and educate their kids and get driver's licenses.'
-George Lakoff, UC Berkeley linguistics professor

The real problem with the "senior class president" model, Pierson continued, is that it omits from the picture the powerful roles played by organizations and institutions. The contest is not just between two candidates: it is also a battle between their funding sources, think tanks and other information-delivery groups, and influence networks. And right now, it is not a level playing field, he said: Republicans possess far greater resources and coordination.

Pierson evoked a metaphor drawn from Hurricane Katrina to describe how, despite the progressive movement's increasing power, it could still fail to win the 15 seats needed for a Democratic majority in the House: "It's about the size of the wave, but it's also about the strength of the levees" — the organizational and institutional forces around the country.

Blades said that while the energy of the grassroots gave her hope for the outcome of the midterm elections, "those levees feel mighty high sometimes." That's why she left MoveOn.org in volunteers' capable hands to cofound another group, MomsRising, to reach out to the half of the country's population that didn't vote in the 2004 election. She said she hoped that focusing on mothers would appeal to people turned off by partisanship.

"Moms — very few people are against them," she joked. "Most of us have one. If you're not one, you know one. So when you learn that there's deep discrimination against mothers in this country, it's shocking." A single mother, she said, earns 33 percent less than a man with the same education level employed in the same job. The difference between genders is 27 percent for married mothers.

This is an issue that comes down fairness, one that "I think a lot of Americans can get behind," Blades said.

Moulitsas had a different take on how level the playing field really was. "The 'vast right wing conspiracy' spends $400 million a year" on think tanks and conservative publications, he said. Meanwhile, the top six environmental groups have an annual budget totaling close to $700 million.

"The money's on our side. The difference is, we put it in our 'issue silos,'" Moulitsas complained. Progressive organizations need to be less territorial, and pool their resources to be used for a wide variety of outreach and activism efforts, not just on sponsoring legislation designed specifically for "their" issue.

Paper trails and the 'illegals'

Reading a question submitted by an audience member, Cain asked the panelists whether they were concerned about the integrity of the voting system. It is one of the three top issues that MoveOn.org members want to focus on, Blades replied, just after clean renewable energy and health care. (MoveOn has apparently not gotten the memo on values-not-issues positioning.) "People have been stealing elections since elections existed. You have to put in protections," she said.

A question about the Democratic stance on illegal immigration allowed Lakoff to demonstrate how the way an issue is framed changes one's perception of it. By discussing the problem as "illegal immigration," immigrants' actions are criminalized, he noted. What if instead we defined the problem as "illegal employment and illegal employers?" he asked innocently. After all, he said, it's easier to find employers and check up on them. And if there were no illegal employers, there would be no jobs for illegal aliens and the problem would solve itself; immigrants would stay home.

"But of course the result of that would be an absolute disaster," he smiled. The lifestyle of upper- and middle-class Americans, particularly in California, depends on immigrants. "If [immigrants] weren't taking care of children and cleaning houses, then you wouldn't be able to have two people in the household working, for example. If they weren't picking vegetables and flipping burgers, we wouldn't be able to have cheap food."

Crystal ball tossing

Asked to prognosticate about 2008's presidential candidates, the panelists more or less demurred, saying that much would be determined by next week's congressional turnover (or lack thereof). Moulitsas volunteered that on his recent national book tour, the question always came up of "what do we do about Hillary [New York's Senator Clinton]," the conventional wisdom's choice for the Democratic Party's nominee.

"She really hasn't shown leadership in anything that matters," Moulitsas criticized, and that is also true of Illinois Sen. (and Democratic heartthrob) Barack Obama. "There's a serious leadership deficit in our party. I think Obama's going to be hit pretty hard, too, because I can't think of a single thing he's shown leadership in. He hasn't even been in the Senate very long."

Pierson — after pausing to note how strange it was that the topic of Iraq had not come up at all in the evening's discussion, considering its powerful influence on voters' behavior — predicted the Democrats would pick up 22 to 25 House seats and that the Senate would stay split 50-50.

Lakoff professed to be nervous, for several reasons. A source in a position to know had told him that Republicans "have organized 60,000 people in California alone, through the churches, to make telephone calls in the last 72 hours before the election," he said, adding he doubted Democrats could match that kind of outreach. He also thought that the Democratic tactic of framing the election as a "referendum" on the Republicans, which "means they're trying to say nothing and let the Republicans fall on their faces," could easily backfire.

Although President George W. Bush's press conference this week was encouraging in the pratfall department to Lakoff. "We had an announcement from the White House that they were not 'staying the course" in Iraq," he said, noting with some glee that "when you negate a frame, you keep the frame." In this case, by having invoked over and over a metaphor of moral certainty, backbone, and goal-oriented achievement, by backpedaling on it the White House had made themselves look weak. (Lakoff has an op-ed in the New York Times today, "Staying the Course Right Over a Cliff," on the subject.)

Of God, justice, and disunited states

After 50 years of studying religion, Robert Bellah remains hard at work in retirement, battling gloom, preaching hope, and struggling to 'hold together the great polarities of the modern world'

By Barry Bergman, Public Affairs | 26 October 2006

Robert Bellah is a sociologist and a sermonizer, a believer in God and in reason, a Jeremiah and an apostle of hope. His books and essays over five decades have provoked the ire of the Christian right (for economic views some find heretical) and the secular left (for religious views some deem politically incorrect). Now 79, he admits to a deepening gloom over the perilous state of the nation and the world, a confession he punctuates — as he does much of his conversation — with hearty bursts of laughter.

It's tempting to see Bellah, Berkeley's Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus and arguably the world's most widely read sociologist of religion, as a study in contradictions. Bellah, though, resists any such efforts at reductionism, whether as a scholar or as an object of scrutiny. Devoted to rigorous critical analysis in his Marxist youth, he remains so today as an avid churchgoer, and insists the undergrad and the emeritus share much the same ethical concerns. A snapshot of how his views have evolved during his long career — and how they have remained, in their way, constant — has just been published as The Robert Bellah Reader (Duke University Press), a collection of 28 probing essays on religion, politics, America, the academy, and the search for meaning.

From "Civil Religion in America" (1967)
"Until the Civil War, the American civil religion focused above all on the event of the Revolution, which was seen as the final act of the Exodus from the old lands across the waters. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the sacred scriptures, and Washington the divinely appointed Moses who led his people out of the hands of tyranny."

From "Flaws in the Protestant Code" (2000)
"Whatever may be true of revolutions elsewhere, the American Revolution was not anticlerical. Indeed, the Protestant clergy provided the ideological legitimation and the day-to-day agitation and propaganda that made the revolution successful."

From "The History of Habit " (2001)
"I have heard it said that the world's knowledge doubles every two years, and I am not prepared to doubt it, though I don't know how that is quantified. But of this I am sure: the world's meaning is not doubling every two years. Indeed we might be tempted to argue that the more information, the less meaning."
Excerpted from The Robert Bellah Reader (Duke University Press, 2006). Reprinted by permission.

"I try to keep a balance," Bellah explains, taking a break from research and writing at his home near Memorial Stadium for a visit to Barrows Hall, where he served on the faculty for 30 years before retiring in 1997. "Criticism without any substance ultimately is self-destructive. It undermines everything and leads to nihilism. But substantive belief without any critical perspective also suffers the fate of disaster, because it tends toward actions which are out of the control of reason."

As an example of the latter, Bellah points to President Bush and the war in Iraq. "It's more the religion of neoconservatism than any kind of biblical religion, though Bush himself uses biblical language," he observes. "I think they were so ideologically convinced that they felt they didn't need to look at any data. They were just so sure they would be greeted with roses and were going to create a happy, democratic, capitalist society that would love Israel. Overnight. Without any notion of the history of this country? It's unimaginable."

Bellah first won fame as a public intellectual with his 1967 essay "Civil Religion in America," an examination of the use of religious symbolism by U.S. political figures from the Founders through John F. Kennedy and a plea for "an awareness that our nation stands under higher judgment." The essay grew out of his opposition to the Vietnam war, a moral and political crisis he argued had sparked America's "third time of trial," a period of testing and soul-searching akin to those of the Revolution and the Civil War.

Forty years later, he believes, we are still in crisis.

"I think the third time of trial is a long, drawn-out affair," Bellah says, "and really has to do with how we will deal ultimately with the role we have in the world, which became evident after the Second World War — economically, politically, militarily, and culturally the most powerful nation in the world, and a society that is in many ways extraordinarily parochial. And we are still faced with that challenge, and we are still messing up."

Along with the echoes of Vietnam, Bellah discerns disturbing parallels between Bush and the "axis of evil" he has vowed to destroy. The similarity was brought home to him, he says, when he met recently with Akbar Ganji, the Iranian journalist who spent six years in prison for criticizing repression in his own country.

"He said to me, in this very room, 'The trouble in our situation between the United States and Iran is that both of our presidents are fundamentalists.' And what could I say? I mean, I'm not prepared to say that Bush and [Iranian leader Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad are identical, or equally bad, or anything of the sort. But that both of them use religion as a cover for other things they want to do seems to me very clear, and very problematic.

"I can say this, and I don't go to jail," Bellah adds. "But when constitutional rights are being eroded, how far down the line will it be when criticism will be punishable? I'm old enough to have lived through the McCarthy period. I know that having speech and association that are protected by the Bill of Rights offered no protection under McCarthy. So to think it can't happen here, we're a democracy — well, watch out."

Bellah, in fact, was no mere witness to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist fear-mongering. He was denied a teaching position at Harvard when he refused to "name names" of others in the Communist Party, to which he'd belonged as an undergrad from 1947 to 1949. Bellah headed to Canada, spending two years at McGill University's Institute for Islamic Studies before finally being offered a job as a Harvard lecturer after McCarthy's death.

Looking back, Bellah says he naively failed to realize how "extremely evil" the Soviet regime was, or how authoritarian the American Communist Party was. (The Harvard chapter of the party, he notes, was not typical.) But he continues to view socialism as "a very, very powerful idea. It was a way of expressing what was wrong with unrestrained capitalism."

"I'm not saying that socialism can be revived," he explains. "I'm saying that criticism of a market economy without any kind of ethical constraint is a valid criticism, and it will continue to be expressed in one form or another — I hope not in an ideologically extremist way, but nonetheless it needs to be expressed. So in that sense, there is a continuity, which is ultimately rooted in the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament, in their ringing opposition to oppression and poverty. So it's part of the great tradition."

Balancing faith and reason

It was at Harvard that he encountered the work of theologian Paul Tillich, whose writings disabused him of the idea that religion was "belief in the unbelievable." "Tillich is the only way I could have become a Christian again," says Bellah, who was raised in a Protestant household in Southern California. What resonated for him was the notion of God as "a power" rather than "a person," separate from the world. "To say God is a being, even the highest being, is blasphemous," he says, "because a being is alongside other beings. Being itself is not alongside other beings, [but] the power of being in all there is."

That power, he goes on, "makes it possible for us to exist, but also to love and care for others. We did not create ourselves, human beings did not create the human species. We are part of something larger that includes us."

His belief in connection and community — which finds its most profound expression in the ritual of the Eucharist — has its secular underpinnings as well, particularly in the writings of Émile Durkheim. "Another part of me is a sociologist, and a Durkheimian, so that group belonging is inherently a fulfillment of our humanity, [and] the idea of living totally alone, in isolation, is totally unnatural."

The political left, Bellah contends, has ceded much of the moral ground to conservatives, who now claim the mantle of family and community. "Poverty and social justice. Are these not value issues? To think that values consist solely of homosexuality and abortion? Give me a break." Even the term "social justice," he says, "comes out of Catholic social teaching," which in turn "came out of a deep criticism of modernity, but particularly of capitalism, and a deep concern for the people who were getting shafted by capitalism."

"This mobilization of the Christian right is a matter of decades. It does not go back very far in our history. If you talked about religion and politics in the '60s, what you were talking about was Martin Luther King and Bill Coffin and the divinity students going down South and sitting in, and the Quakers, and so on."

"The morality that is present in the Western world is heavily indebted to the religious tradition," he says. "And there is a danger if that heritage gets forgotten, or completely misunderstood." For Bellah, "The great danger is radical individualism — 'I'm in it for myself,' 'I'm my own brand,' as somebody said. This is a kind of terrible reductionism of an ethical individualism to pure self-interest."

Religious fundamentalism, on the other hand, is a reaction to modernity — including the same self-interest and breakdown of institutions that Bellah himself has long criticized — but a distorted one, he says, in which "people absolutize their faith in a way that is totally untraditional."

What is needed, he insists, is a balance of tradition and rationalism, of faith and reason. "Holding together the great polarities of the modern world," he warns, "is a question of survival."

He is not optimistic. But he is hopeful.

"One way of putting it is we have to base our action on something other than calculation," he explains. "And both pessimism and optimism are based on calculation." Hope, by contrast, "is a theological virtue. It's not based on optimism. It's saying, if you trust in God, then you have the capacity to hope. … Tillich uses the term 'in spite of' — in spite of all the horror there still is beauty, justice, goodness. And that's what we have to hold onto."

That such ideas can be "problematic for modern intellectuals" is something Bellah knows all too well. "I'm totally a child of the Enlightenment," he laughs. "I've been through Marxism, the whole thing. The last thing on earth I am is any kind of traditional person. I grew up in Los Angeles — you couldn't possibly grow up in a more totally decultured world than that."

A decade into retirement — and, in his case, the word is used advisedly — Bellah continues to speak at colleges and universities, where he meets with appreciative audiences. "I feel there is a very significant part of American society that understands what I'm trying to say, and responds to it," he says, noting that Habits of the Heart, which he co-authored in 1985 and for which he is probably best-known today, has sold more than a half-million copies. "We just don't have terribly many people articulating it. And the most articulate voices are the ones that want one side of the polarity and not the other."

Which explains why Bellah — who has described himself, tongue in cheek, as a sort of Jeremiah, the prophet whose warnings of Jerusalem's destruction went unheeded — is hard at work on an ambitious, two-volume project he says had been gestating during much of his tenure at Berkeley, but for which he never had time until he retired.

"I believe very much in the unity of human beings, that we are all part of a common project, and that we need all the resources we can get, because we're faced with challenges in the modern world that threaten our extinction as a species," he says of the work-in-progress. "My effort is to go all the way back to the Paleolithic and look at how human beings have tried to understand the world. That's my broadest definition of religion — it's the way human beings have tried to understand the world."

It is also, for Bellah, a way to remain hopeful. If the virtue of age is wisdom, he says, "the temptation is despair, or even disgust. So I have to fight this degree to which I'm gloomy…. When I speak to undergraduates, which I still do from time to time, I'm never gloomy. Undergraduates are at a fragile emotional stage, and they're easily depressed, and they're easily elated. But if you want to encourage them to be active citizens, the worst thing you can do is to tell them that everything is going to hell."

And therein, perhaps, lies a sermon.

Friday, October 20

Incentives for the Dead

I don’t know about you, but I need a break from political scandals. So let’s talk about private-sector scandals instead — specifically, the growing scandal involving backdated stock options, which this week led to the resignation of William McGuire, the chief executive of UnitedHealth Group.

To understand the issue, we need to go back to the original ideological justification for giant executive paychecks.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, C.E.O.’s of the largest firms were paid, on average, about 40 times as much as the average worker. But executives wanted more — and professors at business schools provided a theory that justified much higher pay.

They argued that a chief executive who expects to receive the same salary if his company is highly profitable that he will receive if it just muddles along won’t be willing to take risks and make hard decisions. “Corporate America,” declared an influential 1990 article by Michael Jensen of the Harvard Business School and Kevin Murphy of the University of Southern California, “pays its most important leaders like bureaucrats. Is it any wonder then that so many C.E.O.’s act like bureaucrats?”

The claim, then, was that executives had to be given more of a stake in their companies’ success. And so corporate boards began giving C.E.O.’s lots of stock options — the right to purchase a share of the company’s stocks at a fixed price, usually the market price on the day the option was issued. If the stock went up, these options would pay off; if the stock went down, they would lose their value. And so, the theory went, executives would have the incentive to do whatever it took to push the stock price up.

In the 1990’s, executive stock options proliferated — and executive pay soared, rising to 367 times the average worker’s pay by the early years of this decade.

But the truth was that in many — perhaps most — cases, executive pay still had little to do with performance. For one thing, the great bull market of the 1990’s meant that even companies that didn’t do especially well saw their stock prices rise.

Then there were the tricks that companies used to ensure lavish executive pay even if the stock simply seesawed up and down. For example, after a downward move in the stock price, executive stock options would often be repriced or swapped — that is, the price at which the executive had the right to buy stocks would be reduced to the new market price. Heads the C.E.O. wins, tails he gets another chance to flip the coin.

What the backdating scandal reveals is that for many executives even that wasn’t enough. To ensure that executives profited from newly issued options, companies would pretend that the options had in fact been issued at an earlier date, when the stock price was lower. Thus a contract that Mr. McGuire signed in December 1999 included a grant of one million stock options dated back to Oct. 13, the day UnitedHealth’s stock price reached its low point for the year.

What’s wrong with backdating stock options? There’s a tax evasion aspect, but the main point is the bait-and-switch. The public was told that gigantic executive paychecks were rewards for exceptional performance, but in practice executives were lavishly paid simply for showing up at the office.

And in some cases even that wasn’t required. Cablevision Systems gave options to a deceased executive (in other words, to his heirs), backdating them to make it appear that he had received them while still alive.

The moral of the story is that we still haven’t come to grips with the epidemic of corporate misgovernance revealed four years ago by the Enron and WorldCom scandals, then drowned out as a political issue by the clamor for war with Iraq. Even now, we’re still learning how deep the rot went.

And there’s no reason to believe that the problem has been solved. Three years ago, Warren Buffett declared that reining in runaway executive pay was the “acid test of corporate reform.” Well, executive compensation, which fell briefly after the Enron and WorldCom scandals, has shot right back up.

So we’re still waiting for serious corporate reform. And don’t tell me that everything must be O.K. because stocks have been rising lately. Remember, they rose even faster in the 1990’s — and the 1920’s.

Thursday, October 19

Interview with George Lakoff - Why Republicans control Political Discourse, and Progressives have no Clue how to Stop Them

'Conservatives have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They're called "do-gooders," and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.' -George Lakoff

'A "war president" has extraordinary powers. And the "war on terror," of course, never ends. There's no peace treaty with terror. It's a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely.' -George Lakoff

Why was the Rockridge Institute created, and how do you define its purpose?

I got tired of cursing the newspaper every morning. I got tired of seeing what was going wrong and not being able to do anything about it.

The background for Rockridge is that conservatives, especially conservative think tanks, have framed virtually every issue from their perspective. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there. Progressives have done virtually nothing. Even the new Center for American Progress, the think tank that John Podesta [former chief of staff for the Clinton administration] is setting up, is not dedicated to this at all. I asked Podesta who was going to do the Center's framing. He got a blank look, thought for a second and then said, "You!" Which meant they haven't thought about it at all. And that's the problem. Liberals don't get it. They don't understand what it is they have to be doing.

Rockridge's job is to reframe public debate, to create balance from a progressive perspective. It's one thing to analyze language and thought, it's another thing to create it. That's what we're about. It's a matter of asking 'What are the central ideas of progressive thought from a moral perspective?'

How does language influence the terms of political debate?

Language always comes with what is called "framing." Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like "revolt," that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That's a frame.

If you then add the word "voter" in front of "revolt," you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like "voter revolt" — something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves.

Here's another example of how powerful framing is. In Arnold Schwarzenegger's acceptance speech, he said, "When the people win, politics as usual loses." What's that about? Well, he knows that he's going to face a Democratic legislature, so what he has done is frame himself and also Republican politicians as the people, while framing Democratic politicians as politics as usual — in advance. The Democratic legislators won't know what hit them. They're automatically framed as enemies of the people.

Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing?

Because they've put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell's agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks. He outlined the whole thing in 1970. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that. [There are many others, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which date from the 1940s.]

And now, as the New York Times Magazine quoted Paul Weyrich, who started the Heritage Foundation, they have 1,500 conservative radio talk show hosts. They have a huge, very good operation, and they understand their own moral system. They understand what unites conservatives, and they understand how to talk about it, and they are constantly updating their research on how best to express their ideas.

Why haven't progressives done the same thing?

There's a systematic reason for that. You can see it in the way that conservative foundations and progressive foundations work. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They say, 'Here's several million dollars, do what you need to do.' And basically, they build infrastructure, they build TV studios, hire intellectuals, set aside money to buy a lot of books to get them on the best-seller lists, hire research assistants for their intellectuals so they do well on TV, and hire agents to put them on TV. They do all of that. Why? Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in "Moral Politics," has as its highest value preserving and defending the "strict father" system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals' conceptual system of the "nurturant parent" has as its highest value helping individuals who need help. The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, 'We're giving you $25,000, but don't waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don't use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.' So there's actually a structural reason built into the worldviews that explains why conservatives have done better.

Back up for a second and explain what you mean by the strict father and nurturant parent frameworks.

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones — those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant — and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, "spoil" people by giving them things they haven't earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

From that framework, I can see why Schwarzenegger appealed to conservatives.

Exactly. In the strict father model, the big thing is discipline and moral authority, and punishment for those who do something wrong. That comes out very clearly in the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policy. With Schwarzenegger, it's in his movies: most of the characters that he plays exemplify that moral system. He didn't have to say a word! He just had to stand up there, and he represents Mr. Discipline. He knows what's right and wrong, and he's going to take it to the people. He's not going to ask permission, or have a discussion, he's going to do what needs to be done, using force and authority. His very persona represents what conservatives are about.

You've written a lot about "tax relief" as a frame. How does it work?

The phrase "Tax relief" began coming out of the White House starting on the very day of Bush's inauguration. It got picked up by the newspapers as if it were a neutral term, which it is not. First, you have the frame for "relief." For there to be relief, there has to be an affliction, an afflicted party, somebody who administers the relief, and an act in which you are relieved of the affliction. The reliever is the hero, and anybody who tries to stop them is the bad guy intent on keeping the affliction going. So, add "tax" to "relief" and you get a metaphor that taxation is an affliction, and anybody against relieving this affliction is a villain.

"Tax relief" has even been picked up by the Democrats. I was asked by the Democratic Caucus in their tax meetings to talk to them, and I told them about the problems of using tax relief. The candidates were on the road. Soon after, Joe Lieberman still used the phrase tax relief in a press conference. You see the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.

So what should they be calling it?

It's not just about what you call it, if it's the same "it." There's actually a whole other way to think about it. Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there's an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers. This is a huge infrastructure. The highway system, the Internet, the TV system, the public education system, the power grid, the system for training scientists — vast amounts of infrastructure that we all use, which has to be maintained and paid for. Taxes are your dues — you pay your dues to be an American. In addition, the wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don't. The federal justice system, for example, is nine-tenths devoted to corporate law. The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy. And we're all paying for it.

So taxes could be framed as an issue of patriotism.

It is an issue of patriotism! Are you paying your dues, or are you trying to get something for free at the expense of your country? It's about being a member. People pay a membership fee to join a country club, for which they get to use the swimming pool and the golf course. But they didn't pay for them in their membership. They were built and paid for by other people and by this collectivity. It's the same thing with our country — the country as country club, being a member of a remarkable nation. But what would it take to make the discussion about that? Every Democratic senator and all of their aides and every candidate would have to learn how to talk about it that way. There would have to be a manual. Republicans have one. They have a guy named Frank Luntz, who puts out a 500-page manual every year that goes issue by issue on what the logic of the position is from the Republican side, what the other guys' logic is, how to attack it, and what language to use.

What are some other examples of issues that progressives should try to reframe?

There are too many examples, that's the problem. The so-called energy crisis in California should have been called Grand Theft. It was theft, it was the result of deregulation by Pete Wilson, and Davis should have said so from the beginning.

Or take gay marriage, which the right has made a rallying topic. Surveys have been done that say Americans are overwhelmingly against gay marriage. Well, the same surveys show that they also overwhelmingly object to discrimination against gays. These seem to be opposite facts, but they're not. "Marriage" is about sex. When you say "gay marriage," it becomes about gay sex, and approving of gay marriage becomes implicitly about approving of gay sex. And while a lot of Americans don't approve of gay sex, that doesn't mean they want to discriminate against gay people. Perfectly rational position. Framed in that way, the issue of gay marriage will get a lot of negative reaction. But what if you make the issue "freedom to marry," or even better, "the right to marry"? That's a whole different story. Very few people would say they did not support the right to marry who you choose. But the polls don't ask that question, because the right wing has framed that issue.

Do any of the Democratic Presidential candidates grasp the importance of framing?

None. They don't get it at all. But they're in a funny position. The framing changes that have to be made are long-term changes. The conservatives understood this in 1973. By 1980 they had a candidate, Ronald Reagan, who could take all this stuff and run with it. The progressives don't have a candidate now who understands these things and can talk about them. And in order for a candidate to be able to talk about them, the ideas have to be out there. You have to be able to reference them in a sound bite. Other people have to put these ideas into the public domain, not politicians. The question is, How do you get these ideas out there? There are all kinds of ways, and one of the things the Rockridge Institute is looking at is talking to advocacy groups, which could do this very well. They have more of a budget, they're spread all over the place, and they have access to the media.

Right now the Democratic Party is into marketing. They pick a number of issues like prescription drugs and Social Security and ask which ones sell best across the spectrum, and they run on those issues. They have no moral perspective, no general values, no identity. People vote their identity, they don't just vote on the issues, and Democrats don't understand that. Look at Schwarzenegger, who says nothing about the issues. The Democrats ask, How could anyone vote for this guy? They did because he put forth an identity. Voters knew who he is.

Are "progressive" and "liberal" different, or is Rockridge trying to sidestep the conservatives' successfully having framed "liberal" as pejorative?

Well, there is some of that, but both terms are kind of mushy and vague. After World War II and the Vietnam War, "liberal" came to mean someone who supports [Franklin Delano Roosevelt's] New Deal, and a strong military and foreign policy. The term "progressive" originated from people who were Democratic Socialists, but the socialism aspect has dropped away, and it's come to mean what I call "nurturant morality." It includes choosing peace whenever possible, environmentalism, civil liberties, minority rights, notions like social justice through living wages, et cetera. "Progressive" has been chosen, in part, to contrast in a forward-looking way with "conservative" — for example, as when Podesta chose the name "The Center for American Progress" for his new think tank.

Also, within traditional liberalism you have a history of rational thought that was born out of the Enlightenment: all meanings should be literal, and everything should follow logically. So if you just tell people the facts, that should be enough — the truth shall set you free. All people are fully rational, so if you tell them the truth, they should reach the right conclusions. That, of course, has been a disaster.

Meaning, for example, that if you tell people that the tax cuts are overwhelmingly benefiting the richest 1 percent of Americans at the expense of a balanced budget, liberals think people will naturally revolt against the measure.

Exactly. It never works. And liberals don't know why. They don't understand that there's another frame involved. Here's another example: I've been working with a lot of nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups of various kinds, including an environmental health group researching what they called the "body burden."

The what?

The body burden — you have to hear it twice, right? It refers to the amount of toxic chemicals you have in your body. This group did a study with the Centers for Disease Control and found that there are vast numbers of toxic chemicals in our bodies, and in the bodies of newborn babies, in mothers' milk, and so on. I asked them how they were going to frame this. They said, "What do you mean? We're just going to put out a report with all the statistics, and they'll be so shocking that everything will change." So they did: a few papers ran it on page 17, some papers ran it a little but more. The next day it was done.

But is that a failure of framing, or a failure of infrastructure, as in no public relations team, no properly prepared talk- show guests on staff?

It's a failure of the whole thing: not taking communication seriously and not taking conceptualization seriously. Anyway, they came back to me a couple of months later and asked how they should run a campaign on it. I said, "It's very simple. You call your campaign Be Poison-Free."

Why use the word "poison"? Because the framing of poison has a poisoner. It makes you look at who is doing the poisoning. Everyone knows what poison is — it kills you. Everybody knows that. Now of course you then have to run a serious campaign and have the money to do that and have the public relations support, which is harder, but the first step is understanding how to frame it.

What about the phrase "free market"? Is that an example of framing?

Yes, but one that's so deeply embedded that it's difficult at first to see how. You have to start with the metaphor that the market is a force of nature, which comes from [the economist] Adam Smith, who says that if everybody pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the "invisible hand" — by which he means nature. There is also a metaphor that well-being is wealth. If I do you a favor, therefore making things better for you, then you say, "How can I ever repay you? I'm in your debt." It's as if I'd given you money. We understand our well-being as wealth.

Combine them, and you get the conservatives' version that says if everybody pursues their own well-being, the well-being of all will be maximized by nature. They have the metaphorical notion of a free market even in their child-rearing system. It's not just an economic theory; it's a moral theory. When you discipline your children, they get internal discipline to become self-reliant, which means they can pursue their self-interest and get along in a difficult world. Conservatives even have a word for people who are not pursuing their self interest. They're called "do-gooders," and they get in the way of people who are pursuing their self-interest.

OK, but how is that a frame, rather than a guiding ideology?

Because the "free market" doesn't exist. There is no such thing. All markets are constructed. Think of the stock exchange. It has rules. The WTO [World Trade Organization] has 900 pages of regulations. The bond market has all kinds of regulations and commissions to make sure those regulations carried out. Every market has rules. For example, corporations have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder profit. That's a construction of the market. Now, it doesn't have to be that way. You could make that rule, "Corporations must maximize stakeholder value." Stakeholders — as opposed to shareholders, the institutions who own the largest portions of stock — would include employees, local communities, and the environment. That changes the whole notion of what a "market" is.

Suppose we were to change the accounting rules, so that we not only had open accounting, which we really need, but we also had full accounting. Full accounting would include things like ecological accounting. You could no longer dump your stuff in the river or the air and not pay a fee. No more free dumping. If you had full accounting, that constructs the market in a different way. It's still a market, and it's still "free" within the rules. But the rules are always there. It's important for progressives to get that idea out there, that all markets are constructed. We should be debating how they're constructed, how they should be constructed, and how are they stacked to serve particular interests.

What's in this new "essential guide for progressives"? Even the Democratic Party seems to have trouble defining what makes a liberal.

Well, for that reason I wrote a chapter on what unites progressives — a moral system, certain political principles, and what I call policy directions as opposed to policies. A policy direction is something like "Let's have a sustainable environment" and "Working people shouldn't be living in poverty" and "Everybody should have health care." The problem is that the Democrats have wanted to talk about programs rather than policy directions, and programs call up distinctions, which tend to separate people. For example, Kerry should be talking about health care for everyone, and just put a white paper with the details of the program on his website. The values, principles, and general directions are what people care about and what brings them together. It's pointless to argue about the policy-wonk details, because they're going to change anyway.

In another chapter I tell progressives how to talk to conservatives. This is not rocket science: you should show respect, know your values, always reframe, and say what you believe. The important thing is not to accept their framing of the issues, nor just negate their framing — that just reinforces it. Simply confronting them with facts won't help. Frames trump facts. The facts alone will not set you free. You have to reframe the issues before the facts can become meaningful and powerful.

Some conservatives are ideologues and you're not going to sway them. But most conservatives are nice people. What you want to do is activate their nurturing model, engage their empathy. Ask them who they care about, what they care about, and why. Find out where their empathy lies. Connect with the part of them that shares your values, and get that to spread to other issues.

Last October you said that "liberals don't get it" — they don't even realize that conservatives are controlling the terms of debate. Have they gotten any better at framing?

There's been a lot of improvement. In nine months we've managed to reach a lot of people. You saw it in action at the Democratic Convention, in the speeches by Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, and John Kerry. They talked about values. That's a big change, and it's not an accident. They talked about unity, not the culture war. They began to explain why Democratic values are traditional American values — an important step. The idea is very simple: Look at the things we are most proud of in this country, from the Declaration of Independence to the present. We had slavery then. We abolished it. Only male property owners could vote. Now both non-property owners and women can vote.

The New Deal, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act — these too are all products of progressive, liberal values. They represent advances of the nurturant parent model versus the conservative "strict father" model [articulated in Lakoff's "Moral Politics," see here for a brief discussion]. These movements are also seen as stemming from traditional American values, part of our shared heritage. So, when you start looking at what this country is rightfully proud of, it's the extension of progressive values. And it's time to say that loud and clear.

One of the values that Democrats seemed to drop into every sentence of the Convention was "strength." How is that part of the progressive canon?

You have to fight strength with strength. That's straight out of "Moral Politics": the strict father has to be strong, but the nurturant parent must also be strong. However, I don't think the Democrats did a good job of defining what the difference is in Kerry's kind of strength, because they refused to use the word "weak" in reference to Bush. They wanted to have a completely positive campaign — which it isn't anyway — but they didn't want to say that Bush has made the country weaker. The issue of weakness awakens the stereotype of liberals, so instead they said, "Look, we just want America to be stronger."

But "stronger" doesn't necessarily imply weak. They could have talked more directly about all the ways Bush has weakened the country. When they have a case to be made on the basis of a pattern of behavior, they don't tend to use a grammar that really nails the message, like "We're weaker in education, and here's why. We're weaker in security, and here's why." You could write this argument in half a page. The Democrats aren't there yet, by any means.

Why do conservatives like to use the phrase "liberal elite" as an epithet?

Conservatives have branded liberals, and the liberals let them get away with it: the "liberal elite," the "latte liberals," the "limousine liberals." The funny thing is that conservatives are the elite. The whole idea of conservative doctrine is that some people are better than others, that some people deserve more. To conservatives, if you're poor it's because you deserve it, you're not disciplined enough to get ahead. Conservative doctrine requires that there be an elite: the people who thrive in the free market have more money, and they should. Progressives say, "No, that's not fair. Maybe some should have more money, but no one should live in poverty. Everybody who works deserves to have a reasonable standard of living for their work." These are ideas that are progressive or liberal ideas, and progressives aren't getting them out there enough.

What progressives are promoting is not elite at all. Progressives ought to be talking about the conservative elite. They shouldn't be complaining about "tax cuts for the rich," they should be complaining about "tax cuts for the conservative elite," because that's who's getting them.

Speaking of taxes, Democrats seem to have at last stopped falling into the trap of using the phrase "tax relief" — thereby adopting conservative framing that taxes are an affliction from which citizens need to be rescued. But they haven't yet presented an alternate frame for taxes.

Every now and then they slip and say "tax relief for the middle class," but yes, they're learning. The Republicans, meanwhile, have increased their usage.

Recently I've been talking about taxes as investments for the common good. In the past the government made certain wise investments in things like the interstate highway system. You just get in your car and drive; you don't think about how every time you use the highways you're getting a dividend on that previous investment — and so is every business that sends a truck over the interstate highway system. The Internet is another example. It started out as a network funded by the Defense Department, by the government investing taxpayers' money. Now, every time you surf the Web, you're getting a dividend. Drugs and medical advances that come out of National Institutes of Health grants are financed by taxpayers. Computer chips in our computers and cars exist because of the government's early investment of taxpayers' money in semiconductor research.

But wouldn't conservatives argue, as they have with Social Security, that individuals can invest their money better than the government?

That's simple. Would you prefer to have the government build and maintain the highway system, or do it yourself? Would you rather have a private company owning the highway system and the Internet, and charging you God knows how much to use them? You like the army, but do you want to build your own? How about your own police and fire departments? No. You want a government that can do the things you need, in the areas where private companies can't or won't do them or simply can't be trusted to do them right. One of progressives' main goals is a better future for all. A wise and efficient government is needed for that in hundreds of ways.

When it comes to government investment of your tax money, businesses benefit even more than ordinary people. To start a business, you don't have to invent computer science or the telephone network, you don't have to build a highway system. They're just there for businesses to use, as is the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the SEC, the Commerce Department, and the courts. A company doesn't have to make up a way to adjudicate its disputes with other companies; we paid for it already. Nine-tenths of the courts are there for corporate law. Corporations get enormous benefits paid for by other taxpayers, but they've stopped paying their way. Corporate income tax used to make up about 38 percent of all U.S. taxes. Now it's less than 10 percent. Ordinary taxpayers are making the investments in infrastructure, and corporate stockholders are getting the dividends. And that's just not fair.

You've said that progressives should never use the phrase "war on terror" — why?

There are two reasons for that. Let's start with "terror." Terror is a general state, and it's internal to a person. Terror is not the person we're fighting, the "terrorist." The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The "war on terror" is not about stopping you from being afraid, it's about making you afraid.

Next, "war." How many terrorists are there — hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It's not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

What about the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty"?

Those are metaphorical. Real wars are wars against countries, and in the "war on terror," we are attacking countries. But those countries are not the same as the terrorists. We're acting at the wrong level. Meanwhile, by using this frame, we get a commander in chief, as the Republicans keep referring to Bush — a "war president" with "war powers," which imply that ordinary protections don't have to be observed. A "war president" has extraordinary powers. And the "war on terror," of course, never ends. There's no peace treaty with terror. It's a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely. In three words — "war on terror" — they've enacted vast political changes.

Bush has positioned war with Iraq as part of the "war on terror." How can progressives frame opposition to the Iraq war without being tarred as unpatriotic or as in league with the terrorists?

By criticizing Bush for weakening us. By saying out loud, while waving the flag, that the Iraq war has made us more vulnerable to terrorists in many ways. Iraq had nothing to do with 911 or al Qaeda. By moving troops from Afghanistan to Iraq, Bush may have let Osama bin Laden escape, and he certainly allowed al Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup. Moreover, the Iraq war has recruited more terrorists. The $200 billion we've spent there could have been used to enhance homeland security, which has mostly been ignored. It could also have been used to address the root causes of terrorism, which the Bush administration is ignoring. Moreover, Bush has allowed North Korea and Iran to move toward becoming nuclear powers, while he concentrated our efforts on Iraq, which had no nuclear weapons program. Allowing nuclear proliferation aids terrorism.

The Bush reply is always avoidance: that we're better off without Saddam Hussein. Clinton gave the clearest rebuttal of that argument: There are other bad guys like Saddam Hussein in the world, in North Korea, Iran, and Sudan. There are bad guys all over the place. Are we going to invade all these countries? As Clinton said, we can't possibly attack, imprison or kill everyone who's against us. We have to make friends.

You can also take a patriotic stand and criticize Bush for being ineffectual. You have to be on the offensive. Why did we go into Iraq without a peace plan? Without properly equipping our troops? Without our allies?

How do you frame this issue of Iraq? You say, "We go to war when we have to, when it's really necessary, when we're being attacked. We don't go to war as an instrument of economic policy. We don't go to war as an instrument of geopolitical positioning. We go to war when we have no other choice. We go with a plan for winning the peace, and we go with enough troops to be effective. Those are the minimal conditions." In short, you don't have to go on the defensive at all.

The old definition of a conservative was someone in favor of maintaining the status quo, that is, upholding tradition and opposing major changes in laws and institutions. Are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft et al. mainstream conservatives?

As I say in the new book, they're radicals. They're not trying to conserve anything. They're trying to impose a strict father model taken from a terrible, disastrous parenting method — one ruled by the use of abusive power and force — on America and the world. If you're disciplined enough to make enough money to buy good health care, you deserve it, and to buy a good education for your children, you deserve it. Otherwise you don't deserve it and you won't get it.

This goes against American egalitarianism and the idea of economic equity — that is, if people work hard and play by the rules, they should have a decent standard of living, assuming there's enough money in the economy as a whole. There is enough money in this economy. To deny good health care and education to people who work goes against the best in American policy. It's radical and it's un-American.

Wednesday, October 18

Why Aren’t We Shocked? Targeting of Women


“Who needs a brain when you have these?”
— message on an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt for young women

In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls.

Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack.

In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. Stories about the rape, murder and mutilation of women and girls are staples of the news, as familiar to us as weather forecasts. The startling aspect of the Pennsylvania attack was that this terrible thing happened at a school in Amish country, not that it happened to girls.

The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, “When was the last time you got screwed?”

An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.

We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated by that violence. We’ve been watching the sexualized image of the murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead. Her mother is dead. And we’re still watching the video of this poor child prancing in lipstick and high heels.

What have we learned since then? That there’s big money to be made from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a misogynistic culture, it’s never too early to drill into the minds of girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability to please men sexually.

A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We’re all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society’s casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels — objects — and never, ever as the equals of men.

“Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the women’s advocacy group Equality Now.

That was never clearer than in some of the extreme forms of pornography that have spread like nuclear waste across mainstream America. Forget the embarrassed, inhibited raincoat crowd of the old days. Now Mr. Solid Citizen can come home, log on to this $7 billion mega-industry and get his kicks watching real women being beaten and sexually assaulted on Web sites with names like “Ravished Bride” and “Rough Sex — Where Whores Get Owned.”

Then, of course, there’s gangsta rap, and the video games where the players themselves get to maul and molest women, the rise of pimp culture (the Academy Award-winning song this year was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”), and on and on.

You’re deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It’s all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa.

Oh sweet democracy: No better in Britain. When Parents are Part of the Problem

Glorious Food? English Schoolchildren Think Not


ROTHERHAM, England — Five months after the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver succeeded in cajoling, threatening and shaming the British government into banning junk food from its school cafeterias, many schools are learning that you can lead a child to a healthy lunch, but you can’t make him eat.

The fancy new menu at the Rawmarsh School here?

“It’s rubbish,” said Andreas Petrou, an 11th grader. Instead, en route to school recently, he was enjoying a north of England specialty known as a chip butty: a French-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar.

“We didn’t get a choice,” he said of the school food. “They just told us we were having it.”

The government’s regulations, which took effect in September, have banished from school cafeterias the cheap, instantly gratifying meals that children love by default: the hamburgers, the French fries, the breaded, deep-fried processed meat, the sugary drinks.

Now schools have to provide at least two portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day for each child, serve fish at least once a week, remove salt from lunchroom tables, limit fried foods to two servings a week and cut out candy, soda and potato chips altogether.

The rules apply to schools in England and Wales; Scotland has a separate healthy lunch program.

But weaning children who consider French fries a major food group is not easy. There is no nicotine patch equivalent for chicken nuggets.

And many parents object to being lectured by Londoners like Mr. Oliver, whose angry television show “Jamie’s School Dinners” first alerted the nation to the horrors of school food like “Turkey Twizzlers” — minuscule bits of meat processed with many nonmeat products, molded into shapes and deep-fried.

“No matter how healthy it is, if kids don’t like it they’re not going to eat it,” said Julie Critchlow, a parent at Rawmarsh, a high school set between a sprawling housing project and the south Yorkshire hills. She mentioned the school’s new low-fat pizza and tagliatelle and meatballs as being particularly unappetizing to her children and said the cooks were so overworked that the baked potatoes were being served half-cooked.

The fact that Rawmarsh now bans children who do not go home for lunch from leaving school has made things worse, she said, leading to an overcrowded cafeteria and the elimination of the old fast-food-down-theroad option.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to tell the kids what to eat,” Mrs. Critchlow said of the school authorities. “They’re treating them like criminals.”

Mrs. Critchlow has become a notorious figure in Britain. In September she and another mother — alarmed, they said, because their children were going hungry — began selling contraband hamburgers, fries and sandwiches to as many as 50 students a day, passing the food through the school gates.

The mothers closed their business after they were vilified in the national news media as “meat pie mums.” Mrs. Critchlow now feeds her children lunch at home.

Shaken by the bad publicity, the school says that the two women represent a small minority and that most children are happy with the healthier menus, which include two hot choices every day — entrees like haddock provençal, beef curry and navarin of lamb — as well as baked potatoes for the unadventurous.

If the children really hate the food, Rawmarsh argues, they can bring brown-bag lunches.

“It doesn’t happen overnight; it takes an effort,” said Sonia Sharp, a local government official, speaking of the campaign to win the children over. “We have the responsibility for ensuring the health of our children. We want to teach them how to make the right choices for themselves.”

The menu changes at Rawmarsh are being replicated across Britain, which, much like the United States, is grappling with the issue of how to regulate school food to improve children’s health. Although Britons collectively are not yet as fat as Americans, they are the fattest people in Europe. If current trends continue, the British Medical Association says, by 2020 some 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls here will be clinically obese.

There are no national figures yet on how many children have rejected the new food. Kevin Morgan, a professor of European regional development at the University of Cardiff who has studied school meal reform, said anecdotal evidence showed that at least for now, many students have switched to brown-bag lunches.

“Parents are giving their children packed lunches, which are invariably inferior from a nutritional point of view to the school meals from which they were recoiling,” he said. He said that put pressure on school cafeterias, which need to serve enough meals a day to generate the revenue to remain financially viable.

In addition, he said, many lunchroom cooks are struggling to make the switch from deep-fried, microwaved dishes to food made from scratch.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party’s spokesman for higher education, waded into the debate recently, saying first that he applauded parents’ rights to “push pies through the railings,” but then modifying his remarks when they caused a national outcry.

“As long as we have the packed lunches and parents are going to be irresponsible enough to want to put all the crisps and the junk in the packed lunch,” he said, using the British term for potato chips, “there is no way that schools can win.”

Schools that have tried to win students over appear to have fared better than those that impose bans, Professor Morgan said.

The Royal Docks Community School, a high school in Newham, south London, is one example. The school began gradually introducing menu changes last year, consulting parents, students and the local school district.

Within six weeks, said the head teacher, Sean McGrath, the cooks had reduced the use of cooking fat by 75 percent. The school also barred younger students from going out during lunch, but did it class by class, over a few months rather than all at once.

The cafeteria now serves about 650 lunches a day, to just over half of the school’s students. Last year, Mr. McGrath said, the figure was closer to 250.

But here in Rotherham, Andreas Petrou insists that no amount of explaining will convince him that a French fry sandwich is not a decent meal. If confronted with the school food, he said, he will do what all his friends do: gather as much bread as he can, “put half an inch of butter on each slice,” and call it lunch.