Dec 25, 2009
America, wake up!
It is way past time to put your invective away, disown the cynical manipulators who stir you up to such passionate intensity, and focus on the facts: Your economic situation hasn't improved in 40 years; you've got a miserable standard of health care which no European or Canadian would tolerate for five minutes and for which you pay through the nose; your kids are fat and stupid from playing video games and eating nothing but sugar, salt, and fat all day; their schools are little better than prisons; one in six of you is under- or unemployed; the debt you have so massively and eagerly incurred has made billionaires out of a handful of the most evil bastards you could ever hope to imagine; and your world is melting faster than the Wicked Witch of the West.
Obama has delivered nothing but a measly stimulus package and a handful of cash for clunkers, while strapping your children and grandchildren with over $13 trillion in debt and Wall Street guarantees. It has become impossible to imagine a life for them free of endless domestic and international conflict, a 19th century standard of living, and an environment that will produce pandemics and mass starvation.
You are being played for a sucker by the likes of Glenn Beck and Barack Obama both. Go back to the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Remember what this country is about. It is about opportunity and freedom, it is about the individual, it is about all the people, not the tiny few who have bought off the government, enslaving the people and robbing us of both opportunity and freedom.
And once you come to your senses, don’t get mad, get even. It’s easy: Elect representatives who represent us, not them.
Dec 24, 2009
It would have taken but one brave senator to scuttle a health care “reform” bill that, as Howard Dean and others have concluded, will do more harm than good. Besides delivering us all for perpetuity into the kindly hands of the health insurance industry—or face a fine for trying to opt out—it will still, apparently, leave at least 17 million Americans uninsured. It purports to close two loopholes—pre-existing conditions and dropped coverage—that insurance companies have heretofore enjoyed in denying coverage. We shall see to what extent those loopholes really are closed.
One brave senator might have sent—may still send—a resounding message through the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., that the people will not be held hostage to the corporatocracy. I thought that that senator may have been from my own state of Vermont; however, Bernie Sanders voted for the Senate bill along with the other 58 democrats and one other “independent”—Joe Lieberman. He explains himself in a great interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show1, where he claims that the provision of a $10 billion program to institute community health centers partly persuaded him to support the bill. We all know what a drop in the bucket $10 billion is, and I was disappointed to hear him grasp on to this straw as a reason to keep from withholding his support.
The most telling comment in the interview comes about halfway through (4:30), when Sanders states outright a truth that should have us all in the streets howling for blood: “Big money interests control the United States Congress.” Others have said the same thing recently. And if that is not a sufficiently sad and infuriating fact to bring the American people to their feet in an outpouring of activism and protest, then what is?
In his just-published novel, Ralph Nader has concluded that a popular social movement is now impossible to mount and that “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” His utopian novel has the likes of Warren Buffet and George Soros joining forces to wrest our nation from runaway capitalism and restore it to the people. After Nader’s dismal showing in a third run for president in 2008, it is not surprising to see one of America’s true heroes reaching for a desperate solution. Fiction is fiction, however, and a far likelier scenario for the future may be a cheery comment Kurt Vonnegut made a few years before his death: “Things are going to get worse and worse, and they’re never going to get better again.”
1 Sanders’ Honest Assessment of the Health Reform Bill—MSNBC’s Morning Joe
2 Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!
Dec 02, 2009
Dec 01, 2009
We have no rights but those we declare for ourselves. We have no right to food, clothing, or shelter, the necessities for sustaining life. People go hungry every day, are dressed in rags, and sleep every night on the cold hard streets. Even here in the promised land.
We have no right to health care, as the thousands who die needlessly every year will attest, or would if they could.
We have no right even to work, as nearly one in five of our working-age population will tell you.
The one right we have declared for ourselves is the right to an education, and we have made provision for underwriting the delivery of that right through the public coffers. All adults pay, that all children may learn.
If we can do that, why can we not, in the richest country in the history of the world, declare for all our citizens the right to the basic necessities of life, including the right to health care and the right to work, and make provision for underwriting the delivery of those rights through the public coffers? Of course, we could, were we not so busy pouring our wealth into mindless, endless, meaningless wars, and were the fat cats of the military-political-industrial-academic complex not so in command of a world they are fast destroying to fill their bulging pockets even fuller.
Well, the times they are a’changin’ and do not for a moment think they are not. Voices everywhere are raised in indignation and in anger. Thus far, our collective response has been inchoate. But it will not be for long. Regrettably, we seem to need a leader, a flint upon which to strike the spark of action. Soon, someone will step out of the shadows and assume that role. They will speak to the need for justice and for equity, and the decent American people will rise together and take their country back from the thieves and their toadies.
The American Idea is the hope of the world, and that Idea—subdued now under an avalanche of greed and governmental corruption—must prevail, or the world is lost.
Nov 10, 2009
If you have not read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, then waste no time, click on this link, and buy it now, or run out to your local library for a copy.
Read but a small portion of it and you will understand why our elected representatives could pass a health care “reform” bill last weekend that 1) requires every man, woman, and child in our country to purchase coverage from a corporate health insurance provider for the rest of our lives; 2) does not allow states to craft their own public, single-payer option; 3) protects patents for many of the most important drugs of the future from ever expiring and allowing the manufacture and sale of less expensive generics; and 4) denies coverage for vital and legal medical procedures to the population which needs them most.
We can only hope that the Senate introduces sufficient additional horrors into this bill to assure its failure. In other words, the best health care reform we can hope for now is no health care reform. Because this is not reform. This is Disaster Capitalism at its worst, a huge windfall for the corporatocracy, paid for by the poor and the middle class, yet again.
Klein’s book lays out the pattern and policy of torture—physical, social, and economic—pursued by the corporatocracy, and abetted by their minions in the government, since the end of World War II. The goal: to enrich the few at the expense of the many. And it has been working like a charm, in case you hadn’t noticed. Her book, thoroughly supported with references, is an eye opener of extraordinary proportions. No one who reads it will ever feel the same about our country. And having turned its last page and set it down, you will be forced with a choice: hope or despair.
I still believe there is hope. However, it must manifest itself soon in real action by the American people to reclaim our national ideals. If we aren’t up to the task, more than this nation will suffer the consequences. Our species will self-destruct, and those surviving will not miss us.
Oct 19, 2009
Oct 14, 2009
Two stories in the NY Times caught my eye today. They brought back the feeling of those old English classes in high school and college where we were invited to “compare and contrast” a pair of literary entities, such as characters in a Dickens novel or the way Fitzgerald and Dos Passos envisioned American in the 1920s.
These stories, by implication, compared and contrasted two modes of contemporary life in the U.S., and without belaboring you with my own two cents’ worth regarding their messages, I will simply link them and encourage you to read them both:
U.S. Pay Czar Tries Again to Trim A.I.G. Bonuses
Still on the Job, but at Half the Pay
Oct 09, 2009
Twitter is all a-twitter, with tweets running seven to three on the “embarrassing joke” side of the equation.1 Kristof called it “premature” on his blog.2 Fellow NY Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s tweet asks “[W]hat on earth has he done to deserved [sic] this?”
The progressive press is leaning the other way. After a somewhat snide opening by someone calling themself “PZS,” Truthdig just reports the facts, ma’am, and leaves for Editor Robert Scheer to figure out where he stands in an upcoming column,3 while the Huffington Post comes right out and says “Bully for him!” or words to that effect.4
Meanwhile, a relative tweets, “Am I the only one who thinks it’s great that Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize?“ Apparently not.
For myself, I was shocked, shocked, to hear the news out of Oslo this morning (shocked enough to take pen to ATN after a long hiatus). Premature? Wishful thinking on the part of the Nobel committee? Or just plain politics as usual? My concentration does tend to be on the domestic scene, where a house in terrible disorder crumbles more each day; where one of our two political parties has regressed to a second, choleric childhood; and where the politics of hope and change has morphed into an intractable status quo.
How much better is the international scene, and has a sitting commander-in-chief managing three public wars and who knows how many secret ones ever won the Nobel Peace Prize? Where is George Orwell when we need him?
Meanwhile in the two most dangerous lands on earth, a lone figure of enormous vision continues planting seeds of peace, as he has done for almost two decades; establishing scores of schools for girls and boys; raising now a second generation of informed, curious people who have been imbued with an understanding and appreciation of freedom and democracy which no gun can ever impose.
The great tragedy of Obama’s peace prize is that it did not go to Greg Mortenson.
1 Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize: 60% of Twitter Users Don’t Get It
2 Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize
3 Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize
4 President Obama’s Noble Nobel Prize
Sep 25, 2009
Sep 06, 2009
People are having a hard time coming to grips with the realization that Obama is every bit the corporate lackey that his predecessors have been for the last 30 years, Clinton included. He has lost his progressive base, those of us who are more informed, more mature, and therefore more wise and far-seeing than our center and right-wing compatriots. However, for all our information and wisdom, we managed to be well and truly snookered by the Obama campaign, some of us—myself, for instance—blinded by the unimagined euphoria of seeing a black man make a credible run at the White House in this deeply arrogant, self-satisfied, ignorant, and racist country.
At least one pundit has predicted the Democrats will lose 30 to 50 seats in the House in 2010, possibly even losing their majority. The Democratic hold on the Senate is so marginal that we can predict their losing at least the ability to forestall Republican filibusters. We will then settle back into frigid gridlock for the remainder of Obama’s one-term presidency.
It is already scarcely more than a year before the midterm elections. It is urgently incumbent upon progressives and their liberal Democratic friends to:
Sep 03, 2009
[S]houldn’t the vision of marshaling forces to improve conditions for the greatest possible number of Americans be the appropriate goal for any civilized society? —Arianna Huffington, August 31, 2009, The Huffington PostThere are two political philosophies which have vied in unequal battle throughout human history. In her excellent column (must reading at the link above), Huffington espouses the one known by the name Utilitarianism, which counsels “that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility, that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed by all people.”1 The Utilitarian political philosophy contends that government exists to realize the greatest good for the greatest number and is the philosophy to which all governments pay lip service.
Aug 26, 2009
Aug 14, 2009
The radical right owns the debates—all the debates—for two reasons: 1) by virtue of the outrageousness of their arguments (the Employee Free Choice Act’s card check provision will destroy democracy; health care reform will institute death panels; Obama’s presidency is illegitimate since he wasn’t born in the U.S.); and 2) by the complicity of the mainstream media in focusing its time and coverage entirely on that outrageousness. Oh, and a third reason: the Democrats’ unwillingness to come together in favor of any reform that might threaten their donor base, which is to say, any reform that favors the people’s interests over those of the corporatocracy.
No reform legislation that would satisfy the American people, let alone progressives, has been passed so far in the Obama administration, or will be passed in its remaining 40 months. This seems clear. As the stock market rises, making the fat cats happy, salaries languish and initial unemployment claims increased to over 550,000 for the week ending Aug 8.1 In July, our most important economic indicator, the growth in the gross domestic product, was minus 1 percent while China’s increased a whopping 14.9 percent.2 While the earth burns, an insufficient energy bill languishes in the Senate, awaiting further watering down on its way to passage.
The status quo is unsustainable. The golden goose—the physical, intellectual, and financial power of the people—lies wounded and gasping for breath. Two generations of a failed educational system has produced an inarticulate, angry populace that cannot reason or recognize their own self-interest, and are pawns in the hands of a cynical, grasping plutocracy.
There is one nonviolent solution to the cataclysms we face, and it is an unlikely one. Until the tanks begin rolling down Main Street, the power continues to be invested in the people and their elected representatives. We must join forces to find, fund, and elect representatives who are responsible to the people—all the people—and not to a tiny number of super-billionaires. If we cannot do that—and it is as long a shot as I can remember in a lengthy experience of the American political scene—we are finished, as a people, as a nation, and as a promise to the world.
1 Retails Sales and Unemployment Claims Disapppoint, by Phil Mintz, from Business Week, Aug 13, 2009, accessed Aug 14, 2009.
2 China Soothes Credit Tightening Fears, from Reuters, quoted in the New York Times, Aug 12, 2009, accessed Aug 14, 2009.
Aug 03, 2009
World on Fire, by Sarah MacLachlan
Jul 30, 2009
The Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C., Sec. 1385), passed in 1878, limits the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement.1 The act has allegedly been violated to a significant and alarming degree, as reported on Democracy Now on July 28, 2009.2 The story goes well beyond the outing (via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request) of a military informant, to describe scores of multi-jurisdictional intelligence fusion centers, where local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and national intelligence entities, including the military, pool knowledge and resources to combat terrorism. Pooling intelligence is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. In fact, greater cooperation among federal intelligence agencies just might have prevented 9/11. However, when those intelligence bodies are tasked with domestic spying and include military intelligence, we need to fear a great deal more than the breaking of a 130-year-old statute.
Back in February, in The Gathering Storm, I wrote, “An army unit has been stationed inside the U.S. to control ‘civil unrest.’3 Protestors at the Republican Convention are being tried as terrorists....4 A perfect storm of militarism, domestic unrest, and the criminalization of dissent is gathering. If the spectre of fascism hovered over the Bush presidency, it has come to walk the earth in the second month of an administration swept to power on what are increasingly coming to appear to be fraudulent promises of hope and change.”
We have a do-nothing Congress and a very busy Executive branch, continuing and expanding the atrocities of the Bush administration. Domestic terrorism in the form of an Oklahoma City bomber is bad enough. When our federal government gets into the business of watching, recording, harassing, and, yes, terrorizing its own people, the spectre of domestic terrorism takes on a different and altogether too horrible face.
Will we wake up when they come for the anarchists? Will we wake up when they come for the socialists? Will we wake up when they come for us?
1 Posse Comitatus Act, from Wikipedia, accessed Jul 30, 2009.
2 Declassified Docs Reveal Military Operative Spied on WA Peace Groups, Activist Friends Stunned, from Democracy Now, Jul 28, 2009, accessed Jul 30, 2009.
3 ACLU Seeks Answers on Reports of Domestic Army Deployment, from Democracy Now, Oct 22, 2008.
4 RNC Protestors Tried on Terrorism Charges Despite Acknowlegement They Didn’t Commit Alleged Acts, from Democracy Now, Feb 18, 2009.
Jul 26, 2009
Jul 25, 2009
The Henry Louis Gates encounter with the Cambridge police has been much in the news of late, even prompting the president to put in his two cents’ worth (and his foot in his mouth). I have read much on the issue, from various points of view, in an attempt to understand my own attitude toward the encounter, the significance of which, of course, goes well beyond the incident itself.
The legacy of race relations in the U.S. is the cross we all bear as Americans. Slavery was a crime against humanity as foul as any save genocide and was, indeed, a kind of genocide. The plight of the colored races in this country, since black Americans were freed in 1863, has been scarcely better than slavery and, in some locales and periods, arguably worse.
The fact that America today can elect a black president is cause for enormous pride and celebration. Without minimizing this, however, we must acknowledge that racism still smolders in our hearts, and its effects are still a plague upon a huge contingent of our people. No black person in America lives what any white person would recognize as a “normal life.” They never enter society unaccompanied by some level of fear and apprehension. They have not a moment’s waking peace, and their dreams are troubled by the residue of generations of intense cruelty and injustice.
Into this mix arrives a routine police response to an alleged breaking and entering, ending with the arrest in his own home of one of America's most respected intellectuals. An insufficient I.D., persistent outrage, an unfortunate “clash of egos”—whatever the putative cause of Gates’s short-lived arrest, a simple fact, I believe, remains indisputable: Gates’s anger provoked anger in the policeman, and a policeman in the course of his duties must not allow himself to become angry. Such a debilitating emotional response must be trained out of recruits, or they should not be allowed to serve. You may argue that a policeman’s day consists of scores of provocative encounters with angry and dangerous elements. All the more reason why an appropriate professional response must not include an emotion which interferes with an appropriate professional response.
1 Obama Expresses His Regrets on Gates Incident, by Jeff Zeleny, the New York Times, Jul 24, 2009, accessed Jul 25, 2009.
Jul 19, 2009
We need fundamental, systemic change in this country in the way we:
Jul 13, 2009
It was Winston Churchill who famously observed, “[D]emocracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”1
One may say the same about capitalism—it is the worst economic system except for all the others we have tried. The essential problem with capitalism is that it can too easily be subverted to the service and enrichment of the few, to the detriment of the many. It happened in the last decades of the 19th century, during the 1920s, and again during the early 2000s, following the extensive deregulation of the financial industry at the end of the Clinton administration.
An economic system, like a political system, must be administered for the benefit of society in general, and in order for that to happen, it must be rigorously restrained and guided by a set of rules. The New Political Party (NPP), in setting out its fourth platform plank on the economy, proposes that the following should be among those rules:
Jul 12, 2009
Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Jul 05, 2009
Happy Daze will compile only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Aux Barricades! lists action ideas, and Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes of interest.
Happy Daze is devoted to reminding us that good things do happen, progress is being made, and that even Armageddon may, at times, seem to have a silver lining.
Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes this month’s so far:
Jul 04, 2009
On this most important American holiday, six months into an administration which promised hope and change, with our In-box filled with requests for our signature and our dollars from MoveOn, Democracy for America, True Majority, and other such organizations which we have helped and supported over the past difficult years, we pause to consider just where we are today, and where we (and the country at large) would wish to be and how we are to get there.
For the true Progressive, those organizations noted above, all of which support, tolerate, and/or ignore the continual flipping, backsliding, and repudiations of the progressive agenda by the White House, have removed themselves from any claim to our loyalty or our funds. Progressives have an agenda which, in the last election, was most clearly articulated by Ralph Nader. We voted for Obama, however, because we wanted to win. In doing so, we got more of the same, as the worst excesses of the Bush administration, including kidnapping, torture, domestic spying, and preventive detention, continue to be supported today.
One liberal initiative after another is now being passed with much fanfare and little substance. A credit card bill fails to set a ceiling on interest rates; an energy bill is universally acknowledged, by supporters and detractors alike, to be grossly insufficient in addressing a life-and-death issue; a tobacco bill ensures the survival of a toxic industry. Other initiatives are effectively stalled (EFCA), or strangled and trampled beyond recognition (a health care bill which is gradually but inexorably abandoning a public option, let alone the single-payer plan favored by 76 percent of Americans).
The Obama administration, the Democratic party, and the grassroots organizations which have grown up on the Internet to support an agenda for change no longer represent the progressive voice in America. On this day, of all days, we should declare our independence from all three, and begin the long and difficult task of building a new political party that represents the will of a people still eager to believe in, embrace, and realize the promise of a great and noble idea.
Jun 30, 2009
Jun 30, 2009
Happy Daze will compile only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Aux Barricades! lists action ideas, and Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes of interest.
Happy Daze is devoted to reminding us that good things do happen, progress is being made, and that even Armageddon may, at times, seem to have a silver lining.
Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes this month’s so far:
Jun 30, 2009
Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Jun 28, 2009
No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.The current, very heated debate surrounding health care reform is being conducted entirely within the context of the status quo, whereas medicine and health care will experience revolutionary change this century, rendering the status quo unrecognizable, probably within a generation.
—Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)
Jun 13, 2009
The U.S. system of universal free public education, developed in the 19th century, is one of the brightest stars in the firmament of American democracy. But even the brightest stars eventually go out, and today the system so suffers from its shortcomings, and the cost of those shortcomings has become so high, that the American system of education finds itself undergoing a sea change.
The most glaring among its shortcomings is its failure to deliver a quality product across the full spectrum of society. Urban, rural, and minority populations have consistently received short shrift. Urban minorities, in particular, have been relegated to what are essentially custodial detention facilities, abysmally underfunded, where generations have been lost to poverty and violence, in a downward spiral of despair.
Though impossible to say just how the education system will appear once the smoke clears, it is safe to speculate that there is a better than even chance that the new system will do a superior job of delivering on the egalitarian promise of universal education. Note, for instance, the excellent work being done by the following schools and institutions:
Jun 07, 2009
The controversial amendment1 to the recent Credit Card bill, allowing loaded weapons, including assault rifles, in national parks, was supported by all three Vermont members of Congress, Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders and Representative Peter Welch. We had written them all, urging them to oppose this notion that was even too radical for Ronald Reagan. Two of them, Sanders and Welch, responded, and claimed they were voting for the measure because they wanted to leave the issue up to the states. Leahy did not respond.
How voting to change a federal law may be considered “leaving it up to the states” is a question not easily answered. However, need we bother looking for an answer? The vote is such an obvious sop to the gun interests in Vermont and to the NRA, that their silly attempt at a rational response is just that—silly.
The Second Amendment is of vital importance to a people who do not want their government to be the only ones allowed to possess and bear arms. However, like schools and other public places where children predominate and a pacific atmosphere is necessary to the enjoyment of the venue, national parks are no places for gun-toting good old boys and their M-16s.
And our congressional delegation ought to be ashamed of going Ronald Reagan one better and allowing them back in.
To see how your delegation did, and to write them if you don’t like their stand, see several entries in the May 2009 Noted with Interest.
1 Search for Bill Number H.R. 627, then find Text of Amendments, pp. S5384-5385.
Jun 06, 2009
The Obama administration should stop calling people czars: the drug czar,1 the cyber czar,2 the Great Lakes czar,3 the pay czar,4 the car czar.5 By some accounts, there are now 20 or more “czars” running around Washington,6 czaring it up and giving us all a false sense of security: After all, if a czar is in charge, something must be getting done.
There are at least two objections to the utilization of this designation:
First, czars—and we are speaking of the real thing now—were among the most despicable villains in history, whether we called them czars, kaisers, or, to go back to the original, Caesar himself. The Russian czars (later deeming themselves emperors as well)—Ivan, Catherine, Peter, Alexander, Nicholas, et al.—were among the cruelest, greediest, and most self-indulgent monarchs in the unhappy human panoply of absolute rulers.
And in that “absolute” lies the second objection. Czars were absolute rulers, with life-and-death power over their wretched populations, subject to no checks and balances to their boundless presumptions. Our czars, in contrast, are frauds, holding little or no power over even their carefully delimited corner of the political world. They are straw men (and notice they are all men, nary a czarina in sight), propped up to deflect attention from the real center of power (the Oval Office) and to give the impression, as noted above, that powerful forces are at work cutting through the red tape and bureaucracy of the normal D.C. slough to bring swift and certain resolution to knotty problems of policy and politics, when nothing could be further from the truth. They are, rather, mere P.R. bandaids slapped onto wounds too complicated and difficult of resolution for us to contemplate in the light of day. Turn those wounds over to a czar, however, and we can all rest easy.
If only it were that simple, and if only czars—ever champions of the status quo—could be counted on to foster change for the common good.
1 US drug czar calls for end of “war on drugs,” by Andy Sullivan, from Reuters, Jun 5, 2009, accessed, as all notes in this item, Jun 6, 2009.
2 Obama Set to Create “Cyber Czar” Position, by Siobhan Gorman and Yochi J. Dreazen, from the Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2009.
3 President Obama names Great Lakes czar to oversee cleanup efforts, by Tom Jackson, from the Sandusky Register Online, Jun 6, 2009.
4 All Bow to the Pay Czar, by Caitlin McDevitt, from Reuters, Jun 5, 2009.
5 Barney Frank: Car Czar, from the Wall Street Journal, Jun 5, 2009.
6 Here a Czar, there a Czar, everywhere a Czar Czar..., from TheCitizen.com, undated.
May 31, 2009
It is the lack of money, not the love of it, which is the root of all evil.
In this land of plenty, tens of millions of working adults and their children—possibly as many as one in three or four of us,1 have less than enough for the bare necessities, let alone the “plenty” enjoyed by fewer and fewer of us as time goes by.2 The lives of the poor, like the lives of the most miserable sub-Saharan African, are spent scrambling for subsistence, working harder than the rest of us work,3 and exploited and further impoverished by an economic system that preys on them.4 The poor are an unending burden on the body politic; our health care system; our criminal justice system; and our local, state, and federal social welfare systems.
The first plank in the platform of a new political party (NPP) must address this issue, calling for a minimum wage which is a living wage, realistically indexed by place of residence.1 Until all working Americans are freed from what is essentially a modern serfdom, all our other social and economic ills will continue to plague us.
A more equitable distribution of the existing economic pie will, of necessity, result in less income for those in the top brackets, at least in the short term. Given the enormous gap between rich and poor which has been allowed to develop over the past thirty years,5 this may be looked upon as a correction rather than an attempt to “soak the rich.” In the medium and long term, economic justice and equity will act as a rising tide, lifting all boats to higher levels of fiscal well being.
1 Poor and Poorer, All Together Now (ATN), Apr 28, 2009.
2 Wage Slave, ATN, Jan 29, 2009.
3 Poor No More; No More Poor!, ATN, Nov 19, 2008.
4 Soaking the Poor, ATN, Sep 4, 2008.
5 Gap between rich, poor seen growing, from CNNMoney.com, Oct 12, 2007, accessed May 31, 2009.
May 25, 2009
Make no mistake. We are on the wrong track. This is no lone voice crying in the wilderness. Eighty-two percent of Americans during the last year of the Bush Administration1 and 56 percent of Americans still today2 agree.
The formation of a new political party is an idea that can only be entertained in the most extreme of circumstances. When a people’s elected representatives have ceased to represent the people; when inequities in opportunity, education, and income have metastasized beyond anything ever tolerated by a free society; when basic guarantees of liberty such as due process and an independent judiciary have been set aside in the name of expedience and fear; when a global economic system is crippled by a corporatocracy answerable only to itself; when military solutions are applied to social, political, and economic problems which military solutions cannot solve; and when an imbalance of such startling proportions raises the executive branch not only above the other two branches but above the rule of law itself;
Then, the contemplation of a new political party, one which engages the best wisdom of both conservative and liberal traditions; which invokes the wise counsels of our brilliant Founders; which, for all the abominations we have visited upon the colored races of the earth, yet understands the special nature of America’s origins and our purpose; the contemplation of such a new political party becomes not only a daring leap of faith but an urgent necessity in the face of an intolerable status quo.
With the waning of the Republican Party and the unwillingness of the Democratic Party to answer to the demands or to meet the needs of the people, the time has come for the formation of a new political party. We encourage the legions of individuals, groups, organizations, and interests who today are working for a strong, sane, and compassionate America to band together to form a political party in support of a new breed of candidate, one devoted to harnessing the promise and power of America for the betterment of all humanity.
This is our right and our responsibility. This is the time. The future awaits our courage.
1 Bush Hits New Low as “Wrong Track” Rises, by Gary Langer, from ABC News, May 12, 2008, accessed May 24, 2009.
2 Three in Five Americans Give President Obama’s Job Performance Positive Ratings (.pdf, 6 pp. 323Kb) from a Harris Poll, May 21, 2009, accessed May 24, 2009.
May 24, 2009
I have just finished a short (155-page) book which every American should read: The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,1 by Naomi Wolf2. This “Citizen’s Call to Action” painstakingly documents the ten steps nations take toward what Wolf terms a “fascist shift.”
She sets forth examples of the worst regimes of the 20th century: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy (where fascism was invented), and Pinochet’s Chile. Then, in ten central chapters, Wolf shows how America is following in the footsteps of those regimes every step of the way:
[W]e on the left must snap out of our “it’s-all-the-WTO-the-two-parties-are-the-same” torpor; and we on the right must snap out of the “if America does it, it is right” torpor as well.In my view, the greatest political and social danger we face today is that due process and habeas corpus have become optional for the executive branch (see #10 above). The Bush administration established and the Obama administration has preserved3 the notion that anyone—American citizen or otherwise—may be arrested and imprisoned forever with no access to a lawyer or to family and with no trial, on the president’s sole authority. If this idea doesn’t scare the pants off you, well, it is probably because you think you are a good American and it can’t happen to you.
We all have to reengage in an old-fashioned commitment to democratic action and believe once again in an old-fashioned notion of the Republic. We need you to help lead a democracy movement in America like the ones that have toppled repressive regimes overseas.
We can’t, as a nation, switch on the metaphorical iPod and go for a run, somehow expecting a magical shift in the winds.
May 23, 2009
May 18, 2009
All Together Now, begun on May 25, 2008, is currently suspended. Past postings are available via the monthly archives in the right-hand column or the category archives (Tags) in the left-hand column.
Aux Barricades! will continue to be updated with recommended political action items for the time being. They will also be available via our Twitter feed.
May 11, 2009
As the first anniversary of All Together Now approaches (our first posting was on May 25, 2008), we will take the rest of the week off to contemplate what the second year may or may not look like.
The first year, we believe, fulfilled our three-part mission, as noted in About ATN:
May 08, 2009
Perhaps the central theme of All Together Now is our belief that the way to future progress in the world—and away from the divisiveness, animosities, and looming social, political, and environmental disasters we face on so many fronts—is to optimize our human capital. We must free humanity from the shackles of poverty, ignorance, and oppression, not out of altruistic motives but as a survival tactic. We are going to need all the help we can get in the 21st century if our species is to survive, let alone to thrive. As we are now able to end poverty and ignorance and oppression, so we must work tirelessly to do so, liberating billions of minds and bodies to join in our common struggle for survival.
This TED Talk by economist Alex Tabarrok, entitled How ideas trump economic crises—a surprising lesson from 1929, supports and advances our thesis from an economic perspective.
May 07, 2009
According to Wikipedia, “In US politics, an earmark is a congressional provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects or that directs specific exemptions from taxes or mandated fees.”1
Earmarks are a subject politicians love to go on about when they are attacking the other side; however, they are an equal opportunity provision protected by the appropriations privilege granted to the legislative branch in the Constitution (Art. 1, Sec. 9). Earmarks circumvent the usual procedures involved with federal allocations of funds, including congressional debate (although requested earmarks are not always received), competitive bidding, and Executive branch oversight of expenditures. Until recently, congressional legislators could anonymously request and receive these special appropriations; since the 110th Congress (2007-2008), they have had to post their requests on their web sites.
Earmarks, or “pork,” as they are usually referred to in the media, constitute about two percent of the federal budget—not terribly significant, but neither is it a trivial figure. We wrote about earmarks last September at The Problem with Pork, where we said, “[T]he waste of a three-trillion-dollar mistake in Iraq dwarfs the cumulative effect of a hundred years’ worth of earmarks.”
In April, 2009, New Hampshire representative Paul Hodes introduced H.R. 2038 (linked via GovTrack.us), which would “prohibit an authorized committee of a candidate who is a Member of Congress from accepting contributions from any entity for which the Candidate sought a Congressional earmark.” The bill seeks to disconnect earmarks from campaign contributions, which, to the extent they are connected, could well (and should) expose a legislator to the charge of accepting bribes. The bill has been referred to committee (the House Committee on House Administration). The majority of bills never make it out of committee. We will be watching this one and, should some version of it be enacted into law, we will post it on Happy Daze.
Meanwhile, with an assist from Know Thy Congressman, which provides information on the number of earmarks requested and received by each congressional member (and the total amounts involved), and a trip to members’ websites, here are some data regarding our congressional delegation. If you would like to compile data regarding yours, send it to us, and we will add it to this posting.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: 109 earmarks requested ($458M); 93 received ($221M)
Sen. Leahy’s FY2010 requests: About 120 ($Many Millions).
A hat tip to Bill Allison at Real Time Investigations, a project of the Sunlight Foundation, for digging up these (and Sen. Sanders’s) requests. Their offices never got back to us after multiple requests.
Sen. Bernard Sanders: 44 earmarks requested ($325M); 40 received ($125M)
Sen. Sanders’s FY2010 requests: About 60 ($Many Millions).
Rep. Peter Welch: 24 earmarks requested ($38M); 24 received ($38M)
Rep. Welch’s FY 2010 requests: 29 projects (c.$29M)
The Sunlight Foundation has provided a visualization of earmarks from 2005, which will show you how they were proportionally distributed that year among the states, among federal agencies, and among recipient organization types (for-profit, non-profit, etc.).
Are earmarks pork? When they are used as a means of rewarding a constituent for their support, they are worse than pork, they are a crime. If they award projects to specified contractors without competitive bidding, they may be circumventing rather strict federal regulations. If, however, the earmarks support intelligent, forward-looking projects which benefit all or a large segment of a state’s population, supporting economic, social, and environmental progress, then we may say earmarks constitute one important, and constitutionally legitimate method by which the country’s business is conducted.
Earmarks are probably here to stay. H.R. 2038 and other measures must ensure that they are employed appropriately and for the common good.
1 Earmarks (politics), from Wikipedia, accessed May 5, 2009.
May 06, 2009
Two previous ATN items came to mind this week, as further developments transpired in each.
In It Can Happen Here; It Is Happening Here back in September 2008, we highlighted the extreme secrecy of the Bush Administration and noted how that secrecy, combined with the unholy alliance and mutual dependence of government and industry, threatened to morph our free democracy into a fascist state. Paranoid conspiracy theory? Perhaps. However, since then, there are at least three disturbing developments that continue to lead us in that direction:
May 05, 2009
Happy Daze will compile only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Aux Barricades! lists action ideas, and Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes.
Happy Daze is devoted to reminding us that good things do happen, progress is being made, and even Armageddon may, at times, seem to have a silver lining.
Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes this month’s so far:
May 04, 2009
Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
May 01, 2009
Apr 30, 2009
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has reminded us, exhausted as we all may be from a two-year campaign that seems to have ended only yesterday, that we are indeed in another—indeed always in another—election cycle. The convenient maps they have provided at their web site provide a reminder—as if we needed one—of what this 2009-2010 campaign is really about. (Hint: The same as the last one.) The amount in parentheses is the cash on hand in the candidate’s campaign war chest as of Mar 31, 2009.
Apr 29, 2009
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with the mission of using the Internet to make information about Congress and the federal government more meaningfully accessible to us. See Party Time and Fifty-State Project. Follow them on Twitter.
They have just awarded prizes in their first Apps for American Government Mashup Contest and the winners are pretty cool. (A “mashup,” by the way, is a procedure that combines web-based resources to provide additional, new, or value-added services.)
Apr 28, 2009
The method our nation uses to define and identify families living in poverty is flawed and obsolete, and, because it radically underestimates the income necessary to purchase basic necessities, it provides misleading intelligence regarding the numbers of our fellow citizens who are without those basic necessities.
A three-page report from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), entitled Measuring Poverty in the United States, admirably summarizes what’s wrong with the way we measure poverty:
Apr 27, 2009
Reclaiming America’s Soul, by Paul Krugman, from the New York Times, Apr 23, 2009
“[N]ever before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for.”
The Torture Moment, by Arianna Huffington, from the Huffington Post, Apr 24, 2009
“Since when is adhering to the laws that govern us a left-wing ‘point-of-view’?”
The Dubious C.I.A. Shortcut, by Philip Zelikow, from the New York Times, Apr 23, 2009
“[T]he methods of torment do not stack up well against proved alternatives that rely on patience and skill.”
Torturers Should Be Punished, by Amy Goodman, from truthdig.com, Apr 21, 2009
“Though [Obama] may occupy the most powerful office on Earth, there is a force more powerful: committed people demanding change. We need a universal standard of justice. Torturers should be punished.”
Time to Come Clean, by Nicholas D. Kristof, from the New York Times, Apr 26, 2009
“[T]oday’s revulsion at waterboarding is broad but fragile. And that makes it essential that the United States proceed with an independent commission to investigate harsh treatment and tally its costs and benefits.”
We Don’t Torture, with Jon Stewart, from the Daily Show, Apr 21, 2009
“We Don’t Torture. Three words that aren’t said enough, that symbolize America... No matter how bad it gets, no matter how ruthless our enemies, we don’t torture. Now, whether or not that statement is true isn’t the point. The point is, don’t f***ing worry about it.’
How can anyone who claims to be an American; who remembers—or lives among those who remember—Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot; who lays claim to being a human being with some vestige of imagination or empathy; how can we (because this includes you and me) live with this awful knowledge, that we have torn bodies, ruined lives, driven our fellow creatures to madness and suicide, in a decade-long vengeful holocaust of ineffectual bestiality that has placed us in the company of the worst monsters in history? How can we know this, and not be on the streets with pikestaffs and pitchforks, howling for the restitution of justice and the restoration of our morality?
It beggars understanding.
Apr 24, 2009
We'll take the day off and let Shai Agassi talk to you about A bold plan for mass adoption of electric cars. This TED Talk will show you how whole countries will be driving emission-free electric vehicles by 2020. “Persuasive; Inspiring; Ingenious!”
Apr 23, 2009
The Internet offers a good assortment of tools to keep up to date on federal political matters. Thomas, a service of the Library of Congress, has the halls (and shenanigans) of the U.S. House and Senate pretty well covered from an official point of view, and we like Joshua Tauberer’s Govtrack.us, for the unofficial view. Joshua's site provides many tools to help us understand and keep up to date on pending and enacted legislation at the federal level. It will track bills, legislators, and other congressional matters you are interested in, emailing you updates as they occur.
However, if “all politics is local,” as Tip O’Neill maintained, then we need to keep as close an eye on our state reps as we do the boys and girls in D.C. Until recently, that wasn’t so easy to do. Now, a new start-up called the Fifty State Project is putting together what looks like an excellent resource for tracking state legislatures. Their goals:
Apr 22, 2009
After oxygen, the first requirement for the sustenance of life is fresh water. It is a finite resource for which there is no substitute, and water is coming under dangerously high levels of competitive pressure, driven by increasing population and international development efforts. Seventy percent of fresh water is used for agricultural irrigation—at the front of the food chain, in other words, and in a position, should supplies fall, of directly impacting our ability to feed a population expected to grow from six to nine billion between 2000 and 2050. We have seen steep price increases in food in recent years, driven by population and development pressures, as well as the biofuel initiative, which is alone responsible for as much as 70 percent of the increase in corn prices.
Although we are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of clean drinking water for 90 percent of the world’s population by 2015, we are far behind on the goal to provide basic sanitation services, also heavily dependent on water. In this regard, 2.4 billion people—a third of the world’s population—are expected to be without access to basic sanitation in 2015. The economic and security ramifications of this are enormous.
Pressures such as these on a finite resource spell trouble. Get the full picture of where we are today and where we are going, in The 3rd United Nations World Water Development Report: Water in a Changing World. It is not a pretty picture, and if we don’t soon stop spending trillions to blow each other up and turn our attention and our resources to managing the basic water-related needs of the world, conflicts will arise in the next 50 years that will make the present hot spots around the world seem like friendly family squabbles.
For a look at the domestic scene, see Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It (.pdf, 2.1Mb, 44 pages), produced by a consortium of environmental groups.
Apr 21, 2009
Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are three worthy organizations all engaged in more or less the same endeavor—monitoring and fighting human rights abuses around the world. And there are many other such organizations.
MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, True Majority.org, and Credo Action are four worthy organizations all engaged in more or less the same endeavor—organizing voters to support progressive issues and candidates. November5.org and Accountability NOW are also engaged in these pursuits, although both seem to have been stillborn.
Food&WaterWatch and Food Democracy Now, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are three worthy organizations that monitor and promote progressive food safety issues. Again, there are many others.
The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy are three of the better known organizations among scores of others advocating environmental protection and reform.
These groups all compete for the same support dollar within their spheres of interest, inevitably “balkanizing” themselves and their missions. What it seems to us we need in our struggle to bring about real progressive change is some amalgamating facility that will bring us together in a coordinated, targeted, and sustained effort. We believe that effort should be aimed at finding, funding, and electing a new generation of “untouchable” politicians committed to a progressive agenda, politicians who are not naive regarding the harsh realities of a dangerous world, but are committed to marshalling the resources of the Great Idea which is America to bring peace and plenty to a suffering planet.
We don’t know how to do this. A charismatic figure such as Martin Luther King could galvanize these groups, although no one of that stature has appeared since we lost Dr. King. To be sure, the forces of Darkness are masters at kludging a grabbag of conflicting interests into a formidable political force, and they are hard at work doing so today.
Time is short, as the world spins toward political, environmental, and economic disaster. Nuclear arms are proliferating; political repression is spreading; environmental degradation continues apace. Before our worser natures are caught up in a dog-eat-dog catalcysm of resource wars and fascist repression, we must empower our better natures to save the world, assured that it is entirely within our grasp to do so.
Apr 20, 2009
People should remember that while they have the right to their opinion, they are not entitled to be taken seriously.
Bruce Bartlett, economist and former Reagan administration official (read his terrific take on today’s subject—tax tea parties—at Forbes.com, Apr 17, 2009, accessed Apr 18, 2009)
Apr 17, 2009
From “No Child Left Behind,” we are now on to the “Race to the Top,” the Obama administration’s initiative to improve preK-16 education in America. Students who may be considered “at risk” in our system—lower income students and students of color—now comprise almost half the total student body in our public schools, forcing us to confront the substantial inequities in educational opportunities provided to this population.
The Education Trust, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to make schools and colleges work for all of the young people they serve, has provided useful data compilations on all 50 states and D.C.1 These data provide a “starting gate” from which we may compare the progress made (or not) in the coming years. The data include demographic information, scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests which are taken annually by 4th and 8th graders, high school graduation rates, and information regarding resources (teachers, curriculum, funding) available to high- and low-income students.
Their handy state maps2 provide links to full reports on each state and a national summary report, as well as a Quick Look Chart, a one-page table showing the progress (or lack of same) in closing educational gaps over the past ten years or so.
Check out how your state measures up; note (in the national summary report) the alarming extent to which we are failing half our children today; then prepare to take your part in attacking a problem which must be solved if America is to retain relevance, let alone pre-eminence, in the 21st century.
1 Education Watch: Tracking Achievement, Attainment, and Opportunity in America’s Public Schools, accessed Apr 12, 2009.
2 Links to Education Watch 2009 State Summary Reports, accessed Apr 12, 2009.
Apr 16, 2009
Unemployment and excessive inequality are capitalism’s principal faults, according to John Maynard Keynes. These faults have become glaringly obvious in the past thirty years, when the gap between the lowest paid workers and the highest has increased tenfold or more.1 The employment crisis is more than evident to the 5.1 million who have become unemployed during the current downturn toward depression, joining millions of others who are working part time against their will or have given up looking for work altogether. Some estimate the true unemployment rate at more than 15 percent.2 Our voice, raised perhaps monotonously often in favor of the establishment of an immediate and significant federal jobs program, on a par with the Works Progress Administration or the Civilian Conservation Corps, has now been joined by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, in a report entitled The Social and Economic Importance of Full Employment, by L. Randall Wray.
The popular view holds that in a capitalist economy, a hefty contingent of the unemployed keep down the pressure for wage increases by those who are working, since there are plenty of others ready and willing to take their jobs. In addition, too-low unemployment, because it forces employers to pay higher wages to attract the best workers from a shrinking pool, is inflationary. The popular view is not only an immoral view but, according to the Levy Institute, an incorrect one as well. The Institute argues for the government taking on the role of employer of last resort (ELR), hiring “any workers not needed in the private sector or by existing government operations.”
The report goes on to refute the arguments against a federal ELR program, and offers suggestions for useful types of work, including the sort that Roosevelt provided in the 30s.
If unemployement continues to rise at anything like the rate we have seen in the last six months, we will approach Great Depression levels of actual unemployment (25 percent or more) before the end of the year. The time is now to institute a federal ELR program. It is not only morally imperative for a civilized nation to guarantee employment to anyone willing and able to work, it may be our last hope to avoid massive civil unrest and a prolonged worldwide depression.
1 Income inequality in the United States, from Wikipedia, accessed Apr 11, 2009.
2 Shocking truth: The real unemployment rate is is much higher, by Steve Crist, from the Burlington (VT) Examiner, Apr 7, 2009, accessed Apr 22, 2009.
Apr 15, 2009
In a service-based, high-tech world, it’s smarts that keep one country ahead of another, and the U.S. has always prided itself on both local and imported smarts to keep us on top. Our wild west form of democracy rewards the entrepreneurial spirit and, for all our fiscal problems and other societal drawbacks, we do provide a rich, laissez-faire environment for developing individual initiative.
Our imported smarts include such worthies as the large contingent of former Nazis, Werner von Braun among them, whom we spirited to our shores at the end of WWII to help us with our nuclear and space programs. We also depend on capturing and retaining students from abroad who come here to study in our famed graduate schools. Together with those we bring here on our H1-B program1 (and applications for that important resource are falling2), these graduate students—among the best and the brightest from their native lands—often find the allurements of our open democracy preferable to returning to countries with significantly fewer opportunities, and are enticed to stick around, ultimately winning a green card and citizenship.
That pool of potential smarts is drying up, however, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.3 Following a precipitous 28 percent drop in the number of graduate school applications from foreign students during the chaotic early days of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, subsequent rates of growth in applications have declined for the last three years, from 12 percent growth in 2006 to 4 percent in 2009.
India and South Korea are among the countries with the steepest decline in applications, having entered minus territory for the first time in 2009 (-9 percent and -7 percent, respectively). We have only held to positive growth in 2009 thanks to increased applications from China (16 percent) and the Middle East and Turkey (20 percent).
Is the bloom off the American rose? Let us hope not. Whether the 21st century will be another American century, a Chinese century, or some other century, it will for certain be a century in which high-tech smarts will drive the advancement of industry and of society. In all the realms of pure and applied science, we will move further toward understanding our world in this century than we have in all the previous ones combined.
Whether that understanding will be put to the service of a saner, more just and equitable world, or merely further the exploitation and misery so prevalent today will depend upon who harnesses those smarts, and our hopes still reside at home. For all our crimes and our shortcomings, and they have been as heinous and as unforgivable as any people’s in history, American exceptionalism is real, and the world knows it.
We expect the drop in the growth of graduate school applications is fallout from the Bush years, when the administration did everything it could to destroy our exceptionalism. It didn’t succeed, and if Obama can fulfill even a portion of his promise, we expect America to return to being the star that burns the brightest in the eyes of a world seeking peace and justice.
1 H1-B visa, from Wikipedia, accessed Apr 11, 2009.
2 Demand for H1-B visas tumble, by Patrick Thibodeau, from Computerworld, Apr 8, 2009, accessed Apr 13, 2009.
3 Growth in international applications slows for 3rd straight year, Apr 7, 2009, accessed Apr 11, 2009.
Apr 14, 2009
Owing to the fact that even our spouse won’t read us anymore because we’re too depressing, we are introducing a new feature this month: Happy Daze.
Happy Daze will compile only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Aux Barricades! lists action ideas, and Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes of interest. Happy Daze is devoted to reminding us that good things do happen, progress is being made, and that even Armageddon may, at times, seem to have a silver lining. Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes April (so far):
Apr 13, 2009
Miss Manners had a letter that caught our interest last week.1 A woman wrote in regarding Facebook. She had responded to postings from two of her “friends” on the “social networking” site. In both instances, the writers of the original postings told the letter writer, more or less, to mind her own business. Miss Manners’s response was, as usual, right on point:
“Your friends are turning into virtual friends… The model for this, as Miss Manners is not the first to observe, is the celebrity. They “do” publicity through trusted chroniclers—in this case themselves—but are huffy about their “privacy” when they manage to attract someone’s interest… Miss Manners is afraid you must note whether their confidences are being made to you as a friend or the wide world of virtual so-called friends who are not expected to show interest. Or you could make new friends who value real friendship.”Facebook and MySpace are, in reality, antisocial networking sites where individuals can strut their stuff before a captive aggregation of friends and acquaintances, with the implicit understanding that their observations are to be taken at face value, sans comment, contention, or even commiseration, except of the most cursory sort. Far from encouraging close relationships, these sites offer arms-length protection from the true interactions of friendship, and merely abet and exacerbate a disturbing isolationism, so necessary in turning us all into corralled consumers for the corporatocracy.
Apr 10, 2009
We love capitalism. We think it the optimal engine for economic growth and for democratizing prosperity, way better than communism, fascism, feudalism, or any of the other isms that have been tried and have failed over the course of the last thousand years.
However, capitalism is oblivious to any but its own imperatives, and therefore needs to be monitored, regulated, and contained, lest it lay waste the very soil in which it thrives. A corporation is not a human being, and when we granted corporations personhood in the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,1 we took the first step down a road that has brought us, today, to an economic meltdown that increasingly appears capable of outdoing the Great Depression.
Two subsequent blunders have succeeded that first one. The hard-won labor and environmental protections enacted during the first 70 years of the last century were cast aside by the rush to globalization enabled by NAFTA and other open and not-so-open international trade agreements. And finally, the economic protections put in place during the New Deal were dismantled during the waning days of the Clinton administration, largely at the urging of individuals now directing Obama’s economic policies.
Make no mistake, this has been an equal opportunity dismantling of a government of, by, and for the people, and a wholesale handover to the corporations by the real axis of evil: the military/industrial/beltway complex. The Democrats are as fully responsible for our current plight as the Republicans, and perhaps even more so.
Unrestrained capitalism is a monster, as ravenous, insatiable, and pitiless as a starving wolf. It will subordinate, subjugate, and ultimately consume any resource available to it, human or environmental, to meet its sole objectives: growth and profit.
Capitalism subordinated to the service of the people can make this earth a paradise for all living things. However, when all of life is subordinated to the service of capitalism, as has essentially been the case since the Reagan administration, there will be nothing to hand on to our children but a vast and barren wasteland, overseen by the tattered remnants of a fascist police state, in which their lives will be brutish, violent, and short.
We are already well down that road.
1 Corporate personhood debate, from Wikipedia, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
Apr 09, 2009
Back in Resting on One’s Laurels on Feb 6, we noted that our web host claimed we had 10,183 unique visitors to our site in January. We doubted it then, and perhaps they have come to their senses, because they recorded far fewer unique visitors—5,860—for March. Consulting our yokefellow regarding possible reasons for the precipitous decline, she remarked, “I don’t read it much myself anymore. It’s so depressing!”
We are less concerned about our site being depressing than we are about its being wrong. We often hope we are wrong, having predicted only yesterday, for instance, the end of Western civilization.
But there is no letup in sight for job losses, bank bailouts, or maniacs on shooting rampages (five in the last month, not counting the two murderous attacks in Oakland and Pittsburgh that together killed seven policemen). And now the right is arming, as reported by Charles M. Blow in his latest column in the Times.1 They are being nudged toward violence by the increasingly shrill and irresponsible media and even by the occasional politician (e.g., see Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann’s rant2). Background checks for gun purchases are up almost 30 percent from a year ago, with 5.5 million requests from November to February alone.
Obama needs to lay off the victory laps in foreign lands and start dealing with a deterioriating domestic scene that neither the three-trillion-dollar bank bailouts nor the puny stimulus package are going to affect much. He will end up by addressing what he should have addressed from the very beginning—the wretched state of the American family under the thumb of the corporatocracy.
The right are voicing hysterical declarations to “take back America,” while it is still very much in their hands and under their control. A few touchy-feely pronouncements regarding torture, stem cells, and abortion will not hide the fact that we live under a government of, by, and for the corporations. And we are witnessing what that means when such a situation is allowed to run its course.
How the demise of democracy may finally come about will be the subject of our entry tomorrow.
1 Pitchforks and Pistols, by Charles M. Blow, from the New York Times, Apr 3, 2009, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
2 Michele Bachmann: I Want People “Armed and Dangerous” Over Obama Tax Plan, by Rachel Weiner, from the Huffington Post, Mar 23, 2009, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
Apr 08, 2009
More bad news in March: 663,000 more people lost their jobs. Buried under the fold in the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s monthly report,1 was the not unexpected revelation that January’s job loss figures had been revised upward from 655,000 to 741,000. We noted the BLS’s habitual tendency to come in with unrealistically low estimates of job losses in Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare a Job? So we will probably have to wait a couple of months to find out the true damage in March.
While we wait, let us note that almost three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs in the first month of 2009, and over 1.3 million have lost theirs since—numbers that should be striking a great deal more terror into the hearts of our body politic than they seem to be. The 1.2 to 3.3 million jobs the stimulus package is supposed to create over the next two years (according to the Congressional Budget Office2) already falls far short of the five million plus that have been lost during this recession already, and the monthly losses keep accelerating.
Also little acknowledged are the recent startling increases in bankruptcies,3 even in the face of steep eligibility requirements brought to us by our compassionate corporatocracy in the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.4 Nearly 6,000 people filed for bankruptcy every day in March 2009, up 38 percent from a year earlier. If bankruptcy judges are afforded a measure of control over mortgage foreclosures and renegotiations, filings are expected to soar even higher.
These are not mere numbers, they are human lives, suddenly and violently wrenched from positions of comparative if shaky stability to wracking uncertainty and impending destitution. And it is happening to 700,000 more of us every month. What happened in Binghamton last week5 is only the most public, violent, and recent manifestation of the unravelling of our society.
Those of us still employed must come to the aid of those of us who are not. Jobs—lots of them and right away—must become our only priority. If we do not halt the hemorrhaging of employment in our society, all the bailed out bankers in the world will not save us from a rapid and precipitous descent into massive civil unrest that will threaten the very foundations of our civilization.
Bin Laden must be laughing up his sleeve in some hole in western Pakistan, as he contemplates the descent of his mortal enemies into the same primitive, lawless, and brutal existence in which his own world lays mired.
1 Employment Situation Summary, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2009, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
2 A Preliminary Analysis of the President’s Budget and an Update of the CBO’s Budget and Economic Outlook (.pdf, 1.5Mb, 56 pp.), March 2009, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
3 Downturn Pushes More Toward Bankruptcy, by Tara Siegel Bernard, from the New York Times, Apr 3, 2009, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
4 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, from Wikipedia, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
5 Shooting in Binghamton, N.Y., by Katherine Q. Seelye, from the New York Times, Apr 3, 2009, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
Apr 07, 2009
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matthew 25:40 (King James Version)
Apr 06, 2009
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Apr 03, 2009
The nonprofit sector of the economy constitutes 11 percent of the workforce, more than the auto and financial industries combined. They are suffering a triple whammy in the present downturn: less foundation and individual giving; diminished support from states and localities that are themselves feeling the pinch; and dramatically increased demand from the populations they serve.
In The Quiet Crisis: The Impact of the Economic Downturn on the Nonprofit Sector (.pdf, 2.6Mb, 22 pages), a joint report by Civic Enterprises and the Democratic Leadership Council, the parameters of the problem are made starkly evident:
Apr 02, 2009
Apr 01, 2009
We took the day off yesterday (Friday, March 27) and we’re glad we did. We were home to receive a phone call from James Carmichael, an aid to Rahm Emanuel in the White House. Back in the heady days of the interregnum we had had the audacity to hope for a position in the new Obama White House and had applied for same on the Change.gov web site. Now they were finally getting back to us, and with an offer we are still finding it difficult to believe.
The Initiative for an Equitable Society will be a new cabinet-level department Obama will announce this week, if he hasn’t already. We were offered the position of Research Manager in the office, where we would oversee fact-gathering for upper management tasked, initially, with three assignments:
Mar 31, 2009
A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice entitled Maryland’s Parole Supervision Fee: A Barrier to Reentry (.pdf, 602Kb, 42 pp.) relates how the $40 per month fee charged to parolees in Maryland only gets paid 17 percent of the time, and is strongly opposed by parole officers, who feel it interferes with more important aspects of their jobs.1
Here is another example of Soaking the Poor we wrote about back in September 2008. Only 25 percent of parolees have full-time work upon release, and only a third are fully employed at the end of their parole. “Not our problem,” says the State of Maryland, however, which then duns the parolee for payment with letters threatening to revoke parole during the term, and turns the debt over to a collection agency at the end. The term of parole is supposed to be a time when the parole officer and parolee work to bring the ex-offender back into society. Dunning letters during and after the parole period certainly do nothing to help the recidivism rate in Maryland.
The report’s authors, Rebekah Diller, Judith Greene, and Michelle Jacobs, make a number of recommendations for revising the system if the state is not willing to abolish the supervision fee. The recommendations do not include what we would recommend, however: Get these people a job! Guarantee a job to every one of them willing and able to work. What must their lives be like, burdened by requirements which may also include substance abuse or anger management treatment and child support and alimony payments, and only a third of them have adequate employment by the end of their parole term!
Today’s lesson? Don’t fall a little behind in this system because, Brother, you are on your own.
1 Brennan Center Study Shows Parole Fees Undercut Reentry, Mar 23, 2009, accessed Mar 27, 2009.
Mar 30, 2009
We live in two Americas now.
In the first, a few people take home in one year far, far more than you and all your neighbors put together will earn in your entire lifetime of work. These lucky few own many homes and, if asked just how many in an unguarded moment, may not even be able to recall the correct number. They jet between their homes in luxurious private or chartered aircraft, and their primary care physicians are affiliated with no HMO and you may be sure they still make house calls. These people have bought, paid for, and own the government and, when they screw up, their government does everything it can to prevent their suffering the consequence of their blunders.
The other America is in thrall to this First America. They (we should say “we”) live within a narrow and shrinking range of incomes, from those of us able to save something toward our children’s education and our own retirement, to those who live from payday loan to payday loan, and whose meagre minimum wage is under constant assault from First America's inducements to shop, gamble, drink, play, and borrow. Though both Americas have shared a recent decline in their net worth, ours is catastrophic and essentially uncushioned by government assistance; theirs affects their lifestyles not one whit, and their government is bankrupting itself, and us, to minimize their losses.
The First America is a parasitic America whose parasitism has been perfected over the past thirty years and is now so thoroughly interwoven in our society and our economy as to be virtually inextricable from the body politic. It has done a wonderful job of frightening those whom its educational system has rendered stupid, has co-opted many others, and ignores the rest of us since, for all our bluster, what, after all, can we do when the foxes own the henhouse?
Parasites, of course, eventually kill their hosts, and First America will be no different. If this crisis doesn’t do it—and none of the more dire indicators has improved in Obama’s first months in office—then the next one will.
As we asked in last Thursday’s entry, how could we have come to such a pass? There are scores, if not hundreds, of organizations opposed to the road down which our hapless nation is traveling. There are dozens of eloquent voices in opposition to the corporate takeover of America. However, like the blind men and the elephant, they are each involved in a separate piece of the problem and their efforts are uncoordinated.
Our nation’s salvation lies in finding, funding, and electing a new generation of untouchable politicians to represent all the people and our aspirations for a just and equitable society, for an end to militarism, for a return to the principals and ideals that will restore us to our place at the forefront of the struggle to bring freedom from oppression and want to all the peoples of the world. To that end, we must bring all those organizations and voices together as one. They all have their fervid constituents, and together we can take back America.
Divided, we haven’t a chance.
Mar 27, 2009
Our very first posting on All Together Now was The Killing Fields, the report from Amnesty International on death penalty statistics from 2007. The report for 2008 is now available1, and we cannot say the world has come very far. Numbers in parentheses are the 2007 figures. In 2008:
Mar 26, 2009
There is no doubt the government is taking a risk. The question is how best to do it.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner1
Mar 25, 2009
The $780 billion in bank bailouts and the $180 billion in the A.I.G. bailout having failed to deliver one degree of thaw to the credit freeze, the government will now step in and supply up to $1 trillion to purchase bad mortgages and related paper—the famous “toxic assets”—from those same institutions which have been so busy incurring our impotent wrath by distributing big bonuses from our wallets.1
The $1 trillion will be made available as loans to hedge funds and other cowboy financial investment institutions, providing them with up to 97 percent of the money necessary to purchase, at auction, packages of these troubled assets. The buyers won’t be required to put up any collateral other than the toxic assets themselves, and the government refuses to say how much interest they will charge the investors or reveal other details of the plan. The potential payoff—interest on the loans and participation in the profits from resales—could be many years down the road.
To date, investors haven’t been willing to pay more than about 30 cents on the dollar for these assets, and the banks haven’t been willing to sell them for less than 60 cents. The banks’ participation in this plan will be voluntary, so it is difficult to see how a significant portion of the assets will change hands, even when the buyers are purchasing them with borrowed money (ours). It is also difficult to believe that even if the banks do get these assets off their books that they will suddenly be willing to start performing their primary function of granting loans as opposed to bucking up their reserves, adding to their empires through the purchase of smaller and even more troubled institutions, handing out more bonuses, etc., etc., which is all the bailout money has prompted them to do. (Note to Obama: Why not take the $1 trillion and start making low-interest loans direct to the individuals and businesses that need them rather than handing over all that cash to the same reckless gamblers who landed us in this economic hellhole?)
Meanwhile, Glass-Stegall, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, is still dead. And no significant regulation legislation is pending before either house of Congress. The foxes (Summers, Geithner) are still in charge of the henhouse, transparency continues to elude an administration which has gone hoarse guaranteeing it, and if there is a light at the end of this tunnel, let us hope it is not the 3:10 from Yuma, bearing down on what little remains of our hopes, our dreams, and our 401k’s.
1 Toxic Asset Plan Foresees Big Subsidies for Investors, by Edmund L. Andrews, Eric Dash, and Graham Bowley, from the New York Times, Mar 20, 2009, accessed Mar 22, 2009.
Mar 24, 2009
No Child Left Behind has had one starkly disturbing effect. Recess has completely disappeared from many American elementary schools, in towns and cities that aren’t even bothering to include playgrounds when planning new structures.1,2 It is fast becoming all academics, all the time, to the manifest detriment of our children’s development.
Now, the Alliance for Childhood has published a study that shows this trend infecting kindergarten and even preschool ages. Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School reveals that “what we do in education has little or nothing to do with what we know is good pedagogy for children” [from the Foreword, by David Elkind].
Recess or child-initiated play in Kindergarten and preschool has been reduced to thirty minutes or less out of the school day, while the lion’s share of the day is devoted to literacy and numeracy instruction and to the preparation and taking of standardized tests, tests which are extremely unreliable indicators of anything regarding a child’s future academic prospects.
Children are natural, engaged learners, but we all know what schools can do to those instincts. They are doing it at younger and younger ages all the time, and with dire results. Preschool expulsion rates are three times higher than national rates for K-12, and boys are being expelled four to five times more often than girls. The loss of child-initiated play in our preschool and Kindergarten years stifles creativity and imagination, and excessive instruction is contributing to early frustration and failure.
This report needs to be read by all parents of young children, and then the battle must be joined against the political ideologues whose misplaced emphasis on early childhood instruction contradicts everything we know about how children learn.
1 Banning School Recess, by Ann Svensen, from FamilyEducation.com, undated, accessed, as other notes in this item, Mar 21, 2009
2 no-recess policies being implemented in u.s. school districts, from adoption.com, undated
Mar 23, 2009
The Vermont state legislature was battling over a gay marriage bill last week. When we went to press (last Thursday) the issue had still not been resolved. Vermont, of course, was the first state to permit what we called at the time “civil unions,” presumably to distinguish them from all the uncivil ones that dotted the state. Since then, many states have followed our lead, but only two—Massachusetts and Connecticut—have gone all the way and legalized same-sex marriage. Our Republican governor thinks civil unions are good enough, though he hasn’t yet answered the very good question of why they aren’t good enough for him.
Coincidentally, we are currently all wrapped up in another terrific HBO series, Big Love. It is about a polygamous union in Utah. Bill Paxton is married to three wives—why do such unions never consist of one woman and multiple men?— and is having a tough time keeping a low profile as he builds a Home Depot-like empire in the Salt Lake City suburbs. As with the Sopranos, you can’t help but root for the ones who are supposed to be the bad guys from time to time, particularly as everyone around them seems even more loathsome.
We like to think we are reasonable enough to listen to both sides; however, we can’t find any argument on the side of those defending conventional marriage that doesn’t seem simply to come down to, “Because we don’t like it.” Gay marriage, plural marriage, common-law marriage, no marriage (another status that brands you a misfit in our society)... Why can’t we just leave each other alone and let us all hook up the way we want to? There must be a dollar at risk somewhere, though we can’t for the life of us figure out where it is.
Still, ten years ago, there was no such thing as civil unions or same-sex marriage anywhere in the land, and today there is. That’s progress. And we’ll leave it there.
Mar 20, 2009
Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas... Getting known.
from Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett
Mar 19, 2009
Newspapers are disappearing from the land.
Denver’s Rocky Mountain News shut down this month, a few days shy of its 150th anniversary (the longest-running business in Colorado). The San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Tucson Citizen are on the brink of closure. The Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, and New Haven Register are in bankruptcy. The venerable Christian Science Monitor is about to go web only.1
Meanwhile, journalism students, at least in Australia, don’t read newspapers, preferring to get their news from TV or the Internet.2
It is the height of irony that the greatest communication medium ever devised may lead to a level of ignorance regarding matters most affecting our well-being that has not been endured by the general public since before the invention of the printing press. Not that the mainstream media, controlled by a handful of billionaires,3 drenched in entertainment posing as news, increasingly right wing, and starved of investigative reporting, hasn’t been abrogating its responsbilities for some time now.
However, if anyone thinks the Internet, let alone the wretched, propagandistic, shrill, and cynical television “news” industry, is a substitute for newspapers, they had better wake up and smell the chloroform. Most Internet news is rehashed newspaper stories and those newspapers have seen their advertising revenues plummet. As they begin to close, the vestiges of investigative reporting—the soul of the newspaper industry—will disappear.
As Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres write in the Guardian, “[T]here are huge costs to losing a vibrant core of investigative reporters covering local, national, and international stories. The internet is well suited to detect scandals that require lots of bloggers to spend a little bit of time searching for bits of incriminating evidence. But it’s no substitute for serious investigative reporting that requires weeks of intelligent inquiry to get to the heart of the problem. Without Woodwards and Bernsteins, there will be even more Nixons and Madoffs raining mayhem and destruction.”4
There already are, as you know if you haven’t been ripvanwinkling it for the past eight years. Who was watching the SEC not watching the investment banks? And how many stories we never read of the piecemeal dismantling of our democracy might have provided us with an early warning that could have turned things around in 2004? We still have not nearly plumbed the depths of those shameful times, and we may never.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And every day, more and more of our vigilant watchers have turned in their notebooks and are looking for work.
No news is good news? From now on, it is decidedly and dangerously bad news.
1 Rocky Mountain News Ceases Publication as Other Newspapers Face Threat of Similar Fate, from Democracy Now, Mar 6, 2009. All notes accessed Mar 13, 2009.
2 Journalism Students Don’t Read Newspapers Says QUT [Queensland University of Technology] Journalism Professor, from TechWired Australia, Mar 12, 2009.
3 The Media Are the Message, from All Together Now, Sep 6, 2008.
4 A national endowment for journalism, by Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayers, from the Guardian [UK], Feb 13, 2009.
Mar 18, 2009
Health insurance is so expensive that 46 million Americans (15 percent of us) can’t afford it. The government provides it at a deep discount for many millions of others who are elderly, disabled, or veterans.
Health insurance expends huge amounts on administrative costs and profit-taking, far more than the government does in managing Medicare and Medicaid.
Health insurance costs as much as it does because the companies that offer it spend large amounts of money trying to avoid covering people likely to need coverage and fighting to avoid paying for the services required by those who have it.
Health insurance is history in the rest of the industrialized world, where single-payer universal health coverage has been happily in place for as long as 60 years.
So of course the change artists in our current administration are backing a very clever idea for providing universal health care: require everyone to have health insurance.
Obama’s recent health care conference was not even going to include a single voice for single-payer, until the outcry was so loud that Representative Conyers was invited. Still, you will find little or no mention of this rational solution in the news media. The blackout is all but complete (except on Democracy Now, of course1).
The element in Obama’s plan most likely to provide real relief for Americans—the devising of a national health insurance provider to compete with private insurers—is almost certain to go down in defeat, despite the fact that over 70 percent of Americans favor it2,3. And we will be left with a system that costs employers more, that costs the insured more, that continues a vastly inefficient and inequitable system, and that will leave more, not fewer, Americans uninsured.
1 As Obama Hosts Summit on Healthcare, Marginalized Advocates Ask Why Single Payer Is Ignored, from Democracy Now, Mar 6, 2009. All notes accessed Mar 12, 2009.
2 Poll Excludes Single-Payer Healthcare; Respondents Implicitly Endorse It Anyway, by Jerry Policoff, from OpEd News, Mar 12, 2009
3 Poll: 73% of Voters Think Health Care Reform Must Include Choice of a Public Health Insurance Plan, by Robert Creamer, from the Huffington Post, Mar 10, 2009
Mar 17, 2009
Bernard Madoff lived in his penthouse apartment for several months following his confession to masterminding what is probably the biggest single-handed swindle in history.1
Bank executives at Merrill Lynch pulled in $3.6 billion in bonuses in 2008, a year when the firm lost $27 billion and was sold at bargain basement rates soon after the checks cleared.2
And Jose Padilla, U.S. citizen, was kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured—excuse us, interrogated harshly—for three and a half years before he was turned over to the legal system and, ultimately, sentenced to 17 years in prison.3
Now, the individuals responsible for that, from Bush on down, as well as those responsible for Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, destruction of evidence, and domestic warrantless wiretapping are about to get the same kid glove treatment Bernie and the boys and girls at Merrill Lynch received. They are about to be whitewashed through a “Truth Commission” in the Senate, led by Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, which will probably immunize most of the players in order to get their testimony, rendering them free of the threat of prosecution.
And prosecution is what these people deserve and must receive, if we are to look ahead to a nation once again of laws and not of men (or, rather, one man). Until they are prosecuted, we remain in Bush/Cheney territory, regardless of who is in the White House. It is clear from Leahy’s manner, halting over his lukewarm and canned announcement,4 that he is out of touch with the will of the people.
Indeed, the Obama administration has failed to take one principled stand against the enormities of the Bush administration’s destruction of the U.S. Constitution. Instead, we merely hear what we heard from Bush: “The U.S. does not torture.”
Meanwhile, Guantanamo remains open, with worse things happening there than ever;5 the administration continues to scuttle legal proceedings by invoking specious “state secret” privileges;6 international kidnappings and transport to third countries (renditions) are not off the table.7 Sadly, we could go on and on.
This is not change. This is not an administration we can believe in. And we are saddened even more to see our own senator leading a toothless panel of inquiry that may very well render many of the worst villains in American history beyond the reach of the law.
1 Madoff’s Future: Where the Case Is Likely to Go, Steven M. Davidoff, from the New York Times, Mar 11, 2009, accessed. as were all notes in this item, Mar 11, 2009
2 Nearly 700 at Merrill in Million-Dollar Club, by Michael J. de la Merced and Louise Story, from the New York Times, Feb 11, 2009
3 Padilla Sentence to 17 Years in Prison, by Kirk Semple, from the New York Times, Jan 22, 2008
4 Lawmakers Debate Establishing “Truth Commission” on Bush Admin Torture, Rendition and Domestic Spying, from Democracy Now, March 5, 2009
5 Administration Draws Fire for Report on Guantanamo, by William Glaberson, from the New York Times, Feb 23, 2009
6 Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets, by John Schwartz, from the New York Times, Feb 9, 2009
7 Obama’s Interview Aboard Air Force One, from the New York Times, Mar 7, 2009
Mar 16, 2009
We were of two minds about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), until we read the report on it from the Congressional Research Service.1 As always with the CRS, the report was succinct, clear, comprehensive, and nonpartisan. It provides Congress with a good understanding of complex legislation. After reading it, we are of one mind about the EFCA.
Unions are an endangered species in our society (see our Dec 26, 2008, item, We Can Do It!). The EFCA liberalizes the procedures involved in organizing workers into unions.
Currently, 30 percent of a body of workers need to present a petition stating their desire to organize. The National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) then calls for an election by secret ballot among all the workers in that body. The median period from petition to election in FY2008 was 38 days, and 95.1 percent of elections were held within 56 days (8 weeks). If most of the workers vote for union representation, the union is formed and the procedure passes on to the initial collective bargaining. In 32 percent of these cases the parties fail to reach agreement within the first two years following an election.
The EFCA would require the Board to certify an individual or labor organization as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit without an election if a majority of the affected workers indicated their desire to unionize by signing a card. It would also allow binding arbitration to determine the initial contract between the parties should they not be able to come to an agreement in a reasonable amount of time. Finally, the EFCA would impose new and stiffer penalties for unfair labor practices by employers.
Proponents of the EFCA argue that by eliminating the long period between the petition and the election, employers will not be able to lobby against the election by means which they allege are unfair, coercive, and punitive. Opponents offer a good deal of cant regarding the perversion of the democratic process in eliminating secret ballot elections, but essentially they are bewailing the same thing the labor organizers are applauding: the end of that gap in time between petition and election. A better argument they offer (and sometimes even with a straight face) is that the new method exposes workers to the same intimidation tactics organizers accuse employers of using.
We feel, however, that if the law already requires 30 percent of the workers to petition publicly in favor of unionizing, then there is little additional harm in declaring a union in force once 51 percent do the same thing. It is not the best of all possible solutions. That would be one where all workers could decide for themselves, without pressure from employers or organizers. We don’t live in a perfect world however, and this solution does restore some balance between the parties seeking to support and to suppress unionization. The latter have had it their own way for some time, as the precipitous decline in union membership indicates. And that decline has played not a small part in the vast inequities in wealth we have seen develop in the U.S. over the past 30 years.
It is time to claim our fair piece of the pie. And we can only do that if we do it all together.
1 The Employee Free Choice Act, by Jon O. Shimabukuro, from the Congressional Research Service via OpenCRS, Jan 26, 2009, accessed Mar 9, 2009
Mar 13, 2009
We wrote about Burlington, VT, progressive mayor Bob Kiss in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on Feb 12. He was in a tough five-way race for a second term, despite the fact that he had a sterling first term in Burlington. He didn’t raise taxes in two of his three years in office, and he presided over an economy that saw much bigger wage gains and private-sector employment increases than the rest of the state. Nevertheless, credible Republican, Democrat, and Independent candidates all ran against Kiss. One can imagine the Democrat and, perhaps, Independent candidates acting as spoilers for Kiss’s candidacy, helping the Republican into office. Nevertheless, Kiss won by a majority 51.5 percent versus 48.5 percent.1
How so, you say, with five candidates? It was thanks to the wonder of Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, which was applied for the second time in the Burlington election. With IRV, voters not only pick the candidate of their choice, they also state a second-place preference. When the votes are first counted, if no candidate wins a majority, IRV kicks in. The candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped from the race and, in the recount, the stronger candidates retain their first-place votes and also pick up a vote for the ballots from the dropped candidates where they were listed as the second choice. In this way, Kiss, who polled 28 percent of the vote to the Republican’s 32 percent in the first round, picked up enough of the second-place votes from the Democrat’s and other ballots through successive rounds of instant runoff counts to win the majority.
IRV not only avoided the spoiler effect, it also conveyed a second blessing on the campaign. Fearful of losing the second-choice status on votes cast for their opponents, the campaigners were careful to conduct a civil, respectful campaign that managed to focus on the issues and not on personalities.
Both Obama and his erstwhile opponent McCain have come out in support of Instant Runoff Voting, which has been around in Australia and Ireland for years and is now spreading throughout the U.S.
Congratulations to Bob Kiss, and to the voters of Burlington for their farsighted wisdom in adopting the eminently sensible IRV.
1 Kiss re-elected by narrow margin, by John Briggs, from the Burlington Free Press, reprinted on FairVote, accessed Mar 8, 2009.
Mar 12, 2009
The U.S. is the leading arms exporter throughout the world, accounting for over 45 percent of all the weapons transferred globally in 2007. This appalling statistic is in a report from the New America Foundation, entitled U.S. Weapons at War 2008. Among the report’s other disclosures:
Mar 11, 2009
The Taliban stone people to death. They harbored bin Laden while he hatched his lunatic scheme that succeeded so well. They blew up those ancient giant buddhas that stood watch over the Bamyan Valley for so many centuries. They are particularly fearful of women and when they were calling the shots in Afghanistan for a few years in the mid- to late-90s, they would not let women be treated for medical problems, let alone pursue an education.
Now, a New York Times story1 is floating the notion of talking to the Taliban, or at least to portions of it which we believe can be split off from the more militant and intransigent elements. It is worrisome to read that the administration’s thoughts on the matter are just as inchoate and hesitant as their cogitations regarding Iraq and the fiscal situation. Good intentions and a refreshingly revised estimation of America’s place in the world are no substitute for a firm sense of purpose and a clear direction in times of extraordinary crisis. Look for others to soon begin tossing around words like “floundering” and “waffling” when describing the new administration’s lack of resolve and public head-scratching over the admittedly intractable challenges it faces.
The problem, in our eyes, is not that the administration is incapable of seeing its way clear to taking a proper position in the face of its challenges. Rather, the facts of Realpolitik2 in this day of the ascendant corporatocracy argue that militarism and corporate profit must be the first consideration of an administration and legislative body that owe their very existence and makeup to those elements. And so the banks are isolated from their blunders while the people line up at the unemployment office; and our children continue to suffer and die for another useless 18 months while $200 billion more is squeezed out of a war lacking any definable tactic, strategy, or point.
But talk? Of course. Talk to anyone who will talk to us. Talk all day. Talk all night. When you are talking to someone, you are almost never shooting at them, and that can only be a good thing. Because war is not the answer, it is never the answer, unless the question is one of survival.
1 Dreaming of Splitting the Taliban, by Helene Cooper, from the New York Times, Mar 7, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009
2 Realpolitik, from Wikipedia, accessed Mar 7, 2009.
Mar 10, 2009
How do 2,789,000 job losses over the past seven months morph into 3,460,000? Well, we couldn’t say, exactly, but they did. Every month since August 2008, the Labor Department has revised its initial announcement of job losses, and the revisions have always been higher, on average by 112,000.1 You would think that the obviously imperfect art of calculating job losses, if conducted in anything like an atmosphere of political neutrality, would occasionally be too high initially, and subsequently be revised downward. Such is not the case recently, however, and on March 6, 2009, we found ourselves with 671,000 more of us out of work than was initially reported.
However you explain the rocky path to calculating unemployment, we are losing a half a million jobs a month on average, and more than 650,000 a month over the last quarter. “These jobs aren’t coming back,” opines John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia.2 “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations.”
We are in a perfect storm of collapse. Businesses have no access to the lifeblood of credit in the face of the banking industry’s self-destruction and the ineffectiveness of the trillions in federal handouts and guarantees. Millions of unemployed cinch their belts another notch, and those who are still pulling a paycheck save more of it in order to bolster their decimated retirement accounts. Spending declines precipitously (17 million cars sold in 2007 and are now selling at an annual pace of 9 million).2 As spending declines, more businesses lay off more workers, spending declines further, and where does it end? If allowed to continue, nowhere pretty.
Let’s do some math. Assume there are five million people seeking work. If the government provided a job for all of them at the average weekly wage of $615.00,3 it would cost $3.075 billion a week, or $159.9 billion for one year (with much of it coming back as income tax and FICA). That is only 20 percent of the $785 billion stimulus package (universally acknowledged to be inadequate), and way less than the government has lavished on the banks to no apparent purpose. And jobs—not hedge funds, collateralized debt obligations, investment banker bonuses, unemployment compensation extensions, tax credits for home improvements, or subsidized COBRA premiums—jobs are the bedrock of any economy. Getting money into people’s pockets next week: This is where the administration should be focused.
Or this vicious circle we find ourselves in will widen, accelerate, and take us all down.
1 Will Job Numbers Keep Being Revised Down?, by Floyd Norris, from the New York Times, Mar 6, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009.
2 Job Losses Hint at Vast Remaking of Economy, by Peter S. Goodman and Jack Healy, from the New York Times, Mar 6, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009
3 The Labor Picture in February, from the New York Times, Mar 6, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009
Mar 09, 2009
During the campaign, it was 16 months and we’re outta there! Last week it was 18 months (on top of the one that has passed already, for a grand total of 19) and we’re outta there!1 The long national nightmare of a misbegotten military adventure, founded on a lie, costing 35,000+ casualties2 and three trillion dollars, mismanaged for six endless years, would finally be over.
All right, we were patient. We were coming to understand that this was a careful, deliberate, thoughtful president, unlike the loose cannon that had been caroming off the Oval Office walls for the past eight years. If he wanted to extend combat operations all the way to August 2010, what the hey, we would be patient and see how it went.
Then our brain kicked in. That additional detail in the Obama plan which would leave 35-50,000 troops in Iraq with combat capability after the end of “combat operations ” in August 2010 did not quite scan on our logic receptors. Furthermore, whoever heard of unilaterally setting a schedule for the end of a war a year and a half in advance? The fact that we can pretend to do so reveals just what a phony war this is. And what have we not accomplished in six years that we hope—or need—to accomplish in the next 18 months? No one has told us. And if we are still going to be fighting in 18 months, how can we possibly hope to put up a good front with fewer than a third of our present contingent, when that contingent has been inadequate to the task so far?
Our inevitable conclusions fill us with fear and trembling: As in their responses to the collapse of the world’s economies, so in the matter of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the present administration is floundering, directionless, and fully as oblivious to the needless suffering and the clear will of the people as the past one. Its proffered solutions so far lack both boldness and sufficient adequacy of scope.
The only thing we have to fear is the fearfulness of the administration itself, which “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” What are they afraid of? Of failure. Of angering their corporate paymasters. Of admitting the error even of the error-ridden ways of their predecessors. And so their reactions to these crises are meek, inadequate, temporizing, and ultimately doomed to failure.
How desperately we hope we are wrong!
1 6 Years In, Troops Glimpse Real Path Out of Iraq, by Steven Lee Myers, from the New York Times, Mar 6, 2009, accessed Mar 7, 2009.
2 Iraq Coalition War Casualties, accessed Mar 7, 2009
Mar 06, 2009
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Mar 05, 2009
Here is a listing, in reverse chronological order, of All Together Now from January-June 2009. Each line consists of three parts:
Mar 04, 2009
She produced the evening news for New York’s WBAI radio station for ten years, then founded Democracy Now1 in February 1996. Intended as a short-term daily election program for the 1996 campaign, it was so popular that it has extended its run for 13 years.
She has been beaten, arrested, and banned in East Timor; she, along with Jeremy Scahill, won the 1998 George Polk award for a documentary exposing Chevron’s role in killing Nigerian protestors; and she was manhandled and arrested by the police during the Republican convention in 2008.
Democracy Now, her one-hour news program, airs five days a week on 750 radio stations, satellite and cable television, and the internet, and is available in both audio and video podcasts. She is the first journalist to win the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.” She has won a host of other awards.
For her physical and intellectual bravery; for her devotion to the cause of exposing cupidity and criminality in high places; for her innovative exploitation of, and longevity in a media world controlled by a handful of billionaire corporate moguls; for giving voice, day after day and year after year, to the progressive struggle for a humane and just world, we award Amy Goodman our sixth Golden A for Achievement.
Mar 03, 2009
We pass on a recent email from Moveon.Org regarding Obama’s budget. The cards are on the table; the battle is about to be joined; your children’s future rests in the balance. Here is what MoveOn has to say:
Want to see what change looks like? Real change?
Well, here it is. Last week, President Obama unveiled his budget—his blueprint for America— and it’s ambitious, amazing, and unapologetically progressive. As Paul Krugman said, it will set America on a “fundamentally new course.”1
President Obama called his budget “a threat to the status quo,” and trust me, the status quo noticed. Oil companies, big banks and insurance companies are already mobilizing to stop it.2
Unfortunately, most folks don’t realize how far-reaching and progressive the plan is—that’s where we all come in.
Here are 10 really incredible things about Obama’s plan. Check them out and then send them on to your friends and family so that millions of people will have the information they need to fight to make this vision a reality.
Mar 02, 2009
Two great voices started off the year on Democracy Now last month: On January 1, Amy Goodman re-ran her 2004 interview of Utah Philips, folk musician and activist, who died in 2008. The next day, DN showed activist and historian Howard Zinn speaking at Binghamton University a few days after the November election. View, listen to, or read, but don’t miss these inspiring talks.Notice that “Utah Philips, folk musician and activist” and “activist and historian Howard Zinn” are in a slightly different font from the rest of the text. Click inside either phrase and you will go to the Democracy Now page that contains both the podcast for that show, which you can view and listen to on your computer, and the printed transcript of the interview. If you right-click the link, you are given the opportunity to open the link in a new Window or Tab, keeping All Together Now viewable in its window.
Feb 27, 2009
After a week of pretty bleak entries, we are delighted to end it with one that inspires pure joy, at least tentatively.
Accountability Now PAC (Political Action Committee) has just come under our radar, thanks to Twitter and a story in yesterday’s New York Times, “Bloggers and Unions Join Forces to Push Democrats.”1 Even the staid Times was scarcely able to hide its enthusiasm in an article that almost reads as a call to arms: A large and growing coalition of progressive voices are teaming up for a full court press on Congress. They will seek to identify and support candidates who are to the left of centrist Democrats and may eventually target Republican primary contests as well. The players so far, as reported in the Times and on the Accountability Now web site:
Feb 26, 2009
Yesterday’s piece on the abysmal Bush legacy,1 our recent ruminations on term limits,2 and an interview on Bill Moyers Journal on February 203 have combined to prompt us toward a modest proposal. The Moyers interview was with Robert G. Kaiser, a Washington Post reporter, who was publicizing his new book, So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government.4 The title is a judgment on just what is wrong with our political system today: the corrupting influence of money.
Money was a corrupting influence on efforts to enforce prohibition in the 1920s as well. Capone and Co. were able to easily buy off enforcement efforts in the corrupt Chicago environment of their day. That is, until Eliot Ness came along. The young head of operations for the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) in Chicago assembled a team of reliable agents who were nicknamed “The Untouchables” after Capone was unable to purchase their cooperation in his bootlegging efforts.5
We need untouchables in politics. We need a new breed of civic-minded politicians who understand the corrupting influence of money and the generally noxious atmosphere of Washington today, where lobbyists write legislation and corporate donations fuel ridiculously expensive campaigns. We need them to enter the arena, and pledge themselves to devote their service to a government of, by, and for the people.
However, to get that new breed of untouchable politician, the people need to elect them, and in order to do that, they must wake up and understand what the politics of privilege has done to them over the past thirty years. The present fiscal crisis may be the catalyst to bring about that awakening. If it is, it will constitute the single silver lining we can perceive in a political and economic climate that is as perilous to our democracy as any we have faced in our 233 years.
To aid in that awakening must be the priority of every right-minded citizen, as it already is for so very many we have written about here at All Together Now. Whether you devote five minutes a week, or your life, to this effort, you must get aboard this new ship of state. We cannot and will not whether this storm without all hands on deck.
1 The Bush Legacy of Shame, All Together Now, February 25, 2009
2 Pondering Term Limits, All Together now, February 11, 2009
3 Interview with Robert G. Kaiser, from Bill Moyers Journal, Feb 20, 2009
4 So Damn Much Money, by Robert G. Kaiser, on Amazon.com, published Jan 20, 2009.
5 Eliot Ness, from Wikipedia. Our illustration is not of Ness, of course, but of Robert Stack, the actor who played him on a popular television show between 1959 and 1963.
Feb 25, 2009
I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.
President George W. Bush1
Feb 24, 2009
We have recently noted with some despair the unfortunate tendency of state governors to jump at layoffs as the first, and too often only, remedy for budget problems.1 A recent report from the Pew Center on the States entitled Trade-Off Time: How Four States Continue to Deliver, shows that some states are applying far more savvy methods in order to get more bang from the taxpayer’s buck and to minimize layoffs and tax increases.
The featured states—Indiana, Maryland, Utah, and Virginia— are leading the nation in what would seem to be common sense methods of measuring the performances of government programs and using those measurements to determine where to concentrate their resources. As the man said, common sense isn’t all that common, especially in politics. Other states and, for that matter, families fretting over their own budget challenges, can take a lesson from the solid results these states have attained through careful evaluation of their programs:
Feb 23, 2009
Seventeen thousand more soldiers are bound for Afghanistan, to join the 36,000 already there.1 Sixty-one people were killed by unmanned drone aircraft attacks over three days last week in Pakistan.2 Twenty-thousand California state workers have received notice they may be losing their paychecks this spring, while thousands more are out of work starting today after 270 state-funded transportation projects were abruptly cancelled.3 And our new top spook, Dennis Blair, a man with an odious past,4 has decided the global economic crisis is more dangerous than terrorism and, if allowed to deepen, “would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.”5
It is apparent that Obama has chosen the Colin Powell doctrine of overwhelming force over the Rumsfeld slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am army, and that a reign of terror is about befall another long-suffering people led by a corrupt puppet regime. It will last for years, millions will die, and the very best the most Pollyanna-ish among us can hope for at the end of it all is a mangled sort of status quo ante.
Simultaneously, domestic challenges are testing our people as they have not been tested since the 1930s and possibly since the Civil War. As the middle class failed to take the draft to their bosom in the 60s, they are going to be equally unsympathetic toward the disappearance of their wealth, the new and unwelcome experience of hunger, and the knowledge that they have lost their country to a rapacious plutocracy. One day soon, they will hear the bell, they will know for whom it tolls, and they will rise.
Meanwhile, the forces of repression are moving into place. An Army unit has been stationed inside the U.S. to control “civil unrest.”6 Protesters at the Republican Convention are being tried as terrorists.7 And a man whose priorities have never included deference to the hierarchy of command or squeamishness about slaughtering unarmed innocents huddled in a church,8 a man whose most pressing concern today is “unrest,” is at the head of our national intelligence network.
A perfect storm of militarism, domestic unrest, and the criminalization of dissent is gathering. If the spectre of fascism hovered over the Bush presidency, it has come to walk the earth in the second month of an administration swept to power on what are increasingly coming to appear to be fraudulent promises of hope and change.
1 Putting Stamp on Afghan War, Obama Will Send 17,000 Troops, by Helene Cooper, from the New York Times, February 17, 2009, accessed, as were other notes in today’s entry, on February 18, 2009
2 US Drone Attacks Kill 61 in Pakistan, from Democracy Now, February 16, 2009
3 Schwartzenegger set to sack 20,000 workers in California, from The Australian, February 18, 2009
4 Blair Denies Backing Indonesian Atrocities in East Timor, from Democracy Now, January 23, 2009
5 Global Economy Top Threat to U.S., Spy Chief Says, by Mark Mazzetti, from the New York Times, February 12, 2009
6 ACLU Seeks Answers on Reports of Domestic Army Deployment, from Democracy Now, October 22, 2008
7 RNC Protesters Tried on Terrorism Charges Despite Acknowledgment They Didn’t Commit Alleged Acts, from Democracy Now, February 18, 2009
8 Report: Intel Nominee Adm. Dennis Blair Knew of ’99 East Timor Church Killings Before Crucial Meeting, from Democracy Now, January 22, 2009
Feb 20, 2009
Note: With this entry, we go to a five-day-a-week schedule at All Together Now, producing a new item Mondays through Fridays. We’ll take the weekend off to work on other projects, including, we hope, greater involvement in the Vermont Progressive Party.
Feb 19, 2009
Four children die in the U.S. every day as a result of child abuse, and three of them are under the age of four. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds during which three other occurrences go unreported. Of the reported rapes of children under 12, 90 percent of them knew the perpetrators. Child abuse happens across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.1
A study by Ronald J. Prinz, et al., of the University of South Carolina, the University of Brisbane, and Georgia State University, promises that help is on the way. Their report, Population-Based Prevention of Child Maltreatment: The U.S. Triple P System Population Trial determined, not surprisingly, that when counties offer family service providers instruction in carefully crafted parenting procedures, those counties do significantly better in reducing child abuse than those counties where a business-as-usual approach is maintained.
Hard times spell even harder times for the powerless, and children are an all-too-ready target for a parent or guardian’s anger, frustration, and despair. With the economic meltdown, millions suddenly unemployed, and a frozen credit market, hard times are about to hit our children even harder. County workers, take note. This study can help protect our most precious asset.
1 National Child Abuse Statistics, from ChildHelp, Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse, accessed February 15, 2009
Feb 18, 2009
It is over 1,000 pages and we admit we haven’t read it all (who has?); however, the Obama stimulus package is probably law by now (we are writing this on Sunday, February 15, and Obama is expected to sign it on Tuesday). So you may be wondering the same thing we are: “What’s in it for me?” If you, like us, are among low- to moderate-income Americans, there is quite a lot in it for you, as well as for the states you live in, most of which are hurting badly. The people at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have read it and and have offered the following summary1 of the high points for those of us who are suffering most. Click on the footnoted links to read more on each subject:
Feb 17, 2009
Pity the poor Jew.
Plagued by the Egyptians, plagued by the Romans, plagued by the Christians, in the 1880s so plagued by the Russians and their pogroms that a dream is dreamed of their own homeland after millennia in diaspora, and Zionism is born.
Seventy years later, after one last horrendous plague perpetrated by history’s most monstrous villain, a homeland is carved out by displacing fellow Semites from their land, assuring lasting enmity from a billion surrounding followers of Islam who hate the Jews as much as any of their erstwhile tormentors and, in this case, perhaps even with some reason. Irony doesn’t get any more ironical than that.
On top of the irony of the founding of Israel, is the greater irony that these essentially peace-loving and enlightened overachievers have themselves become a plague to generations of Palestinians whom they have displaced. Backed by American political and monetary support (the latter to the tune of $10 million a day1), Israel has developed a nuclear deterrent along with a social and cultural antipathy toward reconciliation with their victims matched only by that of the victims themselves.
An Egyptian murdered Anwar Sadat for making peace with Israel, an Israeli murdered Yitzhak Rabin for supporting the Oslo accords and other peace initiatives. Last week, two right-of-center parties tied in the latest elections, assuring the continuation of perceived irreconcilable differences between the parties.
Former President Jimmy Carter has been in tireless pursuit of peace in the Middle East for decades. His latest book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, sets forth a rather kludged two-state solution involving, among other things, a narrow 35-mile Palestinian corridor between Gaza and the West Bank that would allow Palestinians to travel back and forth between the two sections of their country. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build new settlements on land won in the 1967 war, erect massive walls that will prove to be as onerous to their own people as they are to the people they are supposedly walling out, and tormenting the Palestinians with endless checkpoints and restrictions on services and imports in Gaza that keep its 1.5 million inhabitants in dire need.
It is a problem as intractable as any in history and, if not solved—considering Iran’s threatened nuclear buildup—could result in the Armageddon so fondly anticipated by our own religious fundamentalists.
1 Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work,” from Democracy Now, February 11, 2009, accessed February 14, 2009
Feb 16, 2009
We harp. We know we harp. We can’t help it. Some people just don’t get it.
This morning (Feb 13), New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, announced 300 layoffs of state employees. What are the likely consequences of these layoffs? Presumably there will be longer lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and other government services will deterioriate. For the unlucky 300, the consequences will be a good deal more dire. Most people live from paycheck to paycheck. When that spigot abrubtly turns off, they will immediately dip into your pocket and mine to claim unemployment compensation.
In New Hampshire, benefits range from $32 to $427 a week for up to 26 weeks.1 For those earning from $2,800 to $41,500 a year, that benefit will be slightly more than half their gross pay. For those earning more, it will be less.
The stresses these people will suffer will be many and varied. Some will not be able to keep up with their mortgages and will be tossed out of their homes (sound familiar?). The values of those houses, now white elephants owned by the bank, will drop through the floor. If the houses are on your block, your home value will decrease as well. If it decreases enough to make your home worth less than you owe on it, you may actually be well advised to abandon it, as at present you have no leverage (or government assistance) to renegotiate your mortgage.
Besides dipping into our pockets for cash benefits and decreasing the value of our prime asset, those 300 laid-off neighbors will cease enjoying the luxury of any discretionary spending, creating a ripple effect (or perhaps we should call it a non-ripple effect) across the immediate purview of their erstwhile economic landscape, increasing the downward slide of local restaurants, movie theatres, hardware and clothing stores, etc., etc. If the effect is great enough (and remember we are talking about 2.5 million of these hapless folks just over the past five months), then many of those establishments will close, further contributing to the downward momentum toward deflation and depression.
Since those who are pretty bad off to begin with (minorities, minimum-wage earners) are generally the first to get it in the neck during an economic downturn, some will become so desperate that they will be driven to extreme measures, becoming a physical threat to their neighbors and the general infrastructure. The court system will become clogged and jails will suffer further overcrowding, requiring yet more millions in public funds.
The Golden Rule—Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You—is not a touchy-feely, altruistic expression of noblesse oblige. It is a survival tactic. We are either in this together or we are in this alone. If we are in this together, we do everything we can to forestall layoffs, foreclosures, and closings, and that includes cutting back for a time on what we have in order to share the temporarily diminished pie. If we are in this alone, there is really only one thing we need to do.
Buy a gun.
1 Amount and Duration of [Unemployment Compensation] Benefits, accessed Feb 13, 2009
Feb 15, 2009
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Why all the brouhaha over bonuses? If you give someone $350 billion dollars with no strings attached, how can you pretend to be shocked that they pocket only $18.5 billion of it?
The only possible way Congress could turn over $350 billion, $700 billion, another $800 billion in “stimulus money” to come(?) without strings attached is if they are in collusion with the people they are giving the money to. Let’s cut out the disingenuousness and the protestations. The fault lies squarely on your doorstep.
Feb 14, 2009
Yesterday’s entry was such a downer, we thought we would pass along a funny email we received from a friend today (Hi, Jan!). It is, after all, Valentine’s Day and as someone once said, laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
Feb 13, 2009
We’re about to fall off a cliff.
In fact, we probably already have and, like Wile E. Coyote, haven’t quite realized it yet. You can’t lose two and a half million jobs in five months. You can’t spend $850 billion stimulating a dead economy that groans under a $1 trillion annual deficit after a $750 billion bank bailout on top of an $11 trillion national debt. You can’t fight two losing wars simultaneously.
And when you try, you are in for a fall. For all the bad news we have absorbed of late, we are still just those few steps off the cliff edge, still suspended in the air. We await that moment when we look down and realize the earth is no longer under us. We will then look up and into the camera, a hapless grimace of quiet desperation will flit across our features, and down we’ll go, a little cloud of smoke in the place where we once stood.
And then what? Will there be riots in the street? Will a Mad Max sort of dystopia begin popping up here and there in the heartland? Will the “best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity”?1
Or will the shock be so sharp and so sudden that our better instincts will prevail, and we come together in that sort of involuntary embrace that brings the young innocents together at the howl of the werewolf, the creak of the hinge?
Whatever may be, as Margo Channing observed, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”2
1 The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats, accessed February 10, 2009
2 Memorable Quotes for All About Eve, accessed February 10, 2009
Feb 12, 2009
He is that rarest of creatures, a quiet politician. Almost clinically averse to blowing his own horn, Bob Kiss has managed three terms in the state legislature, and one as mayor of Burlington, without attracting nearly the attention his superlative governance has deserved. He has:
Feb 11, 2009
As we know, the only elective office in the federal government that has term limits is the presidency, although this, in effect, limits the terms of senior executive branch members such as cabinet secretaries (unless you are lucky enough to be Robert Gates). Thirty-seven of the 50 states restrict the terms of their governors (usually to two four-year terms).1 Fifteen states have term limits for their legislators, although term limits in six other states have been repealed by the legislature or by court action.2
Obviously, there is a great deal of sentiment both pro and con regarding term limits. Which position is best?
Those opposing term limits can raise these arguments: Why squander hard-won experience and how does one build up seniority in its representatives if they are forced out every couple of terms?
We will address the second argument first. Conferring enhanced powers on representatives on the basis of longevity in office results in a tiered sort of government where the old guard exercise more than their fair share of power in relation to the newbies, violating the democratic principle of one voter, one vote.
Experience is a two-edged sword and as we have seen over and over again it is used at least as often for ill as for good. Arguably, an effective elected representive has paths of upward mobility to pursue, and they should, bringing to the electoral process the same “up or out” principle as is practiced in schools, law firms, and other professional environments.
The potential evil of long tenure in office is apparent in the recent Daschle debacle as well as in the stories told in Revolving Doors. The holding of the same political office for four, five, six or more terms breeds corruption; the incumbent’s advantage is anathema to the entertainment of fresh ideas; and we, the electorate, become lulled into a kind of lethargy and inattention, with every scurrilous revelation coming as a great shock before we settle back into oblivious apathy.
Term limits, for the occasional ill they may bring, are a necessary preventative to the many ills and disadvantages brought about by a kind of "permanent government" enabled by their absence.
1 Governors, 2008 (.pdf, 2 pp., 72Kb), from The Council of State Governments, accessed February 8, 2008
2 The Term Limited States, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, accessed February 9, 2009
Feb 10, 2009
This self-evident reminder is apparently not so self-evident to many. Or perhaps the real problem lies in perspective. We live our individual lives in the short term, whereas the life of our species is lived in the long term. And what satisfies exigent needs is often—possibly even usually—harmful in the long run.Myth: we have to save the earth. Frankly, the earth doesn’t need to be saved. Nature doesn’t give a hoot if human beings are here or not. The planet has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widely believed, 99 percent of all species have come and gone while the planet has remained. Saving the environment is really about saving our environment—making it safe for ourselves, our children, and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment to actually do so.
—Robert M. Lilienfeld, management consultant and author (b. 1953), and William L. Rathje, archaeologist and author (b. 1945).
Feb 09, 2009
To: The Vermont State Legislature
At a time of great and growing crisis, when we should be hanging together and helping one another, when an opportunity has been presented to advance the progressive goals of the Democratic and Progressive parties, and when those parties enjoy an overwhelming majority in both houses of the state legislature, we are greatly disappointed at your silence, and your timid acquiescence in the mean-spirited and bankrupt policies of our Republican governor. There are many ways we can support full employment in Vermont. There are many avenues to generating more revenue, and not in a burdensome manner to our residents. These are the times when government should expand its presence, open its doors to the people, and not cut them off and bury its head in the sand.
We must speak the truth. The Republican one-note obsession with cutting taxes is not only a failed policy, it is an evil one, designed for a single purpose: to transfer wealth to a few at the top while impoverishing the rest of us.
Vermont is perhaps the best situated of any state to show the nation that we can confront the challenges we face today and conquer them: that no Vermonter will go hungry or be forced from their home in hard times; that work will be found for any man or woman in need of it; that we will redouble our efforts to improve education, understanding that it is the key to our healthy future, and we will resist the calls to lay off teachers, close schools, and freeze local budgets; that if the nation cannot fashion a sensible universal health care program, then we will find a way to do so, as we found a way to insure our children.
This is a proper response to hard times. It is a brave response, and it is the response we expect from the Democratic and Progressive leaders we elected. You must stop colluding in the cynical exploitation of a crisis which is the knee-jerk reaction of the right. Times are good? Cut taxes! Times are bad? Cut taxes! This wicked mantra should have been thoroughly debunked by now. It threatens to turn our cherished nation into a banana republic.
So pull up your socks and get to work. The people of Vermont are ready to weather this storm, and together we stand. It’s time our representatives stood with us.
Feb 08, 2009
In 2008, we blew away all previous records in new wind power infrastructure installation. Our national wind power generating capacity swelled by 50 percent, with 8,358 megawatts of new generating capacity installed. That is enough to power over 2 million homes and makes wind power one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today. The new installations channeled $17 billion into the economy. Jobs in the wind industry are up by 70 percent in the last year, from 50,000 to 85,000, many in the wind turbine manufacturing industry, which we have been slow to get into, letting our European friends get an early jump on us. Our share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components finally reached 50 percent in 2008.
This according to the American Wind Energy Association in their January 27, 2009, press release, Wind Energy Grows by Record 8,300 MW in 2008. But don’t break out the champagne yet.
Toward the end of last year, new turbine orders slowed to a trickle and if the Obama stimulus doesn’t happen soon, and bolster the tax credits and subsidies for this nascent industry, we could be in for some serious backsliding. Wind power is clean and renewable, and it has already provided a significant boost to our manufacturing and job creation capacities. It is an essential part of both our short-term and long-term recovery plans. Momentum such as it has enjoyed in the last year cannot be allowed to stall. Write your congressional delegation and tell them to make sure there is a high wind in the stimulus package.
Feb 07, 2009
The damage was done days before Tom Daschle, waking up and smelling the bitter scent of failure as did Caroline Kennedy a few weeks before, took himself out of the running for Secretary of Health and Human Services.1 The damage was done when Obama failed to pull the plug on the first tax cheat who was finagled into his cabinet. Timothy Geithner, now the overseer of your tax returns, was slipped under the oblivious radar of the Democratic Senate in a game plan which the Obama administration was quite prepared to repeat for the even more audacious, arrogant, and duplicitous Daschle.
Geithner was intimately associated with the gang of robber barons who paved the way for the present debacle, which more and more people are calling the early days of another Great Depression. In fact, Obama welcomed the prime mover of that debacle into the very heart of his administration. Lawrence Summers, the head of the White House Economic Council, persuaded Clinton to sign legislation toward the end of his second term that let loose the dogs of Wall Street and led directly to the mess we are in today.2 What can our new president be thinking? We wish someone could tell us.
The arguments the administration put forth in support of both these men, in spite of their glaring inadequacies, was that their unique expertise was required. In Geithner’s case, it is like saying the fox’s expertise is needed for guarding the henhouse.
And Daschle? Expertise from this career parasite? Rather, let us picture someone—a woman, say, sixtyish, a member of a minority, from a broken home. In her twenties, she worked as an LPN while she studied nights for her R.N. She put in a dozen years as a triage nurse at the V.A., with a couple of tours in Vietnam serving in a field hospital, while studying nights for her M.S.N. Then, around forty, she moved into the private sector to take an offer from a hospital to be Head of Nursing, while studying nights for her M.B.A. She moved into administration in her late forties and a few years later was named Chief Administrator of a well-known teaching hospital.
This is expertise. This is a real person from the real world. And we will bet there are a dozen or more out there who are not a bad fit for the above résumé. Where are these people, where is this expertise, in an administration consisting, primarily, of people who have been sucking at the public tit their entire careers and exhibiting but a pretense of expertise. They are nowhere. Instead, the administration is chock full of tax cheats, insiders, party hacks, and Clintonesque has-beens. How could such promise have turned so sour so fast?
Premature, you say? Excessively harsh? This web site will hold Obama’s feet to the fire until the progressive agenda his campaign promised begins to unfold. To date, it is nowhere in sight. Its fancy words and its crocodile tears do nothing to cover up its actions, which proclaim, to CEO and D.C. insider alike: Fear Not, For Here It Is Business As Usual. Well, out here, the muttering and the grumbling and the anger are on the rise. For as the bard so cogently observed, “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”3
1 Daschle Ends Bid for Post; Obama Concedes Mistake, by Jeff Zeleny, from the New York Times, February 3, 2009, accessed, as were the other notes today, February 4, 2009
2 Runaway Wall Street, by Robert Scheer, from Truthdig.com, February 4, 2009
3 Sonnet 94, by William Shakespeare
Feb 06, 2009
Yesterday’s item was the 250th entry in All Together Now since it was launched on May 25, 2008—an entry a day with a one-week hiatus. It is time to sit back, relax, pat ourself on the back, and ask, “What the hell are we doing this for?”
Our web host reports 10,183 unique visitors to this site in January, which we don’t believe for a minute, because if we actually had 10,000 readers, at least one of them with whom we were not already acquainted would have clicked the Email Alerts link by now or sent the webmaster a nice or nasty note. So we discount the visitor stats and presume only a few of the forty-nine people we send the weekly reminder to read the occasional posting. (And most of them didn’t ask for the reminder and are therefore technically being spammed by us.)
If we could, we would find a more hands-on opportunity to express ourself and help our suffering world more directly, preferably some opportunity not involving dengue fever or the prospect of being sold into slavery, one that promised a living wage and some basic health care. However, we’re not as young as we were when we went to teach in Vietnam with the International Voluntary Services in 1967 (a clever draft dodge if there ever was one). The White House has our résumé, but they’re dragging their feet getting back to us.
And there’s a stack of books over by our easy chair that we would rather be reading than all these dreary press releases and think tank reports.
So why go on? Because there are too many people out there who need us, and now I use the third-person plural not as the editorial “we,” but as you and me. They need us working together to arrange for them some measure of relief from the torments of poverty, ill-health, tyranny, and ignorance under which their generations groan. Your life is blessed (if you are reading this), as is mine; however, it is far, far poorer than it might be, if only we could bring to the rest of the world a fair helping of the blessings that we so take for granted.
Feb 05, 2009
We borrow the excellent title of Dexter Filkins’s excellent book1 for this item, even though the Rand Corporation refers to global hostilities over the next unspecified number of years as the Long War, as in Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects, and Implications for the U.S. Army, by Christopher G. Pernin, et al.
For those who like their downers straight, reading this report should result in as deep a depression as one could hope for. The folks at Rand imagine eight possible avenues (which they call “trajectories”) down which our military may travel in the long war, none of them promising much relief from the status quo, and some of them depicting scenarios no less daunting than a contemplation of doomsday itself. Of course, the intent of the report is to assess implications for our military should one or more of the trajectories occur, so it is not surprising that the report is shot through with dependence upon militarism.
One of the seven strategy options the report outlines, however, contains a hint of hope and relief. This is the “Underlying Causes” strategy, where the Army backs off and leaves it to the State Department, the Peace Corps, USAID, and other nonmilitaristic bodies of the U.S. government to address the socioeconomic disasters, wrought by wretched governance, which have turned most of the nations harboring terrorists into basket cases.
If we could only stop tolerating—let alone supporting—regimes which deny their own people the income, education, and freedoms that every rational human being craves, we are convinced that this reversal of longstanding U.S. policy alone would reduce global terrorism to a significant degree.
1 The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, 2008 (accessed Feb 1, 2009)
Feb 04, 2009
In 2006, the Republicans lost control of Congress. Last month they lost the White House. They retain but a tenous and undependable hold on the federal courts, and that is likely to slip further from their grasp over the coming years.
Now that they are absent from the shadowy and secretive corridors of power, we are able to see them for what they are: a spent force.
No Republican in the House voted for Obama’s stimulus package, despite that fact that its major flaw—a third of it is going to tax cuts—is in there expressly to court Republican favor. Their pet spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, can do nothing but express his fond wish that the Obama administration fail.2
The Republican Party made its bed during the Nixon and Reagan years, when it decided to herd the hateful, the stupid, and the lunatic into their camp, snapping up the solid South in the wake of the Voting Rights Act and thereafter courting NASCAR dads, religious radicals, and the vast armies of victims of a failed educational system. They abandoned their root principles of fiscal integrity and self-determination in favor of a tax-cutting mantra and juryrigging the system to produce a generation of the super-rich made wealthy at the expense of the people.
It worked brilliantly for thirty years, when, having destroyed the world’s economy, the party forced sufficient numbers of the American electorate to realize what was happening to them and to vote the villains out.
If Obama is able to name enough reasonable minds to federal benches over the next four to eight years (Bush is responsible for around 37 percent of sitting federal judges), and the gathering storm of meaningful educational reform takes hold during his administration, the ruined GOP may, owing to a declining constituency, fade from the political scene altogether. Then, considering the Democratic Party’s steady movement toward the right (viz., its militarism and continuing thralldom to the corporatocracy), the hour may be at hand for a truly Progressive Party to emerge, to revitalize our two-party system with real choices more in keeping with the beliefs, the aspirations, and the principles of the American people.
Note: Coincidentally, we found many of these thoughts echoed in Frank Rich’s column today,3 and highly recommend it to your notice.
1 Our illustration today was borrowed from the bumper-sticker and T-shirt site, DeadElephant.ORG
2 Limbaugh v. Obama and Almost Everybody Else, by Pete Abel, from The Moderate Voice, January 21, 2009, accessed February 1, 2009
3 Herbert Hoover Lives, by Frank Rich, from the New York Times, January 31, 2009, accessed February 1, 2009
Feb 03, 2009
We receive a daily email from the Aerospace Industry Association which provides all sorts of news and gossip regarding the Military-Industrial Corporatocracy that runs the show here in Freedomland. A scan of the latest headlines provides a good taste of this resource, which you can sign up for here.
Feb 02, 2009
Oprah is 55. Updike is dead. We’re working on our last will and testament.
It seems mortality is on our mind.
Voltaire said that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Some believe God to be a representation of mankind’s desire to lead a moral life, in defiance of our baser instincts, with heaven the ultimate reward for doing so. The Eastern notion of reincarnation is a similar manifestation of that desire, in that one returns again and again until one gets it right, and is then released from the cycle of life.
The philosopher Blaise Pascal made a celebrated wager regarding God and the afterlife. He said the question could go one of four ways: You could believe in God and the afterlife and you could be right, or you could be wrong. Or you could not believe and the same two possibilities apply. He recommended belief because if you did not believe and you were wrong, you would suffer a great deal more than if you did believe, and God and the afterlife proved not to exist.
If there is a God, and one which is not hopelessly perverse, we expect he is more interested in our living a loving, moral, and generous life than whether we subscribe to the unlikely notion that such a being could actually exist.
More to the point, we have a wager that is at least as good as Pascal’s. Substitute “your life on earth” for God and the afterlife. You can believe that that is all there is, or not. And you can be right or wrong. To believe your life on earth is not all there is, and, in the end of that life, to be proved wrong, strikes us as infinitely more sad, infinitely more tragic, than the downside of Pascal’s wager.
1 Pascal’s Wager, from Wikipedia (accessed January 29, 2009)
Feb 01, 2009
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
1 Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, from the New York Times, January 20, 2009 (Accessed January 20, 2009)
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.
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)
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!
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
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?
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
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):
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:
Jan 06, 2009
Here are a few items noted with interest over the past month.
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:
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
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.
1 Closing Santa’s Sweatshop (.pdf, 27 pp., 280Kb), from Public Citizen, December 2008, pg. 3 (accessed December 30, 2008)
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.
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
Copyright © 2008 All Together Now.