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Let Us Now Praise ... Ralph Nader

Sep 30, 2008
All Together Now bestows our Golden A on individuals who have devoted their professional lives to bringing about a world we believe in: a world of compassion and hope and cooperation; of liberty and justice; without bullies or unearned privilege or despair; where no one is allowed to go hungry or uneducated or to brutalize their fellows, physically or economically. Our awardees have foregone physical comforts in pursuit of their beliefs and of our common interests.

No one better epitomizes these qualities than Ralph Nader. With his early success with Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that revealed fatal design flaws in the automobile industry, and the $425,000 he won from General Motors in a subsequent invasion-of-privacy suit, Nader established the first of over 100 nonprofit organizations devoted to fighting for the public interest of all citizens. His work was instrumental in establishing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, among others.

In his three major campaigns for the presidency, he has spoken in the voice of the American middle class against a plutocratic corporate/governmental complex that has hijacked our country; stifled our economic growth; engaged us in endless war; and enriched itself beyond the dreams of European aristocracy or Asian potentates. American moral leadership is in tatters and our economic leadership has vanished in the pincer of emerging capitalist giants abroad and gross financial mismanagement at home.

For his lifelong devotion to the bedrock principles of democracy, that all citizens are created equal and that government is the servant of the people; for his tireless and eloquent struggle against corporate hegemony; for the inspiration that has brought generations of young people to his side to fight entrenched one-party rule in Washington; and for the solid legislative successes which have held the line on an even more oppressive and exploitative ruling class, we award Ralph Nader our fourth “Golden A” for Achievement.
tags: Nader | Golden A | Politics

It Can Happen Here; It Is Happening Here

Sep 29, 2008
A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. —James Madison, 1822

Without transparency in government, there is no accountability. This administration has specialized in secrecy, opacity, and non-accountability. Utilizing 9/11 in a cynical power grab, it rushed Congress and the American people into the Patriot Act—dismantling basic Constitutional freedoms—and a unilateral war against a non-aggressor. As this item is being written (September 26), it is going for the hat trick, using the burst housing bubble, which it engineered, to take secret control of our economy, with no transparency and no legal or congressional oversight.

The Paulsen plan, if enacted in its essence with only minor amendments, will destroy the underpinnings of our country’s economy. When government is in bed with industry, the former supported by the profits of the latter, and the latter protected against losses by the former, when risk is removed from the capitalist equation by the governing body, the political system can no longer be called a democracy and the economic system can no longer be called capitalism. What they amount to then is plainly and simply fascism.

The Century Foundation—too late, perhaps?—has just released a report entitled Reinventing Transparent Government, written by Patrick Radden Keefe. It details the extraordinary lengths to which the Bush administration has gone in blanketing our government in secrecy, and makes five recommendations for beginning the task of returning transparency, and thus accountability, to our government:

  • Create a national declassification center and database
  • Establish transparency and oversight in government budgets and contracts
  • Clarify a uniform set of definitions for sensitive but unclassified information
  • Reinvigorate the Freedom of Information Act
  • Rein in the use of the State Secrets Doctrine
They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.
—Benjamin Franklin.

This, of course, is exactly what we have done, in buckling under to the Patriot Act and its extension, in tolerating a war of aggression against an “enemy” who has been sold to us as boldly and baldly as we are sold deodorant, and, now perhaps, in handing over our economic vitality to an administration which has stripped our government of all accountability in the name of national security.

We will have no one to blame but ourselves when the jackboots and the brownshirts bring Crystalnacht to the American heartland.
tags: Economics | Politics

Outta My Way, Smokey!

Sep 28, 2008
Take a beautiful winter landscape, cold, quiet, white, and pristine, filled with protected wildlife and a wealth of natural phenomena such as geysers and hot springs. As the wonder and peace and magnificence of the place lifts your heart with joy, off stage left comes a sound rather like a large mosquito, louder, then louder, until what appears to be a sled comes crashing into your vision, tearing at 40 miles per hour over the virgin snow, passing in front of you, so loud you can’t hear yourself asking your companion what it is all about, then fades away in a smelly cloud of exhaust off stage right.

Until recently, this was the Bush idea of a good time at Yellowstone National Park. Then, on September 15, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Bush Administration’s decision authorizing snowmobile use in Yellowstone violated the National Park Service’s responsibility to protect the clean air, wildlife, and natural quiet of national parks. A link to the decision may be found on the site of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. The decision was written by Emmet G. Sullivan, who was appointed to various benches by Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton.

Though he has spent his life in Washington, D.C., he is a mighty friend of America. Thank you, Judge Sullivan!
tags: Environment | Law

Voters in the Hands of an Angry God

Sep 27, 2008
Tomorrow, pastors in 20 states will give politically based sermons in protest of the IRS’s rule disallowing 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in political activities. Should any of the churches then have their 501(c)(3) status withdrawn by the IRS, the organizers of the protest, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), is expected to bring suit challenging the constitutionality of the penalties.

The ADF, like most such outfits, is a tireless defender of a small selection of freedoms, including the freedom to require the American taxpayer to underwrite political proselytizing on behalf of radical religious groups.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides us with a a cogent analysis of ADF’s plans. Pastors to Protest IRS Rules on Political Advocacy features an excellent interview with Robert W. Tuttle, law professor at George Washington University Law School who holds a slew of degrees in law and religion. Professor Tuttle weighs the pros and cons of the possible law suit, concluding that it probably would not be successful.

Given the current constitution of the Court, however, one cannot be too sure.

Update: More than two dozen pastors challenged the IRA on September 28, some of them endorsing a candidate. The next day, Americans United For Separation of Church and State filed complaints with the IRS regarding six of the sermons.1
1 Americans Wary of Church Involvement in Partisan Politics, from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, October 1, 2008 (Accessed October 5, 2008)
tags: Religion | Politics | Taxes

Green Is Gold

Sep 26, 2008
Remember that check you got from Uncle Sam last summer, the one that was going to jump-start the economy and get it back in shape? How’s that working out?

Okay, never mind. However, we could have taken that roughly $100 billion and put it into a plan devised by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. For the same amount of money, raised through auctioning off carbon permits, we could invest in the following six energy strategies:

  • Retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency
  • Expanding mass transit and freight rail
  • Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems
  • Wind power
  • Solar power
  • Next-generation biofuels
Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy shows how this investment—scarcely more than the government committed to bailing out one corporate failure, AIG, in the current crisis— can result in significantly increased employment in existing areas and the revitalization of two crippled American sectors, construction and manufacturing. It will end the growth of our dependency on foreign oil, spur our transition to a low-carbon economy, and produce two million jobs.

The road to recovery is paved with gold, if we can find ourselves a way around the dead end that is the fossil fuel-based economy.
tags: Energy | Economics | Environment

Capitalism and the Future of Democracy

Sep 25, 2008
Capitalism is either the servant or the master of the people. When it is the master, as it has been throughout its existence in China, and as it has been, once again, throughout the last thirty years in the United States, the results are disastrous. We will take up China, with its rampant pollution; its countryside in chaotic, open revolt; its scrambling and scattershot repression; its suborning of global industry, at a later date. Home is where our heart is.

A government of the people, by the people, and for the people devotes its institutions—social, economic, and political—to the general welfare and improvement of its citizenry—that is its purpose and its reason for being. Its institutions exist to ensure that all the people have adequate housing, nutrition, sanitation, education, mobility, economic opportunities, and protection from economic and physical threats from within and without. If they exist for any other reason—say, to enrich a small plutocracy at the expense of the people, their environment, and the future of the planet—then it is not a government of, by, and for the people nor, to the extent the plutocracy has a stranglehold on that government’s institutions, can it be said to be a democracy.

In 2008, five weeks and five days before a national election, our democracy is on the brink of dissolution. The plutocracy that has dominated our government since 1980 has brought us perpetual war,1 global economic collapse,2 a ten trillion dollar deficit with more trillions to come,3 and a suspended Constitution. The Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 has done nothing to stem the tide of these developments. Nor does either major presidential candidate question the fundamental misdirection of our nation or acknowledge its expropriation by an international corporate plutocracy.

The only candidate who does—Ralph Nader—will not be elected. And so, during the next administration, we will enter a fourth decade of corporate hegemony over American democratic institutions. Whether this will bring about worldwide depression, devastating global conflicts, or the final deterioration of the American moral example, no one can say. However, it will surely not result in the pursuit or realization of those goals noted above, the only goals to which a democratic government can, or should, aspire.
1 Perpetual War, from Wikipedia (“Perpetual war is a war with no clear ending conditions. It also describes a situation of ongoing tension that seems likely to escalate at any moment, similar to the Cold War.”) (Accessed September 21, 2008)
2 Can American Afford It?, by Robert Gavin, from the Boston Globe, September 21, 2008 (“The crisis, which began in the nation’s housing bust and spread into credit and stock markets, is pushing the global financial system to the brink of collapse....”) (Accessed September 21, 2008)
3 The U.S. National Debt Clock (Accessed September 21, 2008)
tags: Economics | Politics

Where Will It All End?

Sep 24, 2008
There has been a great deal of work on why individuals or groups resort to terrorism. There has also been a growing literature on whether terrorism “works.” But there has been virtually no systematic analysis by policymakers or academics on how terrorism ends.1

Now there is, thanks to a study by Seth G. Jones of the Rand Corporation. Jones’s statement before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Terrororism and Unconventional Threats and Capabilities of the Committee on Armed Services (whew!) has been published as a Rand Testimony entitled Defeating Terrorist Groups.

And terrorist organizations do close down their operations—eventually—usually. Examining the international terrorist scene since 1968, Jones finds that approximately 62 percent of all terrorist groups—though only 32 percent of religious terrorist groups—have ceased their activities. In the overwhelming majority of cases, these culminations have come about either through political negotiation or police action. Overall, military force has ended terrorist activity a scant seven percent of the time.

Though there have been some victories wrought by terrorist activity overall (10 percent of the time), no religious terrorist group has achieved victory during the period Jones studied. He recommends a two-prong strategy in dealing with al Qa’ida: more cooperative international police and intelligence work supplemented by military action taken by indigenous forces as opposed to the U.S. military.

Although most of Jones’s testimony concerns the implementation of that two-pronged assault on al Qa’ida, early on in his testimony he lists other tactics that bear emphasizing: “redressing grievances and meeting the legitimate aspirations of Muslims; and countering al Qa’ida’s ideology.”2

Let us lay to rest the nonsense regarding the motivations of suicide bombers. No one blows themself up in order to enjoy the favors of 70 virgins in the afterlife. They do so because they despair of attaining their interpretation of liberty and justice in this life, and they do what they do in hope of attaining it for others. And among their grievances are legitimate ones involving foreign intervention, resource theft, and religious and social persecution. That their methods are horrifying and inexcusable only speaks to the depth of their despair, and to the urgency with which it needs to be addressed—by all legitimate means available—by the international community.

Jones’s full-length study, upon which his testimony is based, is entitled How Terrorist Groups End.
1 Defeating Terrorist Groups, pg. 1
2 Op. cit., pg. 7
tags: History | Law | Terrorism

The IQ Wars, or, My Guy’s Dumber Than Your Guy

Sep 23, 2008
Scott Simon interviewed a Republican woman on NPR this morning (September 20, 2008) who sheepishly and apologetically admitted she thought Obama was, well, just plain more intelligent than Sarah Palin.

Intelligence is something you have to apologize for in American politics. It’s something you have to hide. Stevenson (in '52 and '56), McGovern, Carter (in '80), Gore, and Kerry—just to mention losing presidential candidates in our time—were all arguably more intelligent—some way more intelligent—than their opponents. Goldwater, Humphrey, Mondale, and Dukakis probably were as well.

To be intelligent in American politics is to be branded an elitist—and that shows how the New Republican Order has gotten the whammy on our collective common sense. Palin is not an asset to the ticket because she brings intelligence to the team. She is an asset because she is of decidedly average brain power, and therefore identifiable to the masses who have been trained—incredibly—to reject intelligence in a leader.

The top of the ticket is worse. That a man who, in the midst of the worst economic catastrophe in eighty years, has confessed to a weak head for economics; a man who, unquestioningly supportive of the most expensive military debacle in our nation’s history, does not know the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim and thinks Iraq borders Pakistan; a man who doesn’t know Somalia from Sudan or the fact that Czechoslovakia no longer exists; that such a man—additionally well past retirement age, choleric, cancerous, and traumatized—can nevertheless be neck-and-neck with a man whose most outstanding asset is his intelligence demonstrates the extent to which intelligence is a detriment in the American political arena.

Should we be surprised, however, at the tail end of the second administration of a man who cannot put a coherent unscripted sentence together to save his life?

Indeed, Ralph Nader, the candidate who is both most intelligent and most experienced in the race, who has spent his life wrestling in the mud of federal politics and done more to ensure that government live up to its responsibilities than all the other candidates combined, is effectively a non-candidate, ignored by the mainstream media and so feared by the Democratic and Republican contingents that they refuse to debate him.

The Kennedy administration, employing “the best and the brightest,” nevertheless got us into the tangle of Vietnam. Is it any wonder the current crop of less-than-middling intellects have gotten us into far worse pickles, at home and abroad.
tags: Politics

Obama Among the Ruins

Sep 22, 2008
At the tail end of a very bad couple of weeks for the American citizen, when we assumed the bad debts of Fannie and Freddie without a ripple of protest from the Democrats controlling Congress, and with the explicit approval of Barack Obama1; and when we then assumed the bad debts of AIG with the implicit approval of Obama,2 the time has come to revisit our attitude toward him.

On Wednesday, September 17, 2008, Democracy Now featured an interview with economists Nomi Prins and Michael Hudson. Their views are summarized in anchor Amy Goodman’s column on Truthdig.com, entitled Wall Street Socialists. Prins contends the government has taken on “the risk of items it cannot begin to understand.” She identifies the true culprit in the sudden collapse of all these investment banks and other agglomerated financial institutions—Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, IndyMac— as the enormous amount of debt they took on to invest in instruments that have now gone bad owing to the subprime mortgage crisis. That debt sometimes reached 25 to 30 times the amount of capital put up for the purchases. This is all too reminiscent of the margin calls in 1929 that precipitated the collapse of Wall Street and worldwide finance which only recovered ten years later with the advent of the most destructive war in human history.

Protections were put in place back then to disallow the practices that caused the Depression, one of the main ones being the Glass-Steagall Act. That act, along with several other regulatory measures, was repealed after 20 years of vigorous opposition by far right laissez-faire capitalists. Repealed by Republicans? No, by President Clinton.3

So here we are, citizens without a viable champion to vigorously protect our pensions, our homes (four million of which are expected to be lost this year), our investments; indeed, our government and our candidates have rushed to protect everyone except its ordinary citizens. Where this will lead, whether to a ten-year depression, to a bankrupt FDIC, to war—who can say? But the failures are not over, a fact that everyone seems to agree on, and the national debt stands today on the brink of $10 trillion dollars with several trillions more to come imminently from these bailouts, not to mention two continuing and losing wars financed entirely on borrowed money.

On June 26, we noted that we could not vote for a warmonger.4 We also cannot vote for a man who essentially supports a status quo where narrow corporate interests and a small circle of billionaires at odds with the general welfare control the direction of our nation. If today were November 4, with despair in our heart, we would pull the lever for Ralph Nader.

But it is not November 4. There are still six weeks to go.
1 Obama says intervention of U.S. housing lenders necessary, from Reuters News Service, September 7, 2008 (Accessed September 18, 2008)
2 AIG bailout prompts more criticism from McCain, Obama, by Mike Sunnucks, from the Phoenix Business Journal, September 17, 2008 (Accessed September 18, 2008)
3 The Long Demise of Glass-Steagall, from PBS.org’s Frontline, undated (Accessed September 18, 2008)
4 Obama v. Nader, Part 1, from All Together Now, June 26, 2008
tags: Economics | Politics

Stand Up and Be Counted!

Sep 21, 2008
Balloting is getting as unpredictable as the weather.

Since 2000, voting problems have been popping up all over the place. Electronic voting machines regularly malfunction.1 Poor ballot designs cause confusion, especially for the elderly, low income, and new voters.2 Hanging chads and other physical ballot deficiencies generate uncertainty and potential abuse.3 Voter identification laws and procedures have been enacted since 2000 that severely impact the ability of low income and new voters to exercise their right to vote.4 One of the most egregious examples of this comes from the chair of the Macomb County, Michigan, Republican Party, who has said, “We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.”5 This despite the fact that many people live legally for many months in foreclosed homes, and many ultimately reverse their foreclosures by catching up on their payments.

Common Cause and The Century Foundation have gotten together to examine controversies likely to arise after the voting on November 4. Voting in 2008: Ten Swing States, by Tova Wang, Samuel Oliker-Friedland, Melissa Reiss, and Kristen Oshyn, looks closely at the seven battleground states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; and at three others “whose new status as possible swing states—and potential for election administration difficulties— have made them newly relevant to our survey.” Those three are Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia.

The report, which is must reading if you live in one of the swing states, examines issues around which potential abuses may occur. They include voter registration and identification; caging and challenges; deceptive electioneering practices; provisional ballots; voting machine allocation; poll worker recruitment and training; voter education; and student voting rights.

Does anyone recall all this brouhaha over disenfranchisement when Ike was running? Or Nixon? Or Reagan? No, this all started in 2000, with the hanging chads and the disappeared voters in Florida6 and the presidential election finally decided by only 9 voters in a 5-4 split.

And we’ve been hearing nothing since, in 2002, 2004, 2006, and now in 2008, but faulty voting machines, and systematic attempts at disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voters.

As Kucinich enjoined us so forcefully at the Democratic Convention,7 “Wake Up, America!”
1 Can You Count on Voting Machines?, by Clive Thompson, from the New York Times, January 6, 2008 (Accessed September 16, 2008)
2 Better Ballots, by Lawrence Norden, David Kimball, Whitney Quesenbery, and Margaret Chen, from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, 2008 (.pdf). Check out the real-life examples of bad ballot design. You won’t believe some of them.
3 Election Day in Florida May Look Familiar, by Damien Cave, from the New York Times, April 28, 2008 (Accessed September 16, 2008)
4 Restrictive Voter Identification Requirements, from ProjectVote.org, March 23, 2007 (Accessed September 16, 2008)
5 Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote, by Eartha Jane Melzer, in the Michigan Messenger, September 10, 2008 (Accessed September 17, 2008)
6 Florida’s ‘Disappeared Voters’: Disenfranchised by the GOP, by Gregory Palast, from The Nation, January 18, 2001 (Accessed September 17, 2008)
7 Dennis Kucinich Video at the Democratic Convention, 2008 (Accessed September 17, 2008)
tags: Politics

2015? 2050? Ever?

Sep 20, 2008
In a unique and heartening display of unanimity and cooperation, the nations of the world came together in 2000 and signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, pledging to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women, and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.”1 Their blueprint for ending world poverty by 2015 consisted of eight goals:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, & other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development
Stunning successes have been met with in some countries for some of the goals, and they are all laid out in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2008. Progress is shown in almost all areas, though most often not enough to reach the target levels set for 2015. Poverty is down; the numbers of children enjoying at least a primary education are way up; childhood deaths from measles were reduced by two-thirds between 2000 to 2006; and some 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. In the less dramatic, although perhaps even more important, economic sphere, the share of developing countries’ export earnings devoted to servicing external debt fell from 12.5 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in 2006, and mobile phone technology has spread rapidly throughout the developing world.

Predictably, the least progress has been shown in areas affecting women. Half a million prospective mothers die annually in childbirth or of complications from pregnancy. Women are drastically underrepresented in government. Most employed women are in vulnerable jobs or are unpaid family workers. Additionally, sub-Saharan Africa is a virtual basket case, where the primary goal of reducing poverty by one-half by 2015 will almost surely not be met. The area also shows much slower progress meeting the other seven goals. And carbon dioxide emissions have continued to increase, despite the clear and present danger they pose.

“The single most important success to date has been the unprecedented breadth and depth of the commitment to the [Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)].”2 Therein lies our greatest hope. The MDGs are a framework around which we can coordinate a full-court assault on the perils that face life on earth. Increasingly, governments, foundations, NGOS, and civil societies are rallying around that framework. Perhaps by 2015, even if those goals are not met, we will have crafted an alliance which—all together now—can meet those goals in a generation or two.
1 Millennium Development Goals Report 2008, pg. 3
2 Op cit., p. 4
tags: Poverty | Working Together | United Nations

You Can Look It Up

Sep 19, 2008
Obama wants kids to learn about sex before they can read; Alaska produces 20 percent of U.S. energy; and McCain doesn't know a Sunni from a Shia.

Actually, that last one is true. The other statements, however, are not. And if you are not sure about any of them, you can look it up on one of our favorite web sites, the eminently bookmarkable FactCheck.org. A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, FactCheck.org “monitor[s] the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.”

FactCheck.org is where all that spin (and worse) goes to die. A recent check of the home page revealed 12 entries regarding the Big Race. Nine of the 12 were critical of McCain campaign distortions (or outright lies) regarding the Obama campaign; two were critical of the Obama campaign.

The twelfth, interestingly enough, was called “Sliming Palin,” and corrected misstatements regarding the Divine Sarah which had popped up on the Internet. The corrections were even headed “False Internet claims and rumors fly about McCain’s running mate”; Obama’s name is not mentioned. Nevertheless, the McCain campaign produced an ad quoting FactCheck.org and ascribing those Internet misstatements to the Obama campaign. FactCheck, predictably, called them on it.

The truth can be viciously suppressed, as it is in China and most of the rest of the world. It can be bought off, as the military-industrial complex has bought off mainstream American media.1 Or it can be distorted, spun, or simply ignored altogether, as it is in political campaigns in the Age of Rove. The existence of a FactCheck.org then becomes crucial to those members of the populace who care about the truth, and understand that to the extent we are deprived of it, to that extent are we deprived of our liberty.
1 The Media Are the Message, from All Together Now, September 6, 2008
tags: Media | Politics

Global Swarming

Sep 18, 2008
If you wonder how a Sarah Palin can get away with expressing skepticism regarding humanity’s contribution to global warming, wonder no more. Environmental skepticism is big business, and it is entrenched in conservative “think” tanks (CTTs) across the country.

The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental skepticism, by Peter J. Jaques, Riley Dunlap, and Mark Freeman, published in the June 2008 issue of Environmental Politics,1 lays bare the extent of CTT collusion in attempting to gull the public into disbelieving the mounting scientific evidence. Indeed, as the evidence has mounted, the CTTs have become ever more strident in their attempts to howl it down.

The authors find that over 92 percent of English-language environmentally skeptical books published between 1992 and 2005 are linked to CTTs, and that 90 percent of CTTs involved with environmental issues espouse environmental skepticism. Five such books were published in the US in the 1970s, 13 in the 1980s, 56 in the 1990s, and we are on schedule to see over 70 published in the 2000s.

Some of the better-known CTTs are the Hoover Institution, the Cato Institute, and the Hudson Institute. We particularly enjoy the ones that choose for themselves names which would seem to indicate they are patriotic defenders of truth, and not shameless whores: American Council on Science and Health, National Center for Public Policy Research, and—our favorite—Heartland Institute (what craven curmudgeon would dare to diss the Heartland?).

And what is the antidote to all this very well-funded nonsense? Simple: The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the scrupulous science they have brought to their series of reports over the past 20 years. In one of the most recent,2 they conclude:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”3
  • “Global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.”4
We shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Let’s just hope it arrives before a Sarah Palin presidency.
1 Environmental Politics, published by Routledge
2 Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Summary for Policymakers (.pdf)
3 Op. cit., p. 2
4 Op. cit., p. 5
tags: Environment | Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Nation Building Begins at Home

Sep 17, 2008
Having been born into a world with Europe in ruins; been witness to the debacles in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq II; and been horrified by the enormities of Cambodia, Serbia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and other lesser genocides, we are big fans of nation building. There are those on the left who might say we should mind our own business and stop throwing our muscle around in other countries. When they speak in the context of overthrowing legitimate leaders (Allende in Chile, Mossadegh in Iran, etc.), and invading nations primarily to bolster corporate interests (take your pick), they are right. However, under certain circumstances, nation building becomes a moral responsibility.

Eight of those circumstances are discussed in a report from the Rand Corporation's National Security Research Division.1 After the War: Nation-Building from FDR to George W. Bush concludes, “Successful nation-building requires unity of effort across multiple agencies and, often, multiple governments.”2

Two early successes discussed in the report, Germany and Japan, “remain the gold standard for postwar reconstruction. No subsequent nation-building effort has achieved comparable success.”3 It worked there, in part, because “[b]oth [countries] had been devastatingly defeated, and both had surrendered unconditionally.”4

Nation building went into abeyance during the Cold War and was revived in the 1990’s with successful programs in Bosnia and Kosovo and less successful attempts in Somalia and Haiti. The key to the successes were, as the report well argues, careful planning, widespread cooperation, and the political will to see it through.

The subsequent Bush II go-it-alone-on-a-shoestring strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan effectively threw out all the institutions and strategies for nation building developed during previous administrations back to FDR, and Afghanistan became “the least resourced US-led nation-building operations [sic] in modern history.”5

Nothing less than near-universal agreement that a nation requires nation building, followed by a massive and sustained effort by all interested parties to see the process through can bring about a desired result. We witness in the laboratories of Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq the consequences of a lesser commitment to this process, as well as the futility of unilateral implementation of a nation-building policy.

We will build a safe, peaceful, and democratic world together, or not at all.
1Rand National Security Research Division
2After the War (.pdf), p. xxiv
3Op cit. (.pdf), p. xiii
4Ibid. (.pdf)
5Op cit. (.pdf), p. xx
tags: History | Working Together

The Social Animal

Sep 16, 2008
The Times’s op-ed columnist David Brooks is an odd duck. We find many of his right-leaning columns consist of the same twaddle we get from Fox News and other bought-and-paid-for toadies of the neoconservative lunatic fringe. On McCain: “The main axis of McCain’s worldview is not left-right. It’s public service versus narrow self-interest.”1 Anyone who thinks John McCain has a coherent political philosophy of any kind or is anything but a wrathful time bomb awaiting the chance to get his hand on the button hasn’t been paying much attention for the past two years. And anyone who could characterize Sarah Palin as a “marvelous person” and “a dazzling political performer” when what she is is a very frightening believer in the End Times,2 should have his head examined along with hers.

Nevertheless, every now and then, Brooks comes along with thoughtful, much-needed, and unique commentary on issues that may matter even more than the 2008 election. An example would be his piece on “Harmony and the Dream”3 regarding the advantages of a collectivist society (China) as opposed to an individualistic one (U.S.), though it went a bit far in its praise of the former (characterizing the marching band in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics as “a high-tech vision of the harmonious society,” for instance—just ask the followers of Falun Gong how harmonious Chinese society is today).

Brooks is, I suspect, a closet ATN’er, in sympathy with the basic premise of this web site, that we’re all in this together, and together we will either stand or fall. His latest piece, which shares the title of this entry,4 debunks the individualistic mentality of the far right, most risibly realized in the heroes of Ayn Rand novels, concluding, “this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong.” Republicans cling to this mentality, however, and Brooks warns them they must find their way back to an understanding of community, institutions, and the social fabric if they are to preserve their relevance to a public suffering from enforced go-it-aloneness. He fails to mention the fact that Republican policies over the past 30 years have created this alienation from our fellows and our society. Indeed, alienation of the populace has been the cornerstone of everything they have done.

Which is why they must—and eventually will—be defeated.
1What the Palin Pick Says, by David Brooks, from the New York Times, September 1, 2008 (free registration required) (Accessed September 12, 2008)
2End Time, from Wikipedia (Accessed September 12, 2008)
3Harmony and the Dream, by David Brooks, from the New York Times, August 11, 2008 (free registration required) (Accessed September 12, 2008)
4The Social Animal, by David Brooks, from the New York Times, September 11, 2008 (free registration required) (Accessed September 12, 2008)
tags: Politics | Brooks

Doing Good by Doing Better

Sep 15, 2008
Did you know that 27.2 percent of adult Americans volunteer their services, from training and teaching to fundraising, food service, coaching, building, and other tasks in support of nonprofit organizations serving the disadvantaged?

The Corporation for National Community Service would like to increase those numbers, as well as provide volunteer programs with tools that will help keep their volunteers and attract additional ones. In their September 2008 report, Capitalizing on Volunteers' Skills: Volunteering by Occupation in America (.pdf), they note that most volunteers don’t utilize the skills from their own occupations in their primary volunteering activities. They hypothesize that “[f]inding ways to incorporate the occupational skills of volunteers may make the volunteer experience more fulfilling and increase nonprofits’ ability to retain their volunteers.” Their hypothesis is backed up by some statistics which are somewhat shaky owing to the smallish sample.

In any event, it is plain that utilizing a volunteer’s skill set greatly increases the value of the volunteer to the organization and in most instances arguably encourages volunteer retention. It is also interesting to note from this report that the annual dollar value of hours served exceeds $122 billion.

Let those 81 million points of light shine more brightly!
tags: Volunteerism

Getting Anti-Terrorism Right

Sep 14, 2008
Haiti is a mess. Probably everyone would agree with this, even ATN Golden A awardee Paul Farmer.

In late 2006 and early 2007, however, a United Nations operation in Haiti served as a model for the way things ought to be accomplished in a dangerous world. Gangs of thugs had taken over Port-au-Prince and were operating out of the city slums, kidnapping, robbing, and murdering at will, and with the financial backing of various political factions. After a spate of child kidnappings, the president of Haiti, René Préval, had enough and called for a United Nations peace enforcement initiative which ultimately defeated the gangs.

The U.N. needed—and received—a lot of help in their operation, from a mandate from the top to local military and police involvement, and reaching down to the level of the populace for actionable intelligence. A Special Report from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP)1 entitled Haiti: Confronting the Gangs of Port-au-Prince, by Michael Dziedzic and Robert M. Perito, offers a detailed analysis of the operation, its successes and its shortcomings. Together with its extensive recommendations for ameliorating those shortcomings, it is a blueprint for success in urban conflict against a nebulous foe entrenched within a civilian population. And it even makes from some exciting reading.

Its bottom line: “[T]he United Nations must be capable of mounting assertive operations to defend and enforce its mandates, and ... given the proper enabling conditions and the will to act, it is capable of doing so quite successfully.”
1 The USIP is “an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide.”
tags: Working Together | United Nations | Terrorism

The Globalization of People

Sep 13, 2008
Immigration is a thorny issue, unless you’re one of those holding the opinion that the only good immigrant is a dead one. We need our immigrants, fully as much as we need our wide-screen TVs (made in China), our Nikes (made in Indonesia), and our underwear (ours is made in Canada).

Our immigrants don’t cost us wealth—they create it. They create it with their college and university tuitions: Over half a million foreign-born students attend U.S. higher education institutions.1 They create it for the employers who exploit them with substandard wages that are then spent locally on housing, food, and transportation. The legal ones who partake of social services such as education for their children pay their share in taxes; the illegal ones are harried and hounded and hunted, and cost us millions in wasted enforcement and wasted opportunity.

Like so many social issues today—health care, criminal justice, and family values to name but three—other western democracies are way ahead of us in their attitudes toward immigration matters. An enlightening September 2008 report2 from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, shows just how hard those democracies are working to incorporate what MPI calls circular migration into their societies. It is a win-win situation when a receiving nation can work together with a sending nation to accommodate each other’s needs, and there are over 300 bilaterial agreements in place to prove it.

The U.S. needs to improve and expand upon programs such as the H-1B3 and H-2B4 worker visa programs now in place, and we need to stop wasting money on pretending to control illegal immigration. As we noted in a recent ATN piece,5 we could end illegal immigration overnight by punishing employers instead of their hapless employees. That we don’t do that should be evidence enough that we don’t want to do that. We want rather to fill our corporate masters’ pockets with contracts to build futile walls along the Rio Grande (with large holes to accommodate rich folks whose estates are situated along the way).6

Worldwide economic development awaits sane policies supporting circular and one-way immigration. Our European and Canadian friends are showing us the way. It’s time to get on board.
1More Than 565,000 International Students Enrolled In U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, from the Institute of International Education, November 14, 2005 (Accessed September 9, 2008)
2Learning by Doing: Experiences of Circular Migration, press release and link to the report from the Migration Policy Institute, September 4, 2008 (Accessed September 9, 2008)
3 H-1B Visa, from Wikipedia (Accessed September 13, 2008)
4 H-2B Certification for Temporary Nonagricultural Work, from the U.S. Department of Labor, December 12, 2007 (Accessed September 13, 2008)
5Give Them Your Tired, from All Together Now, September 7, 2008.
6Border Wall Slashes Through Texas' Soul, by Elizabeth Stevens, from the News Center at CommonDreams.org, undated (Accessed September 9, 2008)
tags: Immigration | Working Together

Playing the God Card

Sep 12, 2008
For every Stoic was a Stoic, but in Christendom where is the Christian?”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We hear a powerful lot about God and Jesus during political campaigns. As in wars, both sides claim divine fealty to their cause. The deity is dragged to the podium every four years, decked out in elephant red or donkey blue, and his imagined positions regurgitated in evidence of their support of a political stance.

A majority of Americans now believe religion should be kept out of politics,2 according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Republicans showed the greatest change of heart between August 2004 and August 2008, with 14 percent more of them contending that religion (i.e., churches) should keep out of politics (37 percent rose to 51 percent).

Probably a good thing, too. Emerson’s question is a valid one. Jesus’ central teaching was “love your neighbor as yourself,” and he wasn’t talking about the neigbor from whom you borrow a cup of sugar, but the one who poisons your dog. Were he to return today and preach such twaddle, he would either be ignored as an irrelevancy or, should he actually inspire a following of any magnitude, extraordinarily rendered to some black site in an undesignated foreign land and tortured to death again.

Because for all their sanctimoniousness, today’s so-called Christians aren’t. When a rich man asked Jesus how he could get into heaven, Jesus replied with a single, simple formula: Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me. This is the essence of Christianity and this is the essence of achieving peace on earth. This central New Testament injunction was recalled to our notice by an excellent 2005 opinion piece by Bill McKibben2 in Harper’s Magazine.

Let survival stand in for heaven. Jesus was telling the rich man that his survival was dependent upon his attitude toward his fellow man. And that attitude needed to be one of love and concern, not of hate, distrust, or exploitation. It is a radical notion, perhaps the most radical proposed throughout history.

While All Together Now does not subscribe to the economic extremism in Jesus’ teaching, we do subscribe to the goal of survival, and believe it to be inextricably entwined with liberty, equity, and justice for all. The mature economies and advanced technologies of the 21st century must be devoted to winning those basics for all of humanity. They can do so by ensuring that everyone has access to fresh water, adequate nutrition, educational opportunities up to and including the Ph.D. level, and basic democratic rights.

Today, people who are diametrically opposed to this position have nonetheless expropriated its chief proponent as their own, as Emerson knew, when he asked that impertinent question.

If anything, it is more pertinent today than it was 200 years ago.
1More Americans Question Religion’s Role in Politics
2The Christian paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong, from Harper’s Magazine, August 2005 (Accessed September 7, 2008)
tags: Politics | Religion

September 11, 2001

Sep 11, 2008

Photo: Stan Honda, AP
tags: History

The Race Is On!

Sep 10, 2008
The conventions are over, the $200 or $300 million that they cost the mainly corporate underwriters has been redistributed among the bunting manufacturers and microbrewers, and we’re off and running.

Expect close to a billion dollars to be spent in the next eight weeks in order to elect a man—whether Democrat or Republican—who has not pledged to get us out of Iraq; who has no plan to implement definitive universal health care; who has not promised to end a national practice of kidnapping, torture, and domestic spying; and who has not even hinted at supporting an end to corporate dominance of our body politic.

Who in their right mind could vote for either of them?

Still, we expect a couple of hundred million of us will do just that come November 4, and to help us anticipate the day, an outfit called Polltrack has set up a web site to help us watch the big race and all the little ones, as the candidates head into the first turn, down the backstretch, and home to the final (photo?) finish.

Their three Presidential Race Maps show the ongoing race from three perspectives. “Today’s Map Today” shows the state of the race today, according to Polltrack’s aggregation of poll results and other input. As of September 6, this map has Obama at 255 electoral votes and McCain at 224, with 50 too close to call and 270 needed to win.

“Tomorrow’s Map Today” “charts the momentum of the race in the coming days or weeks.” We’re not too sure what that means or how to take the current numbers (Obama 255; McCain 252). “Election Day Map Today” forecasts the outcome of the race, where the folks at Polltrack might stick their neck out furthest with an actual call for a winner. However, as of September 6, that map backs way off, presenting the numbers as Obama 153, McCain 157, and No Call 238. However, as time moves on, it may prove both addictive as well as vaguely disquieting to follow Polltrack’s maps.

Polltrack also provides a slew of current statistics in its Tracking the Nation section, and maps are also promised soon for both the Senate and House Races.
tags: Politics

Farewell, Fannie & Freddie!

Sep 09, 2008
We read in the NYTimes this morning1 that the federal government is taking over management of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, replacing the boards and officers with federal functionaries. Their rationale: “Publicly, administration officials have tried to bolster the companies because the nation’s mortgage system relies on their continued ability to purchase mortgages from commercial lenders and pull the housing markets out of their slump.”

The FM/2 failures stand to cost billions of taxpayer dollars in the near future. The home mortgage mess, combined with the Iraq mess, will add trillions more to our already $9.67 trillion national debt.2 Foreclosures are up, ruining the savings and the lives of millions of Americans. And since 2003, the CEO of Freddie Mac has walked away with $38 million in compensation.

Can someone tell us why this should be? Can someone tell us why those “commercial lenders” should be allowed to make loans they have reason to believe are bad ones—indeed, to actively pursue insolvent borrowers and hornswoggle them into signing up for adjustable rate mortgages that only look good until the first adjustment puts them out on the streets—then be able to resell them to a government-guaranteed corporation where, when they go belly up, as millions have, the taxpayer picks up the loss? And expropriate—you certainly cannot characterize it as earning—millions in “compensation” while they’re doing it?

We will tell us why. Because we let them. Because we were so busy shopping and following the vicissitudes of Paris Hilton and watching television and working two jobs that we failed to notice, a few years back, that the henhouse had been turned over to the foxes. And now the henhouse is decimated,3 middle-class income has deteriorated,4 the foxes are fattening up on easy pickings,5 and we are looking around for a third job.

What will it take to wake us up, and may it not, by then, be too late?
1U.S. Rescue Seen at Hand for 2 Mortgage Giants, from the New York Times, September 6, 2008 (free registration may be required) (Accessed September 6, 2008)
2U.S. National Debt Clock, from information obtained from the U.S. Department of Treasury (Accessed September 6, 2008)
3Foreclosures in Connecticut, Nation at Record Rate, from the Hartford Courant, September 6, 2008 (Accessed September 6, 2008)
4Earning Less and Dying Younger: How the Growing Strain on America’s Middle Class Is Pummeling Our Health, from Alternet.org, September 4, 2008 (Accessed September 6, 2008)
5Exxon Shatters Record Profits, from CNNMoney.com, February 1, 2008 (Accessed September 6, 2008)
tags: Economics | Business | Politics

Software for Hard Times

Sep 08, 2008
Programming is the most fun you can have with a computer. If you're not a programmer, you may have written a macro in Word or (even better) in WordPerfect for DOS (the greatest software application ever). If so, you have gotten a tiny taste of the power waiting at your fingertips.

And if you can combine programming with doing someone some good, well, we can't think of a better way to spend a summer.

Neither, apparently, can the folks at HFOSS—the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software consortium. Started by a group of open source (that’s “FREE”) software proponents on the computing faculties of Trinity College (Hartford, CT), Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), and Connecticut College (New London, CT), HFOSS has grown to include efforts from other schools, including the University of Hartford, Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME), and the George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management (Washington, DC). In 2008, HFOSS offered a 10-week summer internship that provided 10 hard-coding undergraduate students with housing and a $4,000 stipend.1 They will be offering internships again in 2009.

Many of the software programs HFOSS develops2 are included in Sahana, “a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster, from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, [and] tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs), and the victims themselves.”

The three-college consortium has also received a hefty federal grant ($496,429) from the National Science Foundation “to help revitalize undergraduate computer education.”

HFOSS, Sahana, and the kids at their keyboards represent the sort of imaginative, collaborative, and altruistic endeavors that help us at All Together Now recapture some faith in our future.
1Students Help Humanity with Open Source Software, from The Wesleyan Connection (Accessed September 5, 2008)
2Project Showcase, from HFOSS (Accessed September 6, 2008)
tags: Computers | Education | Working Together

Give Them Your Tired

Sep 07, 2008
Sometimes our country seems to have the soul of a soccer hooligan. The beating death of Luis Ramirez a few weeks ago1 is just the latest in a long history of horrors inflicted upon those who would find a footing in this, “the last best hope of the world.”

We are building a 200-mile-long wall on the Mexican border now,2 as the Israelis continue to build a “separation wall which writhes as a snake into the body of the West Bank.”3 Walls don’t work. They did not work for the Chinese, though they built a Great one; they did not work for the Soviets, though they built a fairly puny one. How many walls do we need to build before we realize this?

In the past few months, the mega-raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against plants in Laurel, Mississippi,4 and Postville, Iowa,5 have wreaked havoc on the lives of hundreds of poor workers without affecting the lawbreakers who hired them. If we truly wanted to end illegal immigration in this country we could do it overnight, by punishing the employers. However, the employers and the politicians they finance need these immigrants in order to keep wages down—way down. Until an administration is in place which demands a living wage for all full-time workers, we will continue to see ICE cherrypicking the occasional high-profile raid opportunity as a sop to elements of their base (the frightened, undereducated, and embittered) who have been so thoroughly gulled by the current administration as to actually think the latter are doing their bidding.

We were put in mind of all this domestic horror by a statistics-laden and oh-so-unemotional report from representatives of CRA International and Harvard Business School. “Economic Impacts of Immigration: A Survey,“ by Sari Pekkala Kerr (CRA) and William R. Kerr (Harvard) provides a sober examination of the economics of legal immigration, concentrating on the European Union countries, the U.S., and Canada, in that order of emphasis. Their conclusions are a combination of the expected and the not so expected:

  • Recent immigrants earn less, but the gap tends to diminish over time;
  • The assumption that immigrants are more dependent on social assistance programs is not uniformly confirmed by the literature;
  • Most studies find only minor displacement effects on the native population, even following large immigrant flows, with most of that displacement affecting the less educated and previous immigrant populations;
  • “[I]mmigrants appear to have a minor positive net fiscal effect for host countries.”
We are—first, last, and always—one world, one people, traveling one road. And the extent to which our fellow travelers leave their native soil for the uncertain cultivation of another, to that extent have we failed to secure for them the rights and privileges that are their due at home.
1“So far like the present...” from All Together Now, July 30, 2008.
2Conservationists warn of border fence’s impac, from The Houston Chronicle, August 22, 2008 (Accessed September 4, 2008)
3Qurei denies any progress in peace talks with Israel, from the Xinhua News Agency, undated (Accessed September 4, 2008)
4After ICE Raid Mississippi Workers Labor to Overcome Racial Division, from Pacific News Service, September 3, 2008 (Accessed September 4, 2008)
5Postville raid prompts immigration reform rally, from the New York Daily News, July 14, 2008 (Accessed September 4, 2008)
tags: Human Rights | Immigration

The Media Are the Message

Sep 06, 2008
Is the Mainstream Media (MSM) finished? Has consolidation and the bean counters taken us past the point of no return?

  • Item: Before that staunch Democrat Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, conservative Clear Channel owned the maximum number of radio stations allowed: 40. Afterwards, at their peak, they owned nearly 1,200.1
  • Item: Twenty-five years ago, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of the MSM (newspapers, radio, and television). In 2004, that number was down to five.2
  • Item: The number of foreign correspondents, during a period when we desperately needed to know more about the world, dropped from 188 in 2002 to 141 in 2006. Major newspapers such as the Boston Globe and Baltimore Sun have closed all their foreign bureaus.3
  • Item: The administration, as part of what we have termed its Exit Strategy, has proposed cuts to funding for public broadcasting—the most trusted institution among the MSM—4that would slash 56 percent of their annual budget.5
Common Cause, in their recent report,6 identified significant problems with MSM today, including:
  • Consolidation
  • Failure to serve local interests
  • The assault on public broadcasting support
  • Attacks on Net Neutrality
  • An FCC deaf to the voice of the public
  • Flawed transition to digital television
Though on page 2 the reports asserts, “The media cannot play its role effectively unless it is independent from government influence,” we have to wonder whether the opposite is not more the case today. Whether or not the media has undue influence over the government or not, it will require government influence to fix the problems with media.

Newspapers may be purely private endeavors; the airwaves, however, are public, and those who utilize them are required by law to serve the public interest, and not merely the interests of their masters. As the report reminds us, “We have the obligation and authority to regulate the media to encourage it to perform its constitutionally intended role, and we have limits on overregulation that would stifle the role of the media. The trick is to find the right balance. The balance is out of kilter and it is time to assert responsible regulation so that the media can more effectively serve our democracy.” (pp. 2-3)

The report suggests solutions to each of the problems it identifies, and it is at least worth downloading for future reference and for the record it provides of the campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of 24 major MSM players.

In our view, the MSM is probably beyond redeeming as a public service (where is Ralph Nader, for instance, who is polling 6-8 percent in some places despite a 100 percent MSM blackout?). We need rather to turn our attention to preserving Net Neutrality, already suffering from corporate incursions that threaten the nature and value of this brave new medium. Once Internet service providers (ISPs) obtain the right to charge sites for moving into the fast lane, the Net is dead. That day is at hand, and a McCain presidency will see it implemented.

ISP mega-giants Comcast and Verizon know this very well, and since 2005 it’s been worth a cumulative $75 million to them in campaign contributions and lobbying to make that point to our elected public servants.
1False Premises, False Promises, by Peter DiCola, Research Director, Future of Music Coalition, December 2006 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
2Media Reform Information Center (Accessed July 26, 2008)
3US media can’t cover the news if they don’t cover the world, by John Hughes, The Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2007 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
4National Roper Poll Ranks PBS #1 in Public Trust for the Fourth Consecutive Year, PBS Press Release, March 22, 2007 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
5Administration’s budget proposal includes unprecedented cuts for public broadcasting,from Tell Them Public Matters.org, undated (Accessed September 1, 2008)
6Media and Democracy in America Today: A Reform Plan for a New Administration (.pdf) (Accessed September 1, 2008)
tags: Media | Politics | Internet

The Problem with Pork

Sep 05, 2008
The truth is messy, and things are usually more complicated than they seem.

This brilliant conclusion arose through a perusal of the 2007 Senate1 and House2 Scorecards put out by the Council for Citizens Against Governmental Waste (CCAGW). Pork is CCAGW’s bête noir, particularly as it takes form in Congressional earmarks, those add-ins to major legislation that send federal dollars to legislators’ pet projects back home. The poster child for recent earmarks is Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere, a $223 million earmark obtained by Senator Ted Stevens, currently under indictment for some low-level bad-boy behavior.3

The Scorecards examine votes relating to earmarks and are graded in one of two ways: The Taxpayers Won or The Taxpayers Lost. The taxpayers lost 32 of 35 such votes in the Senate and 96 of 100 votes in the House. Those results alone should go some way toward justifying our identification of the CCAGW as a community of soreheads.

A closer look at a few specific votes provides grist for additional conclusions regarding the CCAGW, such as their elitist proclivities.

Senate vote #11 to repeal the estate tax was defeated and the taxpayers were said to have lost. Well, of course, some taxpayers did lose—the richest one percent or so—but the rest of us won a reprieve from the additional taxation we would have had to shoulder to make up the shortfall from killing a tax that helps preserve an economic balance throughout America that was dear to the hearts of the founders. Louis Brandeis echoed their opinion when he said, “We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”

Most of the 100 cited House votes were either to remove funds from projects which had already been voted for or to cut various appropriations across the board by half to one percent. The lion’s share of such measures was overwhelmingly defeated, and one wonders just how much time the House spends attempting to undo its own accomplishments.

Given the extent to which organizations like CCAGW favor privatization of federal job functions, it is curious to see them characterize two failed initiatives to restrict privatization (House votes 28 and 77) as losses for the taxpayer.

Of the 435 members of the House, 40 voted CCAGW’s way 90 percent or more of the time in 2007; 212 voted CCAGW’s way 0 to 10 percent of the time. One wonders what would induce the four representatives who voted CCAGW’s way 100 percent of the time (Flake, R-AZ; Latta, R-OH; Hensarling, R-TX; and Sensenbrenner, R-WI) to vote for a federal expenditure of any kind—perhaps an amendment to reduce their salaries?

The Senate numbers were even more lopsided: 5 voted in the top 90 percent; 48 in the bottom 10 percent. Only one senator was rated voting CCAGW’s way 100 percent of the time, a fellow named McCain from Arizona.

Earmarks are a complicated issue. No doubt a few of them are outright “pork” others, however, fund worthy local projects in representatives’ districts which do not merit separate legislation and do not fit conveniently into other appropriations bills. No one wants to waste taxpayer dollars, probably not even our legislators. However, the waste of a three-trillion-dollar mistake in Iraq dwarfs the cumulative effect of a hundred years’ worth of earmarks. And to agonize over the latter provides little more than a smokescreen to deflect our concentration on the former.
12007 Senate Scorecard (.pdf)
22007 House Scorecard (.pdf)
3Alaska senator, under indictment, wins primary. From the International Herald Tribune, August 27, 2008 (Accessed August 31, 2008)
tags: Politics | Congress

Soaking the Poor

Sep 04, 2008
Do you want to know what it’s like being poor in America? It’s borrowing on the value of your next paycheck, and paying a 36 percent annual interest rate on the loan, if you’re lucky, and 500 percent and up if you’re not. It’s hocking title to your car for thirty days on the same handsome terms and losing it if you miss a payment, even if your vehicle is worth twice what you borrowed on it.

A recent study from the Consumers Union, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Consumer Federation of America lays it all out for us. They graded the 50 states on their laws regarding four “Short Term Loan Products,” which is what poor people live on from paycheck to paycheck. The states are left alone by the federal government in setting interest rates and other terms for these loans, which typically vary from $250 to $1,000.

The annual percentage rate (APR) on many of these loans is 36 percent, a cap common in state law and one recently endorsed by Congress for certain loan products extended to active-duty service members. However, many states have significantly higher APR caps or no cap at all. The Scorecard1 produced by the consortium of consumer groups gives a Pass or a Fail to four products: A two-week, $250 loan (often called a “payday” loan); a one-month, $300 auto-title loan; a six-month, $500 installment loan; and a one-year, $1,000 installment loan. If the states have a criminal usury law, the Scorecard also graded that law. The criterion used for grading these loans was whether the APR caps were 36 percent or below (Pass) or above 36 percent (Fail).

I live in Vermont and work in New Hampshire, so those two states were of particular interest to me. Vermont receives a passing grade in all five areas; it prohibits the first two types of loans and caps interest on the installment loans at 24 percent. New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state, is a different matter. They fail all four loan categories, which have no APR caps at all, and were not graded on their criminal usury law because they don’t have one. This is arguably better than Missouri, where the cap on a $250 payday loan is 1,955 percent.

The “Show Me” State? They should call it the “Screw Me” State.

Find out at the link below the extent to which your state punishes the poor for being broke.
1The Scorecard (.pdf). (Accessed August 30, 2008)
tags: Poverty | Business

School Choice; Choice Schools

Sep 03, 2008
“School Choice” is one of those loaded terms that often stands in for the neocon effort to destroy the public school system (along with as many other public benefits—Medicare, Social Security—as it can).

There is plenty wrong with our public schools, and the notion of school choice—to give it the most positive spin—presents desperate parents with the hope they can move their child to a setting more conducive to learning than the impoverished and violent surroundings far too many students find themselves in today. (The fourth season of The Wire grimly and too-realistically depicts just what our inner-city children, teachers, and school administrators are up against.)

School Choice is a largely empty hope, however, as a report from EducationSector reveals. “Plotting School Choice: The Challenges of Crossing District Lines”1 lays out the very real and usually insurmountable obstacles to broadly implementing a program of real school choice in America. Transportation is a major drawback, as is limited capacity in the accepting schools. Under the best of circumstances, few students can reasonably take part in such programs, leaving the vast majority where they are. And there is little research evidence to support the efficacy of moving students to higher-performing schools.

So what is a society that genuinely cares about all its citizens and is justifiably alarmed at the extent to which it is failing far too many of them to do? One idea is to bring teacher compensation more in line with a strategy to recruit and retain the best candidates. This is the argument put forth by Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor in the fall issue of the Hoover Institution's Education Next. His paper, “Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule,”2 argues that beginning teachers need to be paid more and they need to reach their peak earning years earlier (as happens in other professions) in order for the system to attract the best and the brightest candidates.

Obama has made education a major consideration in his campaign,3 although his solutions often strike one as rather more of the same and lack the out-of-the-box thinking we need to bring to this issue in the 21st century.

Finally, we may need to adopt programs that reflect the title of a 2004 book on educational reform: Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn.4 We need to rescue significant minorities of our people from lives of ignorance, violence, and despair, and we need to adopt new modes of learning that fully incorporate the brave new tools and techniques available to us. And to do these things, we need to do whatever it takes.

Anything less will hasten our decline in a world that needs us and our example more than ever.
1Plotting School Choice
2Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule (.pdf)
3Obama on Education
4Whatever It Takes
tags: Education

Donkey Days

Sep 02, 2008
The Democratic convention is over: A few observations:

  • The speeches are still available at the Democratic Convention site linked below. They require the installation of a couple of browser plug-ins, but the procedure is quick and painless.

  • Two years ago, who would not have bet the farm that they wouldn’t live to see a black man or a woman of any shade accept the nomination for president from a major American political party. Beyond a doubt, we witnessed history last Thursday night, and Republicans and Democrats alike should have been thrilled.

  • We recommend the speeches of Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry, both of whom came across as sincere and impassioned, which is more than we can say for the other professional politicians we listened to. There remain huge undercurrents of racism, of Clintonian resentment, and—we hope—of corporate uneasiness surrounding Obama’s nomination. He will need to struggle as mightily to overcome these forces within his own party as he will to overcome the petty, scurrilous, and beside-the-point (but enormously successful) tactics of the Republican opposition if he is to take that final giant step to the White House.

  • Jimmy Carter’s presence at the convention was, at the last minute, reduced from a speech to a three-minute video, probably because of his stand on the Israeli-Palestine issue. The American people, and the world, are finished with one-sided, unquestioning support of Israel in their struggle to solidify and expand their presence on lands to which others have a justifiable claim. That the Obama campaign continues the tradition of thralldom to the Israeli lobby, to the extent that it can disrespect a former president from its own party, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and one of the world’s most ardent and effective supporters of peace and brotherhood, does not bode well for its chances with a significant minority of voters for whom these issues are paramount.

  • Michelle Obama, her non-professional enthusiasm and her palpable sincerity, may just become Obama’s most important secret weapon in this race.

  • Ralph Nader gave, as usual, the most pertinent speech of the week, at his rally on Wedneday evening. View the video on his home page. Though some may accuse Nader of being a “Johnny-One-Note,” the note he harps on—that an unholy alliance of neocons and multi-national corporations have hijacked the American political process and American government, and are destroying fundamental American values—is supported by the facts, which we try to bring you on All Together Now. Obama has made no statement I know of to acknowledge this fundamental challenge to our democracy. On the contrary, he has surrounded himself with advisors who have been instrumental in enabling this situation, from Jason Furman to Robert Rubin, and others. This stands beside his shameful about-face on telecomm immunity and his quite arguably misplaced reliance on military power to turn the Afghanistan debacle around, stances which must be amended in some manner before he can be assured of the votes of some of his earliest supporters.

  • Eugene V. Debs: “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”

tags: Politics | Obama | Nader

Official Democratic Convention Site (w/Videos)

Noted with Interest, August 2008

Sep 01, 2008
Here are a few items noted with interest over the past month:

A Community Guide to Environmental Health
Field workers will find this guide of great value in developing community environmental health. From organizing communities, to fixing water problems, improving farming and health care, and other issues. Take along a .pdf of this manual in your digital backpack. (From Hesperian. Accessed August 3, 2008)

E-Voting Activist More Optimistic About Voting Systems
Aviel Rubin, computer professor at Johns Hopkins University, was one of the earliest experts to sound the alarm about electronic voting. In his 2006 book, Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting, he pointed out several fatal shortcomings in the systems that had been introduced since the 2000 election, and his warnings have resulted in some important improvements. The system you are likely to use this fall is still not perfect. In this interview, Rubin summarizes the good, the bad, and the ugly that characterize our electronic voting systems today. (From Computerworld.com. Accessed August 3, 2008)

Child Well-Being Index (CWI) 2008 Report
The report finds that following an upward trend for eight years, from 1994 to 2002, progress in American children’s quality of life has now moved into a stall/slow growth period. (From Foundation for Child Development. Accessed August 3, 2008)

International Monetary Fund Programs and Tuberculosis Outcomes in Post-Communist Countries
“IMF economic reform programs are associated with significantly worsened tuberculosis incidence, prevalence, and mortality rates in post-communist Eastern European and former Soviet countries....” (From Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine. Accessed August 3, 2008)

Top One Percent of Tax Filers Pay Highest Share in Decades
As well they should. (From Highbeam Research. Accessed August 3, 2008)

Bad Ballot Design Results in Staggering Numbers of Lost Votes
Even after the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Florida’s Palm Beach which resulted in 30,000 lost votes in the 200 election, problems continue to plague elections. View some really poor ballot design. (From Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. Accessed August 6, 2008)

Hydrogen Vehicles Making Impressive Progress Toward Commercialization, But Continued Government Support Needed Before Substantial Reductions Are Seen in U.S. Gasoline Usage and Carbon Emissions
Good summary of costs and schedules involved in the move to hydrogen vehicles. (From The National Academies. Accessed August 7, 2008)

Our CEOs, Their Foreign Agents
How CEOs, colluding with foreign dictatorships, bring totalitarianism home rather than deliver democracy abroad. (From The American Prospect. Accessed August 7, 2008)

Changes in wages and salaries in constant dollars, June 2007-June 2008
The beat goes on, as our salaries again drop, this time 1.8 percent in June from a year ago. (From The Editor’s Desk at the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed August 9, 2008)

Oil Companies Escape Billions in Royalty Payments to Americans; Drilling Expansion Will Enrich U.S. and Foreign Corporate Freeloaders
Thanks to a “bureaucratic oversight by the Department of Interior during the implementation of the [Deep Water Royalty Relief Act of 1995], oil companies that secured leases in 1998 and 1999 were exempted from royalties, regardless of the prevailing market price of oil.” This will end up costing the American taxpayer over $60 billion over the lifetime of the leases. Oil drilled on federal (read “your”) land earns a free ride for 24 oil companies, half of them located in foreign countries. (From Public Citizen. Accessed August 9, 2008)

U.S. Military Covering Up Possible Murders of Female Service Members
The John Birch Society(!) joins the growing number of voices questioning the deaths of LaVena Johnson and other females in the military whose causes of death may have been covered up by officials. (From The John Birch Society. Accessed August 30, 2008)

tags: Noted with Interest

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