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The Exception Disproves the Rule

Jan 31, 2009
Perhaps we should have titled this item Ten Days That Shook the World—Not! At the risk of raining on anyone’s parade, we will point out the significant disconnect between words and deeds that has surfaced already in the Obama administration. None of the following items can be considered trivial, and all of them reflect a tendency on the part of our new executive to hedge, fudge, and otherwise compromise or abandon important principles. We will add to this listing of broken promises as time goes on, or delete them on the happy occasion of their being kept.


No Torture
Except it is unclear whether the CIA will keep it up1 and Obama can reinstitute it at will in the future, arrogating to himself, like his predecessor, the option of discarding the rule of law.2
No Lobbyists in Government
Except Raytheon's William Lynn gets to be a deputy Pentagon chief3 and Tom Daschle, despite earning $300,000 in income from health-related companies, gets to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.4
Close Guantanamo
Except not for a year, and not until we figure out what to do with the prisoners who are there,2 and please don’t mention the military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.1
Return the Rule of Law to Washington
Except if your nominees for Secretary of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services are flagrant tax cheats,5,6 and your nominee for the nation’s top intelligence job has been accused by a respected, credible, and award-winning journalist of abetting genocide in violation of the expressed and unambiguous orders of his superiors.7
Transparency in Government
Except when it comes to making public the details about where the $700 billion bank bailout money went, what was done with it, and what effect it has had. It certainly has failed to ease the credit market, which is what it was intended to do.
What can one expect in the first ten days of a new administration which has spent most of that time patting itself on the back? A great deal more than this.
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1 Obama Orders Gitmo Closure, Bans Torture, from Democracy Now, Headlines, January 23, 2009 (accessed January 27, 2009)
2 Obama Issues Directive to Shut Down Guantanamo, Mark Mazzetti and William Glaberson, from the New York Times, January 21, 2009< (accessed January 27, 2009)
3 White House clears way for Pentagon deputy-senator [sic], from Forbes.com, January 23, 2009, accessed January 27, 2009
4 Daschle Knew of Tax Issues Over Car Use Last June. by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear, from the New York Times, January 31, 2009, accessed February 1, 2009
5 It’s Not Just Taxes, by Joe Nocera, from the New York Times, January 23, 2009, accessed January 27, 2009
6 Use of Free Car Lands Tom Daschle in Tax Trouble, by Robert Pear, from the New York Times, January 30, 2009, accessed January 31, 2009 (with a hat tip to CF for timely notice)
7 Admiral Dennis Blair Aided Perpetrators of 1999 Church Killings in East Timor, from Democracy Now, January 6, 2009 (and several subsequent programs), accessed January 27, 2009
tags: Governance | Obama

Let George Do It

Jan 30, 2009
And so George Mitchell, America’s Peacemaker, flies off to the Middle East, to confront a conflict perhaps less longstanding but no less intractable than the one for which he has been credited with resolving.

Indeed, in the intractable sweepstakes, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict wins hands down over Northern Ireland. One side sees nothing less at stake than its very survival, and the other nurses a not indefensible grudge against an injustice of towering proportions. It’s not going to be all Guinness and blarney this time around.

For one thing, in Ireland Mitchell only had to deal with one conflict; in the Middle East he has to deal with at least three: the Israelis and Palestinians each at war with themselves, and both at war with the other. For another, we recall neither the IRA nor the British articulating an ambition to exterminate the other side. In the Middle East, that is a heartfelt desire of a significant minority on both sides. Finally (and this is merely a personal opinion shared with hardly anyone but author Joel Kovel1 and various interviewees on Democracy Now), a two-state solution is bound to fail.

Point #1, and for this we recommend Colin Shindler’s latest book on Israel,2 any people that can field 21 political parties in its first election (12 of which qualified for the ballot)3 has to be a contentious one, and if most of Israel’s governments since independence in 1948 have not been made up of hastily assembled and fragile coalitions, it seems as if they have. The inability of Arabs to get along with one another is legendary.

The fact that many on both sides would like to exterminate the other is, perhaps, not surprising, given the context. Fatah felt the same way, until the day it didn’t and granted Israel’s right to exist. If Arafat’s PLO hadn’t been shot through with lassitude and corruption, HAMAS might not have prevailed in fair-and-square elections, and the situation Mitchell is confronting today would not be such a thorny one. But it is, and Hamas’s legitimacy must be addressed. Once again, as in Afghanistan, we seem to be on the side of the corrupt establishment in their penthouses and palaces, and opposed to the dusty freedom fighters who have only the people on their side. (We hasten to note that the Taliban is only accorded a slight edge in the people’s preference over the Karzai disaster, owing to the fact that they do occasionally supply some meager services along with the stonings and the acid attacks.)

Finally, separate is inherently unequal—a lesson we learned in America long ago. A two-state solution will leave the parties peering covetously over the fence at the grass on the other side. The only hope for these unhappy people is assimilation into a single state, inextricably amalgamating their political, social, and economic futures. Impossible, you say? Well, there you are wrong, because anything is possible.

Anything.
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1 Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, by Joel Kovel, 2007 (accessed, as were other footnoted items in this posting, January 26, 2009)
2 A History of Modern Israel, by Colin Shindler, 2008
3 Op. cit., pg. 66
tags: Politics | History | Governance

Wage Slaves

Jan 29, 2009
“Slow or negative economic growth, combined with highly volatile prices, will erode the real wages of many workers, particularly the low-wage and poorer households. In many countries, the middle classes will also be seriously affected.” So concludes the International Labour Organization, the U.N. body that “is devoted to advancing opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”

Their first Global Wage Report 2008/09, Executive Summary (.pdf, 4 pp., 63Kb) paints a bleak world picture for us wage slaves, and one which we would do well to anticipate and struggle against by lobbying our governments to establish living minimum wages and to secure and extend our rights to collective bargaining. Among the report’s conclusions and recommendations:

  • 2009 wages will decline by .5 percent in industrial countries.
  • Levels of minimum wage should be increased wherever possible.
  • Between 2001 and 2007, real wages grew close to 0 percent in the U.S.
  • Wage growth has trailed GDP growth and is continuing to decline (i.e., the profits are going elsewhere).
  • Wage inequality (the difference between the highest and lowest wages) is growing most rapidly in the U.S., Germany, and Poland.
  • In most countries, women’s wages still amount to only 70 to 90 percent of men’s and the gap is closing very slowly, if at all.
Inequity in anything—education, income, health care—can only lead to trouble. And raging, enormous, inhumane inequity, as practiced in the U.S., wastes our most valuable capital, our human capital, and can only lead to social cataclysm.
tags: Poverty | Labor | Economics

A Billion Here, a Trillion There

Jan 28, 2009
We consider ourself to be fiscally conservative. By that, we mean we believe we should pay as we go, exercise oversight and restraint on our expenditures, and practice thrift as a general rule. President Obama has made frequent mention of his determination to spend the taxpayer’s money with care and, when he discovers it is not being well spent, to act swiftly to minimize the waste and damage. These used to be good Republican principles and the fact that they aren’t anymore shows just how far the party has diverged from its core beliefs.

We hope Obama will not tolerate the egregious and irresponsible handling of public monies described in a recent report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The report, Cost, Outcome, and Oversight of Iraq Reconstruction Contract with Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. (.pdf, 61 pp., 2.1Mb), concerns one of many contracts, often awarded with no competition, that resulted in hasty, shoddy, incomplete, and unmaintained repairs to the Iraq infrastructure which the Bush administration foolishly attempted to deliver in the midst of a war. Its conclusion struggles to paint a bright face on disaster:

The lack of security, the absence of protection against infrastructure looting, and poor pre-war maintenance were the major contributors to the cost of this contract. What KBR improved was better than the pre-war facilities, but unless the Government of Iraq completes what KBR started and maintains what it provided, the value of KBR’s effort will be diminished and possibly lost.
The new administration is now preparing to spend up to a trillion dollars of public money on a fiscal stimulus package. It will be an early test of the Obama administration’s promises regarding fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability. We are sure we will not be alone in keeping our eye on all three aspects.
tags: Economics | Governance

My Own Private Vermont

Jan 27, 2009
Vermont, which we have now called home for 18 years—longer than we have lived anywhere else—is something of a political anomaly. With a solidly democratic state legislature,1 two-thirds of Vermonters voted for Obama and over four-fifths for the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House.2 We have a senator occupying the left-most seat in the U.S. Senate and the Progressive Party candidate for governor in 2008 polled more votes than the Democrat. And yet a very traditional Republican sits in the governor’s chair, and he won 53 percent of the vote in his re-election bid in 2008.

He is now at work doing what Republicans do best, taking advantage of hard times to reduce government payrolls and services as much as possible. He has threatened to reduce health care for poor Vermonters by 25 percent and health coverage altogether for the 24,000 Vermont children who were finally covered by the Dr. Dynasaur program initiated during Howard Dean’s tenure as governor. He says he will do this if the legislature refuses to shift teacher pension benefits to the localities, where it is estimated it would raise everyone’s property taxes by $200. Additional cuts are promised across state agencies.3

Meanwhile, the largest town in Vermont, which has traditionally had a progressive mayor, has a real star these days in Mayor Bob Kiss. Since Kiss assumed the post in 2006 (after three terms in state capital Montpelier), Burlington’s wages have increased seven percent and jobs have grown by almost five percent (versus 4.6 percent and -.2 percent respectively, statewide).4 Though outside of Burlington and Brattleboro, the Vermont Progressive Party is a pretty well-kept secret, we think it shows potential for pointing the way for our state and our country, and we are going to pay a lot more attention to it in the coming months.
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1 The State of Vermont Legislature (accessed, as all footnoted items in this posting, January 25, 2009)
2 Election Results 2008, from the New York Times, December 9, 2008)
3 Governor Douglas, Democrats vie over education proposals, by Chris Garofolo, from the Brattleboro Reformer, January 24, 2009
4 Mayor’s Race Begins, January 8, 2009.
tags: Politics

Revolving Doors

Jan 26, 2009
On Day One last week, Obama slammed a couple of doors. Time will tell whether he locked them or not.

And it was none too soon, as was revealed in Revolving Doors, a report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released on January 12, 2009. Their painstaking research into the activities of Bush 2 cabinet officials after leaving “public service” is harrowing, maddening, and finally nauseating. We knew there was a revolving door between federal government service and the corporate entities those servants had previously been charged with regulating. But this! To take but one example of the 24 presented in this report:

Spencer Abraham, Sec. of Energy, 2001-2005 (during Enron and the worst blackout in history). Shortly after his government service, he:

  • Joined the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford, where he focused on high-tech and energy policy.
  • Was elected to the board of Occidental Petroleum ($60k/year and $2k for each meeting attended).
  • Founded The Abraham Group, to lobby the government on behalf of Trans Global Petroleum, earning $75,000.
  • Named non-executive chairman (?) of Areva, Inc., an atomic energy company.
  • Became an advisor to software provider Energy Solutions International.
  • Was elected to the board of directors of ICx, manufacturer of sensors for homeland and military security.
Read the report to discover the details of all Mr. Abraham did for these companies by lobbying the Department of Energy and other government bodies.

In addition, find out what some of your other favorite ex-Bushies have been up to in this 112-page exposé: John Ashcroft (Attorney General-10 pages); Paul O'Neill (Treasury-9 pages); Rod Paige (Education-7 pages); Colin Powell (State-4 pages); Tom Ridge (Homeland Security-11 pages); Donald Rumsfeld (Defense-11 pages); Tommy Thompson (Health & Human Services-9 pages); Christine Todd Whitman (EPA-8 pages); and several lesser lights.

Meanwhile, back in today’s White House, “Mr. Obama said no one would be given a job in any area where he or she had lobbied within the two preceding years, and if they left the White House before he did, they would have to agree not to work on those issues ‘as long as I am president.’”1

Was that a giant sucking sound we just heard, the sound of a million jobseekers taking back their résumés? Will the service actually be restored to “public service”? CREW’s report certainly does not give us cause for optimism, and no one is more adept at finagling loopholes than those crafty boys and girls on K Street. Stay tuned.
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1 On His First Full Day, Obama Tackles Sobering Challenges, by Brian Knowlton, from the New York Times, January 21, 2009 (accessed January 21, 2009)
tags: Politics | Governance | Business

File and Forget

Jan 25, 2009
What are we paying these guys for?

Sixty-three Inspectors General (IGs) recently responded to an unprecedented government-wide request of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), regarding recommendations they had made to their agencies. IGs “conduct independent audits and investigations and make recommendations to protect the interests of taxpayers and improve the effectiveness of government.... Under the Inspector General Act, federal agencies are supposed to complete final action on IG recommendations within one year.”1

Rep. Towns and his committee were curious as to how many recommendations made by the IGs had not been implemented by their agencies during the Bush 2 era. The response so shocked them they had to write a report about it.1 Almost 14,000 recommendations by the IGs were ignored by the Bush 2 administration, recommendations that could have saved almost $26 billion in recovered or new revenues, and enhanced our security, health, and safety. That number represents 14 percent of recommendations made. A few examples:

  • The Social Security Administration could have saved $2 billion annually by ceasing to make payments of disability benefits to people who were no longer eligible for them.
  • The Department of Defense could have recouped $837 million in overpayments for telecommunications contracts.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could recover $16 million in billings for base camp services associated with Hurricane Katrina. We wrote about the Government Accounting Office’s finding of $30 million wasted by DHS over Katrina services at Chump Change. Why the duplication of investigative effort on the part of the GAO, if nothing is going to be done about this sort of waste anyway?
Twenty-six billion dollars—$86 for every American man, woman, and child—may not seem like much, but put $26 billion into the hands of any progressive organization and watch them go to town.

Obama has pledged to go over the federal budget with a fine tooth comb, to root out waste and inefficiency, even going so far as to appoint Nancy Killefer his special watchdog for federal spending.2 Redundancy is also waste, and we hope Killefer will cast a questioning eye on her own budget as it overlaps with that of 67 IGs, the Government Accounting Office, the Office of Management and Budget, the National Economic Council, and who knows how many other executive bodies charged with attending to fiscal responsibility in our federal government.
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1 Inspectors General: Implementing thousands of open recommendations could save taxpayers almost $26 billion (.pdf, 16 pp., 214 Kb), from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, January 2009, p. i, accessed January 10, 2009
2 Obama names special watchdog for federal spending, by Jennifer Lovin, AP White House Correspondent, from Yahoo! News, January 7, 2009, accessed January 10, 2009
tags: Governance

As California Goes...

Jan 24, 2009
They’re not the worst—they’re just the first!

You can view the possible future of our nation by examining the present in California, the traditional trendsetter for the rest of us. Children NOW, “a national organization for people who care about children and want to ensure that they are the top public policy priority,” did just that recently. Their January 6, 2009, press release, “Investing in Children Key to Righting California Economy,” reveals their findings, and they are not pretty:

  • A million California children are without health insurance. Every time one of them visits a hospital for a preventable ailment, it costs California $7,000, whereas it would cost only 17 percent of that ($1,200) to provide health coverage for each uninsured child.
  • One in five (109,011) high school students in California dropped out in 2007.
  • Sixteen percent of California adolescents are obese, costing Californians $7.7 billion annually.
  • Fewer than half (48 percent) of California’s 3- and 4-year-olds attend any sort of preschool.
  • Meanwhile, the state faces a growing shortage of college-educated workers, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. This means that the income gap between in-demand college grads and the excessive numbers of workers with a high school education or less will continue to grow. In 1980, that difference was 39 percent; in 2006, it was 86 percent.
Coming Soon to a State Near You! A population explosion of uninsured, uneducated, unfit, unemployable, and very unhappy young people. Be Prepared!
tags: Youth | Education | Health

Prepare to Die

Jan 23, 2009
Because you’re going to, you know. Oh, it’s not so bad. Everybody does it. And if you believe in an afterlife, just imagine what a pleasant time is in store for you through all eternity.

Meanwhile, there’s work to be done and whatever age you may be, there’s no time like the present. A few recommendations:

Clean Out the Basement
Your spouse, kids, heirs, and assigns have no interest in thumbing through those old love letters, unpublished juvenilia, or heavily autographed high school yearbooks. You could only re-read that stuff with a shudder yourself. Chuck it all.

Teach Your Spouse to Pay Bills
If you’ve been doing it all these years, you better believe it, they haven’t a clue. Spare them.

Make a Living Will
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. A living will can prevent the medical establishment from draining the last dollar of your net worth forestalling the inevitable with their endless procedures, drugs, expensive life-prolonging equipment, etc. LegacyWriter and other web sites can see you through the process of writing a perfectly adequate Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney without shelling out a bundle to a lawyer for one.

Donate Your Organs
We think there oughta be a law requiring the return of body parts to the common pool upon death, but there isn’t, so you have to make the gesture yourself. We can’t imagine a better way to express our gratitude for this lovely life than to leave it knowing we are giving the miracle of sight to a blind person or prolonging someone else’s days on earth. Learn all about the process and procedures involved at MedLine Plus’s Organ Donation site, maintained by the National Institutes of Health. You can also declare yourself an organ donor in your Living Will.

Make a Regular Will
Don’t die intestate. If what you are leaving behind is minimally complicated with a small number of people (1-3) to whom you will be leaving money, goods, or property, you can make your own will with web help (see Make a Living Will above). However, most of us acquire enough money and property, and sufficient people and organizations we want to remember upon our demise, that making a proper will under the guidance of a lawyer is probably not a bad idea.
Now settle back and enjoy the rest of your days, weeks, months, or years, knowing anyone can enter your basement without embarrassment, the medical establishment won’t torture you on the way out the door, your loved ones will get theirs, and the mortgage won’t be late.

“And death shall have no dominion.”
tags: Human Nature | Law

Live It Up!

Jan 22, 2009
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not part of the Consumer Society and if we were churchgoing folk, we’d be sitting in a pew at Reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping.

Remember 9/11 and the opportunity our new president had to draw the nation together in a spirit of sacrifice for the long and demanding struggle ahead? Sacrifice? Heck no, said the man who must have been born with a foot in his mouth, “Go Shopping!”

As inappropriate as that injunction was back then, it has now come in to vogue, and voices as progressive as Robert Scheer on Left, Right, and Center1 are telling us, If you got it, spend it! It won’t be easy, just when everyone who is lucky enough to still be employed is trying to sock more away in their IRAs or under their mattresses. However, in the short run, spending is the only thing that is going to keep our ship afloat. Government must spend on projects that will put money in people’s pockets for them to spend. And then they have to spend it.

And not at minimum-wage WalMarts, where it will go right back to China and into the pockets of Sam Walton’s worthless billionaire progeny. It must be spent at home, on goods and services that originate at home and where your money will stay at home, enjoying the multiplier effect as it is spent over and over again by the people whose jobs you will help preserve.

Here are a few ideas for how you might do that:

  • Get a manicure.
  • Hire a neighborhood kid to clean out your garage.
  • Make Wednesday night Restaurant Night.
  • Join a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.
  • Instead of a movie, go to a local play, concert, or other live performance.
  • Take music, cooking, singing, dancing, acting, painting, or computer lessons.
  • Buy a book from a local bookstore (if you can find one); buy a second one for your library.
  • Buy a house. There has never been a better time. And if the $700 billion giveaway to the banks has still not shaken loose any mortgage money, go to your credit union, your rich uncle, your savings, and kludge together a down payment somehow, because there are bargains aplenty out there.
  • Get an energy audit on your house, then have it made weather tight.
  • Buy a pellet stove.
Send us your ideas and we will add them to the list.
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1 KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center 1.9.09 Show, accessed January 12, 2009
tags: Economics

The First 100 Minutes

Jan 21, 2009
We gawked, open mouthed, at the largest gathering of Americans we had ever seen—or ever will see.

We were privileged to view The Parade of Extremely Important People, their demeanors ranging from high dudgeon to hilarity.

We gasped at Dick Cheney morphing into Dr. Strangelove.

We cooed (again) over Malia and Sasha, envying their father his cuddling rights more than his new office.

We listened to Aretha Franklin arethafranklin “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

We doubted our own ears as we heard the Chief Justice flub the oath, not once, but twice.

And then we listened. We listened to 2,395 words from a Black man who had just assumed the mantle of executive authority over the most powerful nation in the history of the world—a nation of enormous promise which had broken that promise over and over again.

In his first sentence, he acknowledged our ancestors, which included a people who had suffered the worst excesses of cruelty that can be visited upon one group of human beings by another.

In his fifth paragraph, he echoed the Constitution and paid homage to the greatness of our nation’s founders, from whom we have strayed so far, and so vilely, over the past eight years.

In a scant 96 words (“That we are in the midst of a crisis...”), he summed up the causes and effects of the profound mess we are in, identifying the culprits as well as those who must now be the first beneficiaries of relief—the people.

He delivered the required slap to the cynical, partisan, logjammed politics of the last thirty years (“[T]he time has come to set aside childish things....”), and invited us to “choose our better history” which carries the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

And setting aside the protection of “narrow interests” he laid out the new directions we will take—creating jobs, building infrastructure, welcoming back science, revolutionizing health care, harnessing renewable energy.

Let us just hope the “stale political arguments ... no longer apply” and let us not underestimate or again forget the enormous destructive power that stands behind those arguments.

Open government to the light of day, cease to tolerate waste, rein in the excesses of unregulated capitalism, assure equity of opportunity for all because—common sense comes back to Washington!— “it is the surest route to our common good.”

Jettisoning the notion of American hegemony, he brought us back within the community of nations and assured the world that we would no longer, “for expedience’s sake,” sacrifice our ideals, which “still light the world.”

And in just 40 words, he ended our century-old support for the world’s worst villains, “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent.”1

Words. 2,395 words. Spoken yesterday with intelligence, calm grace, and determination. Already today, actions begin their task of speaking louder than words. If those actions, with the enthusiastic participation and support of all right-minded Americans, are pursued with similar intelligence, calm grace, and determination, then morning in American may finally have come, and we will have awakened to find our long-cherished Dream a reality.
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1 Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, from the New York Times, January 20, 2009 (Accessed January 20, 2009)
tags: Obama

January 20, 2009

Jan 20, 2009
Today, we listen.
tags: Obama | Governance

Inauguration Eve!

Jan 19, 2009
When Reagan announced it was “morning in American again,” midway through his disastrous presidency, most of us knew even then that we had ventured into an era of unprecedented inequality, fiscal irresponsibility (he doubled the national debt), and criminality from our elected officials (google iran-contra).

We didn’t know it was the beginning of 30 years of mismanagement in high places, reckless deregulation, multiple assaults upon our Constitution, and runaway spending that would see the national debt increase tenfold.1

We didn’t know it would bring us to this Inauguration Eve on the brink of another global Great Depression.

We didn’t know the alliance of neoconservativism, religious fundamentalism, and a military-industrial complex that has conquered the world would leave our nation’s reputation in tatters, the world consumed in a frenzy of bloodshed, and a nation top-heavy with a few multi-billionaires lording it over 300 million increasingly impoverished, unhealthy, ill-educated, and desperate Americans.

Tomorrow, two roads diverge in that yellow wood.2 One, the main-travelled road, is the way blazed by Alexander, the Caesars, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Hitler—men who would dominate the world by flame and sword, who knew only death, who had no drop of humanity flowing through their cold, bloodless, grasping veins.

The other, the road less traveled, the road of love and of life, is the way blazed by Christ, the Enlightenment, Gandhi, and King. It is the road of human potential, it is the road that speaks to our better selves, the selves in awe of the majesty of life, of its infinite delights, of its tragic brevity.

Tomorrow, as a people of a once and (potentially) future great nation, we will choose one of those roads, and we will travel it together for many days to come. And though we think we may keep the first for another day, and though the choice may, indeed, come back to us again, one day it will not, and on that day the road we are on will be the road on which we will stay to the end, be it bitter or triumphant. We would be wise to live as if tomorrow is that day.
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1 United States National Debt: An Analysis of the Presidents Who Are Reponsible for the Borrowing, by Steve McGourty, accessed January 10, 2009
2 The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, from Bartleby.com (Accessed January 13, 2009)
tags: Governance

Hey, Dude, Where’s My Money?

Jan 11, 2009
In the year between October 2007, when the market peaked, and October 2008, more than $2 trillion worth of stock value held in 401(k)s, IRAs, and “defined-contribution” (e.g., pension) plans was wiped out, according to the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. This amounts to something in the neighborhood of 40 percent of their value.

An article in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, “Big Slide in 401(k)s Spurs Calls for Change,” by Eleanor Laise,1 has 35-year-old Kristine Gardner, an IT project manager from Longview, Washington (is there irony in that place name?) bewailing her losses: “There’s no guarantee that when you’re ready to retire you’re going to have the money. You either put it in a money market which pays 1%, which isn’t enough to retire, or you expose yourself to huge market risk and you can lose half your retirement in one year.”

Maybe Kristine will be ready to listen now to that simple piece of advice one hears at every Prepare-For-Your-Retirement seminar one attends: The closer you get to retirement, the less of your nest egg should be placed at risk. The market is for the long run, not for the home stretch to retirement. From our mountaintop perspective of 63 years, we can reassure Kristine that if she doesn’t lose her nerve and bail out when the market is in the basement, things should look rosier in 30 years—although “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

The tanking of the market—the most precipitous drop most of us can remember—has indeed been a disaster. At least one billionaire who didn’t get bailed out (the only one?) committed suicide last week.2 The important point made by the Journal article, however, is in the headline. The market decline has produced all sorts of calls for change in retirement instruments. 401(k)s essentially replaced pension plans provided by companies. The latter were like an annuity or Social Security, in that they guaranteed a specified amount to a retiree for life. You knew where you stood. 401(k)s, on the other hand, guarantee nothing, and require workers to manage their own money. And even the most level-headed and least greedy among us took a hit in the recent downturn.

Some are now arguing for federalizing retirement funding, limiting the maneuvering room workers have to manage their savings, and other fairly radical proposals. The barn door has violently banged open, the horse—40% of our riskiest assets—is history (at least for now), and naturally everyone is screaming in pain. It is going to get worse, but it is also going to get better. Best we should calm down and try to take the long view (see above).

The progressive view—at least this progressive’s view—is that just as the worker is worthy of their hire, the retiree is worthy of a secure and comfortable retirement, free from anxiety over the money running out. The present arrangement does not provide that. Market volatility is too great for people who should be more risk-averse than many are, and many people simply don’t put aside enough—too often because they don’t earn enough—to assure a worry-free retirement.

With the Boomers living longer and facing retirement in huge numbers (the first generation heavily dependent on 401(k)s), the last thing our society needs is a horde of destitute old people. However, that may be exactly what we are in for. Therefore the current alternatives available to us must be enhanced, and we must, as a society, protect one another from destitution however we can.

The problem is a complicated one, and the sooner we begin discussing it calmly and progressively, the sooner we will come together with a solution.

Note: In an effort to recharge our batteries and prepare for the dawn of a new political day in America, we will take a week off All Together Now. We expect to be back on Monday, January 19—Inauguration Eve. Until then, thanks for reading!
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1 The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, January 8, 2009, pp. 1, 12
2 Banks rescue suicide billionaire’s interests, from CNN.com, January 7, 2009, accessed January 8, 2009
tags: Retirement | Economics

Formula for Failure

Jan 10, 2009
The latest word out of the mainstream media is that Obama will go ahead with a $300 billion tax cut for middle-class workers and small businesses as part of the new administration’s economic stimulus effort.1 That figure represents about 39 percent of the $775 billion his advisers are looking to inject into the economy. He is doing it at the behest of the Republican minority, and the figure would amount to about $500 each for us middle-class workers. That is $100 less than the utterly ineffective midsummer checks from Bush 2, and far less tangible, coming, as it will, in slightly reduced withholding of federal income taxes dragged out over a long series of paychecks.

The Republicans are also encouraging Obama to loan, rather than grant, relief money to the states, a move which would almost certainly be useless in helping to bring about an economic recovery, in fact, quite the contrary. This was argued very cogently a few days ago by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), which concluded, “The proposal reflects misperceptions about why states face large deficits, how state budgets and constitutions work, how states would use fiscal relief, and what will happen if they do not receive it.”2 CBPP notes the states’ shortfalls over the next two and one-half years are projected at $350 billion, close to the amount Obama plans to waste in tiny giveaways to taxpayers who don’t need it.

These Republican positions reflect the nefarious subtext of practically every Republican “proposal” we have heard for the last 30 years: Cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes, and don’t give anything to anyone but the filthy rich, especially any entity, such as the states, that serves the common good.

Having given in on the tax cut issue, it will be interesting to see if Obama gives in on the state loan issue as well. And if he does so on both, we shall see how quickly, readily, and collegially the Republicans fall into his camp and enable smooth passage of his stimulus passage. Our prediction? Don’t hold your breath.

In naming Hillary to the highest post he could bring himself to award her, in naming many another leftover Clintonite as well as a couple of Republicans to high-level positions in his administration, in handing over a hefty portion of his stimulus package to Republican ideology, Obama is apparently trying to please all of the people all of the time. He will not. He cannot. He has apparently never taken note of wise advice the journalist Herbert Bayard Swope passed along a while back:

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: try to please everybody.
Well, perhaps not everybody. Now that Obama has named the unlikely Leon Panetta (ex-Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton) to head the CIA, his major appointments are complete. And where among the voices within his hearing is one clear call for the progressive change on which we all thought he ran?

Exactly nowhere.
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1 Obama Seeks Wide Support in Congress for Stimulus, by Jeff Zeleny and David M. Herszenhorn, from the New York Times, January 6, 2009, accessed January 7, 2009
2 Converting state fiscal relief to loans would render in ineffective as stimulus, by Iris J. Lay and Nicholas Johnson, from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 7, 2009, accessed January 7, 2009
tags: Obama | Governance | Economics

Meet the In-Crowd—Your 111th Congress

Jan 09, 2009
Except for a couple of senatorial seats and one in the House, the 111th Congress is pretty much nailed down. And the Congressional Research Service has given us an up-close-and-personal look at the boys and girls who will be haunting our dreams for the next two years. These are the cats Obama will be herding through the first half—the traditionally more effective half—of his administration. Here are a few fast facts for cocktail chatter at your inaugural bash:1

  • House Democrats outnumber the Republicans 262 to 178—a comfortable majority.
  • Not so in the Senate, where Dems count on the two Independents who caucus with them to raise their majority to 57 to 41, still three short of the filibuster-busting 60. And Kennedy and Burris (or whoever) together won’t change that.
  • Your average senator is six years older than your average House member (63 to 57). The average age of senators has gone up 1.5 years over each of the past two congresses; the average age of representatives has gone up one year.
  • The House folk have been there on average for 11 years and the senators for 12.9.
  • Women have crashed through the glass ceiling in record numbers this time around, with 78 in the House (18%) and 17 in the Senate (17%). They are still radically underrepresented.
  • However, that is better than the African-American representation, with 41 in the House (all Democrats!) and (as of January 6) not one in the Senate.
  • Former occupations of members of the 111th Congress include five Peace Corps volunteers, one territorial first lady, a talk show host, five accountants, an astronaut, three organic farmers, a river boat captain, and 225 lawyers.
  • Ninety-five percent of our lawmakers have college degrees, but the only PhDs (23 of them) are in the House.
  • The one Native American in the 111th Congress, serving in the House, is a Republican. Go figure.
And gosh, we wish them all just the very best of luck. The clock is ticking and the honeymoon is over in 60 days.
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1 Members of the 111th Congress: A Profile, by Mildred Amer and Jennifer E. Manning, from OpenCRS, December 31, 2008, accessed January 6, 2009
tags: Congress | Reference

Economy Redux—A Progressive View

Jan 08, 2009
Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine masterfully lays bare the tendency of the right to take advantage of disasters to advance their agenda. There is no reason why progressives can’t take a page from that playbook, and no time like the present.

The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, together with the Bernard Schwartz Center for Economic Policy at the New School in New York, have published A Progressive Program for Economic Recovery & Financial Reconstruction (.pdf, 25 pp., 192Kb).

Yesterday, we noted the ways the bailout is going wrong, even failing to achieve its nonprogressive ends. This PERI report shows the way for the Obama administration to reverse these failings and instead achieve a successful financial recovery for progressive ends. Obama’s program, they say, “must promote a fundamental reversal of direction ... [F]inancial markets must ... serve the needs of society.” The report is an excellent summary of the progressive viewpoint toward markets and society. Following are a few of its recommendations, together with an estimated cost of some (see the report for details):

  • Keep state and local services flowing and state and local workers employed ($75 billion per year for 2 years)
  • Keep people in their homes ($3-400 billion over two years)
  • Invest in public infrastructure, education, and green spending initiatives ($300 billion)
  • Protect key industries such as the automobile industry ($100 billion)
  • Make government an employer of last resort
  • Reverse extreme inequality and restore family and community health
  • The Federal Reserve should support the fiscal expansion and be subject to more oversight
  • Promote international coordination of expansionary policies
  • Utilize leverage provided by partial ownership of financial institutions
  • Establish codes of conduct for all financial institutions receiving government aid (No, we haven’t!)
  • Empower financial regulators to identify and reduce fraud
  • Restructure the Troubled Asset Relief Program
  • Transform financial firm incentive structures that induce excessive risk taking
  • Prohibit the sale of financial securities that are too complex to be sold on exchanges
As with the health care system, more of the same—tweak it how you will—will not do. We need a wholesale attitude adjustment regarding our financial institutions and capitalism in general. They must be servants of the public good, not its masters. Whether the Obama administration is prepared to make that adjustment will be apparent in the opening days of the administration. Stay tuned.
tags: Economics | Business | Governance

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Jan 07, 2009
We have been trying to make head or tail out of the financial debacle for weeks now.1 Two reports have been released in the recent past by the Treasury Department, attempting to explain what they have done with the money and with the power conferred upon them by Congress last fall. One report was sent to Congress2 and one to the Congressional Oversight Panel3.

We diligently attempted to read both of these reports but had to conclude, along with poor Casca, that “it was Greek to [us].” One recalls the “Plain English” laws passed a few years ago in the realm of public contracts (insurance, etc.), and wonder whether we should not pass one for the federal government. Obfuscation, of course, is an important tactic used by the guilty to hide their shame, and one can only conclude that the dense unreadability of these reports is intentional and so motivated. Our frustration level was so high that we send a heartfelt message to Paul Krugman begging him to read the reports and translate them for us common mortals.

In the meanwhile, the New York Times published a pair of op-ed pieces last Sunday entitled The End of the Financial World As We Know It, and How to Repair a Broken Financial World, by Michael Lewis and David Einhorn, which added some to our understanding of what went on and where we go from here:

  • The world has seen the last vestige of faith in the U.S.—that we at least knew how to handle money—destroyed in the recent cataclysm, and it has shaken the world to its foundations.
  • The Bernard Madoff scheme was suspected by many people, including those who benefited from it, many years before the scandal broke, and the S.E.C. was warned about it explicitly nine years ago. Their failure to do anything about it reveals the absence of check and balances in the system.
  • The system requires CEOs to manage for the short term, but our common welfare depends upon a healthy long-term financial establishment, and that is where regulation and oversight come in. Dismantle them, and the result is as predictable as it would be if you were to suspend all watchfulness and release all constraints on your infant or, more terrifyingly, on your teenage son. Say the authors: “The tyranny of the short term has extended itself with frightening ease into the entities that were meant to, one way or another, discipline Wall Street, and force it to consider its enlightened self-interest.”
  • The credit-rating agencies (e.g., Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s) failed to red-flag the increasing risk taken on by the issuers of bonds. The fact that those issuers pay for the operation of these credit-rating agencies may be part of the problem. “[R]ather than expose financial risk [the credit-rating agencies] systematically disguised it.”
  • The SEC is fraught with conflicts of potential interest and political sensitivities that keep it from doing its proper job. Its enforcement division is a revolving door into high-level positions at companies whose activities it is supposed to enforce.
  • “And here’s the most incredible thing of all: 18 months into the most spectacular man-made financial calamity in modern experience, nothing has been done to change ... any of the ... bad incentives that led us here in the first place.”
  • Meanwhile, the seven bailouts and six strategies entered into so far have not produced the confidence in the financial markets, or opened up capital for lending, which they were primarily intended to do.
  • A $306 billion giveaway in guarantees to Citigroup is equal to the combined annual expenditures of six federal departments.
  • The law of unintended consequences has hit the financial bailout program hard. While the miscreants are being rewarded, the innocents (small solvent companies) are being forced out of business by their creditors.
  • The authors suggest two solutions to the mess: “A) repair the social safety net, now badly rent in ways that cause perfectly rational people to be terrified; and B) transform the bailout of the banks into a rescue of homeowners.”
The authors suggest additional intelligent changes to the system, and conclude, “[T]here’s nothing all that radical about most of these changes. A disinterested person would probably wonder why many of them had not been made long ago. A committee of people whose financial interests are somehow bound up with Wall Street is a different matter.”

The moves the Obama administration makes on our financial establishment in its first days—its first hours—will tell the tale on whether regulatory renewal will be substantive and effective, or merely cosmetic. Stay tuned.
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1 See also How We Got Here and Where We’re Going and Slouching Toward Accountability.
2 Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 102 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (.pdf, 8 pp., 31.8Kb), Accessed, as were other footnoted items today, on January 4, 2009
3 Response to Questions of the First Report of the Congressional Oversight Panel for Economic Stabilization (.pdf, 15 pp., 115Kb)
tags: Economics | Business | Governance

Noted with Interest, December 2008

Jan 06, 2009
Here are a few items noted with interest over the past month.

Values and Behavior Survey 2008—Personal Integrity Assessment
In Stealing, Lying, and Cheating we discussed the ethical standards of today’s youth. Now, you can check out your standards by taking this short integrity test. No cheating, now! (From The Josephson Institute. Accessed December 21, 2008)

Bankruptcy Filings Over One Million for Fiscal Year 2008
Two years after the implementation of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, bankruptcies are on the rise again, up 30 percent in the current fiscal year as compared to the previous one. (From U.S. Courts, December 15, 2008. Accessed December 22, 2008)

Judicial Selection During the Bush Administration: 2008 Edition
The Bush legacy will last for decades in the federal courts, where Bush has appointed nearly 37 percent of the sitting judges. (From Alliance for Justice. Accessed December 30, 2008)

Coming to Our Senses: Education and the American Future (.pdf, 51 pp., 1.8Mb)
From first place in high school graduation rates throughout the 20th century, the U.S. had fallen to 21st out of 27 advanced economies by 2005. And college completion rates for younger workers (age 25-34) have dropped dramatically from 2nd to 11th place. Our global educational competitive edge will be lost unless the ten recommendations posed in this report are implemented soon. (From College Board. Also see California Faces Growing Shortage of College-Educated Workers, from the Public Policy Institute of California. Accessed December 30, 2008)

A Reference Guide to the U.S. Rescue Efforts
Here is a handy 61-page reference to where all those billions are going in the Big Bailout. Read it and weep. (From Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, December 22, 2008. Accessed December 30, 2008)

Update: Slouching Toward Accountability
The Treasury Department on December 30, 2008, sent this response (.pdf, 15 pp., 410Kb) to the Congressional Oversight Panel, answering their ten questions.

Update: No Sex, Please, We’re Abstaining
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.” (From Pediatric. Accessed December 31, 2008)

Uncle Jay Explains the News
A hoot from YouTube, accessed January 1, 2008 (with a tip of the hat to C.F.)

tags: Noted with Interest

Day One

Jan 05, 2009
We would like to hear the following from the newly sworn-in Obama during his First Inaugural Address; however, we are prepared to be patient and to wait until January 21, after the Inaugural Ball is over and he has settled into the Oval Office for Day One. Nothing in this Seven-Point Plan for the 21st Century should be objectionable to any fair-minded American:

An End to Torture
As Commander-in-Chief, Obama issues an Executive Order that all prisoners held by the U.S. will be treated strictly according to the Geneva Conventions, and any evidence of faltering from this standard will result in prosecution of the individuals involved and their superior officers.
Zero Tolerance for Dictatorships
As the shaper of foreign policy, Obama announces a new dawn of democracy in America and throughout the world with a pledge to end U.S. support for illegitimate, tyrannical, dictatorial, or otherwise oppressive regimes that have not been chosen by the people in fair and democratic elections. Furthermore, he pledges our full support to those nations which do elect their governments through a fair democratic process.
Rejoining the Family of Nations
The new President pledges that the U.S. will rejoin the family of nations, pay past dues to the United Nations, and become a full partner in a global effort to bring peace, health, and prosperity to the world.
Reaffirming the Rule of Law
As the country’s chief law enforcement officer, Obama orders his Attorney General to open wide-ranging investigations into both Wall Street financial firms and the Bush White House to establish whether U.S. laws were broken and, if so, to press for full accountability through civil actions and criminal indictments.
An End to Poverty
Declaring that poverty is unacceptable in the richest country in the world, and that its continuation is a threat to our future security, Obama pledges to end poverty for working Americans during his first term.
An Educated Public
Warning of a precipitous decline in educational standards in the U.S., Obama pledges to raise high school graduation rates above 90 percent and provide post-secondary education opportunities to anyone who wants them.
Health Care for All
Noting the impending disintegration of a top-heavy health care system that is increasingly failing the American people, Obama pledges to bring universal, single-payer, federally managed health care, cradle to grave, to the American people during his first term.
This is change we can believe in, and change the majority of American people support. Nothing less will do.
tags: Obama | Governance

The High Cost of Medicare

Jan 04, 2009
And you thought it was free! Well, don’t feel bad—so did we.

In point of fact, it is likely your Medicare-based health coverage, in the absence of the passage of a universal health care plan similar to the bill currently before the House (H.R. 676), will cost you close to the amount you will be receiving from your Social Security benefits.

Medicare is divided into three parts:

Part A is for hospital insurance. It covers hospitalizations, skilled nursing facilities (a nursing home), and some home health care. Part A will be without cost for most Medicare beneficiaries (those with 40 or more quarters—ten years—of Medicare-covered employment, or a spouse with same), unless you actually need to use the service, in which case you will have to pay a $1,068 deductible for a hospital stay of 1-60 days. If you need to stay in a hospital longer than that, well, don’t ask. Additionally, without those 40 quarters of employment, your out-of-pocket cost for Part A (before the deductible) can be as high as $5,316 per year.1

Part B is for medical insurance. This covers physician services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, and durable medical equipment. In 2009, this will cost all Medicare beneficiaries $1,156.80. Again, if you actually need to see a doctor during this time, you will have a $135.00 deductible and, after that is expended, you will be liable for 20 percent of the cost of any additional Medicare-approved services.

Typically, according to a knowledgeable friend of ours with long experience in the health field, people purchase supplemental insurance to cover the Part A deductible and Part B deductible and 20 percent co-pay, at a cost of $3,000 to $4,000 per year.

Then comes Part D, the unkindest cut of all. Part D is for medications, and one has to go shopping for plans from various providers for Part D—back into the kindly hands of private insurance companies.2 In our sparsely populated, rural Vermont area, there are 47 contenders in the “Prescription Drug Plan” category and 9 in the “Medicare Health Plan Category” (we have yet to determine the difference). The 56 plans all have different combinations of monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and co-pays (what they call Drug Cost Sharing). Monthly premiums range from nothing to $111.40; annual deductibles from nothing to $295; and co-pays appear to be about 25 to 33 percent of the cost of the medications. But wait! The complication doesn’t end there. We mustn’t forget “The Gap.”

The costs above only pertain to the first $2,700 in medications you receive during a calendar year. Once you have reached that limit, you fall into the Gap and are responsible for the entire cost of the next $4,350 of your medications in that year, during which time you must continue to pay the monthly premium!

As with Parts A and B, there are numerous insurance companies eager to sell you policies to supplement possible expenses beyond the basic plan you select, although co-pays will probably still be required.

So there it is. The free government-sponsored Medicare you have been paying into during your working life, the benefits of which you have been looking forward to reaping upon a well-earned retirement, is going to cost you your Social Security check, deluge you in paperwork, torment you with multiple plans to select from (with a hefty penalty for dilly-dallying3), and altogether threaten to turn your golden years into dross.

Read H.R. 676 (linked above). It only takes a few minutes. It promises a universal health care system properly funded and administered for the benefit of the people rather than the corporations or the bureaucrats. If your representative is a co-sponsor (find out here), write them and tell them you are grateful for their support of this initiative. If they aren’t, write them and encourage them to get on board.

Single-payer, universal health care is a cherished right throughout the civilized world—except in the U.S. Bring it home in 2009!
____________________
1 Medicare: The Official U.S. Government Site for People with Medicare (accessed, as all footnotes in this entry, January 1, 2009)
2 Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder
3 The New Medicare Part D and Its Penalties
tags: Health | Governance

Unsafe at Any Age

Jan 03, 2009
See, here’s the problem in a nutshell, and since this nutshell is killing our children, perhaps we’ll be inclined to listen.

We import 90 percent of our toys now, and 90 percent of those imports come from China.1 Yet, while toy imports were increasing 562 percent between 1980 and 2008, the U.S. agency responsible for assuring their safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was seeing its budget cut by a fifth and its staff reduced by nearly 60 percent. The CPSC has exactly zero full-time staff working at any of the 326 U.S. ports, and they concentrate their part-time efforts on only two of them, Los Angeles and New York, leaving the other 324 virtually unchecked.

Meanwhile, over a dozen trade agreements have promoted and protected the toy industry’s offshore production and lax safety standards.

Unsafe products are pouring into our country, produced in overseas sweatshops that enforce no labor or environmental protections. Public Citizen’s 2007 report (.pdf, 30 pp., 543Kb) details the major causes of toy recalls over a ten-year period, shows how corporations have created global supply chains to avoid product liability laws, and relates how U.S. CEO pay has skyrocketed over the same period.

Do we see a pattern here? Are we beginning to understand what is behind “Always Low Prices”? Do we see now why all those unruly young people show up at globalization conferences?

The 2008 report discovers a silver lining in the 71 newly elected senators and representatives who favor sane trade policies. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, google toys china and look out you don’t get buried in lead Mattel recall.
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1 Closing Santa’s Sweatshop (.pdf, 27 pp., 280Kb), from Public Citizen, December 2008, pg. 3 (accessed December 30, 2008)
tags: Governance | Youth | Business

Housekeeping

Jan 02, 2009
Here at the start of a new year, we pause for a self-referential moment to review a couple of things about All Together Now (ATN) which may be of interest to you.

Contact Us!
Several items below invite you to contact us. Use the “Webmaster” link under “Contact Us” in the right-hand column to send us an email.
Feedback
If you find ATN of value, please recommend it to your friends. Person-to-person communication is our only means of promotion. In addition, we would love to hear your comments, criticisms, and suggestions for the site. You may be sure we will take them all to heart.
Navigation I: Table of Contents
Click the Table of Contents tag in the left-hand column to display a list of entry dates, titles (with links), entry numbers, and tags for all ATN entries through the end of last month. You can then find an item you vaguely recall by searching for a word in its title (e.g., “sex” to find “No Sex, Please, We’re Abstaining”) or for its likely category (tag) (e.g., “education”).
Navigation II: Tags
Click on any tag (category) in the left-hand column to display all the entries, in reverse chronological order, associated with that tag.
Navigation III: Archives
For those of you just discovering ATN, click on an Archive tag in the right-hand column to get caught up on a full month’s worth of items.
Navigation IV: Search?
We may institute a Search utility that will allow you to search the text of all ATN items. This is not a trivial task, so we want you to tell us whether this is something you would find valuable. If we don’t hear from anyone on this, we won’t bother.
Comments
Another optional addition would be providing the opportunity for readers to comment on entries. We have been reluctant to institute this for a couple of reasons. It is also not a trivial programming task, and we find comments on other sites are often merely rehashes of the entries themselves. We want to hear from you if you would like to see this enhancement. In the meantime, if you wish to comment on any entry, send us an email and tell us the date of the entry you are commenting on and whether we should print your name and email. If we believe your comment adds something of value to the entry—whether pro or con—we will append it to that entry.
Visual Aids
Press Ctrl-+ (that is, hold down the Ctrl key, then press the plus key) to increase the size of the text of ATN; press Ctrl-- (that is, hold down the Ctrl key, then press the minus key) to decrease the size of the text of ATN.
And Thank You!
For reading ATN. We keep an eye on our stats and although readership has been slow to develop over the past seven months, we intend to stick with it for a while in hopes that a larger readership and a real dialog will develop at ATN as we confront the challenges that await our action in the political landscape ahead.

tags: ATN

Ringing in the New

Jan 01, 2009
We cannot do better on this first day of what we hope will be a new era than to quote from an interview on Democracy Now! with a great American the day after he lost his third bid for the presidency. Ralph Nader, who has devoted his life to the public welfare—and with singular success—speaks directly to the progressive agenda; he speaks for you and for me; he speaks for the aspirations of the Founding Fathers and for an America that will finally fulfill its promise. His words should be emblazoned on the shields we carry with us into the battles to come in 2009:



Right after World War II, out of the rubble of World War II, Western Europeans, through a multiparty system, proportional representation, and through their stronger trade unions and cooperatives, demanded and received, for all their people, by law, full health insurance, decent wages, decent pensions, four weeks paid vacation, paid maternity leave, paid family sick leave, decent daycare, decent public transit and university-free tuition. Sixty-three years later, the Republican and Democratic parties haven’t delivered any of those by law for all our people. So I think the two-party duopoly is extremely ossifying, it’s extremely stagnant. It’s exactly what corporate power wants, because even when a more liberal party wins, they know how to block it, they know how to buy it, they know how to co-opt it. That’s what we’re looking at in this country. We are a country that lives under election laws that are the most obstructive against voters, most obstructive against candidates. Can’t even count the votes properly, can’t get candidates on the ballot. And what we have to do is go to the civic arena again and try to build up just old-fashioned-type power.

I just want to leave you with a comment, a very telling comment by Eugene Debs in the early 1920s at the end of the career of this great labor leader who fought segregation and fought the giant industrialists. He was asked, “What’s your greatest regret?” by a reporter. And Debs said, “My greatest regret? My greatest regret is that, under our Constitution, the American people can have almost anything they want, but it just seems like they don’t want much of anything at all.” What he was talking about is the lowest expectation levels of any society in the Western world. And we have to face—we have to face ourselves. And the issue in America today is the voter, the voter’s mind, the voter’s expectation, the voter’s determination, the voter’s resignation. The voters are what we have to examine now, why they continue to vote for candidates and for parties that go to Washington and betray them again and again and again, on behalf of the corporate supremacists, who—to whom they have delivered every department and agency in the federal government, including the Department of Labor. So go to november5.org, and see if you’re interested in this proposal for Congress action groups back home.1
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1 Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader Discusses Future Obama Presidency and Two-Party Politics, from Democracy Now!, November 5, 2008 (accessed December 30, 2008)
tags: Governance

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