Dec 31, 2008
We are today leaving behind not just another year, but an era. Whatever comes next, even if only more of the same, cannot be worse than what has gone before.
We have witnessed eight years of the vilest administration our country has ever known, far outdoing in its cupidity, its viciousness, its arrogance, its corruption, and its lawlessness the worst excesses of any that came before it.
We have witnessed a baseless, futile militarism that has sapped our treasury for generations to come.
We have witnessed trillions in giveaways to the wealthiest while watching trillions of our own wealth dissipate in an economic collapse caused by those same individuals.
We have witnessed a stripping away of our fundamental constitutional rights and a debasement of our national honor before the world from which we may never fully recover.
We have witnessed levels of poverty, ill health, and ignorance unheard of in—and inconceivable to—the rest of the industrialized world.
And we have tolerated it all with barely a squeak. Our mainstream media are silent. Our politicians are silent. There have been few marches, no sit-ins, rare civil disobedience. The middle-aged women of Code Pink have taken it on the chin for the rest of us, and the truth is only heard on the fringes—from Ralph Nader, from Dennis Kucinich, from Democracy Now. Even our grassroots organizations—MoveOn.org and their spawn—are falling in behind a man who has not endorsed one single plank of a progressive platform.
Foreclosures proliferate, unemployment soars, salaries are in freefall, the market loses 40% of its value taking our 401(k)’s with it. If General Motors goes bankrupt, it will cut a swathe through what remains of American manufacturing that will reduce us to the banana republic New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has already accused us of being.
So where do we go from here? On to 2009. And a nation that once thought itself the last best hope of the world has become the world’s great oppressor and its own worst enemy. Who would have thought on that clear blue Tuesday morning in September that we could ever bring ourselves to this?
However, tomorrow, like today and yesterday, belongs to us, and a brighter day will be ours. This is what a progressive agenda means—that progress is not only possible but inevitable. We are not Rome, where men and women were torn apart for sport, or medieval Spain, where they were torn apart for God.
We are better than that, and if we can only call upon our wiser, kinder natures, the anomaly of the past eight years—the horror of it—may, will, must one day join brutish Rome, inquisitorial Spain, and all the horrors we have inflicted upon each other, join them all in the trash bin of a history we will have finally, joyously overcome.
And that will be a Happy New Year.
Dec 30, 2008
We have written about public-private partnerships (PPPs or P3) before (see Water, Incorporated, Interstate, Inc., and Public-Private Partnerships). In the coming collapse, government on all levels will be sorely tempted to turn over public assets to private business in exchange for a fat check up front. In most cases, they will be making a serious mistake.
No state is more likely to succumb to the fat check temptation than California, and it is good to see that Los Angeles at least is aware of some of the pitfalls and is proceeding with something akin to responsible conduct. The Office of the City Controller has funded a study by The PFM Group entitled Special Study to Assess Opportunities to Develop Public-Private Partnerships (.pdf, 96 pp., 888Kb).
The study takes a stab at covering all the bases that need to be considered by a municipality when it is contemplating turning over to private enterprise an asset or service heretofore provided by the public sector. It has a clear bias toward favoring PPPs. This document is nonetheless important for anyone to read who may become involved in the near future with the questions it addresses, and that probably includes most of us who try to keep an eye on what our town, state, and federal government are up to in advancing PPPs. A section entitled “Addressing Misconceptions Regarding P3s” includes the following:
“PPPs negatively impact labor. ... The concern of many labor representatives is that a P3 concession will result in lost jobs, lower wages, reduced benefits, and loss of job security. However, in many P3 arrangements, contracts have been structured such that all previous government employees are assured a job position with the same level of salary and benefits.”1 Then later, when the paper provides a case study of an existing contract for custodial services that saved L.A. County a lot of money, “the commission concluded that the savings from contracting was attributable to reduced labor costs, as contractors pay lower wages and sometimes employ fewer workers.”2
Exactly. Too often PPPs are merely ill-disguised attempts to, once again, deprive the working man and woman of a decent salary in order to put more dollars into the pockets of the bosses. In 2007, 39.8 percent of public sector workers enjoyed union membership coverage, while only 8.2 percent of private nonagricultural workers were covered.3
We are in a race to the bottom in this country, with a war on unions and an unrestricted globalization that is exporting good-paying jobs as well as doing an end run around decades of struggle for labor and environmental protections.
And let us not forget: We privatize our health care in this country, and it costs us twice what other industrialized countries pay while delivering an inferior product. Federally managed Medicare and Medicaid, on the other hand, are delivered with much greater efficiency and less cost than the health care most of the rest of us receive. Let that be a lesson to us.
Also Noted: See the Rand report, A Call to Revitalize the Engines of Government (.pdf, 28 pp., .2Mb), by Bernard D. Rostker. This call for a return to common sense concludes, “The new administration should not try to fool the American people, perpetuating the myth of smaller government by not counting the hordes of service contractors its engages. Clearly, there are things that should be contracted and that the government need not and should not undertake, but the unfettered use of contractors has skyrocketed and must be brought under control.”
1 Special Study to Assess Opportunities to Develop Public-Private Partnerships, pg. 11, accessed December 27, 2008 (as were other footnoted items in this posting)
2 Op. cit., pg. 35
3 Index of Tables: Union Membership and Coverage, from Georgia State University
Dec 29, 2008
Yesterday, we addressed poverty in America in general terms. When we focus on children, the situation is considerably more bleak.
The Children’s Defense Fund, in its State of America’s Children 2008 Report (.pdf, 80 pp., 807Kb), provides a damning indictment of our treatment of our children. Its Highlights (.pdf, 2 pp., 139Kb) provide numbers which ought to enrage and awaken every American to action:
Dec 28, 2008
Because it is likely politically infeasible to revise the current poverty measure in a way that results in substantially higher poverty thresholds or rates, the first criticism should be addressed by adopting a new basic income adequacy standard, one that is not labeled a poverty measure.1In other words, since it is politically inconvenient to call a spade a spade, let’s call it a manual fill relocation instrument instead. If we adopt enough euphemisms, we might be able to eliminate poverty altogether in this country.
Dec 27, 2008
Barack Obama, we know, is a half-Negroid, half-Caucasian man. He is a married man. He is an eloquent man.
We wonder whether he is also a wise man. We wonder whether he is wise enough to understand, unlike many of his recent predecessors, that he is subject to the laws of the land, and that to place himself above those laws is to guarantee the failure of his administration (see, e.g., Nixon (Watergate); Reagan (Iran/Contra); Bush 2 (torture, domestic spying, unilateral baseless warmongering)).
We wonder also whether he is a man who is as intelligent as the press and his résumé credit him with being. We wonder whether he is smart enough to understand that our nation has been on the wrong track for thirty years and that the way back to the right track will require wrenching change that will be most disruptive to the richest and currently most powerful segment of our society. We wonder whether he is smart enough to engage, enlist, and utilize the support of the American people in this daunting task.
And we wonder whether he is a good man. In our time, Carter and Eisenhower were good men. The rest were an unhappy mix of conniving, murderous, solipsistic, serial adulterers who were in over their heads and easy pawns for the corporatocracy that has controlled our country since Vietnam. The leadership of the free world requires a man with a conscience, a man capable of empathy, a man whose heart is in the right place. Because finally a sea change in American politics and American life are going to require, above all else, a good man at the helm. Wisdom, intelligence, and eloquence may be mustered to serve ends good or evil. But only a good man can lead us from the darkness we find ourselves in today to the light of a renewed American promise.
Dec 26, 2008
Are unions dead in this country? Are over a hundred years of courageous labor struggles—struggles the working men and women had to wage against their own government as much as against their bosses—now history, only history?
Thirty-five years ago, a quarter of all nonagricultural workers in the private sector were unionized; in 2007, that number was down to 7.5 percent. In private manufacturing, the picture is worse, going from 39 percent unionized workers in 1973 to just over 11 percent today.1
Meanwhile, when the auto industry collapses, it’s the greedy workers’ fault. Cut their pay, cut their benefits, whittle them down as close to nothing as we can. Is education in trouble in this country? Then it’s the greedy teachers’ fault. Bust their selfish union, destroy public education in the only country that attained greatness through that institution.
Bob Herbert wrote in his column this week, “The economic downturn, however severe, should not be used as an excuse to send American workers on a race to the bottom, where previously middle-class occupations take a sweatshop’s approach to pay and benefits.“2
Yet that is exactly what is happening, as is explicated in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.3 Whether they use the worst days of the Iraq war to hand over Iraq’s oil reserves to Shell and BP; take advantage of the Southeast Asian tsunami to auction off the beaches to tourist resorts; or “capitalize” on the tragedy of Katrina to destroy public housing and public education in New Orleans, the corporatocracy that controls this nation uses every disaster to further line its pockets at the expense of the population.
The current fiscal crisis is the biggest disaster of them all, and everywhere we look, we see the corporatocracy taking advantage of it, from the massive giveaways to the banking executives, to the pressures on working and middle-class Americans to take less and less of a piece of the pie that they have fought for and earned over and over. Have we made concessions until we are blue in the face? New hires at the Big Three are now paid slightly over $14 an hour.
Is there a silver lining? The tiniest one imaginable. The only year between 1973 and 2007 when union membership increased rather than fell was 2007, when it went up one tenth of one percent.
The ball is in our court. The vote is in our hands. This country can devote itself to the well-being of the greatest number, rather than the fewest. It can be done. It must be done. We can do it.
1 Index of Tables: Union Membership and Coverage, from Georgia State University, accessed December 23, 2008, as are the other sites in these footnotes.
2 A Race to the Bottom, by Bob Herbert, from the New York Times, December 22, 2008
3 The Shock Doctrine, from Amazon.com
Dec 25, 2008
As if our health care system weren’t in enough of a shambles, look out now for a sharp increase in “health tourism,” the international hunt for the best, most affordable health care. Traffic to Southeast Asia in pursuit of medical procedures is expected to grow 20 percent a year, to become a $4 billion industry by 2012.
Deloitte Consulting has concentrated its study on Southeast Asia, though doubtless many of their findings pertain to the entire globe. Medical Tourism: The Asian Chapter (.pdf, 413Kb) reports that medical procedures in SE Asia often cost only 20 to 30 percent of what they cost in the U.S. (including transportation and accommodation), and countries such as Singapore, Thailand, India, and Malaysia are busily acquiring state-of-the-art medical equipment and facilities in order to present a credible face to the world as an alternative source of medical care.
Heart bypass surgery costs $80,000 to $130,000 in the U.S. and only $6,700 to $9,300 in India. If you were a candidate for such a procedure, among the 100 million un- or underinsured Americans, relatively sure you would receive excellent treatment in a modern facility, perhaps even operated on by a U.S. physician, what would you do?
We know we pay twice as much in this country for medical care that is of significantly less quality than that of the rest of the civilized world. (See our various posting on health care.) If our entire medical industry is not to be threatened with imploding through domestic and international pressures, the Obama administration must confront its weaknesses. When it does, we are confident that the need for universal, single-payer, federally managed health care will carry the day.
Dec 24, 2008
Here is a listing, in reverse chronological order, of All Together Now in 2008. Each line consists of three parts:
Dec 23, 2008
Yesterday, we wrote about a topic which may have struck you as being of fairly marginal interest to a limited number of people—the problems citizens and congressional representatives are finding in sharing communications back and forth in the age of the Internet and instant and easy communication. However, we believe these are issues of enormous importance to the future ability of progressives to press their agenda.
The gist of the problem is that representatives and senators are being inundated with communications, many of which are solicited, aggregated, and communicated to Congress by special interest advocacy groups. Congressional staffers now spend an inordinate amount of time managing and responding to these communications.
Technology is the answer here, and rather than rely upon the disparate six or eight commercial products which now dot the Washington landscape, we believe the parties involved—citizen and advocacy groups and congressional offices—should cooperate to produce an open source software solution that would satisfy 95 percent of the players involved. We believe the following are among the requirements and features of such a product:
Dec 22, 2008
The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) has been asking it vis-a-vis Congress for almost ten years, and their enlightening answer may be found in their report, Communicating with Congress: Recommendations for Improving the Democratic Dialog (.pdf, 3.5Mb).
The good news: The Internet has made it far easier for citizens to communicate with their Congressional representatives. The bad news: The Internet has made it far easier for citizens to communicate with their Congressional representatives. The result: A huge increase in communications to Congress, by both citizens and grassroots advocacy groups, has resulted in the expenditure of a great deal of effort on the part of both senders and recipients in trying to manage—and in some cases, to thwart—the efforts of the other. Sophisticated software tools to efficiently deal with these communications has yet to be developed.
Until it is, CMF has several recommendations for each participant. Among them, for the individual citizen:
Dec 21, 2008
Yes, Virginia, there is a Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) charged with trying to figure out what the Treasury Department is doing with your $700 billion bank bailout. Though they don’t have many answers at this point, they have at least come up with a few relevant Questions About the $700 Billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Funds (.pdf, 1.3Mb). This initial panel report was released on December 10, 2008. They intend to issue monthly reports and we will update this ATN item with links to those reports as they are released.
Among partial answers received from Treasury so far is a confirmation of our worst fear that Treasury has administered the program without seeking to specifically monitor the use of funds supplied to the banks, but instead relying on “general metrics” that will evaluate the overall economic effects of the disbursed funds. As the report notes, “Using general metrics could be a substitute for using no metrics at all, thus committing taxpayer resources with no meaningful oversight.”1
Here are the ten questions the panel hopes to answer in the coming months:
Dec 20, 2008
The Pentagon Papers revealed the debacle that was the Vietnam war, and now the New York Times and the online journalism web site ProPublica have published what should be an equally incendiary document, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, written by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction following several years of interviews and study.
The bottom line? The reconstruction effort in Iraq has wasted over $100 billion, much of it American taxpayer money, through a combination of poor or nonexistent planning, disruptions caused by the insurgency, turf wars among uncoordinated participants, and fraud: “[A] massive waste of taxpayer dollars.”1
ProPublica provides particularly useful Excerpts from the 513-page report. They reveal that reconstruction was inadequately planned for before the invasion and ineptly pursued afterwards. In what appears to be full-fledged bureaucratic panic, agencies and offices opened and closed; administrators came and went; huge projects lay dormant halfway to completion and completed projects were not sustained; turf wars between Defense, State, USAID, the White House and others resulted in huge wastes of time and money. And through it all, an insurgency which to this day holds sway throughout Iraq played havoc with the few coordinated actions the various offices and authorities managed to mount during their short tenures.
The Inspector General concludes, “Why was so large a reconstruction program pursued in so insecure an environment? Others will have to provide that answer.”2
Obama has pledged (sort of) to disengage us from this Slough of Despond. However, he has also pledged to get us more involved in the slough to the east in Afghanistan, boosting both military and reconstruction efforts in an environment which is proving even more intractable than Iraq. If pursued, this unilateral, military response to an essentially multilateral situation calling for international policing efforts, particularly in a region which has proven time and again to be unmanageable by history’s very best managers, will be a morass into which will sink Obama and all his hope for change.
“Hard Lessons” is a road map to disaster. Nothing in the manner we have pursued our efforts in Afghanistan to date, and nothing in the announced plans of the new administration, give us reason to believe we are not still on that road.
1 Hard Lessons, pg. iii.
Dec 19, 2008
We don’t see a lot of neckties in Vermont, where we live, or New Hampshire, where we work. We guess Jim Douglas probably wears a tie—probably to bed—but he’s our governor, and he’s in that crowd we’re talking about.
We see all these guys in ties these days, strutting before cameras, taking questions, not taking questions, rationalizing away the acts that have impoverished millions, brought industries to their knees, murdered innocents: greedy guys, corrupt guys, unapologetic, unashamed, unindicted.
We see these guys in ties, and we’re tempted to hide the silver, check for our wallet, lock up our daughters. When we see the odd guy wearing a tie up here in northern New England, we think, what are you trying to get away with today? Whose pension are you going to loot, which union are you going to bust, what sick old person are you going to screw over? We just can’t see guys in ties anymore without wondering what they’re up to. No good, we’re pretty sure.
What is it about that silly sliver of senseless cloth they all wear down their fronts, like badges of mastery, like cryptic IDs in a secret society of despoilers, like a fancy shield against anyone thinking they’re just nasty little schoolyard bullies, narrowminded, grasping, and despicable.
Guys in ties.
Dec 18, 2008
Most states (48 of 50 and the District of Columbia) award all their electoral votes in a presidential election to the candidate who wins the majority of votes in their state. This results in serious disincentives for any candidate to campaign in those states that are safely in the camp of one party or another and, when you think about it, in equally serious disincentives for voters in those states to get out and vote.
These disincentives provide an argument for those who would do away with the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote for president, an even better argument than the one opposing the Electoral College because it favors small states.
FairVote.org provides hard numbers to back up these disincentive claims in their press release, 2008's Shrinking Battleground and Its Start [sic] Impact on Campaign Activity.1 They find:
Dec 17, 2008
We can breathe easy. Global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Al Gore are all washed up. This thanks to a minority report from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The ranking minority member of the committee is James M. Inhofe (R-OK), who has allegedly found 650 scientists around the world who are prepared to dispute the existence of global warming or any man-made crisis having to do with the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. He takes the whole silly notion to task in a 231-page report (including a reprint of a previous report), clumsily though comprehensively entitled U.S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims. Scientists Continue to Debunk “Consensus” in 2008.
Inhofe, who has characterized the Red Cross as a “bleeding heart,” and out-conservatived the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, and the American Petroleum Institute in blocking ratification of the International Convention on the Law of the Sea,1 has put our tax dollars to work in an attempt to head off cap-and-trade legislation which the Obama administration hopes to initiate early on in 2009.
We’ll update this posting with the expected refutations of Inhofe’s report in future days and weeks. In the meanwhile, the pertinent point, and one which does not bode well for the coming administration and the 111th Congress, is the enormous powers which may be wielded by a single senator and, more importantly, by the minority party in the Senate. We have seen thirty years or more of polarized partisan politics in our federal government, which has effectively removed what is intended to be the people’s voice from influence over our economic well-being. We are only beginning to suffer the consequences.
We fear a continuation of the polarization, already seen in the Senate Republicans’ stonewalling of the auto industry bailout. Should Obama, the Great Conciliator, not find a way to move sufficient numbers of Republicans into his camp, we could easily see a continuation of the status quo, which has wiped out trillions in retirement savings, forced millions into foreclosure, swelled enormously the ranks of the unemployed, and brought us to the brink of a global depression.
1 Enemies of Science: Senator James M. Inhofe, from ScienceWeek, undated (accessed December 13, 2008)
Dec 16, 2008
The first ripples are spreading from the center of the financial debacle.
It looks like the White House will have to do an end run around its own party to bail out the auto industry,1 in hopes of saving three million jobs.2 Senate republicans have blocked a Congressional plan to provide a few billion in loans to the industry,3 a plan that even included turning the industry on its head and handing over future business decisions to a “Car Czar” to be appointed by Bush. The Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t buy it without enormous concesssions in pay and benefits from the unions, which have already done more than their part to sustain their industry.
And where is the justice or equity in seven hundred billion taxpayer dollars hastily handed over unconditionally to Wall Street following its shameful despoliation of world finance, and not one dime to bolster an admittedly flawed industry, but one upon which depends a significant percentage of working Americans?
And then there is Republic Windows and Doors.4 When Bank of America pulled the plug on the Chicago company’s line of credit, the owners told the unionized workers the 40-year-old company would close its doors in three days and, gosh, they didn’t think they had the money for the 60-day severance or accrued vacation pay the law required them to provide the workers. So the workers staged a six-day sit-in at the factory. Three-way negotiations among the union, the company, and the banks resulted in the offer of loans sufficient for the company to pay its obligations to the workers. Whether they will or not, however, since the company filed for bankruptcy on December 12, may still be in doubt. Workers are scandalously far from the front of the line of creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Meanwhile, Republic has renamed itself Echo, moved to Iowa, and opened its factory with nonunion labor.
That the Republic workers’ sit-in to obtain rights assured them by law should be described in the Times as “risky,” “militant,” and “potentially dangerous,” speaks volumes to the skewed priorities that result in a system where capitalism is the master and not the servant of the people.
We need to get money into the pockets of regular Americans, not continue to pick those pockets for the benefit of the superwealthy. Everyone knows this, but as of last weekend, no one in Washington had done anything about it.
1 White House Ready to Aid Auto Industry, by Stephen Labaton and David M. Herszenhorn, from the New York Times, December 12, 2008 (accessed December 13, 2008)
2 Over 3 million jobs would disappear if U.S. auto-makers go bankrupt, from Economic Policy Institute, December 3, 2008 (accessed December 11, 2008)
3 Senate Abandons Automaker Bailout Bid, by David M. Herszenhorn and David E. Sanger, from the New York Times, December 11, 2008 (accessed December 13, 2008)
4 Even Workers Surprised by Success of Factory Sit-In, by Michael Luo and Karen Ann Cullotta, from the New York Times, December 12, 2008 (accessed December 13, 2008)
Dec 15, 2008
Sixty-one percent of the nonelderly employed receive their health insurance through an employer. It is estimated that for every one point increase in the unemployment rate, 1.1 million adults will lose their health insurance coverage.1 With accelerating layoffs, many of us are now contemplating the awful eventuality of simultaneously losing our jobs and our health insurance. When that happens, options are limited to COBRA, Medicaid/SCHIP, and private insurance.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, through its Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, has produced a report entitled Health Coverage in a Period of Rising Unemployment (.pdf, 288Kb), by Karen Schwartz. It is a guide to the pluses and minuses of those three options and, unfortunately, one that you may wish to bookmark for future reference. Our conclusions:
Dec 14, 2008
Actions we have taken to promote progressive change.
Your participation, in these or other efforts, will double the impact chronicled below. Bookmark this link in order to return to this posting to note future additions.
Dec 13, 2008
We need to act.
We need to find ways to raise our voices in support of the progressive agenda or we are going find ourselves—and that agenda—out in the cold. We do not fail to sympathize with those who say it is early innings, he is not even president yet, give him a chance. However, our early misgivings regarding an Obama presidency (see our previous postings on Obama), together with the parade of Clinton retreads and right-of-center cabinet and White House appointments1 he has made so far, does not fill us with hope for change. Rather, these appointments require what filmmaker Eugene Jarecki calls “vigilant public attention.”2
Only connect!, adjured E.M. Forster,3 and this is the key to action. The American people—you and I— need to get back in the face of our public servants. We need to find the time to act, to contact our representatives, to join our voices to other organizations which are advancing the agenda. Thankfully, opportunities to do so efficiently and effectively are cropping up all over the place, mainly through the Internet.
Tomorrow, we will initiate a posting that relates what we are doing to press for a progressive agenda. We will update that posting and provide a link to it so that you can return to it from time to time to see what new efforts have been made by one person. It may provide ideas for you, although its primary intent is to move you to set aside a few minutes a week to take part in an effort which, without us and millions like us, is almost certainly doomed to fail. We also want to hear what you are doing (use the Webmaster link under Contact Us in the right-hand column). We will pass on good ideas you tell us about, and we will take part in those efforts ourself.
Obama is not enough. Hope is not enough. The buck stops with us.
1 Name by Name, Obama’s Cabinet taking shape, by the Associated Press, December 8, 2008, accessed, as are other references today, on December 9, 2008
2 Keeping Track of Change, by Eugene Jarecki, from Truthdig.com, December 5, 2008
3 Howard’s End, E.M. Forster, chapter 22, from Wikiquote, undated
Dec 12, 2008
No one is closer to the federal government than the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. They:
Dec 11, 2008
What do you know? The European Union actually cares about the quality of life of all its people, and not just the enrichment of a tiny few at the expense of the rest. Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, was founded in 1975 “to contribute to the planning and design of better living and working conditions in Europe.” Eurofound researches these conditions across the 27 European Union countries (including three current candidate countries), tries to identify what works, and passes along that understanding to labor, employers, and governments.
Their Second European Quality of Life Survey (.pdf, 416Kb) has just released its first findings. The full report will be available in spring 2009. The survey sought data on general life satisfaction and happiness relating to family, work, and social life. Among interesting findings we may wish to take to heart:
Dec 10, 2008
How we got here? Simple:
Dec 09, 2008
The Family of Man began as a family, huddled in a dark cave against the forces of a malevolent Nature, including—especially—the family in the cave next door. Reason was on our side, however, and reason, telling us there was strength in numbers, created the tribe. When agriculture settled us down ten thousand years ago, tribes became settlements, which became towns, cities, city-states, and, finally, countries, constructs, again, whose primary purpose was enhancing security for a larger base of the population.
Of course, along the way tribe fought tribe, Sparta fought Athens, England fought France, and complicated ad hoc alliances came and went in support of ever widening and, ultimately, global conflicts. Yet the quest for physical and economic security was always at the heart of those conflicts, even when they seemed to be initiated for purposes of conquest and empire.
The country is no longer the most-evolved unit in this search for security. Economic alliances such as NAFTA and political ones such as the European Union have gone beyond largely symbolic attempts at multinational cooperation most recently embodied in the United Nations. These alliances seek to knit countries together firmly enough in cooperative endeavors to render it unlikely they will ever again have at each others’s throats in battle.
We now find ourselves at a point in our evolution as a species where “two roads diverge in a yellow wood.” As separate countries with a limited number of extended alliances, many of us are powerful enough, should another conflict arise between us, to destroy civilization. Even absent such conflict, we face environmental threats to our security that could be equally devastating.
It seems to us that a great reckoning is at hand. Will we be capable, once again, of making the same attitude adjustment we have made countless times in the past, the adjustment that saw us lay down our arms and join an erstwhile enemy in order to defend against the greater danger perceived emanating from another quarter? Will we be able to do so when that greater enemy is ourselves? And if we do not, will not our own natures, or the Nature we have so abysmally abused, step in and write the final page in the chronicle of human history?
These are the questions to which the progress of civilization has brought us. These are the questions which will be answered. The 21st century will see the Family of Man become one family, or the 22nd will belong to the flora and fauna over which we enjoyed a short and unhappy dominion.
1 Our illustration: Family of Man, by Georg Schmerholz, 1976
Dec 08, 2008
New York Times columnist David Brooks is consistently wrong about life in general, but he is often quite perspicacious when it comes to some of the specifics.
His December 5, 2008, column Who Will He Choose?, concerns Obama’s still-to-be-announced pick for Secretary of Education, a selection we consider more important than the ones he has made so far.
Two camps vie for Obama’s allegiance, according to Brooks. In one camp are the radical reformers, epitomized by Michelle Rhee (whom we wrote about in The War on Tenure), and in the other are those representing the establishment view with the “superficial reforms” characteristic of that camp.
Brooks’s insight comes when he notes Obama has skillfully straddled both camps, practicing what he memorably calls “dog-whistle politics” which sends out reassuring signals that only one side or the other can detect. This, of course, was characteristic of Obama’s entire campaign: He managed to make many of us who were not on the same sides of issues believe we detected signals in his language assuring us he was supporting our priorities.
Progressives have now had a cold shower of reality administered to them through Obama’s choices to date. The posts of Education and Labor are yet to come. They are, in our view, the most important, affecting as they do all Americans in areas—income and education—as much in need of radical reform as any in our system.
Brooks’s money seems to be on Arne Duncan,1 a Chicago reformer, for Education, a selection which he says “will be picking a fight with the status quo.” However, if there are any fans of the status quo still about in the land, they are staying silent in the closet. Even the Establishment knows we are in trouble, and it will take a full spectrum of reforms, as well as, perhaps, a partial systemic collapse, to pull us out of the doldrums into which our education system has been mired for the past two generations.
1 Arne Duncan, from Wikipedia, accessed December 6, 2008
Dec 07, 2008
Okay, college grad, think yer pretty smart? Try this Civics Quiz on for size. It comes from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) an organization which seeks “to enhance the rising generation’s knowledge of our nation’s founding principles.” They have their work cut out for them.
In 2006 and 2007, they tested 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities nationwide on the basics of their American heritage, and in both years they failed, scoring less than 55 percent on average.1 This year, in an attempt “to learn more about the real-world consequences of this collegiate failure,” they tested a broader cross-section of Americans of all ages and backgrounds, asking them 33 basic questions about the history and operation of American democracy, the Civics Quiz mentioned above which you are invited to take. The bad news:
Dec 06, 2008
One of the themes emerging from All Together Now is the pragmatic basis of the Golden Rule. It is to our advantage that we treat others as we would be treated. To treat them less well, to refrain from relieving them of their poverty, ignorance, or disease when it is within our power to do so, works to our immediate, ongoing, and serious disadvantage.
The Progressive Policy Institute knows whereof we speak. In one of their latest “Memos to the President,” Ending Child Hunger in America (.pdf), by Joel Berg and Tom Freedman, their recommendations are firmly grounded in the logic of our first paragraph. The bad news:
Dec 05, 2008
Apparently, these ethical qualities are as American as apple pie, hence our illustration today. The Josephson Institute has released its latest biennial report from its Center for Youth Ethics, entitled The Ethics of American Youth. It’s not a pretty picture.
Over a third of high school boys (35 percent) and a quarter (26 percent) of girls admitted having stolen something from a store in the past year, each number up three percentage points from two years ago. Almost all high school children (83 percent) have lied to a parent in the past year about something significant. And cheating in school is up four percentage points (to 64 percent) from 2006. And the numbers may even be worse, since fully a quarter of the 30,000 respondents confessed to lying on one or two of the questions during the survey!
Not to worry, however, since our pedagogical emphasis on nurturing self-esteem has been one of the educational success stories of the past generation. Despite their cheating hearts, fully 93 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent said that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”
Before we lapse into Paul Lynde1 mode,2 however, let’s take a few deep breaths and look for some perspective.
Speaking only for ourself, we lied like a rug when we were in high school. We lied about everything to everyone. When we turned 21, we swore off lying, not because it was wrong, but because we refused to continue to be so diminished in our own eyes by our constant lies. We have pretty much kept to that determination throughout a longish adulthood.
We stole from stores a time or two, probably before we were actually in high school, and even committed a few misdemeanor-level vandalisms during the difficult transition from innocence to experience. But that was then and this is now and it is inconceivable to imagine we would steal again from any motivation but the direst want. The fact that we don’t recall cheating in school may probably be laid to the fact that we never sat close enough to the ones who were smarter than we were in order to crib off their papers. And cheating in school always struck us as rather like cheating at solitaire. Finally, what’s the point?
We generally consider that seven-year-old children have reached the Age of Reason,3 before which a child has no real concept of the difference between objective right and wrong. However, to understand that right and wrong exist is not the same thing as to have the capacity to subordinate one’s own interests to ethical considerations. That takes much longer, which is why society doesn’t emancipate its children until they are considerably older.
We take some reassurance in the fact that there is such a significant disconnect between teen behavior and their own self-conception. We do learn right from wrong at seven, and we do struggle for years to bring right and wrong into alignment with our own needs and inclinations—many of us ultimately failing, of course. However, believing that we are essentially such admirable boys and girls cannot, in the end, but help to make us so.
1 Paul Lynde, from Wikipedia, accessed December 2, 2008, as are other footnoted sources today.
2 “What’s the Matter with Kids Today?,” from Bye Bye, Birdie
3 The Age of Reason, by Adele M. Brodkin, from Scholastic, July 1, 2006
Dec 04, 2008
They’re at it again. The headline in our local daily this morning reads, “U.S. Bio Attack in Next 5 Years Likely.”1
When outright oppression and domestic terror is off the table (although we might ask José Padilla2 to comment on that), fear is what best controls populations and renders them docile in the face of political tyranny. Cheney/Bush effectively played the fear card throughout their administration, even continuing to prevail in every area of their agenda after the Democrats assumed control of Congress in 2007.
Today the torch of fear is being passed to the next administration. The story noted above related to a report from the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism being presented today to Joe Biden, Obama's VP and First Hawk in an administration that is becoming filled with hawkish officials: Clinton, Gates, Rice.
In a pair of stories also in today’s paper,3 Obama formally introduces his choices for several high-level cabinet and White House positions. It is distressing to note that the position of Secretary of State is consistently characterized as being part of Obama’s “national security team.” National security has become a codeword for doing anything we want to anyone we like at anytime we choose, and damn the consequences. And to stamp our already hawkish-enough Secretary of State-designate with this codeword is to taint the position with unduly militaristic connotations and to downplay its true value as a great nation’s primary representative—and reassurance—to a fearful and needy world.
So it looks like it’s “Speak loudly and wield that big stick,” while scaring the pants off the populace in the home front. In other words, business as usual. And as Obama backs off his pledge to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months (the pledge now downsized to a “desire”4), we may anticipate endless war through another administration.
This is change? This is hope?
1 You can read it here: Panel: Bio attack likely in next 5 years, from Yahoo News (Associated Press), Accessed December 2, 2008, as are other footnoted sources today.
2 José Padilla (prisoner), from Wikipedia
3 You can read it here: Obama Names Team to Face a Complex Security Picture, by Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shear, from the Washington Post, December 2, 2008
4 Obama moves from electioneering to governance with nominees, by Peter Baker, from The International Herald Tribune, December 2, 2008
Dec 03, 2008
First, let us stop calling these affairs foreign. Globalization and its discontents, the Internet, the climate crisis, have inextricably intertwined the affairs of nations, making us finally realize the interdependence of all peoples which has always been a fact of life, though rarely acknowledged.
And then let us get on with the business of nurturing our planet and all its people. The progressive agenda of the first Obama administration must include the following:
Dec 02, 2008
Most progressive pundits we follow (among them Jeremy Scahill1, Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner2, and Robert Scheer3) are bummed out by the selections Obama has made so far for his White House staff and cabinet. And indeed, one cannot but sigh in despair at the right-of-center Democrats (and Republicans!) paraded across Change.gov, Obama’s web site, which is looking increasingly like an ingeniously designed propagandistic puff piece. What could be worse than a George W. Bush? A George W. Bush with a brain.
Kuttner reminds us that Obama will be the president, not Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton, or Robert Gates. Cold comfort, we fear. As noted last week in Center Stage, the progressive agenda has moved to the center of American politics, or the center has moved toward progressive solutions to the serious challenges we face. With that in mind, here are five exigent items on the domestic agenda we expect the Obama administration to engage from a progressive standpoint:
Dec 01, 2008
Here are a few items noted with interest over the past month:
Nov 30, 2008
Our employer-based health insurance (in healthy New Hampshire) has gone up over 40 percent in three years, roughly four times the increase in the Consumer Price Index.1 At that cost—about twice what the rest of the civilized world pays—we receive medical care that is significantly, demonstrably, shamefully inferior.2 We rank 26th in child mortality. Our maternal death rate is also high, and rising.3 We lag behind 16 other countries in longevity.4 America’s poor health, and poorer health care, cost us billions in lost productivity every year.
The wealthiest nation in the world—until recently, at any rate—owes itself an obligation to remove health care from the rough-and-tumble of the marketplace, where supply and demand and the profit motive reign supreme, at the expense of high-quality care. There are enough national health care systems in the world now that we can study them all and pick and choose the best features of each in crafting our own. To maintain the status quo, even with a tweak here and a tuck there, is indefensible, given the cost and the inferior product our health care system provides.
Barack Obama never mentioned single-payer, federally managed health care in his campaign. We hope it was because he knew it would lose him much-needed dollars from the insurance industry and, possibly, a few thousand votes. But single-payer, federally managed health care is the only sensible solution, it is what the people want, and it will be a defining test of Obama’s presidency for him to move Congress toward this long overdue goal in his first term.
The New America Foundation has given us a grim glance at the future in their report, The Cost of Doing Nothing. If you think things are bad today, wait a very few years, less than a decade, when half of us will be spending 45 to 60 percent of our income just for health insurance and related deductibles. It makes you sick to think of it.
The 21st century will witness a revolution in medical care. For the sake of equity and economy, for the sake of sanity and American productivity, we must stop funding it with a 19th century model.
1 Consumer Price Index, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (Accessed November 25, 2008)
2 Click here to display the health-related items on All Together Now, for this and other pertinent statistics.
3 Maternal Mortality Rate in U.S. Highest in Decades, Experts Say, from Medical News Today, August 29, 2007 (Accessed November 25, 2008)
4 Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy for Selected Countries, 2007, from Infoplease (Accessed November 25, 2008)
Nov 29, 2008
As did John McCain, we confess to a lack of perfect understanding of the “dismal science” of economics. We are more or less at one with Mr. Micawber, who summed up all fiscal wisdom thus: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”1
Though economists pretend to more complications in their calling than this, it all comes down to the same thing: Live within your means or pay the consequences. Thus far, many domestic enterprises which have failed to live within their means, which concocted exotic and opaque financial instruments and bought them with—horrors!—borrowed money, have failed to pay any consequences; however, we Micawber types know those consequences are coming, don’t we?
As we say, the ins and outs of the dismal science are a closed book to us. With a ten trillion dollar national debt, four trillions of which were added by Bush in the largest increase under any U.S. president,2 we suspect much misery lies in wait just over the horizon.
For 32 metropolitan transit agencies, that horizon is now. In a deal too complicated to describe here, but which is admirably explicated in the Tax Foundation’s Fiscal Fact No. 153, Transit Agencies in Bind Due to SILO Deals and AIG Collapse, those agencies—very likely including your bus and subway provider—may be in for many billions in contract termination fees demanded by foreign banks. The perfect storm of economic collapse has rippled across the landscape, with a great deal more damage impending than we are advised of on the nightly news.
The transit agencies have now gone to Congress looking for—what else?—their own bailout.3 They are going to have to stand at the end of a long and very unruly line.
1 David Copperfield, chapter 12, by Charles Dickens (Accessed November 25, 2008)
2 Bush Administration Adds $4 Trillion to National Debt, by Mark Knoller, from CBS News, September 29, 2008 (Accessed November 25, 2008)
3 Transit Agencies on Capitol Hill to Lobby for Bailout, from Tax Foundation, November 19, 2008 (Accessed November 25, 2008)
Nov 28, 2008
As we contemplate the coming of the era of change promised by Obama, the Center for American Progress, along with the New Democracy Project, is in the process of producing a book-length, comprehensive set of recommendations, called Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President. The complete Table of Contents of its 46 chapters include sections on The White House, Economic Policy, Domestic Policy, and National Security Policy.
The fact that the preface and first chapter are written by John Podesta, the co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition team (and a Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration), bodes well for attention being paid to this work by the new administration. It may even be, to a certain extent, what it is called: a blueprint for Obama’s presidency. In either case, progressives should pay attention to its contents, and we will feature some of them in future postings.
Today, we feature a chapter written by Michael Waldman, the Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Waldman’s chapter, Renewing Our Democracy (.pdf), deals with voting issues, the Brennan Center’s specialty, and he makes the following recommendations, which he says “will help permanently enlarge the constituency and coalition for progressive politics”:
Nov 27, 2008
If we need a historic record of the rapine of the Bush administration, we need go no further than Representative Raul M. Grijalva's (D-AZ) report emanating from his National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee within the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, entitled A Report on the Bush Administration Assaults on our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (A Partial List) (.pdf).
It opens, “Over the last seven and a half years, the Bush Administration has pushed a concerted strategy of reducing the protections for our public lands, parks and forests, and opening up these lands for every type of private, commercial and extractive industry possible.”
Grijalva’s list includes the despoliation of our national parks through mining; lowering air quality standards; wild animal slaughter; intrusive use of recreational vehicles; and undermining the National Park Service work force through outsourcing, politicization, wrongful terminations, and staffing cuts. The neoconservative calls to “starve the beast” of government by cutting funding has led to woefully inadequate budgeting for land and water conservation and maintenance, and deteriorating historical artifacts. The oversight responsibilities of the Bureau of Land Management have been undermined by rules streamlining development; by the hiring of “consultants” employed by oil and gas companies; by rendering voluntary many corporate cleanup responsibilities; by stifling public input; by pandering to the off-road vehicle industry which is creating legal and environmental chaos on public lands; by public land giveaways. The list goes on and on.
2008 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was in office one hundred years ago, and who was the greatest conservation president in the history of our republic. In fact, he practically invented the conservation movement in the U.S.1 He was also a Republican.
True conservatives are concerned about conservation—the two words share etymological roots, after all. They do not manufacture every opportunity possible to rape the landscape for the short-term gain of their masters, at the expense of the people, future generations, and the precious land itself.
The shame attaching to the Bush administration for the unconscionable abrogation of its responsibilities is exceeded only by our own shame at having let them get away with it. One can only wonder which body—them or us—history will judge more harshly.
1 Theodore Roosevelt, Conservationist, from Wikipedia (Accessed November 22, 2008)
Nov 26, 2008
By the time we read David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times, The Insider’s Crusade (November 21, 2008), the paper wasn’t accepting any more comments, having already taken in 580 of them. We weren’t surprised by the deluge of heated responses, having been chafing at the bit to add one of our own.
Brooks, in a rare display of ecumenism, was caught praising Obama’s selection of high-level advisors and cabinet secretaries, seemingly—and disingenuously—against his will, having first cast a smarmily disparaging eye upon the intellectual prowess evinced by their plethora of ivy league degrees.
We weren’t tempted, as many responders were, to toss our variation of “Ah, ha!” at Brooks, being about as appalled as he seemed to be impressed by the selections so far. We are beginning to wonder, with all the Clintonistas on board, whether the whole campaign season wasn’t a vast charade from the beginning, with the object of bringing back the “first black president” for another go-round.
Let the inveterate Republicans pretend their reluctant confessions of admiration for this parade of Clinton-era insiders and party hacks. It was Brooks’s parting shot that caught our attention and raised our dander. He wrote, “The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left....”
Excuse us, Mr. Brooks, but your inability to discern the shifting sands of the political spectrum from your cozy sinecure in the rightmost sector has blinded you to the fact that the progressive agenda in this country has moved to the center. To wit:
Most Americans think our nation is on the wrong track.1
Most Americans are opposed to continuing the war in Iraq and think America cannot win it.2
Most Americans want single-payer health insurance.3
Most Americans prefer investment in new energy technologies over exploration and drilling for more oil.4
We could add that most Americans want abortion to remain legal5 and the church to stay out of politics.6
If Obama is prepared to govern from the center, then these are the issues and the positions he will espouse. To the extent his administration waffles from these positions, to that extent will he be moving to the right and be in breach of his many pledges to serve the people.
1 Poll: Most Americans Think U.S. on Wrong Track, from CBS News, January 13, 2008 (All accessed November 21, 2008)
2 Poll: Less than half of Americans think U.S. can win in Iraq, fro CNN.com, March 13, 2007
3 Doctor’s Orders: Health Coverage for Everyone, by Daina Saib, from Yes! Magazine, Fall 2008
4 Poll: Americans Don’t Think More Drilling Will Lower Gas Prices, by Timothy B. Hurst, from Red Green and Blue, July 25, 2008
5 Abortion and Birth Control, from PollingReport.com
6 The Separation of Church and State: U.S. Public Opinion Polls, from ReligousTolerance.org
Nov 25, 2008
A war on teacher tenure is about to break out.
Doug Ross, Superintendant of the high-functioning Detroit charter school, University Preparatory Academy, has said getting rid of tenure is one of two necessary steps to effective education reform, as we reported in The Next Step. Michelle Rhee, the hard-driving chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools, and an alumna of the forward-looking Teach for America program, has put her money (obtained from private foundations) where her mouth is, suggesting she will offer teachers pay raises as high as $40,0001 if they will give up their tenure rights.
There probably isn’t a public school principal in the nation who couldn’t point to one or more tenured members of their staff they would fire in a New York minute if they could. In fact, most people involved in public schools—students, other teachers, staff, and paraprofessionals—know who these bad apples are, typically teachers who have been around forever, have long ago lost their taste for children and teaching, and are just coasting along on decades-old lesson plans, or no plan at all.
The problem is that public schools are public and, as such, are inextricably a part of the political process. Teachers’ unions fought long and hard for tenure as a means of protecting their membership against arbitrary and politically or financially based firings that had little or nothing to do with performance. Additionally, classroom performance is devilishly difficult to assess in an ongoing, comprehensive, and objective manner.
Inarguably, our schools—and our children—are in deep trouble. Graduation rates below 50% plague inner-city schools, and the national graduation rate of around 68.6% (2006)2 is nothing to brag about when most decent-paying employment requires more than a high school education. Today’s children are the first generation in America less likely to graduate from high school than their parents,3 and school systems around the world are beating our pants off, particularly in the vital areas of science and math.
Were tenure to disappear tomorrow, we would be no closer to solving these problems. It will take a full-court press on the failures of the public school system—cultural, societal, parental, and political, as well as professional failures—to bring American schools closer to the standards set today in Asian and some European systems.
The Seed School model, which removes inner-city children from their blighted environment, may be what is required on a massive scale to save many of our children. For others the intensive attention paid to students in schools such as Ross’s noted above or the schools DuFour, et al., write about in Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn may be what is required. Certainly, we must recruit and retain the highest level of professionals to staff our systems, and we must pay Michelle Rhee-like salaries to do so.
Title II is a federal program that allocates $3 billion annually to promoting teacher and principal quality. The Education Sector, in its recent report, Title 2.0: Revamping the Federal Role in Education Human Capital (.pdf), recommends a reallocation of those funds to bring, in some cases, revolutionary reform to teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation.
Finally, however, we must confront the failure of the 150-year-old public school model itself—the custodial, plant-based, hierarchical, curriculum-centered (rather than student-centered), technologically backward model that is no longer sustainable in, or relevant to, a 21st century world.
1 A School Chief Takes on Tenure, Stirring a Fight, by Sam Dillon, from the New York Times, November 12, 2008 (Accessed November 21, 2008)
2 Public High School Graduation Rates, from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (Accessed November 21, 2008)
3 Counting on Graduation (.pdf), by Anna Habash, from the Education Trust, quoting OECD, Education at a Glance 2007: OECD Indicators, Indicate A1, Table A1.2a (Accessed October 29, 2008)
Nov 24, 2008
Zionism, like apartheid, is a lost cause, and it is only a matter of time before it is consigned to history. Whether the Israeli people will take themselves down with it remains to be seen.
Author Joel Kovel, in his book, Overcoming Zionism (Pluto Press, 2007), argues that “only a single-state secular democracy can provide the justice essential to healing the wounds of the Middle East,”1 and we agree.
Kovel traces the history of Zionism, from Theodore Herzl to the present, and shows how its essentially racist policies are aimed not so much at subjugating the Palestinian people as they are at driving them entirely from the lands the Zionists believe is theirs by God-given right. An ardent advocate for acknowledging our common humanity, Kovel is essentially a “One-Worlder,” who understands that nationhood is a two-edged sword which, in its exclusionary, xenophobic, and inherently expansionary roles impedes the cause of world peace.
We know from hard-won experience that separate is inherently unequal. The walls must come down, the borders must be erased, the people must learn to live in a single, secular state. Impossible? Not so impossible as maintaining the status quo or forging an unjust, unequal, and futile two-state solution.
Thankfully, Zionism is a fading ideal in Israel, where the majority of the population now favor peace. They will move even closer to it when they realize they cannot live separate from the people they displaced. Can it happen? Can the Berlin Wall collapse without a single shot being fired? Can apartheid disappear without a drop of blood being spilt? Can America put a Black man in the White House?
Anything can happen.
1 Overcoming Zionism, Product Description, from Amazon.com (Accessed November 19, 2008)
Nov 23, 2008
If the Obama administration doesn’t hit the ground running, it won’t be because the cities are dragging their feet. For a measly $24.5 billion (a tenth of the amount Treasury Secretary Paulson has already handed out to banks and investment houses, although we still do not know who has gotten what, and it hasn’t made much of a difference, has it?), the cities are ready to go with 4,591 infrastructure projects in 153 cities and in ten different categories, including energy, transit, highway, airport, Amtrak, water/wastewater, public safety, and school and public housing modernization.
In a press release from the United States Conference of Mayors, they state the projects are ready to go and could be started and completed in 2009. The projects would create more than a quarter of a million good-paying jobs.1
For a complete list of projects, costs, and employment figures, see the conference’s report, Ready-to-Go Projects (.pdf).
A boost to our sagging infrastructure and some major relief for our soaring unemployment! We hope Obama is listening, and we hope Paulson hasn’t emptied the whole $700 billion purse into his cronies’ pockets by January 20.
Update, Jan 13, 2009: The Conference of Mayors has released its third report. It now has over 15,000 ready-to-go projects in 641 cities capable of producing over 1.22 million jobs.2
1 Press Release (.pdf), November 14, 2008 (Accessed November 18, 2008)
2 Press Release (.pdf), December 19, 2008 (Accessed January 13, 2009)
Nov 22, 2008
Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy that says, “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.”1 The usually level-headed Rand Corporation has fallen into this common error in its latest study on teenage pregnancy, which, in their news release, claims it is the “First to Link Viewing of Sexual Content on Television to Subsequent Teen Pregnancy.” This is not to say that watching a lot of sex on television does not lead to a tendency to become pregnant. However, it is just as logical to conclude that a tendency to become pregnant leads to watching a lot of sex on television.
We don’t personally know the current state of sexuality on television, being blissfully unencumbered by that annoyance; however, we are pretty sure it can’t hold a candle to the current state of sexuality on the Internet. There, if you can Google it, you can find it, in full-screen video. And we are sure it is having a far more profound effect on teen sexual activity than watching Tony Soprano climb on top of some pneumatic extra on HBO.
Among more certifiable truths regarding teen sexuality are these: Teen births declined precipitously from 60 births per 1,000 teens age 15 to 19 in 1991 to 40 in 2005. There was a slight increase in 2006.2 The abortion rate has also enjoyed significant declines since 1990, as we noted in No Sex, Please, We’re Abstaining. We expect when the new administration scuttles the ridiculous “abstinence only” sex education requirements associated with federal support of various family planning programs here and abroad that the abortion rate will be reduced even more dramatically.
The fact of the matter may just be that all this sex we are awash in is doing us more good than harm! A recent study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence3 finds that “teens who have sex at an early age may be less inclined to exhibit delinquent behavior in early adulthood than their peers who waited until they were older to have sex.”4 Sex may even help these teens in developing better social relationships in early adulthood.
Nov 21, 2008
Speaking of transparency in government (which we were speaking of only yesterday in The See-Through Government), the Government Printing Office provides a great online resource containing way more information than you will ever need on who’s who in appointed (non-competitive) positions in the Executive and Legislative branches and various independent agencies of the federal government—the “plums,” in other words.
As we noted a few days ago, in Your Tax Dollars At Work, there are over 2.7 million federal employees. Many of them are civil servants in competitive positions, of course, but this resource is useful in finding out who is really running things, or disrupting them every four years, depending on your point of view.
Pay codes are noted, and you can check the 2009 Government Pay Schedule for help in decoding them. Bookmark for future reference. Also of great value is The Prune Book, which contains detailed job descriptions of agency heads and major subordinates.
Now, let’s see if Obama includes email addresses in the next edition.
Nov 20, 2008
Is anyone paying attention? Probably not, since our government has been moving rapidly from a right-to-know to a need-to-know basis for the past eight, 30, 200 years or so. And for the past eight at least, our government has decided we need to know pretty much nothing beyond the barest and most mundane matters.
Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Secrecy is for losers.” A democracy requires an informed citizenry to function properly, yet as far back as the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention (both held outside public view), our federal government, especially the Executive branch, has preferred to act under a cloak of secrecy from the public it represents. According to Bill Moyers, “LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony” for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 and Gerald Ford, with the urging of a trio of characters in his administration named Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Scalia, actually vetoed FOIA amendments in 1974 (and saw his veto easily overridden by Congress).
Now, scores of organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, spearheaded by OMBWatch, have joined forces as the “21st Century Right to Know Project.” They have produced a comprehensive report detailing secrecy in government, together with 70 recommendations to the Obama administration for opening up government to public scrutiny, entitled Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda (.pdf).
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests can take decades to fulfill.1,2 And secrecy comes in many flavors, including utilizing multiple levels of classification of documents, misleading the public and Congress, punishing whistleblowers, censoring scientists, and violating the Constitution with warrantless surveillance or detentions, all of which have been defining characteristics of the Bush administration. The report reveals many other such ploys.
At Change.gov the Obama administration is already displaying a greater level of transparency than we have been used to in recent times. Let’s ramp up our attention level now, both to become better informed about those who exercise real power over our economic and social futures, and to make sure this trend toward transparency continues.
1 40 Years of FOIA; 20 Years of Delay, from the National Security Archive, July 2, 2007 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
2 Freedom of Information Delays Take Years, by Richard Wolf, from USA Today, June 18, 2007 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
Nov 19, 2008
We’re sorry, but we’re going to keep harping on poor people until we get rid of them.
Poor people cost us money. When they get sick, they jack up our health insurance premiums with their uninsured visits to emergency rooms; when desperation drives them to crime, they fill our overfull prisons; they are responsible for scores of expensive local, state, and federal safety-net-type programs, from food stamps to SCHIP to WIC to you-name-it; and too many of them vote Republican which, as we know, costs us all real money.
A short report from the Working Poor Families Project entitled Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short explodes many of the myths surrounding working poor families, and reports how their numbers have skyrocketed during a period of solid economic growth.
A low-income working family (LIWF) is defined as a married-couple or single-parent family with at least one child under the age of 18 earning less than 200 percent of the poverty income threshold as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2006, that was $41,228 for a family of four. It is worthwhile to remember that the poverty income threshold is higher than a full-time job earns at the federal minimum wage, never mind 200 percent of that threshold. And 22 percent of all jobs, more than one in five, pay less than the poverty income threshold.
Nov 18, 2008
Money in politics. Whether viewed as the 800-pound gorilla or the elephant in the room, it is the animal we seem doomed to have to live with. Try as we might, we cannot tame this beast, which grows more voracious at each election cycle. We recall being appalled at the $60 million Nixon’s re-election committee raised in 1972. Today, that’s chump change even in 2008 dollars, as the presidential campaigns for the first time this year passed the billion-dollar mark in revenues raised.1
The Campaign Finance Institute has given us a revealing “First Look at Money in the House and Senate Elections”—a first look because a few races are still unresolved. Among the most notable results:
Nov 17, 2008
Okay, our guy is busily naming his inner-circle aides (too many of whom are right of center) and floating ideas for cabinet secretaries (too many of whom are right of center). He has received thousands of job applications, met with Bush, started a commendable web site (change.gov), gone puppy shopping, and is generally getting himself ready for the big day.
What about the rest of us?
How do we continue that great leap of faith that brought us to the polls on November 4, audaciously hoping for change? Because if Obama’s past actions and present maneuverings are any indication, he is going to have to have a lot of help, with much pressure and many loud voices brought to bear, to move him toward doing the right things—and there are so many right things that need doing.
Frankly, we are not sure how best to organize the progressive voice we want speaking loudly and clearly to the White House. However, we do know the Internet is a powerful organizational tool, and we have been taking advantage of the Information Superhighway to speak truth to power for some time now, singly and in unison with many others. Here are a few ways we have found to participate and support the cause; you might look to “climb aboard” the Obama Express by joining one or more of these groups, too. We will bring others to your attention as they come to ours:
Nov 16, 2008
A new political dawn is breaking in America. A black Democrat is on his way into the White House with a large mandate—and expectation—for change.
How did it all happen? A look at three selected national maps will tell a large part of the tale. Open these in separate tabs or windows, so you can go from one to the other. (Hint for Internet Explorer or Firefox users: right click the links):
Nov 15, 2008
Do the math.
$6.55 x 40 hours x 52 weeks = $13,624.
If Obama wants to stimulate the economy, he can do a far better job of it than by sending middle class Americans another rebate check, lowering their taxes, raising taxes on the rich, freezing mortgage foreclosures, paying businesses $3,000 for every new domestic hire, or bailing out General Motors. These are all ideas that have been floated recently and it is not to say that some of them aren’t excellent ideas that should be implemented on January 21, if possible (others aren’t and shouldn’t). However, we have an even better idea. On top of immediately infusing a big percentage of the work force with some disposable income, our idea will right a long-standing wrong and eliminate working class poverty in America overnight:
Double the federal minimum wage.
It is immoral to pay a full-time worker less than a living wage. This is the meaning of 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the Scripture says, ... ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’”1
For additional statistics regarding the minimum wage, poverty thresholds, and a living wage, click the Poverty or Economics tags in the left-hand column.
We can fiddle with the obscene wealth of the top one percent and fuss with bailouts and middle class tax cuts until the cows come home. But if we want to take a giant step toward redistributing wealth appropriately in this country, we should start by respecting the value of our labor. It matters not whether you flip burgers, clean toilets, or manage a hedge fund. Full-time labor is worthy of a living wage, and the 25 percent of the population currently earning less than that—yes, one out of every four workers!—should demand it, and those of us earning more should stand in solidarity with them.
Anything less in the richest country in the world is bad politics, bad governance, and just plain wrong.
1 Parallel Translations, at Biblos.com, quoting the New American Standard Bible. See also Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7.
Nov 14, 2008
Nov 13, 2008
If you like challenging puzzles (or have a friend who does), do yourself (or them) a big favor and buy The DC Puzzler: The Book of Mystery-Theme Double-Crostics. Proceeds will support expenses for this web site.
Click here for a sample puzzle, then print out the resulting page in landscape.
Double-crostics superficially resemble crossword puzzles, but are both more fun and more challenging. And they actually have a purpose: the working out of a funny, profound, moving, or merely diverting quotation by a noted author. The book contains full directions on solving double-crostics.
Our puzzles introduce a new wrinkle to the old format. Each puzzle has a theme suggested by something in the quotation, and the theme is hidden throughout all the other parts of the puzzle. Discovering the theme then becomes a useful—and sometimes necessary—component in solving the puzzle.
This volume (we have others in the works) contains 60 puzzles, each with a different quotation from one of the 56 short stories and 4 novellas in the Sherlock Holmes canon. But don’t worry—you don’t have to know anything about Holmes in order to solve the puzzles and enjoy the quotations (well, it might help a little on a couple of them).
Send a check made out to Dale Copps for $14.95 for each copy desired and mail it to:
Nov 12, 2008
We write this piece five days before the election, although it will not appear until eight days after it is over. Today, the radio, newspapers, television, and Internet are abuzz with efforts by the Republicans to limit the Democratic vote: to purge voter rolls1; to intimidate new, elderly, and minority voters2; to deny paper ballot alternatives where electronic voting machines have proven defective3,4; to ensure long lines in Democratic districts5; to fool the unwary into turning up to vote on Wednesday6; to produce ballots so confusing as to guarantee many voters won’t vote for the candidate of their choice.7
If we cannot agree that we should make every effort to find, register, and bring to the polls all qualified voters;
If we cannot agree to invite, welcome, and inform new, elderly, and minority voters;
If we cannot agree to offer every voter who is unsure of the reliability of electronic voting machines the alternative of a paper ballot;
If we cannot agree to provide sufficient voting booths or machines at every polling station, and to keep those stations open long enough for voters to cast their ballots efficiently and expeditiously;
If we cannot agree to vigorously pursue, prosecute, and imprison anyone guilty of dirty tricks intended to limit voter turnout;
If we cannot agree to produce simple, clear ballots that can be easily understood by any literate American;
If we cannot agree that the right to vote is the most precious and fundamental right a free people can bestow on themselves;
If we cannot agree on these principles, then we cannot agree on anything; our Constitution is a sham; “We the People” is a sham; and our promise to the world, to ourselves, and to our posterity is a cruel and malicious deception.
1 U.S. judge orders Colo. to stop purging voter rolls, from USA Today, October 31, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
2 Legislators voice concern about voter intimidation in St. Paul police pay campaign, by Mara H. Gottfried, from TwinCities.com (The St. Paul Pioneer Press web site), October 31, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
3 U.S. judge orders backup paper ballots in PA, from USA Today, October 29, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
4 Vote Flipping on Touch Screens in WV, from Bradblog.com (Accessed October 31, 2008)
5 Long lines, glitches reported during early voting, from CNN, October 28, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
6 Phony Flyer Tells Virginia Democrats to Vote Wednesday, November 5, by Karen Hatter, from NowPublic.com, October 28, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
7 Voting Rights Watch: Could confusing ballots swing the presidential election in NC?, from The Institute for Southern Studies, October 20, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
Nov 11, 2008
Here’s how bad it’s gotten. The United States is the “only industrialized country in the world in which today’s young people are less likely than their parents to have completed high school.”1 In other words, as far as educating ourselves, we peaked during the last generation and are now on our way downhill.
Furthermore, over one in three African-American and Hispanic students fail to graduate high school on time, and overall graduation rates for these populations are abysmal, in some cases under 50 percent.
The report from The Education Trust entitled Counting On Graduation indicates the wide range of expectations set by the states for graduation rates, and the ridiculously low goals they establish for improvements. This latter is owing to a weakness in the No Child Left Behind law which leaves to the states the setting of minimum graduation rate improvements to be met annually. In some cases, the annual targets, if met each year, would not raise graduation rates to their ultimate goals until sometime well after 2100.
The numbers game is not a game, and the next administration will, to our peril, treat education in as cavalier and cynical a manner as the last one has. Neglected human capital winds up in jail, on the streets, on the dole, and in emergency rooms, costing us enormous big bucks out of our pockets, not to mention the unwritten words, the unimagined artifacts, and the stillborn insights which, had we treasured and nourished one another’s potential as we ought, might have accrued to the welfare and delight of us all.
1 Counting on Graduation, by Anna Habash, from the Education Trust, quoting OECD, Education at a Glance 2007: OECD Indicators, Indicate A1, Table A1.2a (Accessed October 29, 2008)
Nov 10, 2008
Over 19 million people work for local, state, and federal government in the U.S. That is over six percent of the total population—men, women, kids, retirees, everybody. And it is over 12 percent of the total civilian workforce of 154 million—one in every eight and one-third workers.1
Something just under 9 million government employees—almost half—work in local and state education.2 An additional 7.5 million work in local and state government, providing hospital and police services (slightly under 1 million each); corrections (three-quarters of a million); highways and public welfare (half a million each); and a host of other services at lesser numbers. Eight thousand state workers staff liquor stores.
The executive branch of the federal government accounts for the lion’s share of 2,713,000 federal employees, employing 2,649,000 of them, leaving only 30,000 and 33,800 employees for the legislative and judicial branches respectively.
We thought you might like to know why the other seven and one-third of us have to work so hard.
1 Economic Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 3, 2008 (Accessed October 27, 2008)
2 2007 Census of Governments Counts 16 Million State and Local Employees, from the U.S. Census Bureau, October 22, 2008 (Accessed October 27, 2008)
Nov 09, 2008
“Research confirms what common sense suggests: parents are central to the educational success of their children.” This conclusion comes from One Dream, Two Realities: Perspectives of Parents on America’s High School, by John M. Bridgeland, et al., from Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The study was based on a survey of 1,006 parents of current or recent high school students from urban, suburban, and rural areas of the country. There are currently 25 million parents who have children in high school. The survey categorized high schools as high performing or low performing based on the proportion of students from those schools who went on to college. This is probably a more defensible criterion today than in the past. A high school education alone is simply not adequate to prepare a student for the demands of a high-tech, knowledge-based, 21st century world.
Among the findings:
Nov 08, 2008
The Southeast is experiencing a profound and extended drought, and the situation is not likely to improve. With a growing population and the impact of global warming on communities and their rivers, policymakers need to get clever about assuring a supply of clean water to present and future generations. After all, they aren’t building any new rivers, and rainfall has become quite erratic around the world.
This is one area where conservation will play a key role. Hidden Reservoir: Why Water Efficiency is the Best Solution for the Southeast, by Jenny Hoffner, from American Rivers, argues that water efficiency, rather than more dams and other costly alternatives, can assure cost-effective water supply to the Southeast. Their nine-point efficiency plan is one that should be considered nationwide:
Nov 07, 2008
Charter schools, vouchers, school choice, No Child Left Behind, blah, blah, blah. We are awash in jargon and unfunded mandates and a generalized sense of desperation surrounding the state of K-to-post-grad education in America, and with good reason. (See our Panic Time for a few good reasons.) The question is, “What Next?” Because the time for “next” is most emphatically now. As we contemplate a new administration in January, we have an opportunity for a new vision and a new direction in American education. There are people and programs that are already living that new direction, and we will go in search of them between now and inauguration day.
We start with the Progressive Policy Institute and its memo To: The Next President; Re: Closing the Graduation Gap by Giving Schools Greater Autonomy (.pdf), by Doug Ross, Superintendent of the University Preparatory Academy in Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit has an abysmal graduation rate of only 25 percent for its boys, and only 32 percent overall. Better inner-city schools catering to poor Black and Hispanic students still enjoy graduation rates hovering around 50 percent.
Ross’s charter school, on the other hand, which he helped start eight years ago, “graduated 93 percent of its entirely African-American, overwhelmingly poor senior class in June 2007, and enrolled 91 percent of those graduates in college or technical school.” They have now re-enrolled for their second year at rates above the statewide average for all freshmen.
How does he and the 50 other similarly constituted schools throughout the U.S. do it? Ross points to four characteristics they all have in common:
Nov 06, 2008
With the election of Barack Obama, we have consulted our better selves and taken a step back from the brink. It is not a giant step, and it does not include an about-face.
We are ten trillion dollars in debt; two futile and unwinnable wars continue to rage while opportunities for effective resistance to our enemies are squandered or ignored; our vicious, inhuman, and unilateral militarism, which both Washington and Eisenhower warned us against, oppresses the world; one in every six Americans is without protection against ill health and the other five are abused by a hugely expensive, inefficient, and underperforming system; rampaging, unregulated capitalism dominates our economy and our elected officials, enriching a tiny few at the expense of American business, the American worker, our world, and future generations; and fewer children are graduating high school today than did their parents a generation ago.
Obama has done little to address these issues head on and, when he has, his responses have been equivocal and his proffered solutions inadequate or wrongheaded. He is surrounded by advisers from the failed Clinton administration, starting with his new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (whom Nader describes as a “militarist reactionary,”1) and he has alienated both the Muslim world and the American and Israeli Jewish majority yearning for peace by continuing our ham-handed defense of the increasingly isolated radical Jewish right. Through his votes he has explicitly supported domestic spying and implicitly corroborated in the war crimes and unconstitutional acts of the Bush administration.
And yet...and yet.
To be witness to the election of a smart, sane, compassionate African-American to the highest office in the land is the culmination of a dream which even Martin Luther King might not have imagined he would see had he been granted a normal lifespan. He would have been 80 years old on Inauguration Day.
With all due respect to the memory of Ronald Reagan, January 20, 2009, will bring us a true Morning in America, the first since that chilly day in March 1933.
As for what the rest of that day will bring us, that is up to us. It will bring us, as all days bring us, precisely and solely what we make of it.
1 Hold Your Heads Up High, an email communication dated and accessed November 5, 2008
Nov 05, 2008
Let us hope today, which we are writing about on October 25, is not as horrific an aftermath as that depicted in the TV film “The Day After” 25 years ago.1
We have lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation our entire life. How can this world continue to tolerate the anxiety and the threat of these weapons? Some signs point to the possibility that it cannot and will not continue to tolerate them. Most leaders of nuclear nations have expressed interest in reducing the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. is actively reducing our own.2 Nevertheless, much remains to be done to move efforts along aimed at zero nuclear weapons in a world where the global development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes is set to expand significantly in the next generation.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced a reported entitled Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: Why the United States Should Lead, by George Perkovich. Billed as “Foreign Policy for the Next President,” it sets out “four security interests that would be served by making the long-term project of abolishing nuclear weapons a central purpose of U.S. policy:
Nov 04, 2008
One hundred and twenty-two million people—60.6 percent of eligible voters—voted in the 2004 election. Higher numbers are predicted for today, although they are unlikely to go as high as 200 million, which some have predicted.1
The 2000 election debacle resulted in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. This federal program provided money to the states which, constitutionally, are in charge of elections in this country The money was for purposes of improving the administration of federal elections. In some cases, it has been spent wisely and appropriately, and in other cases it has been spent to obfuscate, complicate, befuddle, and, finally, to disenfranchise those voters most likely to vote for progressive and Democratic candidates.2
Today, we find out whether the misappropriation of HAVA funds, together with the dirty tricks and voter intimidation tactics of the Republican Party and the racism marbled through the layers of our society will propel an unqualified and dangerous candidate into the White House.
Woe unto our nation—and our world—if it does.
1 Record Turnout Likely for 2008 General Election, by Meghan Loftus, from America.gov, October 2, 2008 (Accessed October 25, 2008)
2 Help America Vote Act, Criticisms from Wikipedia (Accessed October 25, 2008)
Nov 03, 2008
Tomorrow you will vote in the most important and momentous election in your lifetime. It is no exaggeration to say the future of our world hangs in the balance.
Some of you won’t vote for fear of being arrested if you show up at the polls, or you will go to the wrong address, or you will get tired of waiting for hours in line, or your ballot will be thrown out for any of a dozen reasons, or you won’t show up until the day after tomorrow because Democrats have been scheduled to vote on Wednesday owing to the expected heavy turnout.
We will never know how many hundreds of thousands of votes will be lost through these Republican shenanigans.
Our country is in the midst of a bloodless fascist takeover. A conspiracy of far, far right ideologues have gotten all the fools on their side, and when you do that, as Frank Dane said, you can be elected to anything. Particularly if you are ready, willing, and able to resort to any unethical and criminal act necessary to assure that election.
We have been agonizing over our vote for many months. The Republicans and Democrats have put up candidates whose positions on the vital issues of the day—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the fiscal, health care, and educational crises; the erosion of our Constitutional rights—are essentially the same. That one of the candidates is an intelligent, articulate, and charismatic black man only adds to the frustration we feel at his illiberal and short-sighted policies.
In contrast, our views—as well as the majority views of the American public—have had a voice in Ralph Nader’s independent candidacy. Nader understands, as Eisenhower did, the peril of ceding our freedoms to a corporate plutocracy that has co-opted and now controls both major parties and, as a result, the political future of our country. If this stranglehold is not broken, and soon, America will cease even paying lip service to its ideals, let alone having the capacity to continue pursuing them.
Nader will not win tomorrow, because the fearful American population does not have the courage of its convictions. Instead, McCain or Obama will win, and when we contemplate the possibility of the former’s accession to the White House, we are filled with horror. Despite the apparent similarity of their views on the defining issues of the day, there is an enormous difference between the two men. To the extent McCain is not lock-stock-and-barrel a captive of the corporate plutocracy, he is an erratic, choleric, vengeful, and ignorant old man, sick in body and mind, and seconded by a vice presidential candidate unfit for public office. Although we believe he will be victorious tomorrow (see yesterday’s Out on a Limb), if we believed we played the smallest part in that victory, we could never live with ourselves.
Regretfully, we will vote for Obama.
Nov 02, 2008
Writing this eleven days, and running it two days, before election, we don’t think one needs to go very far out on a limb to predict a McCain victory.
A full-court press against America’s right to vote—for the Democratic presidential nominee at any rate—will assure a close election goes to the Republican, as it did in 2000 and 2004. How do we know this? Let us count the ways (and many more have come to light than we summarize below):
Nov 01, 2008
Here are a few items noted with interest over the past month:
Oct 31, 2008
There’s a title of a book that has come into parlance now, Clash of Civilizations. There are a lot of people, I think, both in the west and in the Muslim world who believe in the clash of civilizations, who want to see the world as a place dominated by two irrevocably hostile blocks. I don’t want to live in that kind of world. I think that we live in an interconnected world full of rich, flawed, varied civilizations that are inextricably intertwined. So what I am doing in Afghanistan is working for that intertwined world.1Sarah Chayes resigned her position as a reporter for National Public Radio in 2002. She had been covering the fall of the Taliban and the post-Taliban era in Afghanistan. She decided to stay in Kandahar and has since devoted her life to helping the Afghan people find a safe, profitable, and legal route toward self-determination and self-sufficiency. Her cooperative skin-care business, Arghand, established in 2005, has begun to wean local farmers from dependence on an opium crop, and is successfully exporting its natural products to the U.S. and Canada.
Oct 30, 2008
If anything illustrates the failure of American education over the past thirty years, it is the calibre of elected representatives we have seen passing through the portals of our legislative and executive offices, especially at the federal level. An ignorant electorate elects inappropriate representatives.
That a man of McCain’s temperament, age, health, and political outlook can be in the running for the presidency of what its citizens like to think of as the greatest country in the history of the world is sufficient argument by itself to condemn our educational system as bankrupt.
And indeed, education in this country is on a steady downhill skid. We are falling behind China and Korea in the highest levels of basic scientific research,1 and graduating too few engineering students.2 We are also lagging behind other western countries in numbers of our citizens graduating from post-secondary colleges and universities. Only three countries associated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)3 have a higher rate of completing post-secondary education among 45 to 54 year olds than America (Russia, Canada, and Israel); however, nine countries have higher rates among 25 to 34 year olds, and others are catching up.4 High school graduation rates are lower than 50 percent in some inner-city schools.5
Meanwhile, low-end jobs are drying up as computers and robots take over more of the load. Manufacturing is disappearing overseas, taking with it the sorts of assembly line jobs that could be performed with only a high-school education.
Income, health, and education—these are the three pillars of modern civilization, and we are neglecting all of them. Our minimum wage is far below a living wage6; we expend twice what other OECD countries do for health care with signficantly inferior results7; and we fail to prepare our citizens for the demands of the 21st century world.
In turning over our polity to the rapacious instincts of an unregulated capitalism, we have betrayed the social contract that defines a just and democratic nation.
1 U.S. Innovation: On the Skids, by Gary Anthes, from ComputerWorld, October 21, 2008 (Accessed October 23, 2008)
2 Trouble on the Horizon, from the American Society of Engineering Education, October 2006 (Accessed October 23, 2008)
3 The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a member-funded organization comprising 30 countries. Russia and Israel are in the process of joining OECD, but are not yet full members.
4 Changing the Game: The Federal Role in Supporting 21st Century Educational Innovation, by Sara Mead (New America Foundation) and Andrew J. Rotherham (Education Sector), October 16, 2008 (Accessed October 23, 2008)
5 Big Cities Battle Dismal Graduation Rates, from CBS News, April 1, 2008 (Accessed October 23, 2008)
6 Minimum wage increasingly lags poverty line, from Economic Policy Institute, January 31, 2007 (Accessed October 23, 2008)
7 OECD in 2006-2007—Health spending and resources, from OECD (Accessed October 23, 2008)
Oct 29, 2008
The Clean Water Act is 36 years old this month. For those Americans who want government to get out of their faces, take note:
Oct 28, 2008
Can we agree we need to breathe, and that the air we need to do so comes from green things, the same things that, miraculously, absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide that we exhale? And if we agree on this, how can we not agree to preserve our environment so that there are enough green things left in it to produce that loverly air?
Not everyone does agree, however, and it is quite distressing to see how closely the states that don’t agree1 match up with the states that are expected to vote for John McCain.2
The needs of a struggling world are slowly—inevitably—making themselves felt, however, even if not quickly enough for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the nonpartisan group advocating for sound environmental policies. Their 2008 National Environmental Scorecard shows significant gains over 2007, with 67 House and 27 Senate members earning scores of 100 percent versus 33 and 3, respectively, in 2007. The House shows some backsliding on the other end in 2008, with 70 House and 2 Senate members earning scores of 0 percent, as against 48 House and 9 Senate members in 2007.
Obama did not vote in nine of the 11 crucial environmental issues in 2008. His pro-environment vote in two of them therefore earns him an 18 percent score for 2008, although LCV gives him a lifetime score of 72 percent. McCain did not vote either way on any of the 11 issues, making him one of the two senators with a 0 percent score (the other, David Vitter [R-LA], voted against all 11 environmental issues). McCain’s LCV lifetime score is 24 percent.
What in the name of heaven is the matter with these Republicans?
1 National Environmental Scorecard, from the League of Conservation Voters (Accessed October 21, 2008)
2 Election Day Map Today, from Polltrack.com (Accessed October 21, 2008)
Oct 27, 2008
It is common knowledge by this time that middle-class incomes (the kind the two of us probably enjoy) have remained flat over the course of the Bush 2 administration, while the rich have gotten richer and the richest among the rich have become fabulously wealthy. To note but one startling statistic: In 2005, the poorest 20 percent of American households had $380 billion in income, while the top 1 percent had a $520 billion increase in income.1
Our national wealth is soaring to the top, and it is not trickling down.
But that’s old news. Some new news has just been reported by OpenSecrets.org the web site of the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a watchdog group that tracks money in U.S. politics.
With a recession settling in, unemployment rising, a huge bailout emptying our children’s pockets of another $850 billion in public funds (ours were already empty), how are our brave and doughty legislators making out during this perfect economic storm? Just fine, thank you.
OpenSecret’s report title says it all: As Economic Storm Brewed, Congressional Wealth Grew 11% Last Year. McCain retained his position among the 61 millionaire senators and Obama joined that group for the first time in 2007. During these doldrum years for the middle class, the average member of Congress saw their net worth soar 57 percent between 2004 and 2007.
CRP works hard to provide data on Congressional members’ net worth, given that disclosure requirements are not as stringent as they should be. Look into their Personal Financial Disclosures Database and see how your congressional delegation is doing. We got more than one surprise from ours.
At the least, you may look with a more informed eye on their next appeal for a campaign contribution.
1 Report Says That the Rich Are Getting Richer Faster, Much Faster, by David Cay Johnston, from the New York Times, December 15, 2007 (Accessed October 21, 2008)
Oct 26, 2008
Sarah Palin actually warned us, in her debate with Joe Biden, that "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people…"1
Without such forewarning, you might not have noticed, as you probably didn’t notice during the presidential debates, that the question asked of the candidates wasn’t always the question they answered.
A pair of studies by the Harvard Business School entitled Conversational Blindness: Answering the Wrong Question the Right Way reveals just how often this phenomenon occurs. In the first study, a questioner asks a question and the interviewee proceeds to answer some other unasked question, and we usually fail to notice! When the answer is to a similar question, most of us can’t even remember the original question.
More remarkably, the second study discovered that we will rate someone who provides a good answer to a question they weren’t asked more highly than we will rate someone who gives a poor answer to the question that was asked.
Maybe we’d better all have a closer look at those debates2,3,4,5. Sometimes the Straight Talk Express is the Fast Talk Express, and we’re the ones being taken for a ride.
1 Transcript of Palin, Biden Debate, from CNN, October 3, 2008 (Accessed October 21, 2008)
2 Full Vice Presidential Debate with Gov. Palin and Sen. Biden, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
3 Third 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
4 Second 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
5 First 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
Oct 25, 2008
We know now that in the 1950s, when we started building all those interstate highways, we should have been concentrating on rails, not roads. By 1970, private rail passenger service threw up its hands in despair and was taken over by the government, becoming the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (known to you and me as Amtrak). At the time of takeover, half the passenger service routes were shut down.
Since then, our passenger rail service has been limping along on poor customer relations and deteriorating trains and rail beds, living off government subsidies, and suffering a lot of bad press. But guess what? Amtrak is doing just fine.
In fact, they recently posted their sixth straight year of gains and set a record for passenger trips. And their gains were not limited to popular routes. Every Amtrak train across the country saw increased ridership (over 28.7 million, 11.1 percent more than last year) and revenues ($1.7 billion, a 14.2 percent increase). Their News Release tells a tale of a mass transit system which may yet play an important role in saving us from ourselves. On almost every route, increased ridership numbers have been exceeded by increased revenues, indicating riders are flocking to rail service in spite of higher fares.
This land was made for railroads. And, finally, we seem to know it.
Oct 24, 2008
The fiscal meltdown was a manifestation of a tendency that has increasingly infected American society, probably since the “Me Decade” of the 1970s—a growing inability to defer gratification. The masters of the universe who cooked their books during the 00’s did so in order to artificially boost their stock prices in the short run so they could claim huge performance-based bonuses. They invented impenetrable financial instruments they could quickly lay off in a deadly game of musical chairs, a Ponzi scheme they knew they were playing in a rush to claim nine-figure salaries. Their unwillingness to manage their companies with concern for anyone’s welfare—stockholders, customers, workers, or the company itself—in their mad dash for personal profit resulted in a cataclysm that has shaken the global economic system to its foundations.
Today, this unwillingness to defer gratification for the value of long-term goals is manifesting itself in one particularly unfortunate way, as noted by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) in their report, Short-Changing Our Future: America’s Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Approach to Supporting Tomorrow’s Scientists.
By now, our nation’s pitiful performance in educating a new generation of mathematicians and scientists is old news.1 We need more scientists with advanced degrees dedicating themselves to basic research; however, we are graduating fewer of them, and they are going over to industry, often with only a master’s degree, where they can make a good deal more money. Our technological future depends on basic scientific research, the kind that brought us fiber optics, the transistor, and the laser. Emerging high-tech sectors such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and clean energy depend on basic research carried out by scientists with advanced degrees in settings that are financially secure. None of these conditions prevails today in America, largely because of our cultural affinity for the quickest route to the short-term payoff.
By the same token, dedicated postdoctoral academic researchers are paid so much less even than graduates with a master’s degree who choose to go into industry that one cannot blame the university “brain drain” entirely on the pursuit of the quick buck. The PPI’s report makes clear the urgent need we have to bolster our support of education at the high end, as we need to bolster it from preschool through college.
We cannot afford to continue luring our best and brightest to MBA degrees with starting salaries of $92,000 plus, while paying the pittance of $50,000 to postdoctoral research scientists in their mid-30s. If there is no one figuring out the ins and outs of the next generation of high technology products, all the MBAs in the world won’t be able to sell them.
1 Science and Math Education Needs an Overhaul, Say Candidates During Final Debate, by Sarah Lai Stirland, from Wired, October 15, 2008 (Accessed October 19, 2008)
Oct 23, 2008
Harnessing computer power for purposes of enhancing information gathering and communications has revolutionized our lives and brought forth a brave new world in a far shorter time span than any comparable revolution—if there is any comparable revolution— in human history. Dramatic changes—in health care, in education, in practically every area of human endeavor—will continue to bombard us at a similar rate throughout the rest of our lives and this century. The shape and nature of the future from today’s embryonic perspective is unimaginable.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has identified and summarized many of the areas where our lives have been most impacted in their report, Digital Quality of Life: Understanding the Personal and Social Benefits of the Information Technology Revolution. They offer policymakers ten key principles to follow to empower their citizens to take full advantage of the digital revolution. Information Technology (IT) has improved individual lives in areas including education, health care, personal safety, and accessibility for the disabled. Globally, IT plays crucial roles in challenges involving the environment, energy, transportation, and public safety, as well as enhancing government services on all levels. It has revolutionized access to information in developing countries, spurring them on to greater levels of economic growth and democratic self-determination.
And yet...and yet. For all its wonders—and we are keenly aware of them because we sit in front of a computer for at least five hours a day seven days a week—we wonder to what extent all this technology is really bringing us together. Though at long last, to quote the old AT&T ad, “We're All Connected,” the extent to which that connection has worked to bring us together for the betterment of our species and our planet remains conjectural.
Although Kiva has introduced thousands of social investors to struggling entrepreneurs in developing countries, Democracy Now! has brought us essential intelligence ignored by the corporate-dominated media, and MoveOn.org and other grassroots Internet organizers have utilized our connectedness to forge multi-million-member activist and donor networks, we wonder to what extent the world has moved closer to understanding that, beyond being connnected to one another, we are responsible for one another. Though preached by every religion, this imperative is not embodied in any official national mission statement, even insofar as it might pertain solely to a nation’s own people.
Our species will endure only if we pursue optimal conditions for all living things, in the mature knowledge that being our brother’s keeper is not some altruistic fantasy, but a condition of our own survival.
1 The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing.
Oct 22, 2008
We may not vote for Obama, but should he win the White House anyway, we would love to work for him.
Last weekend, Polltrack’s Presidential Race Map projected Obama winning 273 electoral votes on Election Day, three more than needed to win. We think it likely, in light of the Republican Party’s full court press to disenfranchise as many of the Obama electorate as they possibly can (they’ve had eight years and two presidential elections to hone their skills in this regard) that Obama will have to win by a landslide—perhaps by as much as 20 percentage points—if he is to squeak into the White House.
If he does, he is going to be looking for a lot of help. Despite surrounding himself with Clinton-era advisers during the campaign, we hope Obama will wield the proverbial new broom once in the White House. If he does, considering the stranglehold Republicans have had on the federal government for thirty disastrous years, he will need to look far afield to gather a new set of subordinates. Many of them will be pretty clueless regarding the ins and outs of D.C. politics. The IBM Center for The Business of Government has rushed in to fill the gap in this knowledge with The Presidential Transition, a guide for government executives.
They offer mini-essays on “Six ‘To-Dos’”:
Oct 21, 2008
The decade has been obsessed with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the educational reform legislation enacted in the early years of the Bush 2 administration. In a world with increasingly few opportunities for unskilled labor, it has become essential that, for the first time in our history, we must teach all children to a higher standard. NCLB promised to do that through the establishment of clear standards for teachers and students to meet; an exchange of greater funding for more accountability in the schools; and a mechanism in the short run to allow students to transfer out of failing schools.
Today, just about everyone is unhappy with NCLB, and for good reasons. Though billions in additional federal funding were authorized for the program, the amount was grossly insufficient to reach NCLB’s goals. Furthermore, far less than even the inadequate amount authorized has been appropriated, with a gap between the two reaching a cumulative $85.7 billion between fiscal year 2002 and 2009.
Standards for academic content and student performance are the linchpin of NCLB, and the program has failed to spur the states to develop clear standards upon which to test teacher, student, and school accountability. In fact, allowing all 50 states to develop their own standards has resulted in chaos and confusion. Performance standards are also at wide variance among the states and are often set at unreasonably low levels in order to better attain the unrealistic 100 percent proficiency required by NCLB. Tests are of low quality and poorly scheduled. And accountability measurements, which can contain sanctions quite damaging to a school, create significant fairness issues owing to the variability of standards and assessments.
Teaching to a single standard will ultimately favor teaching those students on the cusp of meeting those standards, short-changing those who are hopelessly behind or already performing beyond the standard. Also, though socioeconomic status is the most important predictor of student achievement, teachers in poor schools are held to the exact same performance standards as those in rich schools, with no additional resources committed to them.
The student transfer provisions of NCLB represent perhaps the weakest element of the program, with only about 1 percent of students eligible to transfer out of failing schools actually doing so. The problem is there is nowhere to go. By limiting transfers within school districts, most parents see little point in transfering their child from a failing school to a nearly failing school. Though NCLB encourages cooperative agreements between districts to allow students to escape from poor inner-city ones, virtually none of the country’s suburban school districts has agreed to do this. Indeed, NCLB acts as a disincentive to break down economic segregation in our schools.
These and other weaknesses of the existing program are set forth in Improving on No Child Left Behind: Getting Education Reform Back on Track, by Richard D. Kahlenberg, et al., and published by The Century Foundation. Kahlenberg’s first chapter is available free of charge and summarizes the issues discussed above. He suspects the deliberate underfunding and other flaws of NCLB may be a ploy on the part of the Republican administration to set up public schools for failure in order to advance an agenda for privatizing American education. Paranoia? Perhaps, but altogether in keeping with the radical right agenda for shrinking government and privatizing everything in sight.
Kahlenberg’s recommendations for getting NCLB back on track are good ones. However, they are going to cost money. As argued in yesterday’s ATN entry, so will ending poverty and providing national health care. In fact, these incentives are going to require a significant attitude adjustment in the minds of the public and our elected officials. The first step in that adjustment is understanding that attending to these matters will ultimately—and not too distantly—result in a higher standard of living for everyone, as we work together to finally realize the American dream.
Oct 20, 2008
A couple of health-care-related reports came to our notice this week, different but not entirely unrelated.
From the New America Foundation comes a report warning against implementing an insurance plan favored by some members of Congress and by John McCain. Across State Lines Explained: Why Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines is Not the Answer warns that the worst part of this plan is that insurance companies would only have to abide by the laws of the state in which they were headquartered, and not the laws of the states in which they were selling their insurance. Yes, that’s right: More veiled deregulation.
According to the report, insurers selling across state lines would have an easier time cherry-picking healthy customers to insure and charging higher premiums to the elderly or less-healthy populations—or refusing to insure them at all—resulting ultimately in increasing even more the 90+ million people currently un- or underinsured.
Americans have been speaking up for years for single-payer, Medicare-type health care.1,2 Neither of the main presidential candidates has come out for such a plan, beholden as they both are to the insurance companies. Meanwhile, health care premiums have doubled during the Bush 2 administration.3 It is time to support those politicians, and only those, who do favor what the American people want.
The other report may fall into the “Well, duh!” category. America’s Health Starts with Healthy Children comes to us from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report, which examined children’s health in association with parental economic and educational factors, concludes, “Across the country and within every state, there are substantial shortfalls in the health of children based on their family’s income and education....”
In addition to having a general infant mortality rate worse than 41 other countries (including the Czech Republic, South Korea, and Cuba),4 the report finds that a greater proportion of children from poorer families enjoy less than optimal health than those from higher-income families. The gap is as wide as 44 percent to 7 percent in Texas, down to 13 percent versus 6.4 percent in New Hampshire.
Child obesity, neglecting to teach our children math and science skills, inequitable health care across economic lines, huge and growing income inequities, governmental inattention to the will of the people: these things must stop.
We must address the three pillars upon which our civilization and our collective well-being depend—income, health, and education—and we must end their inequitable distribution. The American people know how to do it, and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. It is our one-party political establishment, and the hammerlock hold the corporations have over it, that are impeding change.
1 Growing Health Care Concerns Fuel Cautious Support for Change (.pdf), an ABCNews/Washington Post Poll, October 13, 2003 (Accessed October 17, 2008)
2 Single-Payer Health Care, from Wikipedia (Accessed October 17, 2004)
3 Employer Health Benefits 2008 Annual Survey, from the Kaiser Family Foundation (Accessed October 17, 2008)
4 Rank Order - Infant Mortality Rate, from the CIA World Factbook, October 9, 2008 (Accessed October 17, 2008)
Oct 19, 2008
We know we are talking in billions and trillions these days—an $850 billion bailout for the financial industry; a $10 trillion national debt. A few millions must seem like chump change. But when Americans are struggling on $6.55 an hour (the current minimum wage), government waste of even $30 million rises to the level of a national disgrace and we should be howling to the hills about it.
This is how much the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wasted in a few short months in Mississippi alone through ineffective oversight of a small portion of the contracts given out to deal with the Katrina disaster. We can only wonder in amazement how much of our money was wasted overall.
After four firms were paid billions of dollars to set up trailer sites in the wake of Katrina, through contracts awarded on a sole source, noncompetitive basis, the outcry was so great that FEMA solicited new bids for maintenance and deactivation of mobile homes and for site maintenance. These contracts are the ones the GAO investigated and found were responsible for $30 million in wasteful and improper or potentially fraudulent payments to the contractors over an eight-month period from June 2006 to January 2007.
Their report, Hurricane Katrina: Ineffective FEMA Oversight of Housing Maintenance Contracts in Mississippi Resulted in Millions of Dollars of Waste and Potential Fraud (.pdf) outlines in agonizing detail the failure of this “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva a job” agency to perform its role with anything like proper attention to its responsibilities to its employer—us. However, finally, it is the employer’s responsibility to prevent these abuses. Which of our representatives is most likely to do so?
McCain speaks of an across-the-board spending freeze for the federal government—an impossible aim if were even desirable, as anyone over the age of 14 must know. Obama speaks of a careful examination of each line item of the national budget, eliminating programs that don’t work and bolstering those that do. Neither speaks to the kind of regulatory oversight we must bring to bear on all levels of government spending. It is way too late when the GAO brings out its reports. By then, the money is irretrievably lost. Government expenditures must be determined to be legitimate at a point before the check is cut, and to do that will require the sort of government restructuring that only Nader is talking of, and he is not going to be elected.
The next four years will be a time of building, perhaps under a more or less benign and right-thinking Obama administration, perhaps under a chaotic, irascible, and frankly terrifying McCain administration. But build we must, from the grassroots up through all levels of our self-governance.
Strap on your toolbelt, and let’s get cracking.
Oct 18, 2008
We’re pro-choice and anti-abortion. Abortion is a horrible experience for any woman to undergo; horrible for her mate, who is forced to be a hopelessly frustrated non-participant on the sidelines; horrible for families and friends. That it often is performed in consequence of a rape or an incestuous attack only makes it more horrible.
Happily, the numbers of abortions have been declining in America for the past generation, from a high of 1,429,247 in 1990 (that is 344 abortions for every 1,000 live births) to 839,226 in 2004 (or 238 for every 1,000 live births).1 That is still a hefty number—almost one abortion for every four live births. Too much suffering all around.
Most abortions in 2004 (33 percent) were performed on women in the 20- to 24-year age group. Sadly, 17 percent were performed on younger women and girls, most of whom had presumably not reached the age of independence. Over 4,300 abortions were performed on girls younger than 15. To speak of the decline of the family is almost to speak a cliche these days. And yet the numbers don’t lie. About half of all first marriages end in divorce, and the number goes up precipitously for second and third marriages.2 The percentage of single-parent households with children increased from 19.5 percent in 1980 to 28.3 percent in 2005. Drug law violations among delinquents have almost tripled between 1990 and 2004 and offenses against the public have more than doubled.3 Reported cases of child abuse (the tip of the iceberg if there ever was one) went up 30 percent between 1990 and 2005.4
So it was with some degree of anticipatory joy that the following press release caught our eye: The Effect of Parental Involvement Laws on the Incidence of Abortion Among Minors. “What!,” we exclaimed, ”There are laws now requiring parents to get involved with their children? What a great idea!”
Alas, no. The study, written by Michael J. New and published by the Family Research Council is merely another screed against abortion, this one posing as a scientific study. The “involvement“ is simply the levels of parental notification or consent required by various states when a child discovers herself to be pregnant, and the study purports to show how the more stringent the level of involvement is (on a scale from mere notification to two-parent consent), the lower the rate of abortion. Well, perhaps, but are we the only ones who find the following extract, with its multiple assaults upon a frightened, frantic fifteen- or sixteen-year old reduced to sciencespeak, overwhelmingly sad?
The regression results indicate that a number of different types of laws result in reductions in the minor abortion rate. Informed consent laws which provide women seeking abortion with information about public and private sources of support, health risks involved with an abortion, and fetal development reduce the minor abortion rate by 3.8 percent. This finding is statistically significant. The regression model finds that public funding restrictions reduce the minor abortion rate by 7.8 percent. This finding is also statistically significant. Finally, partial birth abortion bans have little effect on the minor abortion rate, a finding that is consistent with much of the academic and policy literature that has analyzed the effects of partial birth abortion laws.Harangue them, impoverish them, outlaw them if they wait too long, and if that doesn’t do the trick, rat them out to Mom and Dad. But for goodness sakes, don’t teach them how to take care of themselves in the first place, don’t let them hear about, let alone acquire, condoms or birth control information, despite the fact that we had sex and 75 percent of them are going to have sex before they’re 21, and we know it.5
Of more interest, however, are the effects of the parental involvement laws. The regression results indicate that the passage of a parental involvement law reduces the minor abortion rate by 13.6 percent....
Oct 17, 2008
Two hundred and fifty-eight parties have been thrown for members of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee so far in 2008. Many of them were hosted by lobbyists for the finance, insurance, and real estate industries, the very corporate giants that were bailed out in the recent rush to pour money into these industries without offering a penny of relief to homeowners and others strapped by usurious debt.
This report comes from The Sunlight Foundation, “co-founded in 2006 ... with the non-partisan mission of using the revolutionary power of the Internet to make information about Congress and the federal government more meaningfully accessible to citizens.”
Their press release, Financial Sector Fetes Lawmakers Making Bailout Decisions, says it collects hard-to-find information regarding these events—which slip under the radar of campaign finance laws—from sources whose anonymity is protected. From football games to beer-tasting events, the list goes on and on.
Sunlight’s web site rewards time spent plumbing its depths. We especially enjoyed the Earmarks Visualization page, showing in graphic detail how much each state benefited from those nasty giveaways. Guess which one enjoyed the highest per capita earmarks in 2005, more than three times the amount enjoyed by the state in second place? You got it. Alaska!
Oct 16, 2008
A wise fellow once said, “Life is half over before we know what it is.” Unless we live to be 126, our life is probably something more than half over, and past time for a moment’s reflection. In our view, life’s essential question is, “What matters?” It is a question one can only answer for oneself.
So what matters for us? We would say:
Oct 15, 2008
Our salvation, if we are to be saved, will rise up from the people, and will not trickle down from above. With a new administration on the horizon—whoever wins—that will retain the old links to their corporate masters, that will mortgage our future to its stubborn tunnel vision of dependence on military might, that will continue to erode constitutional rights in the name of national security, the time has come to begin the restructuring of our political system from the ground up.
It is therefore heartening to discover that lower levels of our governance structures—our state houses and municipal offices—are keenly aware of the problems we face and of their responsibility to take part in their amelioration. The National League of Cities, a lobbying organization representing 19,000 cities, villages, and towns, has published a report, Poverty and Economic Insecurity: Views from City Hall, revealing “that ninety percent of municipal leaders surveyed said that poverty has either increased or stayed the same in their cities over the past decade.”
The famous “War on Poverty” declared in the mid-sixties has been lost, as have our other wars launched since then. With a current poverty rate (12.3 percent) scarcely two points lower than at the “war’s” beginning (14.2 percent), and that based on outmoded calculation parameters which, if modernized, would almost surely indicate higher levels of poverty today, action needs to be taken on all levels to end this national disgrace. Happily, city leaders are taking responsibility:
Oct 14, 2008
If we were to retire and begin collecting Social Security as early as we could (age 62), our payments would be just about enough to purchase health insurance. We probably wouldn’t need it for long since, absent any funds for food, we would starve to death before too long.
The boomer generation, of which we are among the earliest, is approaching retirement age this year, and they have saved, on average, only $38,000, not counting pensions, homes, and social security.2 Those with qualified retirement plans such as 401(k)’s, have an average retirement savings of $88,000. Still that is only enough to generate an annual retirement income of about $5,000.
With the current meltdown of the international financial system, retirement considerations are coming to the forefront of most older people’s attentions. AARP has published a report summarizing the results of a poll taken in September entitled Retirement Security or Insecurity?: The Experience of Workers Aged 45 and Older. The poll assessed people’s expectations regarding their retirement years in light of the current fiscal troubles. Some of the report’s findings, if you are in this particular boat at the present time, may sound familiar:
Oct 13, 2008
With a preamble and 30 articles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is 60 years old this month, is considerably shorter, at 1,773 words, than the U.S. Constitution’s 4,449. Though Article 16, Paragraph 3 states “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society...,” the UDHR actually enshrines the individual as the primary unit, insulating them even from the occasional tyrannizing of the family.
It only takes about ten minutes to read the UDHR and we should all read it at least once a year, if only to remind ourselves that human society and its institutions—its governments, its laws, its economic systems—exist to serve the individual and that all individuals must enjoy equal access to, and equal rights in, the services of those institutions. Too often, in reality, are we instead called upon to serve them, too often enslaved by tyrannies, too often exploited by oligarchies.
This is what has bothered us about JFK’s exhortation in his 1961 inaugural speech practically since we first heard it: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”1 No, no, no. Our country exists to ensure and protect our liberty and equality; it is a reflection of our collective will, and it is a fundamental fraud upon the public to imply our “country” requires anything of us except our constant vigilance in ensuring it perform its proper role.
To that end, we would recommend the establishment of a University Declaration of Human Responsibility to accompany and bolster the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our declaration is in the singular, as it would only consist of one Article:
Article I. That every human being on the planet will engage in substantive lifelong action to realize the goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and will not rest until those goals are met.
1 The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, 2002 (Accessed October 11, 2008)
Oct 12, 2008
Unwilling, we enter this world. Often even more unwilling, we leave it. Yet in 2005, 32,637 Americans left quite willingly,2 whether because they were in terrible physical or psychic pain or because they shared the sentiment of actor George Sanders, who at 65 left a suicide note that read, “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.”
Death is the great mystery, the “undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns,”3 the universal fate of all living things: “born but to die.”4 No wonder it breeds such hopes of heaven and of reincarnation. No wonder religions deny its existence so vehemently one might think it is religion’s sole raison d’être to do so.
How willingly, thoughtlessly, copiously we send others to their deaths! And how assiduously we continue to inhibit ourselves from pursuing the bare bodkin when life becomes too terrible or too boring to endure. Suicide, once a felony throughout the U.S., is no longer a crime in any state. However, only in Oregon has suicide been promoted to a right, with assisted suicide legalized. And even there, the right to choose to end one’s life is hedged in by a long list of conditions and procedures.
The Canadian Library of Parliament has released a report, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: International Experiences, by Marlisa Tiedemann and Dominque Valiquet. A number of European countries allow euthanasia and assisted suicide. In each country, a great struggle over the legislation occurred between what we may call the Pro-Life and the Pro-Choice contingents. And in every case where the legislation was successful, conditions similar to those in Oregon are required for the act to be legal.
And why should that be so? Why should we not be freely and unconditionally able to choose a painless and peaceful leavetaking, having no choice in our coming hither, and our end so certain? “To cease upon the midnight with no pain:”5 a consummation, I would think, devoutly to be wished, and one which most people wish for. And yet we continue to deny it to ourselves. But we’re getting there. Oregon and a few nations have begun the journey toward death on demand.
It strikes us that if the term “human rights” has any meaning at all, this right must surely be among them.
1 Our illustration is The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David. Click this link to view larger versions of the painting.
2 Suicide Statistics at Suicide.org (Accessed October 8, 2008)
3 Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 1, lines 87-88.
4 Essay on Man, by Alexander Pope, line 10
5 Ode to a Nightingale, by John Keats, line 56
Oct 11, 2008
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice, and some say under a gigantic mushroom cloud. We “saw in” the Atomic Age, born two months and a week after Nagasaki was destroyed, and we wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it out as well. Peacefully, if possible, but more likely in a holocaust that will leave the handful of survivors envying the dead.
Nine nations either have or are believed to have nuclear weapons today, and seven of them scare the pants off us: USA, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.1 We’re not nearly so concerned about those old foes the UK and France as we are about the other seven. The US has been rattling the nuclear sabre for over sixty years, and many of our fellow members of the nuclear club are failed states or on the verge of failure.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains records in their Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) consisting of “incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials.” It’s the scariest database we know of, containing, as of December 31, 2007, over 1,300 confirmed incidents since 1993. Their ITDB Fact Sheet for 2007 shows illicit activity increasing, in some cases alarmingly, over the 14-year history of the ITDB. Russia and Germany seem to be the hotbeds of illicit activity regarding highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
One hundred countries participate in the ITDB, and it is good to see the list includes all the nuclear powers except North Korea. Still, given the prognosis for a future where resource wars will almost certainly play a role in international relations, the odds are altogether too great to merit debating if a nuclear incident is in our future. It is sadly much more to the point to wonder where or when it may occur.
1 List of states with nuclear weapons, from Wikipedia (Accessed October 7, 2008)
Oct 10, 2008
What do the recently resigned Prime Minister of Israel and the longest-serving American senator have in common? Corruption. The latter is currently on trial and the former resigned in order to prepare for his likely day in court. Nothing saps a people’s self-esteem or optimism for the future so much as knowing they are governed by corrupt officials. Dante consigned traitors to the deepest circle in Hell and corruption in office is a kind of treason. It not only betrays an indifference to the policies and processes that brought the corrupt officials to their post, but it destroys the value of whatever purpose, integrity, or worth they might have brought to their position.
Corruption and poverty are the twin afflictions of the failed state, the extent to which one is present more often than not reflected in the extent of the other. Transparency International, its principal offices in Berlin, fights societal and political corruption in all its forms. Their 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index rates corruption in 180 countries, based on tabulations taken from up to 13 surveys and expert assessments. At least three were required for a country to be included in the findings, which rated countries from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean). Among the findings:
Oct 09, 2008
Here comes November 4th! Are we ready for what may be the biggest voter turnout ever1? No, we are not!
The Annenberg Public Policy Center has just released an Election Survey (.pdf) with some startling revelations:
Oct 08, 2008
We have a friend out on the west coast, a very funny and a very nice guy, who is appalled at our posts about Nader and our reluctance to commit ourself to voting for Obama.1 In a recent pair of emails, he reminds us that McCain is a loaded gun, with “a chip on his shoulder a mile wide” and spoiling for the sort of revenge that portends nuclear winter.
His running mate, Palin, is worse—an undereducated, religiously unbalanced redneck, with a 1 in 7 chance of finding her finger on the button in the next four years, should her ticket prevail in November. How could anyone fail to run to the nearest polling station and devote one’s franchise to defeating such a terrifying and homicidal ticket?
And we could not agree with him more.
In fact, we’ll go him one better. All Together Now is dedicated to the memory and the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.,2 whom we consider one of the great benefactors of the human race, a man of enormous courage, compassion, and vision, and a representative of a race so ill-treated by our own—to this day—that a thousand years of restitution would not entitle us to a moiety of forgiveness. That another black man—intelligent, eloquent, liberal, with a wonderful wife and two adorable children—is now heading up the ticket for the highest office in the land is the most gratifying miracle we have witnessed in our lifetime.
And yet we probably won’t vote for him. And why? Because he is wrong. He is wrong on domestic spying, he is wrong on the middle east conflict, and he is wrong on economic reform. We will not—we can not—vote for a man who condones the Bush administration’s gutting of the Constitution; who shares our nation’s tragic reliance on doomed militaristic responses to international challenges; who aligns himself with the corporations and their stranglehold on American society and all its institutions.
However, we have four weeks yet to listen between the lines to what Obama has to say. We realize his first duty is to get elected and that if he spoke with the voice that speaks in our heart—of universal brotherhood, of one world, of the need to transform our nation into a true representation of its highest ideals—he wouldn’t stand a chance. And we will try, we will try our damnedest, to vote for him.
If we have not found our way into Obama’s corner by election day, we will vote for Ralph Nader, the man who does speak with our voice. And it will be among the saddest days of our life.
1 Click the Nader, Obama, or Politics tag in the left-hand column to view pertinent posts.
2 Announcing ATN, June 1, 2008
Oct 07, 2008
On the brink of an election where one major candidate has proposed the possibility of staying in Iraq for anywhere from a hundred to ten million years,1 and the other has retreated several steps from his primary-season promises,2 we may be certain there will be no disengagement of military force in Iraq during the next administration. Furthermore, both candidates have pledged to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.3, 4
And so the hemorrhaging of money and American lives, and the displacement, injuries, and deaths of countless civilians will continue into the foreseeable future. In a recent post,5 we noted that terrorist activity has been defeated by military force in only a scant seven percent of cases since 1968. Now from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace comes a paper entitled Saudi Arabia’s “Soft” Counterterrorism Strategy: Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Aftercare, by Christopher Boucek.
Following an upsurge in terrorist activity in 2003, the Saudi government concluded that “violent extremism cannot be combated through traditional security measures alone,” and they got busy implementing others. “Central to the Saudi strategy is the message that the use of violence within the kingdom to affect change is not permissible.” Their three-pronged strategy seeks to deter its people from becoming involved with militant Islam in the first place; to rehabilitate them when they do; and to facilitate their reintegration into society after their release from custody. The Ministry of the Interior oversees the program, and involves many other ministries and agencies, including Education and Labor.
Though we are no friend to dictatorial regimes that indulge in vicious public punishments of those who threaten it, we are nevertheless impressed by the intensive efforts adopted by the Saudis in attacking the root of the problem rather than futilely hacking away at its myriad shoots and branches. By alleviating poverty, reforming education, redesigning prisons to facilitate rehabilition, caring for families while one or more of their members are in the judicial system, and treating adherents to radical Islam as victims rather than transgressors, the Saudi methods have succeeded in almost eliminating recidivism.
It is too soon to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the program, but it has been impressive enough that variations of it have been initiated throughout the Middle East and even by American forces in Iraq.6
Side Note: Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements remains one of the most brilliant analyses of the personalities and motivations of those who align themselves with violent religious and nationalist organizations. In a day when we are burdened by a terrorist government within and many terrorist threats from without, every citizen of the world should read it.
1 McCain Said ‘100’; Opponents Latch On, by Kate Phillips, from the New York Times, March 27, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
2 Obama’s Non-Plan for Ending the War in Iraq, by Anthony DiMaggio, from Counterpunch.org, August 12, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
3 Obama, McCain Offer Quick Reaction to Bush’s Troop Leval Plan, by Alexis Matsui, from the Online NewsHour at PBS.org, September 9, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
4 McCain Wants More Afghanistan Troops, by Adam Aigner-Treworgy, from MSNBC.com, July 15, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
5 Where Will It All End?, All Together Now, September 24, 2008
6 Detainee Operations Changes Command Leadership, from the Multi-National Force Press Desk, June 8, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
Oct 06, 2008
Income and wealth disparity in this country has ballooned out of control since 1980. This may be the starkest way of illustrating this fact: The 40 percent of the population (you and me, probably) who were making between $50,000 and $100,000 in 1980 (in 2005 dollars) were still making between $50,000 and $100,000 25 years later. Those in the top five percent of the population, however, whose mean family income in 1980 was about $150,000, were making over $300,000 in 2005. The disparity between the top one-tenth of one percent and the rest of us is even more obscene. This small number of Americans—about 300,000— had more wealth in 2006 than the poorest 120 million Americans combined.1
Americans support these sorts of inequities apparently because we have become convinced that we are plausible candidates for enjoying this windfall in the future and to mess with the status quo could scotch our chances. Perhaps our national Horatio Alger myths, combined with the ubiquitous (and cruelly regressive) lotteries, have molded this attitude among our people. One wonders how many generations of such growing disparities, how many financial collapses, how many foreclosed mortgages it will take to snap us out our willful ignorance of the facts.
The Century Foundation has provided a graphic summary of income and wealth disparities in their recent report, A Rising Tide that Lifts Only Yachts (.pdf).
This country needs an attitude adjustment. We need to decide what is too little and what is too much, and then rebalance our resources so no one falls into either extreme. At one end, our minimum wage for a full-time worker needs to be adequate to feed, clothe, house, and insure a reasonably sized family. At the other extreme, we have to stop rewarding failed CEOs with $210 million golden parachutes.2 There is a happy medium within our grasp. A truly democratic nation’s role is to enable the greatest good for the greatest number, sacrificing none of its precious human resources to predatory capitalism, but harnessing that capitalism to raise a tide that will lift all boats.
Anything less is slow suicide, as the last few weeks have shown.
1 ’04 Income in U.S. Was Below 2000 Level, by David Cay Johnston, from the New York Times, November 28, 2006 (Accessed September 27, 2008)
2 Nardelli out at Home Depot, by Parija B. Kavilanz, from CNNMoney.com, January 3, 2007 (Accessed September 27, 2008)
Oct 05, 2008
We wonder whether these Sarah Palin types who support abstinence-only sex education1 are serious, or are only being spoilsports. We could not find statistics on how many Americans favor abstinence-only sex education (which consists, essentially, of delivering three words, “Just say no!” in a frantic, hushed tone). We did find that over the past 20 years polls have consistently shown that 35 percent of adults say premarital sex is always or almost always wrong,2 so we can presume they are the ones whose voices are drowning out the rest of us these days.
More enlightening—and infinitely more entertaining—were the reliable statistics we found confirming that “almost all Americans have sex before marrying.”3 We are talking, like, 97 percent here. Essentially everyone.
When numbers like that come up against an “official” federal government policy of abstinence-only sex education,4 it is no wonder teens in the U.S. suffer from the highest birth rate and one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the industrialized world.5
So here is a message to the roughly one-third of Americans who have had sex before marriage and apparently had such a horrible time of it they want to spare their children the experience:
Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. So says an article by Douglas B. Kirby, entitled The Impact of Abstinence and Comprehensive STD/HIV Education Programs on Adolescent Sexual Behavior, from the September 2008 issue of Sexual Research and Sexual Policy. The article concludes, “abstinence programs have little evidence to warrant their widespread replication....”
So let’s cut out the abstinence nonsense. If 97 percent of us are gonna do it—and 75 percent of us are gonna do it before we’re 216—let’s do it right—with understanding, with care, with as few unwanted pregnancies as possible, and with no STDs.
And the only way we’ll learn to do it that way is if we’re taught to do it that way.
Update: An article in the January 2009 journal Pediatrics reports that “The sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage... Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially virginity pledgers.”
1 Palin on Abortion: I’d Oppose Even If My Own Daughter Was Raped, by Sam Stein, from the Huffington Post, September 1, 2008 (Accessed September 30, 2008)
2 Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003 (.pdf), by Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, from Public Health Reports, volume 122, Jan-Feb 2007, pg. 74 (Accessed September 30, 2008)
3 Op. cit., pg. 73
4 Abstinence-only Education, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, undated (Accessed September 30, 2008)
5 Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact, by Debra Hauser, from Advocates for Youth, undated (Accessed September 30, 2008)
6 Finer, op. cit., pg. 73
Oct 04, 2008
First things first. For adults in America, that means a living wage for full-time work.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that in 2008 if a family of four earns less than $21,200 they fall below the poverty threshold.1 Twenty-five percent of American workers earn less than that. So the first thing we need to do is raise the minimum wage for the primary wage earner in a household containing up to four members to at least $10.50, increasing it automatically each year by an amount reflected in the Consumer Price Index or the HHS’s Poverty Threshold, whichever is higher.
The minimum wage for secondary and tertiary wage earners in the household (the spouse and a teenage child, perhaps) can then be set at a lower rate, the tertiary perhaps as low as the current minimum wage of $6.55 per hour ($13,624 per year).
Adjustments in the minimum wage for smaller households could also be made. Whether higher minimum wages should be allowed for larger households would be a matter for debate. We believe no one should have more than two children at a time when the world is suffering from the strains of serious overpopulation. Consequently, we would not favor setting a higher minimum wage for households containing three or more children. Adjustments might be made for households containing adopted children or ones where elderly relatives are being cared for.
By setting a “living” minimum wage, most government programs supporting the poor (food stamps, Medicaid, SSI, WIC, school lunch, etc.) could be significantly reduced or suspended altogether, saving enough to perhaps provide some tax relief to employers faced with higher wage requirements.
Many of these statistics may be found in Low-Wage Workers in the United States: Status and Prospects, a September 2008 report from the Urban Institute.
The recommendations above would end poverty in America, at least for working Americans. We owe them—we owe ourselves—no less.
1 The 2008 HHS Poverty Guidelines (Accessed September 28, 2008)
Oct 03, 2008
When minerals are extracted from federally owned lands, the businesses doing the extracting are required to pay royalties to the government, that is, to us. Such royalties comprise the second largest source of revenue for the federal government, after taxes. In fiscal 2007 alone, the government collected the equivalent of over $9 billion in oil and gas royalties.
We say “the equivalent” because around ten years ago, during the Clinton administration, the oil and gas industry managed to get a royalty-in-kind (RIK) program initiated by the Department of the Interior (DOI). In some of the key source areas of RIK revenues, over half are received “in kind.”
The recent disclosures regarding drug and sex scandals at DOI1 have ripped the lid off the Minerals Management Service, the office from which the scandals emanated. In the process, the shoddy practices regarding RIK collections and audits have come to light. Millions, perhaps billions, of dollars may have been underpaid by oil and gas companies during the life of the RIK program. The records are so opaque and incomplete that we may never know what happened to the money.
This all comes as no surprise to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which smelled a rat associated with the RIK program years ago and, since 1995, has published five reports on it. The latest, Drilling the Taxpayer: Department of Interior’s Royality-in-Kind Program, is the first to call for the abolition of the program altogether.
[I]n light of the proposed plan to expand the program yet again, and given the numerous damning reports about the RIK program and MMS’s inability to prove that it is beneficial to the taxpayers—even ten years after its first pilot program—enough is enough. The RIK program should be terminated, and the system should revert to collecting royalties through the royalty-in-value system.Enron et al., tax cuts for the rich, Cheney’s secretive Energy Task Force, CEOs’ platinum parachutes, a collapsing financial system, and outright scandals such as the above: They all seem to point to a single-minded attempt to remove transparency and accountability from the American business sector, to the detriment of the people, the exhaustion of the people’s coffers, and the enrichment of a tiny few.
Oct 02, 2008
We are writing this on the evening of Wednesday, October 1, 2008. U. S. senators are gathering to approve the Bush/Paulsen bailout plan to save the economy. The bill has been packed with extraneous provisions to induce the senators to vote for it, like enticing a child into an abyss with a bauble. The plan itself calls for turning over $700 billion of public money to an individual over whom there will be scant supervision, difficult if not impossible to impose. No one has defined exactly what the problem is or whether the plan is likely to solve it.
It comes on the heels of a half dozen extraordinary measures taken by the executive branch, which together have failed to forestall this massive federal intervention into, and disruption of, our economy. The measures have included the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie Mac, IndyBank, and AIG; the brokered sales of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual to J.P. Morgan/Chase, Merrill Lynch to Bank of America, and Wachovia to Citigroup; and passive witness to the death of Lehman Brothers. Through it all, not a single criminal accusation, let alone a charge, has been leveled at the masters of the universe who created this mess.
There has been no debate on the nature or correctness of the plan, and no alternative method has been posed for alleviating the alleged stress on the credit markets. Mere dickering over details of the one idea on the table has failed to secure real oversight, adequate guarantees of public ownership of the entities which will be bailed out, or any relief for the struggling homeowners who were conned into mortgages they could not afford by the flim-flam boys posing as bankers and who are now in charge of the “recovery.”
Two days ago the House rejected the plan 228 to 205. The stock market dipped 778 points, then gained well over half of that back the next day. Today it was down twenty points. No foundations trembled.
The New York Times is in favor of the plan, as is their respected op-ed economic columnist Paul Krugman, both major party presidential candidates Obama and McCain, and apparently every pundit, policy wonk, and economist in the land. The people, however, are opposed, with their phone calls to legislators running 100 to one against its passage.1
Should this plan be passed by a Congress with a 15 percent approval rating,2 half that of the most unpopular president in history,3 in the sixth year of an endless war; our good name in tatters; the middle class losing ground while the richest live like emperors;4 prisons bursting with our young men;5 our elderly torn between buying their medicine and heating their homes;6 our youth directionless and stupid from years of repression, neglect, and disdain; our planet in a maelstrom of climatic change and degradation; should this plan be passed, starving our government of another trillion dollars and consigning our fate into the hands of foreign nations assuming this debt, then the papers, and the pundits, and the politicos take warning:
The voice of the people is the voice of god.
And it will have the final say.
1 Bailout Defeated, Blame Flies, Wall Street Tanks, by Karen Tumulty, from Time Magazine, September 29, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
2 Congressional Performance, from Rasmussen Report, August 27, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
3 Bush’s Approval Rating Drops to New Low, by Jeffrey M. Jones, from USA Today/Gallup Poll September 26-27, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
4 Income Gap is Widening, Data Shows, by David Cay Johnston, from the New York Times, March 29, 2007 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
5 New High in U.S. Prison Number, by N.C. Aizenman, from the Washington Post, February 29, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
6 Winter heat crisis looms, little relief seen, by Ben Rooney, from CNNMoney.com, September 2, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
Oct 01, 2008
Here are a few items noted with interest over the past month:
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