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America, Wake Up!

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.
tags: New Political Party | Governance | ATN

Nation of Sheep

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.”
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1 Sanders’ Honest Assessment of the Health Reform Bill—MSNBC’s Morning Joe
2 Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!
tags: Governance | Health

Noted With Interest, December 2009

Dec 02, 2009

Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones
By Siobhan Gorman, et al. Iranian-backed militants have been hacking into our deadly drones’ video feeds with a $25 piece of software for the last year. Our favorite quotation: “U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights.” So what’s the fuss? From The Wall Street Journal, Dec 17, 2009. Accessed Dec 17, 2009.

Our Murderers in the Sky
By Scott Ritter. “...the Afghan problem has never been a military problem....” From Truthdig.com, Dec 10, 2009. Accessed Dec 11, 2009.

Building a case for the survival of the kindest
What?! Could Ayn Rand have been wrong? Is altruism a survival mechanism after all? (We feel vindicated.) From R&D Magazine, Dec 9, 2009. Accessed Dec 10, 2009.

Liberals Are Useless
By Chris Hedges. Can you see yourself in this portrait? From Truthdig.com, Dec 7, 2009. Accessed Dec 9, 2009.

Addicted to Nonsense
By Chris Hedges. Are we all become Eloi, grist for the Morlocks? From Truthdig,com, Nov 30, 2009. Accessed Dec 5, 2009.

The Afghanistan Parenthesis
By David Bromwich. From the Huffington Post, Dec 2, 2009. Accessed Dec 2, 2009.

tags: Militarism | Obama

Right Is Right

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.

tags: New Political Party | Politics | Economics

Unhealthy Care

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.
tags: Health | Business | Governance

Noted With Interest, October 2009

Oct 19, 2009

To Cut Costs, Airlines Send Repairs Abroad
By Daniel Zwerdling. The airlines save 2/3 of the hourly rate for union maintenance workers in the states when they outsource these vital services to nonunion foreign labor. From National Public Radio, Oct 19, 2009. Accessed Oct 19, 2009.

Looking for a Middle Class
by Maria Cocco. We are each and every one of us under assault by the plutocracy. Wake up! From Truthdig.com, Oct 15, 2009. Accessed Oct 16, 2009.

The Truth About Jobs That No One Wants to Tell You
by Robert Reich. Put America to work! It is our only way out from under. And it’s cheap! See Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare a Job? From Robert Reich’s Blog, Oct 1 & 2, 2009. Accessed Oct 3, 2009.


tags: Noted with Interest

Compare and Contrast

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
and
Still on the Job, but at Half the Pay

tags: Employment | Poverty

Obama and Peace

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.
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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
tags: Obama | Politics

Noted With Interest, September 2009

Sep 25, 2009

New Rule: If America Can’t Get It Together, We Lose the Bald Eagle
By Bill Maher. And quite plainly, we can’t. From the Huffington Post, Sep 25, 2009. Accessed Sep 25, 2009.

Librophiliac Love Letter
A compendium of beautiful libraries. I’m a librarian; I couldn’t resist. From Curious Expeditions via Manhattan Users Guide, Sep 6, 2009. Accessed Sep 24, 2009.

Fallingwater
by Cristóbal Vila. Lovely. From YouTube via Manhattan Users Guide, Sep 23, 2009. Accessed Sep 24, 2009.

Baseball Infographics and Other Visual Treats
by Craig Robinson. Okay, it's not politics, but I love baseball and these are some of the most impressive graphics we’ve seen on the game. From FlipFlopFlyBall.com. Accessed Sep 24, 2009.

Globalization Goes Bankrupt
by Chris Hedges. “[U]nless we on the left move quickly, this rage will be captured by a virulent and racist right-wing, one that seeks a disturbing proto-fascism.” It may be too late, and the rage may already by co-opted by the right. From Truthdig.com, Sep 20, 2009. Accessed Sep 23, 2009.

Afghanistan’s Other Front
by Joseph Kearns Goodwin. How to get Afghanistan right. It won’t be easy. From the New York Times, Sep 15, 2009. Accessed Sep 16, 2009.

Stop Begging Obama and Get Mad
by Chris Hedges. Who is becoming my favorite progressive voice. From Truthdig.com, Sep 14, 2009. Accessed Sep 16, 2009.

The politics of the veil
by Robert Fulford. One of the more articulate essays I have read regarding the Islamic obsession with covering up their women. From National Post, Sep 12, 2009. Accessed Sep 15, 2009.

How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?
by Paul Krugman. Probably by their narrow focus and lack of imagination. See next item, in response to this piece. From the New York Times, Sep 2, 2009. Accessed Sep 6, 2009.

Other Economists in the Room
By Jane Smiley. She goes after Krugman and other economists for their tunnel vision and toadyism. From the Huffington Post, Sep 3, 2009. Accessed Sep 4, 2009.

Ike’s Other Warning
by Max Blumenthal. I liked Ike. And he liked Eric Hoffer! From the New York Times, Sep 2, 2009. Accessed Sep 4, 2009.

Progressives Pay the Price for Confusing a Party with a Movement
by David Sirota. Wise words which I have been shouting to my half a dozen readers for months. Back to the grass roots! From Truthdig.com, Sep 3, 2009. Accessed Sep 4, 2009.

Obama’s September Choice: Charge or Trim
By Robert L. Borosage. David Brooks should not require further putting down. From the Huffington Post, Sep 2, 2009. Accessed Sep 2, 2009.

Has Obama’s Handling of the Bank Bailout Undermined Health Care Reform?
by Arianna Huffington. Disregarding Huffington’s naive notion of the purpose of government, this fine piece makes several good points about Obama’s fast-fading glory. Sad. Ineffably sad. From the Huffington Post, Aug 31, 2009. Accessed Sep 2, 2009.


tags: Noted with Interest

Up from Slavery

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:

  • Forget health care, forget EFCA, forget energy reform, forget AfPak. Leave all these to the Lilliputians currently running things. Something may happen, something may not. But it is too late in the day to continue wasting our energies on these damaged issues, and to continue to do so plays into the hands of the feral opposition.
  • Convene a summit in October consisting of progressive and liberal leaders, elected and otherwise, public and private figures, organizers, donors, volunteers, a million-person march on Washington and once there:
  • Get worried. Get organized. Get going. Egos set aside for the nonce, and everyone pulls for their lives. The prize on the horizon? November 2, 2010.
  • Identify incumbents who are sympathetic to our positions and who are up for re-election and facing a tough struggle. We need to be on them like white on rice, with support, money, volunteers—whatever it takes to ensure their re-election;
  • Identify weak incumbents from both parties who are not sympathetic to our positions and find, fund, and elect those who are, providing them with an even greater full court press than the previous group;
  • If resources remain, take them into the starkest enemy territory, where the people are most abused by lies and manipulation—Coburnland, Hatchville, Bachmanntown, etc. Bring facts and truth to these blighted landscapes, not because we can turn them around in 2010, but to plant some seeds of hope for the future.
Nothing matters now but stemming the retreat from the hard-won, still precarious position we are in. The opposition have done all they can to stonewall that position and render it impotent. They have done a terrific job of appealing to the lowest instincts of the American people, confusing and enraging them with their lies, their brilliant mischaracterizations, and their irresponsible intransigence.

The American people must know the truth, and the truth will—must—set them free.
tags: Politics | New Political Party

The Greatest Good

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 Post
There 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.

The political philosophy which governments have largely implemented throughout our long history, however, is the one that espouses the greatest good for the smallest number. For most of human history, that number was exceedingly small, usually numbering only one—the king, the emperor, the pope—who passed a few crumbs out to the second rank aristocracy but who, in essence, hogged the lion’s share for themselves.

The religious egalitarianism which Jesus advocated, and the economic system Karl Marx favored, are the only two instances in history where the greatest good for the greatest number were actually the underlying essence of the philosophy. In all other instances, such idealism was just an element of PR fluff.

Today, the American political establishment has been commandeered by the “greatest good for the smallest number” crowd. Fewer Americans are hording an ever larger slice of the pie for themselves, as the middle class sinks into poverty, wages decline, well-paying jobs disappear to lands with no labor or environmental protections, perpetual war perpetually fills the coffers of the corporatocracy, and the notions of reform, of change, of hope, have turned into a sick joke, and our mouths are filled with the taste of ashes from a ruined dream.
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1 Utilitarianism, from Wikipedia, accessed Sep 1, 2009.
tags: Politics | History | Economics

Noted With Interest, August 2009

Aug 26, 2009

The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck
By Melissa McEwan. Sometimes, I think discriminating against another because they are different from us is as despicable and blameworthy as physically attacking them, and perhaps does greater long-term damage. From shakesville, Aug 14, 2009. Accessed Aug 26, 2009.

New Rule: No Shame in Being the Sorry Party
By Bill Maher. Did Obama really say that? There may be hope after all. From The Huffington Post, Aug 21, 2009. Accessed Aug 24, 2009.

Life After the Death of the Public Option
By Nate Silver. If you are in despair about Obama dropping the public option, you might read this, and it might make you feel better. From FiveThirtyEight, Aug 16, 2009. Accessed Aug 19, 2009.

Chris Hedges on Alex S. Jones’ “Losing the News”
by Chris Hedges. He is a long-time reporter and a passionate writer on the transformation of journalism. My favorite quotation from this piece: “It is by shattering the creed of objectivity, by standing unapologetically in the swelling ranks of the poor and powerless and challenging corporate power, that journalism will survive.” From Truthdig.com, Aug 13, 2009. Accessed Aug 15, 2009.

Karzai’s secret U-turn on Afghan rape law
by Jerome Starkey. Don’t you just love the folks we align ourselves with, spending trillions on them in a futile attempt to root out their bad guys while exterminating hundreds of innocents in the process? From The Independent, Aug 15, 2009. Accessed Aug 15, 2009.

Nader Was Right: Liberals Are Going Nowhere With Obama
by Chris Hedges. So sad, so true. We knew it then and voted for Obama because we wanted to win. Never again. From Truthdig.com, Aug 10, 2009. Accessed Aug 13, 2009.

Ouster of Honduran President Zelaya was Coup—Obama
Reuters. Obama scolds his critics who complain he is not doing enough to restore democracy to Honduras. Does anyone think the U.S. could not put Zelaya back in a New York minute if it wanted to? Does anyone think Zelaya could have been removed in the first place without U.S. approval? Can you say “disingenuous”? From the New York Times, Aug 10, 2009. Accessed Aug 11, 2009.

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?
By Barbara Ehrenreich. Barbara, it always has been! From the New York Times, Aug 8, 2009. Accessed Aug 10, 2009.

A Crowded Hub Away from Home
by Shoinn Freeman. Remember that co-pilot who crashed in Buffalo? She was making less than minimum wage. She wasn’t alone. From the Washington Post, Aug 4, 2009. Accessed Aug 5, 2009.

OpenCongress.org
We’ve got Congress covered! This joint effort of the Participatory Politics and Sunlight Foundations is your one-stop shop for keeping an eye on what Congress is up to, tracking and emailing your members, and even participating in helping build the site through their wiki and other procedures. It is worth a careful look and frequent visits. Now, if we could only figure out how to keep such a good eye on that very busy and secretive Executive branch! Accessed Aug 1, 2009.

Taken to the Cleaners
We may as well just put them in shackles and rags, house them out back of the manse, and have done with it. From Economist.com, Jul 31, 2009. Accessed Aug 1, 2009.

Wall Street on Speed
by Robert Kuttner. How Wall Street (e.g., Goldman Sachs, etc.) scams the system to make its billions. From The Huffington Post, Jul 26, 2009. Accessed Jul 28, 2009.


tags: Noted with Interest

Birthers and Death Panels

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.
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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.
tags: New Political Party | Domestic Unrest

Worlds and Music

Posse Comitatus

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?
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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.
tags: Domestic Unrest | Militarism | Terrorism

Noted With Interest, July 2009

Jul 26, 2009

President Obama’s Longtime Physician Opposes White House Health Plan, Advocates Single Payer
An impassioned appeal for single payer. From Democracy Now, Jul 22, 2009. Accessed Jul 25, 2009.

Congrelate.com
Congrelate lets you see and sort information about your members of Congress. Watch the video to understand what is in Congrelate and how to get it out. From Sunlight Labs. Accessed Jul 25, 2009.

Recovery.gov
Here is where you can go to track your state’s involvement with the federal recovery program. What is actually going on, how are funds being spent, and a slew of other information about our hopeful journey on the road to recovery. Accessed Jul 25, 2009.

Slow, Costly and Often Dangerous Road to Wind Power
By Kate Galbraith. What is it Dan Rather said? “Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn't block traffic.” From the New York Times. Accessed Jul 23, 2009.

The words of God do not justify cruelty to women.
by Jimmy Carter. Unequivocal and overdue. From the Guardian, Jul 12, 2009. Accessed Jul 12, 2009.

Two Standards of Detention
by Amy Goodman. Kill an abortion doctor and get full access to the media. Let a friend stay in your apartment for two weeks and get buried alive. From Truthdig.com, Jul 8, 2009. Accessed Jul 11, 2009.

Premiere U.S. Fighter Jet Has Major Shortcoming
by R. Jeffrey Smith. The jet the Obama administration is trying to phase out against congressional opposition costs $44,000 per hour to fly and requires 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air. From the Washington Post, Jul 10, 2009. Accessed Jul 11, 2009.

Behind the Facade
by Bob Herbert. After all the hype, Herbert reminds us about the real Michael Jackson—a man this world is better without. From the New York Times, Jul 3, 2009. Accessed Jul 7, 2009.

Here We Go
By digby. A pleasing screed on the fading public option. From digbysblog, Jul 6, 2009. Accessed Jul 7, 2009, 2009.

tags: Noted with Interest

Tiger at the Gates

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.
tags: Domestic Unrest | Human Nature | People

Mending America: A Summary of Where We Aren’t

Jul 19, 2009







We need fundamental, systemic change in this country in the way we:

  1. manage our financial sector, including banking, investment, and consumer credit;
  2. produce and consume electricity;
  3. balance worker and environmental interests against the capitalist profit motive;
  4. pay for and provide health care; and
  5. educate our children.
And we are not seriously addressing any of these issues.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the bank bailouts have rewarded the wrongdoers and punished the victims, guaranteeing trillions in bad loans to predatory lenders while providing a pittance of relief to their prey and an insufficient stimulus to the economy.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act does not adequately support the development of new technologies, gives away too much in carbon credits to dirty energy sectors, and may not even pass in its current inadequate form.

One of the two main provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act—the card check method for voting for representation—was recently removed from the bill, and the other provision, calling for binding arbitration after 120 days of failed negotiations for a first contract, will likely also be removed or weakened out of existence.

Obama’s health care plan has never included the single-payer model, which will have to happen eventually. It is inconceivable the rest of the industrialized world can be wrong while only America—spending twice what others spend and receiving far less for it—is right. In the past days, the public option has also disappeared from discussions. What is left? The absurd notion that since the insurance industry is at the root of the problem, we should require everyone to purchase insurance.

And if anyone can point to a coordinated, coherent, intelligent, energetic, and well-funded plan to lift our urban and rural populations out of their generational slough of ignorance, poverty, and violence by assuring every child a world-class education whatever it takes, then we wish you would point it out. This most important priority has become lost in the helter-skelter of political posturing and faux reforms that is Washington today.

Obama is a good man and could be a great president. However, he is up against a political structure that is bought and paid for by the privileged interests, those fewer and fewer individuals who are amassing greater and greater fortunes, at the expense of the rest of us. In five days, the third and last increase in the federal minimum wage—the only worthy act of the 110th Congress—is due to go into effect, raising the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. This earns a full-time worker $15,000 a year when even the federal poverty level for a family of four (generally acknowledged to be inadequate) is over $22,000. (Can you imagine supporting a family of four on $22,000? On twice that?)

Where we should be coalescing, we are splintering. Where our focus should be on the general welfare, our politicians are serving the few. And where we should be looking to the future to assure our children a healthy life in a healthy world, we are wedded to a status quo that is destroying our country and may, in time, bring down our species with it.

We must build change from the ground up, not the top down. And that means a new political party, of the people, by the people, and for the people. It can be done. It must be done. There is simply no other way.
tags: New Political Party | Economics | Politics

NPP Plank 4: The Economy

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:

  • Lenders may not dissociate themselves from the risk involved in their lending. Without having to retain risk, lenders make bad loans. When they sell off those loans in complex and opaque bundles of derivatives, the system embarks on a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, the public is the player left standing.
  • Interest rate limitations will be placed on all business and consumer credit products, perhaps indexed to the prime rate.
  • States are required to live within their income. Individuals are well-advised to do so. In order to assure future generations of an equal opportunity to better their economic lives, the federal government will operate on a balanced budget that includes a significant annual reduction in the deficit.
  • Globalization has lifted millions out of poverty around the world and kept down prices on thousands of consumer items. However, it has done so at the expense of American manufacturing and with a disregard for hard-won labor and environmental protections. This needs to be reversed, both in the cause of economic and political justice, and in order to save human civilization from the perils of global warming. The U.S. will not admit manufactured goods from countries which do not observe the minimal labor and environmental protections enjoyed in this country. This includes the right of workers to organize and bargain for enhanced working conditions and environmental protections at least as stringent as those required at home.
  • Shared labor and environmental protections will serve to level the playing field among international competitors. To level it further, the U.S. will cease subsidizing American farmers and industry, a practice which plays havoc with the economies of developing countries, often forcing them to focus on limited and exotic products to the detriment of their ability to support their local population with staples.
  • Plank 1 and 3 (a living wage and universal health care) will act as powerful improvements to our national economy.
What other issues should the New Political Party address regarding our economy?
____________________
1 Winston Churchill, from Wikiquote, accessed Jul 12, 2009.
tags: Economics | New Political Party | Politics

Aux Barricades!, July 2009

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.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
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.

  • July 12, 2009: Read Nicholas Kristof’s column on charity: water, then donate HERE.

  • July 11, 2009: Sign a Color of Change petition asking the Department of Justice to look into a suburban Philadelphia swimming club that turned away 65 predominantly Black and Hispanic campers who had a contract to swim there. Sign HERE.

  • July 2, 2009: Sign an Avaaz.org petition to Obama and Medvedev, to make substantive plans at their summit to eliminate nuclear weapons in the world. Sign HERE.

tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

Happy Daze, July 2009

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:

Palin Move Shocks G.O.P. and Leaves Future Unclear
by Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg. For our money, she is gone from politics, probably as part of a plea agreement. From the New York Times, Jul 3, 2009. Accessed Jul 5, 2009.

Franken’s Win Bolsters Democratic Grip in Senate
By Monica Davey and Carl Hulse. We look for great things from this brilliant comic and writer. From the New York Times, Jul 1, 2009. Accessed Jul 2, 2009.


tags: Happy Daze

Independence Day

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.
tags: Politics | New Political Party | Obama

Noted With Interest, June 2009

Jun 30, 2009

What can I do to help Obama?
Let Robert Reich tell you what you can do to advance the cause of universal single-payer health care (or at least the public option!). From Salon.com. Accessed Jun 29, 2009, 2009.

The Capitalist Manifesto: Greed Is Good (To a point)
By Fareed Zakaria. Thoughtful essay on the future of our economic system in the wake of its most recent collapse. From Newsweek. Accessed Jun 27, 2009.

So, the Daily Show Ruined White House Transparency for All of Us
Jon Stewart takes on Obama’s many transparency pledges and wonders how opaque = transparency. Found at Indecision Forever.com. Accessed Jun 27, 2009.

Clearing the Cache: Keeping .Gov Weird
Oddball video from the fun-loving folks at USA.Gov. From Personal Democracy Forum. Accessed Jun 26, 2009.

How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains
By Tara Parker-Pope. What's behind the global obesity epidemic? From the New York Times. Accessed Jun 26, 2009.

Letter to Peter Welch (D-VT), June 25, 2009
Your “June Highlights from the House” email newsletter announces a bill you have introduced “which creates a public health insurance plan that would compete on a level playing field with private insurers.” Such a level playing field can only come about by crippling the public option. Everyone knows that, as they know that a true public option will kill the private insurance industry. You have now come down on the side of maintaining the current horrific system. I am extremely disappointed, although I can’t say I’m surprised.

Transparency: The Largest Bankruptcies in History
Clever visualization of bankruptcies, including the fourth largest—GM. From Good Magazine. Accessed Jun 23, 2009.

Neda’s Martyrdom and the Pitfalls of Obama’s Chronic Pragmatism
By Peter Daou. Is Obama missing his moment? From The Huffington Post. Accessed Jun 22,, 2009.

U.S. Senate OKs $106B for Wars, Equipment, Other Programs.
The $106B “emergency” spending bill. After seven years, it’s still an emergency? No, but it is still extra-budgetary. From DefenseNews. Accessed Jun 22, 2009.

Big win for independents via Supreme Court ruling approving Instant Runoff Voting in Minneapolis.
A great concept, and a boost for democratizing elections. From Politics in Minnesota. Accessed Jul 22, 2009.

Obama blocks list of visitors to White House
By Bill Dedman. The new transparency! From MSNBC. Accessed Jun 19, 2009.

The Party Blog
Find out how often your senators and representatives are being wined and dined by lobbyists. You won't believe some of these. From the Sunlight Foundation. Accessed Jun 18, 2009.

House Panel Votes to Keep the F-22 Jet Fighter Alive
By Christopher Drew. Militarism will be with us as long as we elect greedy politicians willing to counter the Pentagon and common sense. From the New York Times. Accessed Jun 18, 2009.

Plotting the Salary of Politicians versus their Effectiveness
Cool visualization. Be sure to click the “What World MPs Really Make” link to see the full screen display. From Shakeupmedia.com. Accessed Jun 17, 2009.

Project: Race Tracker
Track every race for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and state governor. Includes info on candidates, contributions, past elections, and more. From OpenCongress.org. Accessed Jun 17, 2009, 2009.

Maximum posted speed limits
State speed limits on interstate highways. From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Accessed Jun 12, 2009.

Global arms spending hits record in ’08
A few depressing facts and figures from the people who did NOT bring you “War Is Not The Answer.” From Reuters, Jun 8, 2009. Accessed Jun 8, 2009.

The NYT’s nice, new euphemism for torture
by Glenn Greenwald. Lest we forget, language matters. Lest we forget. From Salon.com, Jun 6, 2009. Accessed Jun 9, 2009.

Obama’s poor choice for faith leader
by Frances Kissling. Obama appoints an opponent of abortion and contraception to the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Huh? From Salon.com, Jun 7, 2009, with a hat tip to Jon Hutson. Accessed Jun 7, 2009.

The Economy Is Still on the Brink
By Sandy B. Lewis and William D. Cohan. Questions that need answering about a crisis that is far from over. From the New York Times, Jun 6, 2009. Accessed Jun 7, 2009.

Flake wants tighter financial interest rules
by Susan Crabtree. Did you know that corporate contributions to congressional members are not considered of “financial interest” to the members for purposes of determining the corporations’ eligibility to receive earmarks initiated by those members? Rep. Flake (R-AZ) would like to legislate that connection and deny those earmarks, and we are with him all the way. From TheHill.com, Jun 6, 2009. Accessed Jun 6, 2009.

Obama’s trail of broken promises
by David Sirota. A companion piece to “The Dawning Age of Obama...” below. Have progressives all quite given up? Hard to say. From Salon.com, Jun 6, 2009. Accessed Jun 6, 2009, 2009.

Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers
by Elissa Gootman. This is only one piece of the puzzle, but an essential one. From The New York Times, Jun 4, 2009. Accessed June 5, 2009.

Vis-a-Visclosky: Or How I Learned to Take Campaign Contributions and Turn Them Into Earmarks.
By Paul Blumenthal, with a telling visualization from Sunlight Foundation, Jun 4, 2009. When is a bribe not a bribe? When Congress does it, apparently. Accessed Jun 4, 2009.

Roll Vote: Allow guns in national parks measure
How did your senators vote on this amendment to the credit card bill? Find out here. From the Associated Press, May 12, 2009. Accessed Jun 4, 2009.

The Dawning Age of Obama as a Potentially Teach-able Moment for The Left: Five Key Lessons Beyond the Gnashing of Radical Teeth
By Paul Street. A compendium of the areas in which Obama has fallen short, at least in the eyes of progressives. From ZNet, May 30, 2009. Accessed Jun 4, 2009.

Books Books Books
Below is a list of books that have come to our notice over the past month. All are recommended reading. The links take you to the Amazon.com page for each book.

tags: Noted with Interest

Happy Daze, June 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:

State Senator Beats McAuliffe in Va. Primary
by Ian Urbina. One of the sleazier Democrats, who tried to bribe Nader out of the 2004 presidential race, goes down in defeat. Are the voters becoming discerning? From the New York Times, Jun 9, 2009. Accessed Jun 10, 2009.

Shell to Pay $15.5 Million to Settle Nigerian Case
By Jad Mouawad. It may be a spit in the ocean for an oil company, but for Ken Saro-Wiwa and other martyrs, it is a piece of justice. From the New York Times, Jun 8, 2009. Accessed Jun 8, 2009.

tags: Happy Daze

Aux Barricades!, June 2009

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.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
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.

  • Jun 27, 2009: Sign a petition, via Food&WaterWatch, to the Obama Administration, demanding they scrap Bush Administration rules that allow biotech companies to regulate themselves. Sign HERE.

  • June 25, 2009: Ask Secretary Vilsack, via Food&WaterWatch,, to hold imported catfish to the same inspection standards as are applied to domestic catfish. Sign HERE.

  • June 25, 2009: Sign a petition from the National Parks Conservation Association to your representative, urging them to vote for ACES, the American Clean Air and Security Act. Sign HERE.

  • June 22, 2009: Sign Howard Dean’s petition for a public option, via Democracy for America. Sign HERE.

  • June 21, 2009: Write your senators and demand they make the location of toxic coal ash sites public information, via Sierra Club. Sign HERE.

  • June 18, 2009: How do your senators stand on the question of the public option in the health care debate? Ask them, with an assist from Democracy for America, right HERE.

  • June 17, 2009: Help Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) purchase a truck. Donate HERE.

  • June 17, 2009: Donate to Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health Lesotho Campaign. Donate HERE.

  • June 17, 2009: Support federal hate crime legislation. Write your senators via Human Rights First. Sign HERE.

  • Jun 17, 2009: Tell your representative, via Food&WaterWatch, that you want a strong food safety bill. Don’t let Big Ag water it down. Sign HERE.

  • Jun 15, 2009: Sign a League of Conservation Voters petition to the Senate to support the Clean Water Restoration Act. Sign HERE.

  • Jun 11, 2009: Sign an Avaaz.org petition to Peruvian President Alan Garcia, asking him to cease suppressing legitimate indigenous protests against allowing extractive industries into the Amazon forest with no consultation with these groups. Sign HERE.

  • Jun 11, 2009: Sign a letter from the National Parks Conservation Association to Canadian, UN, and US officials, urging them to not allow strip mine dumping in Glacier National Park. Sign HERE.

  • May 5, 2009: Petition the Israeli government. via Avaaz.org, to pay heed to Obama's call and stop new settlement on what the world has agreed is Palestinian land. Sign HERE.

  • May 4, 2009: Sign a Sierra Club petition insisting that greenhouse gas producers report reliable statistics. Sign HERE.


tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

NPP Plank 3: Health Care

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.
—Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)
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.

In the first place, many diseases will be eradicated, possibly including such big-league killers as cancer and heart disease. We will learn to prevent many of these maladies, some as early as in the womb. Others will be cured by new pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures. In the second place, it is not unreasonable to predict a doubling of longevity among industrialized populations by 2100.1

We are well on the road to these changes today, and they will transform our attitude toward health care, as medical procedures proliferate and many of us hang around a good deal longer making use of them.

Combine this slightly futuristic picture with the status quo in America: 47 million Americans, nearly one in six, were uninsured before disaster struck our economy in 20082 and many millions more were underinsured. More to the point, medical care is consuming ever-greater proportions of our gross domestic product, up from around five percent in 1960 to over 17 percent today.3 Given the assertions made in the second paragraph, that proportion is only likely to increase, and any health care reform must, of necessity, be geared to slowing the pace of this growth.

Health care reform must, therefore, address the world to come, not the one which is quickly passing away. With that in mind, the Health Care plank of the “New Political Party (NPP)” supports the following:
  • Free, universal, government-managed basic health care to be provided to all U.S. persons (citizens and permanent residents) from prenatal care to death.
  • “Basic health care” will include primary-care physician examinations with an emphasis on preventive and family planning medical services; physician and hospital treatment of all injuries and illnesses; dental care; mental health care; the provision of medicines and drugs; and long-term nursing and/or home health care. Assisted suicide services will be funded in all states where they have been legalized.
  • Organ donations will be required from all decedents until such time as the manufacture of artificial organs is perfected.
  • Individuals who persist in unhealthy lifestyles (tobacco smokers, the obese, etc.) or refuse to participate in reasonable and proven preventive health care measures (vaccinations, colonoscopies, etc.) will be taxed a surcharge to compensate for their added burden to the system.
  • Elective and cosmetic surgeries and other medical procedures considered by the people to be beyond the scope of basic health care will be the responsibility of the individuals seeking them.
  • A significant portion of the remuneration for physicians and other care providers will be based upon their effectiveness in delivering preventive health care and in treating illnesses and injuries with efficiency, effectiveness, and economy.
  • The pharmaceutical industry will be nationalized, removing it from the for-profit sector.
  • The government will fund medical malpractice insurance, government attorneys will defend these cases, higher standards of proof will be required for demonstrating malpractice, and ceilings will be placed on awards.
  • The system will be funded by federal income tax revenues and will not be allowed to run on a deficit basis for more than one year.
Businesses will be relieved of the necessity to provide health insurance to their employees, providing an enormous boost in competitiveness domestically and internationally. The 50 percent of bankruptcy filings now at least partly due to devastating health care expenses4 will disappear. A portion of the finance industry which has been responsible for the collapse of the world economy—the medical insurance industry—will be eradicated.

Nothing has been said here about rationing health care services, limiting choice of physicians or hospitals, or any of the other draconian measures with which opponents of a national health care system would frighten us. The measures above which may seem controversial—required organ donations, the nationalization of a major industry, the placement of restrictions on malpractice claims, and penalizing the intentional pursuit of ill health—are the prices a free people pay to enter into a cooperative agreement to insure high-quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Anyone wishing to opt out of this arrangement will be free to do so and will receive a tax credit. They are thereafter on their own, so perhaps there is room for a small continuing health insurance industry after all. Do I hear any takers?
____________________
1 Aubrey de Grey says we can avoid aging (Video), from TED Talks, Jul 2005, accessed Jun 27, 2009.
2 Census Bureau: Number of U.S. Uninsured Rises to 47 Million Americans are Uninsured [sic]: Almost 5 Percent Increase Since 2005. From Medscape.com, Jan 8, 2008, accessed Jun 27, 2009.
3 Remember the HMO Revolution, by Robin Hanson, from overcomingbias.com, Jun 10, 2009, accessed Jun 27, 2009.
4 Health Insurance Costs, from the National Coalition on Health Care, 2009, accessed Jun 27, 2009.
tags: Health | Politics | New Political Party

NPP Plank 2: Education

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:

The Seed Foundation
With two boarding schools in D.C. and Baltimore, the Seed Schools take poor urban minority students through a rigorous college-prep program.
KIPP—The Knowledge Is Power Program
There are 66 schools in 19 states participating in these open-enrollment, college-prep, K-12, charter schools.
The Equity Project
This new NYC charter school will pay elite, committed, and effective teachers $125,000 per year. Stay tuned!
Teach For America
TFA takes recent college grads and places them in urban and rural schools where education inequality has been most pronounced, then provides them with lots of support.
These efforts, and many more like them, will transform society by educating those students who would otherwise be left by the wayside. They share a common theme: They are committed to doing Whatever It Takes to break the centuries-old pattern of underachievement and despair suffered by populations which, together, account for more than one-fifth of our people.

The American education system is failing at all levels, not merely in the ghettos and rural backwaters. Our very best students are falling behind internationally, as emerging industrial giants such as China, India, and Brazil pour enormous resources into boosting the educational systems upon which their continued growth depends.

Read All Together Now’s postings on Education to stay abreast of the most exciting developments in this area.

The New Political Party platform proposed here rests, in its essence, on three planks: a minimum wage that is a living wage (see NPP Plank 1: A Living Wage); a commitment to educating all Americans to the fullest extent of their capabilities and aspirations; and universal health care, which will be discussed next time. There will be other planks as well, but these three are the bedrock positions from which progressives must neither waver nor retreat.
tags: New Political Party | Education | Politics

Yosemite Sam Rides Again

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.
tags: Politics

Czar This!

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.
tags: Governance | Politics

NPP Plank 1: A Living Wage

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.
tags: Poverty | Politics | New Political Party

Memorial Day

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.
tags: Governance | Politics | New Political Party

The End of America

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:





  1. Invoke an External and Internal Threat
  2. Establish Secret Prisons
  3. Develop a Paramilitary Force
  4. Surveil Ordinary Citizens
  5. Infiltrate Citizens’ Groups
  6. Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens
  7. Target Key Individuals
  8. Restrict the Press
  9. Cast Criticism as “Espionage” and Dissent as “Treason”
  10. Subvert the Rule of Law
Her examples are documented in 14 pages of endnotes. The actions and positions America has taken since 9/11—and continues to take in the Obama administration— parallel in a stark and irrefutable manner the worst extremes of the regimes that brought us the bloodiest century in human history. Her call to action is a nondenominational one:
[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.

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.
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.

You, above all others, need to read this book.
____________________
1 The End of America at Amazon.com, accessed May 24, 2009.
2 Naomi Wolf, from Wikipedia, accessed May 24, 2009.
3 Obama’s Detention Plans Face Scrutiny, by Evan Perez, from the Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2009, accessed May 24, 2009.
tags: Governance

Noted With Interest, May 2009

May 23, 2009

Map of Madoff Victims
Mad at Madoff? Check out this mashup map of Bernie Madoff victims around the country. Maybe even find yourself out there. We are proud to see he only stuck it to five Vermonters. You can’t cheat an honest man. Accessed May 27, 2009

Iran: Political Prisoner’s Life in Danger
This is the sort of thing we, as a nation, can no longer object to, given our support for unlimited detention, suspended due process, and torture. Human Rights Watch, May 23, 2009. Accessed May 24, 2009

Senate Votes on the Gun Amendment
Find out how your senators voted on the amendment to the credit card bill—which passed!—that allows loaded assault weapons into national parks. From U.S. Senate. Accessed May 22, 2009.

Final Vote Results for Roll Call 277
And do the same for your representative. From The Clerk of the House of Representatives. Accessed May 22, 2009.

Keep Parks Safe: Say No to Loaded Guns in our National Parks
And if you do or don’t like the way they voted, go to this handy resource put together by the National Parks Conservation Association to find and write them. Do it! It matters! From National Parks Conservation Association. Accessed May 22, 2009.

Study: Climate change odds much worse than previously thought
Perhaps reality is two times more dire than predicted even six years ago. From R&D Daily. Accessed May 21, 2009.

Our unending war of terror, by Noam Chomsky
Words of wisdom and warning regarding our official policies on torture, from one of America’s pre-eminent thinkers. Wake up, America, before they come for you. Read this piece! With a hat tip to EF. From Salon.com. Accessed May 21, 2009.

Transparency in Government
Tennessee takes the lead, in this state website that is attempting to be a model of governmental transparency. Any thoughts from down that way? Accessed May 6, 2009.

This Is What Drives Us Nuts!
Two days after Defense Secretary Gates says we have enough C-17s for ten years, another Democratic voice, this one House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-WI), says he is putting $2.2 billion more into the budget to buy C-17s! Where does it end?! Accessed May 6, 2009.

13th Annual Webby Awards
The NYTimes calls them the Oscars for the Web. These cutting-edge sites are incredibly impressive. From The Webby Awards. Accessed May 6, 2009.

Should We Be Talking About Living Wages Now?
By Jeannette Wicks-Lim, from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), undated. Yes, we should! Wicks-Lim offers many of the arguments we summarized in Poor and Poorer. Accessed May 3, 2009.

Newsy.com
This Internet startup provides two- to three-minute videos on breaking news, with a credible effort at providing a balanced perspective. And can you resist falling for the lovely new Internet star Charlotte Bellus? G’day, Darlin’! Accessed May 2, 2009.

Workers Walk the Plank
By Bob Herbert, from the New York Times, Apr 27, 2009. We’ve said it all too often here on ATN: Jobs, not bailouts. Herbert agrees in this fine and heartfelt column. Accessed May 1, 2009.

The Clinton Bubble
By Robert Scheer, from truthdig.com, Apr 28, 2009. From Tim Geithner’s lunch dates to the growing numbers of erstwhile middle class falling into poverty, no one can wonder where Robert Scheer’s outrage is. Accessed May 1, 2009.

Books Books Books
Below is a list of books that have come to our notice recently (we’ll be adding to this list throughout the month). All are recommended reading. The links take you to the Amazon.com page for each book.

tags: Noted with Interest

All Together Now

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.
tags: ATN

Whither ATN?

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:

  • To get our facts straight. Let’s understand the nature and extent of the problems we face, problems that threaten our own well-being on this planet, and, even worse, threaten to radically degrade the standard of living of our children and our grandchildren;
  • To acknowledge and celebrate the work of the individuals and groups that are working for a better world;
  • And to roll up our sleeves and get to work ourselves, whether by sending a few dollars to those individuals and groups mentioned above, or by immersing ourselves in the rough-and-tumble of social change.
We believe that over the past year we have come to better understand both the source of our nation’s and our world’s problems, and to begin to visualize effective ways to confront, ameliorate, and solve those problems.

The best course for us to take in continuing the struggle, both within and outside the context of All Together Now, will be the subject of our thoughts in the coming days. We welcome any input from readers.
tags: ATN

Guest Editorial: Alex Tabarrok

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.
tags: Economics | Poverty | Working Together

Earmarks

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.

Vermont
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.
tags: Governance | Congress

Flashbacks

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:

  • The Obama administration persists in invoking the state secrets privilege to quash judicial proceedings against long-term detainees. Our independent judiciary, surprisingly enough, appears to be finally taking a stand against this abuse of power.1
  • A U.S. Army unit (the Infantry Unit’s 1st Brigade Team) has been training for domestic operations since at least last October. The Army Times newspaper initially reported the unit “may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control,” and later issued a “clarification,” saying, “This response force will not be called upon to help with law enforcement, civil disturbance or crowd control.” Read more about the issue on Democracy Now.2
  • This week, the Washington Post reported that a domestic facility, the Murtha Airport in Johnstown, PA, has been “upgraded” to the tune of $30 million in order to “handle behemoth military aircraft and store combat equipment for rapid deployment to foreign battlefields.”3 With over 700 military bases in foreign lands, 38 of them considered large or medium-sized,4 it is difficult to understand the necessity of storing additional major weapons systems in the heart of the heartland for overseas deployment.
Between these revelations and the worrisome aspects of the Patriot Act regarding domestic surveilliance, one can only wonder whether our government is developing contingency plans to stifle dissent by military force.

* * *

On a brighter front, the speculations in R.I.P. G.O.P. are appearing less speculative all the time. This once-proud party of Honest Abe, T.R., and Ike, has, since the era of Nixon and the “southern strategy,” been co-opted by the lunatic fringe at the far right of American political discourse. The party’s inability to shake loose from the extremism represented by the Grover Norquist mentality5 is rapidly turning them into a fringe party. Recent developments haven’t helped them:
  • Arlen Specter (R-PA), fearing defeat in a Republican primary next year, followed 200,000 of his constituents to the Democratic Party. Should Al Franken ultimately be seated—which looks increasingly likely—the Republicans will lose their ability to kill legislation through the filibuster.
  • In the heavily Republican 20th congressional district in New York, Democrat Scott Murphy narrowly defeated Republican James Tedisco in a race for the seat vacated by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was named to replace Hillary Clinton as New York’s junior senator.6
  • Republicans come third in party preference polls, after Independents and Democrats.6
  • Only 23 percent of voters self-identify as Republicans, down from 30 percent six years ago. Meanwhile, during that same period, while those identifying themselves as Democrats crept up from 33 to 35 percent, self-identified Independents matched, in reverse, the Republican slide, increasing their numbers from 30 to 36 percent, advancing ahead of both parties.7
Have we had enough of mismanagement, towering deficits, runaway and futile militarism, corporate malfeasance, and rampant and crippling inequality, such that the party that was primarily responsible for bringing on all this may be fading from the political landscape, as the solidly centrist Obama Democrats capture the imagination and fealty of the people?

As the number of Independents indicates, that centrism is not good enough for millions of us who would advocate for greater systemic change in American politics. It is time for America to take the leadership in crafting a just, equitable, peaceful, and democratic world. The era of dog-eat-dog competition is over and the time has come to harness capitalism for the benefit of a new, cooperative, agenda favoring an end to the specter of nuclear winter, vast global inequality, and environmental degradation.

Today’s administration represents the viewpoint of the American center. The Republicans are fading into a grumbling fringe. The time is ripe for a new political party advocating higher and grander ideals that are technologically feasible and urgently needed in the face of all our challenges. The problem is how to forge those Independents—now in the majority—into that party. Ideas?
____________________
1 Overusing “state secrets privilege,” Editorial from the Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2009, accessed May 2, 2009.
2 Is Posse Comitatus Dead? US Troops on US Streets, from Democracy Now, Oct 7, 2008, accessed May 2, 2009.
3 Murtha Airport Got Military Upgrades, by Carol D. Leonnig, from the Washington Post, Apr 30, 2009, accessed May 2, 2009.
4 737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire, by Chalmers Johnson, from AlterNet.org, Feb 19, 2007, accessed May 2, 2009.
5 Grover Norquist, from Wikipedia, accessed May 2, 2009.
6 The Republican Party needs a leadership shake-up at all levels, by John LeBoutillier, from newsday.com, Apr 30, 2009, accessed May 2, 2009.
7 GOP Party Identification Slips Nationwide and in Pennsylvania, from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Apr 29, 2009, accessed May 2, 2009.
tags: Politics | Governance

Happy Daze, May 2009

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:

First Black Mayor in City Known for Klan Killings
Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were famously murdered in 1964, has elected its first black mayor. The city is 56 percent white. From the New York Times. Accessed May 22, 2009.

At Xerox, a Transition for the Record Books
Xerox’s white female CEO, Anne Mulcahy, passes the reins to black female Ursula Burns, the first black woman to head up a Fortune 500 company of this size, and the first time in history that one female chief exec of a F500 company was replaced by another. From the New York Times. Accessed May 22, 2009.

More people are reading
Up 28 percent, to 84 percent worldwide since 1950! A literate population is an informed population. An informed population will be an angry, and an active, population. From Progressive Policy Institute, Apr 29, 2009. Accessed May 3, 2009.

Bank of America’s Lewis ousted as board chairman, stays as CEO
By Jonathan Stempel (Reuters). The first chink in the armor of the big banks? Could this be the start of accountability, with the first head rolling (albeit not far from the center of power)? Accessed May 2, 2009.

tags: Happy Daze

Aux Barricades!, May 2009

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.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
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.

  • May 29, 2009: Sign a Sierra Club petition to Interior Secretary Salazar, to prevent the extinction of the Florida panther by setting up a protected area (fewer than 100 are left and they are dying on the highways at a fearsome rate). Sign HERE.

  • May 29, 2009: Write Obama, via Human Rights First, urging him to keep his word and end military tribunals. Sign HERE.

  • May 29, 2009: Say NO via Food&WaterWatch to food irradiation and to the potential naming of an irradiation zealot to the Dept. of Agriculture. Sign HERE.

  • May 29, 2009: Tell NBC NOT to run an "infomercial" after Meet the Press this Sunday, arguing against a public health care option. It contains demonstrably false information and will maliciously mislead viewers. No "Swift Boating" of health care reform. Via Democracy for America Sign HERE.

  • May 23, 2009: Thank your representative for voting the Clean Energy Bill out of committee. Thank HERE.

  • May 23, 2009: Donate to an Avaaz.org billboard in D.C. urging Obama to close Gitmo and end torture. Let us assume for the time being that he requires what he says he requires: the staunch support of the grassroots. Donate HERE.

  • May 21, 2009: Send a Food&WaterWatch letter to Obama and Ag Sec Vilsack, urging them not to lift restrictions on Chinese poultry imports. Sign HERE.

  • May 20, 2009: Sign a TrueMajority letter to your representative, asking them not to give away carbon credits in a cap and trade system. Sign HERE.

  • May 20, 2009: Sign an Avaaz.org petition to Ban Ki Moon to free Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Sign HERE.

  • May 19, 2009: Sign a National Parks Conservation Association letter to your congressional delegation, asking them to support the Public Lands Service Corps Act. Sign HERE.

  • May 16, 2009: Sign a NPCA petition to your congressional delegation urging them to vote against OK Sen. Coburn’s rider on the Credit Card bill (S. 235) allowing loaded assault rifles in national parks. Sign HERE.

  • May 16, 2009: Sign a TrueMajority petition to the Senate, asking them to eliminate from the Pentagon supplemental spending bill pure pork items (including $2 billion for the C-17s that nobody wants). Sign HERE.

  • May 15, 2009: Sign a ColorOfChange petition to your congressional delegation asking them to support the Youth PROMISE Act. Sign HERE.

  • May 15, 2009: Send an Avaaz.org letter to Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone asking him to intervene in the genocide in Sri Lanka. Sign HERE.

  • May 15, 2009: Sign a Human Rights First petition to Obama, asking him to name an independent commission to examine and report on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in the period since 9/11. Sign HERE.

  • May 14, 2009: Donate to Avaaz.org to help pay for ads encouraging Obama to provide a plan for peace in the Middle East. (Netanyahu will meet with Obama next week.) Donate HERE.

  • May 13, 2009: Sign a National Parks Conservation Association letter to your representative, urging them to pass meaningful climate change legislation to aid our parks, our children, and our nation’s future. Sign HERE.

  • May 9, 2009: Sign a Human Rights First petition to the Dept. of Homeland Security, arguing against jailing immigrants seeking political asylum in the U.S. “Give us your tired, your poor, and we’ll sling them into jail for you!” Sign HERE.

  • May 6, 2009: Sign a TrueMajority.org petition to Congress to cut unnecessary spending from the Pentagon budget. Especially, do not add the $2.2 billion House Appropriations Chair David Obey wants to add to purchase C-17s which Secretary Gates says we will not need for another ten years! Sign HERE.

  • May 4, 2009: Sign a J Street petition to Congress and the media asking them to support Obama’s mideast agenda and oppose Newt Gingrich’s recent speech favoring a return to the failed policies of the Bush administration. You can sign HERE.

  • May 4, 2009: Sign a TrueMajority petition to your congressional delegation asking them to support Obama’s effort to close overseas tax havens. You can sign HERE.

  • May 3, 2009: Signed a petition to free Laura Ling and Euna Lee from a North Korean prison. They were detained for an illegal border crossing (it is unclear whether they actually crossed into North Korea), while investigating North Korean sex trafficking to China. You can sign HERE and follow the story on Twitter.

  • May 2, 2009: Signed a Food&WaterWatch petition asking our senators to oppose taxpayer-subsidized privatization of wastewater facilities. You can sign HERE.

  • May 2, 2009: Signed a MoveOn.org petition, advocating the impeachment of Jay Bybee, who was rewarded with a lifetime seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for writing some of the more despicable torture memos. You can sign HERE.

  • May 1, 2009: Signed (and re-wrote) a J Street petition to my congressional delegation, urging them to support a one-state solution in the Middle East and to support Obama’s attempts to give peace and reason a chance in talking with the Iranians. No More Sanctions. You can write your own delegation HERE.

  • May 1, 2009: Signed a ColorOfChange petition to Obama, seeking justice for Black farmers. The USDA is in the process of cheating them out of hard-won recompense for years of discrimination. You can sign HERE.

tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

Noted With Interest, April 2009

May 01, 2009

Creep, by Radiohead
A moving, if depressing, animation of the Radiohead song. If it is no longer at this site, try the less sharp version on YouTube. Accessed Apr 5, 2009.

YouTube EDU
YouTube has produced a site containing an educational subset of their videos. The self-starter can get a million-dollar education online today, without ever stepping foot inside a classroom. Accessed Apr 5, 2009.

Transaction Data
Wondering where all that TARP money went? Check out this Google Maps mashup. Find out how much YOUR bank got. From FinancialStability.gov. Accessed Apr 8, 2009

Charter Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition
The first charter school (1992) is only 17 years old, so studies of the effects these 4,000 school are having on our children are still sketchy and contradictory. However, this Rand Corporation book does examine four primary research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of students transferring to charter schools? (2) What effect do charter schools have on test-score gains for students who transfer between traditional public schools (TPSs) and charter schools? (3) What is the effect of attending a charter high school on the probability of graduating and of entering college? (4) What effect does the introduction of charter schools have on test scores of students in nearby TPSs? Bottom Line: Charter school performance is comparable to traditional public schools, though some scant evidence exists that a greater proportion of charter school students graduate and go on to college. From Rand Corporation. Accessed April 11, 2009.

Baracknophobia: Hannity, Bachmann and Beck are Terrified of Obama
A truly funny Comedy Central routine by Jon Stewart. Found on the Huffington Post. Accessed Apr 11, 2009.

The Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same-Sex Couples in Vermont
It’s positive! From Policy Archive. Accessed Apr 23, 2009

Happy Daze (April 2009)
Don’t forget to check out all the GOOD NEWS from April, now that we are into May.

How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air
Science fiction, or the way we will all be living soon? Kamal Meattle is living this way now. See his fascinating four-minute video on how he is doing it. From TED Talks. Accessed Apr 26, 2009.

A Torturous Compromise
By Thomas L. Friedman, from the New York Times, Apr 28, 2009. Friedman, as he has done before, comes down on the side of expedience, prepared to forgive torturers and abandon the rule of law, for the sake of peace in our time. Be sure to read the Editors' Selections from the 399 Comments posted—they are unanimously condemnatory. Accessed Apr 30, 2009.

“They Frankly Own the Place”
By Paul Blumenthal. The title quotation is from Senator Dick Durbin, referring to the financial sector—banking, insurance, and real estate. They have spent $3.6 billion since 1997 lobbying Congress, and they have gotten everything they paid for. From the Sunlight Foundation. Accessed Apr 30, 2009.

Books Books Books
Below is a list of books that have come to our notice over the past month. All are recommended reading. The links take you to the Amazon.com page for each book.

tags: Noted with Interest

The Race Is On, and On, and On

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.

Peter Welch (House D-VT) ($599,252)1
Peter ran for his first re-election to the House in 2008, unopposed in the primary, and with no Republican on the ballot.

Patrick Leahy (Senate D-VT) ($1,694,964)2
Leahy will almost certainly run for his seventh term in the Senate with no credible opposition.

Elizabeth Kirsten Gillibrand (Senate D-NY) ($2,202,825)
Gillibrand was only recently named to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat.

Barbara Boxer (Senate D-CA) ($4,622,086)3
Well, it's a big state, and Boxer has three opponents who together have amassed a whopping $48,279. Can you say “incumbent advantage”?

Senate Dems and Reps together ($38,184,318)

House Dems and Reps together ($63,384,619)
So there is over $100 million in war chests already for an off-year election, 581 days from Election Day. Recall that the overwhelming majority of campaign financing comes from lobbyists and special interests and only 10 percent from contributions under $200.4 That great bookmarklet discussed yesterday, Know Thy Congressman,5 provides the top 10 contributing groups and the top 10 contributing institutions for all sitting senators and representatives. There, you will find an unending parade of lawyers and law firms, real estate interests, securities and investment houses, lobbyists, and “health professionals.”

Is there any hope for progressive change, when this kind of money supports the status quo?
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1 Peter Welch, from OpenCongress.org, accessed Apr 27, 2009.
2 Patrick Leahy, from OpenCongress.org, accessed Apr 27, 2009.
3 Barbara Boxer, from OpenCongress.org, accessed Apr 27, 2009.
4 The First Step, ATN, November 28, 2008.
5 Political Hacks, ATN, Apr 29, 2009.
tags: Politics | Business

Political Hacks

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.)

Filibusted (Grand Prize, $15,000)
Filibusters are the bugaboo of the current Senate, since 60 votes are required to impose a time limit on a debate (cloture) and get on with the vote, and the forces mostly favoring Obama’s agenda currently have only 58 votes, 59 if Al Franken ever gets seated. This site aggregates information from GovTrack.us and Sunlight Labs, another service of the Sunlight Foundation, to bring us news of fresh filibustering, naming the senators who are bottlenecking legislation. Visit the site for updates and to read their blog or, more conveniently, follow them on Twitter.

Legistalker (Second Price, $5,000)
This project was created specially for the contest by Forum One Communications, and aggregates data from Twitter, YouTube, Capitol Words (another Sunlight Foundation project), and hundreds of news sources. Click a button to see the latest Tweets and uploaded YouTube videos generated by U.S. legislators, or news items regarding them. Set up your own “"Stalk List” to zero in on the legislators you want to follow.

Hello, Congress (Third Prize, shared)
A somewhat bewildering site, ostensibly created to serve congressional delegations. Each senator and representative has their own page where they and their staff can request research, search a briefing room of over 2000 documents and talking points, and track the priorities of their constituents. Constituents, meanwhile, sign up at something called White House 2, where they can endorse or oppose various policies. Their positions are then aggregated for their legislators on the legislators’ Hello, Congress, pages. Clever! And some interesting numbers, which lead one to believe the site has been peopled, so far, by the usual suspects: hotheads and ideologues. If the general public eventually embrace it, it could become a useful tool for our legislators.

Know Thy Congressman (KTC) (Third Prize, shared)
Get web savvy fast and impress your friends. KTC is an implementation of bookmarklets, handy little bits of code that can automate all sorts of things inside your Web browser. The KTC bookmarklet will look up useful information regarding legislators when you come across their name on a web page. Simply highlight the name, click the KTC bookmarklet (which the site will show you how to easily install), and voilá, you will see a handy insert providing a raft of useful and juicy data on the legislator (including their primary donors). Use it with some regularity, and you will find yourself learning a lot about our gang in Washington.

Yeas and Nays (Third Prize, shared)
Whereas KTC was a snap to install (a quick drag-and-drop), Yeas and Nays, a mashup that allows you to call one of your congressional representatives from any web page, requires a bit more dedication. You need the Firefox browser (definitely worth the switch from Internet Explorer), then you will install Greasemonkey, a Firefox add-in that allows you to run what are called user scripts, one of which is Yeas and Nays from ShiftSpace. The Yeas and Nays link takes you through these steps quite painlessly. Once installed, the little applet allows you to call your congressional rep from any web page (as well as providing a number of other web page add-on capabilities), provides talking points to help you express your opinion regarding the issue at hand, and, at your option, will record your call and make it available to other visitors to that page (who have ShiftSpace installed). Web Two Point Wow!

e-Paper Trail (Third Prize, shared)
Subtitled “Watch over your representatives,” e-Paper Trail provides a three-way look at Congressional activity. “Bills and Resolutions” graphically displays Democratic/Republican splits on recent House and Senate votes, and shows how your representatives and senators voted. “From the Floor” provides recent statements/speeches presented by your congressional representatives. “Head to Head” compares the voting history of any two House members of your choice. Text alerts are available for your mobile phone. These old eyes wonder, however, why the designers of this web site decided on such light, thin headline and body text.
These mashups illustrate how far and how fast Internet web site development is progressing. Combined, they provide quick and timely access to the D.C. goings-on that so vitally affect our interests. Kudos to Sunlight Foundation for sponsoring this contest, and to all the participants.
tags: Internet | Politics | Reference

Poor and Poorer

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:

  • The official measure is the same across the continental U.S., even though cost of living varies considerably among the 48 states and between urban and rural communities.
  • The official measure is based on outdated assumptions, one being that families spend about a third of their income on food. Today, that proportion has dropped to around one-seventh.
  • Income is counted before subtracting payroll, income, and other taxes, overstating income for some families.
  • On the other hand, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit is not counted either, underestimating income for other families.
  • In-kind assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid is not counted.
  • Work-related expenses, such as child care and transportation, are not included in the list of basic necessities upon which the poverty levels are based.
NCCP, with guidance from other entities, has produced very conservative budgets which provide more realistic estimates of the needs of families. These budgets assume provision of employer-sponsored health care even though most employers of the poor do not provide health care, and they do not include investments in the future, such as savings to purchase a home or send a child to college. Even without these expenses, which most Americans would consider essential, these budgets indicate that a family requires anywhere from two to three times the amount the federal government says is required to meet basic needs.

The federal poverty threshold for a family of four in 2008 is $21,200. The NCCP figures range from $43,376 for a family of four living in rural Iowa to $67,692 for a family living in New York City.

According to the U.S. Census, almost 24 million Americans in 2006 subsisted on family incomes under $15,0001 (the current federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour provides $13,624 in gross income to a full-time American worker). Extrapolation from these 2006 Census Bureau figures indicates that over 40 million Americans were then subsisting on less than the conservative NCCP minimum. This was before millions lost their homes and their jobs and everyone saw a significant decline in family wealth after the onset of the recession in December 2007.

It is not unreasonable to estimate from these figures that nearly one in three Americans are, or will soon be, living below an income level necessary to provide basic necessities. Only systemic change, wrought by an attitude adjustment of historic proportions, restoring the people to the center of American governance, can save us.
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1 Income, Expenditures, Poverty & Wealth: Household Income, from the U.S. Census Bureau, accessed Apr 25, 2009.
tags: Poverty | Governance

Words of Wisdom and Warning

Apr 27, 2009
We torture.

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.
tags: Militarism | Governance | Terrorism

Guest Editorial: Shai Agassi

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!”
tags: Electricity | Transportation | Environment

Fifty-State Project

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:

  • Collect URLs of state legislature and legislative information pages
  • Obtain data for legislation in each of the 50 states
  • Grab legislation, creating the sponsor relationship between legislator and legislation
  • Grab legislator votes on all legislation
  • Build tools on top of the data to allow slicing and dicing for purposes of data processing
Though in its infancy, the Project already has links to most state legislation pages found at the above link, and a project status report blog which you can find HERE.

It only took us five clicks to go from the link above to an account of the Vermont State Senate vote (23 to 5) to override our grim governor’s veto of S.115, the act relating to civil marriage.

The project is managed by The Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.

And kudos to them.
tags: States | Politics | Governance

Water Pressure

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.
tags: Water | Environment

United We Prevail

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.
tags: Working Together

Reality Matters

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)


Last week, on Tax Day, a few thousand Americans answered the clarion call of their right-wing cable channels, bankrolled by some well-heeled ideologues posing as Republicans1 (we won’t call them Republicans. If these people are Republicans, then Lincoln, T.R., and Eisenhower are spinning in their graves.)

The demonstrations went on despite the findings of a new Gallup poll: For pretty much the first time in over 50 years, a solid majority of Americans—61 percent—consider their tax burden to be fair, and three percent think it is too low.2

In reality, if we may introduce such an alien concept among the rants and half-baked opinions upon which our actions and much of our media coverage is based, all but the very wealthiest Americans are enjoying an historic low in their federal tax burden, now hovering near its lowest level in three decades.3

And that’s a fact. That is reality. And reality matters. Neither Times story we noted above saw fit to mention this fact, although it is inarguably pertinent to both. We don’t care much about facts in this country. We care about our fuzzy feelings and our borrowed opinions. We don’t care for facts, are not in command of many, and are eager to forget the ones of which we are inconveniently aware when they collide with those feelings or opinions.

And this is more than a problem. This is what is going to bring us down. Oscar Wilde said “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without a period of civilization in between.” And it is the anti-intellectual streak in America that has made us this way—our unwillingness to discover, acknowledge, or confront facts before adopting a viewpoint which often is in complete and dangerous ignorance of reality.

Getting our facts straight is the first of All Together Now’s three missions. Although we have attempted to do that for almost eleven months, when we witness such acts as the tea parties of last week, we despair of success. Though reality may matter to you and to me, it matters not at all to close to half the American electorate. And should the Obama administration stumble as it attempts to return America to a rational equilibrium, those who would deny or ignore reality will be back calling the shots, in 2012 if not before.
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1 Tax Day Is Met with Tea Parties, by Liz Robbins, from the New York Times, Apr 15, 2009, accessed Apr 16, 2009
2 Hold the Tea: Americans Fine with Taxes, by Robert Mackey, from the New York Times, Apr 14, 2009, accessed Apr 16, 2009.
3 Americans’ Tax Burden Near Historic Low, by Lori Montgomery, from the Washington Post, Apr 16, 2009, accessed Apr 16, 2009.
tags: Politics

The Starting Gate

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.
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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.
tags: Education

It's Off to Work We Go

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.
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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.
tags: Employment

The Brain Drain Comes Home

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.
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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.
tags: Education

Happy Daze (April 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):

Law Enacted: S.383: Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)
“[G]rant[s] the Special Inspector General (SIG) authority to conduct, supervise, and coordinate an audit or investigation of any action taken with regard to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that the SIG deems appropriate.” Read the bill summary HERE. (From Govtrack.us. Accessed Apr 26, 2009)

Gay Rights Groups Celebrate Victories in Marriage Push
Yes, our very own boys and girls in the Vermont legislature overrode our grim governor’s veto, for only the second time in history and by only one vote, but we’ll take it any way we can get it. Look for the rest of the states to fall in line at an increasing rate. (From the New York Times, Apr 7, 2009, accessed Apr 8, 2009.)

Peru’s Ex-President Convicted of Rights Abuses
So 70-year-old Alberto Fujimori is looking at 25 years in a Peruvian prison, after being convicted of murder, aggravated kidnapping, and crimes against humanity. We have written about Peru before, in A Half a Million Cheers for Peru. Could this South American land be quietly re-forming itself into a just and compassionate society? (From the New York Times, Apr 7, 2009, accessed Apr 8. 2009.)

Growth in Prison and Jail Populations Slowing: 16 States Report Declines in the Number of Prisoners
Perhaps we are weaning ourselves from a tendency to throw every hungry shoplifter and weekend toker into the hoosegow for long stretches. (From the Department of Justice, Mar 31, 2009, accessed Apr 12, 2009.)

tags: Happy Daze

About Face(book)

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.

So to our few friends on Facebook: Au revoir. You know where to find us.
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1 A Slap in the Facebook, by Miss Manners (Judith Martin), quoted in the Washington Post, Apr 8, 2009, accessed Apr 8, 2009.
tags: Human Nature | Media

The Road to Hell, Part 2

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.
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1 Corporate personhood debate, from Wikipedia, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
tags: Economics

The Road to Hell, Part 1

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.
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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.
tags: Economics

Jobs Now!

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.
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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.
tags: Employment

The Least Among Us

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)

Arguably, the least of our brethren are our nation’s undocumented immigrants. We currently hold over 30,000 of them in jails, prisons, and other confinement structures, more than three times the number held just 10 years ago.1 They may languish there for months or even years without judicial review, in violation of international human rights standards.

Though every story is different, these people have fled from hopelessness in search of promise. They have braved perilous waters in unseaworthy ships or suffocation in closed vehicles traveling thousands of miles. Once here, they are forced to work for criminal employers at the lowest of wages, live in constant fear of harrassment and arrest without rights or public services, and survive at the mercy of a few friends and dumb luck.

And woe unto them if they are caught. Tossed into a legal gulag of Kafkaesque proportions, they may languish for years without access to representation or the judicial system, far from family and friends, and deprived of the simple due process guarantees we afford any petty criminal. Read Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying for an eloquent and detailed account of the hapless fate of just one of these individuals.2 Read Amnesty International’s report, Jailed Without Justice (.pdf, 662Kb, 56 pp.), to gain a fuller picture of just how far short we as a nation fall that prides itself on welcoming the downtrodden, in our treatment of “the least among our brethren.”
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1 Immigrant Detention, from Amnesty International, undated, accessed Apr 4, 2009.
2 Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat, at Amazon.com, accessed Apr 4, 2009
tags: Immigration | Poverty

Aux Barricades! (April 2009)

Apr 06, 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.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
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.

  • Apr 28, 2009: Signed a Human Rights First petition to Obama, urging him to appoint a nonpartisan commission to investigate illegal acts of torture during the Bush administration and turn its findings over to the Justice Department for prosecution. You can sign HERE.

  • Apr 28, 2009: Donated a few tax-deductible dollars to Food&WaterWatch.

  • Apr 28, 2009 Signed a Credo petition to the Interior and Commerce secretaries, asking them to overturn Bush-era regulations that decimated protection for over 1,300 species. The deadline is May 9, and you can sign HERE.

  • Apr 28, 2009: Signed a Sierra Club petition to the EPA, urging them to take substantive action to regulate greenhouse gases and reverse global warming. You can sign HERE.

  • Apr 26, 2009: It's Roxana Saberi's birthday. Follow her struggle HERE. Join your voice and let the world know we are watching.

  • Apr 23, 2009: Signed a Food&WaterWatch petition to congress asking them not to force genetically engineered crops on countries and farmers that don’t want them. The Union of Concerned Scientists have recently found that these crops have not increased the yield of American corn and soybean farmers. You can sign HERE.

  • Apr 23, 2009: Signed a Credo petition to Chevron asking them to fire their general counsel, William Haynes, former Gen Counsel for the Pentagon, who was among the authors of the torture memos. You can sign HERE.

  • Owing to a very stupid slip of the keyboard, April’s Action Items, through the 22nd, have been lost. If you follow us on Twitter, you can see some of them.


tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

The Quiet Crisis

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:

  • Churches saw a decrease of $3 to $5 billion in expected giving in the third quarter of 2008.
  • United Way saw an increase of 60 percent in the calls for basic services in 2008.
  • Chicago is trimming its Meals on Wheels budget by more than a third.
  • Arizona saw an increase of over 100 percent in the number of people who sought social services from 2007 to 2008.
  • Michigan suffered simultaneous increase in demand by 70 percent of its nonprofits while 50 percent say their financial support has declined.
The report makes four general recommendations:
  • Pass the Serve America Act, a $5.7 billion program that will increase the number of AmeriCorps volunteers from 75,000 to 250,000. The Senate passed their version of this bill last week.
  • Adopt a handful of tax incentives that will expand private giving and volunteering.
  • Establish a fund that would produce programs to improve nonprofit management and develop new ideas and pilot programs to improve existing systems.
  • Give nonprofit housing and financial institutions a prominent role in solving the nation’s massive mortgage and foreclosure problems.
Should this recession continue to worsen, look for massive layoffs in the nonprofit sector, with a resultant dropoff of assistance to those who need it most. It is incumbent upon those of us still employed to do what we can to bolster this segment of society. As it falters, so will we be called upon in a variety of unpleasant ways to absorb the consequences.
tags: Volunteerism | Employment | Economics

Noted With Interest, March 2009

Apr 02, 2009

Stjepan Hauser—Song to the Moon (Rusalka)
Cellist Stjepan Hauser plays a really lovely adaptation of Dvorak’s Song of the Moon on YouTube. Hat tip to EF. Accessed Mar 8, 2009.

Broken Government: An assessment of executive branch failures since 2000
All right, we want to look forward, like Obama. But historians need these reminders of the enormities of the Bush administration, especially when they are presented in such a comprehensive manner. From The Center for Public Integrity. Accessed Mar 8, 2009.

Reviving the Dream
An excellent column by Bob Herbert that came out the day after we wrote the item on the Employee Free Choice Act, and that speaks to the same concerns. From the New York Times, Mar 9, 2009. Accessed Mar 10, 2009.

The State of the Birds
Birds are bellwethers of our nation’s environmental health, and the news is not good from this first-ever comprehensive report. Accessed Mar 21, 2009.

America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout
“But unless we grasp the ‘societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms’ we will be cursed with a more ruthless form of corporate power, one that does away with artifice and the seduction of a consumer society and instead wields power through naked repression....” By Chris Hedges, Mar 23, 2009. From Truthdig.com. Accessed Mar 26, 2009.

Pew Report Finds Major Flaws in Pennsylvania’s Effort to Lease Turnpike
This report will help other states tread the perilous path to public-private partnerships. From The Pew Charitable Trusts. Accessed Mar 27, 2009.

Senator Cardin [D-MD] Introduces Bill that Would Allow American Newspapers to Operate as Non-Profits
An idea worth supporting? Could be. Non-profit newspapers could not make political endorsements, but otherwise would operate much as they do today. Advertising and subscription revenue would not be taxed, and contributions would be tax deductible. From Sen. Cardin’s web site. Accessed Mar 27, 2009.

Books Books Books
Below is a list of books that have come to our notice over the past month. All are recommended reading. The links take you to the Amazon.com page for each book.

tags: Noted with Interest

Dawn of a New Day

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:

  1. Together with representatives of both houses of Congress, draft legislation establishing a national minimum wage at a level sufficient to support a family of four, proportionally weighted to the varying requirements among the states.
  2. Together with the Department of Education, identify effective national education innovators in preK-16 and gather them into a Presidential Commission tasked with preparing a blueprint, within 12 months, for reforming the American educational system. The administration guarantees funding will be available as well as their full support in generating any legislation which may be required.
  3. Together with the Department of Health and Human Services and the new Health Czar, evaluate existing universal, single-payer health care systems around the world, taking from each the features which work to the satisfaction of the populaces involved, and, within 12 months, craft a plan for such a system in the U.S.
Naturally, we accepted with alacrity and are off to D.C. later this month.

And if you believe all that, we have a lovely bridge in New York City we are prepared to part with at a very reasonable price.
tags: Working Together | Education | Health

No Entry

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.
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1 Brennan Center Study Shows Parole Fees Undercut Reentry, Mar 23, 2009, accessed Mar 27, 2009.
tags: Law | States

Two Americas

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.
tags: Governance | Domestic Unrest

The Killing Fields 2008

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:

  • 2,390 people were executed in 25 countries (1252/24)
  • 8,864 people were sentenced to death in 52 countries (3,347/51)
  • China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA, and Pakistan together carried out 93 percent of the known executions in 2008. China carried out the vast majority of these, at 1,718—72 percent of the known total executions worldwide, and it is widely believed there were many more carried out in secret, in China and in many other countries.
  • At 37 executions, the US is in fourth place in the world.
There is some good news. The US carried out fewer executions in 2008 than were reported since 1995. Still the fact that the state, any state, continues to practice capital punishment is a horrible stain on our species and a real reflection of how far we have not come since the days of the Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch burnings, Stalin's show trials, and other state-sponsored horror shows that revealed the basest levels of mankind’s iniquity.

Still, when torture has become, and remains, the acknowledged policy of a once-great democracy, who can be surprised?
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1 Death Sentences and Executions in 2008 (pdf, 30 pages), from Amnesty International, 2009, accessed Mar 25, 2009
tags: Death Penalty

Down the Garden Path

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

Recipe for disaster: Induce Joe Hedgefund to buy a package of mortgages for more than they are worth by loaning him over 90 percent of the purchase price, and require no security on the loan except for the real estate behind those mortgages. If Joe subsequently concludes his heavily leveraged purchases aren’t increasing in worth fast enough to justify the scheduled payback, he will default on the loan, we get the white elephant real estate, and he walks away scot free. Sound familiar? It is more or less what has happened—and is happening— to millions of hapless homeowners over the past decade with one crucial difference—the latter are being foreclosed upon and rendered homeless.

The banks that do agree to sell their toxic paper at a 50 percent discount will enjoy a huge infusion of cash which, paradoxically, will leave them even poorer, having to write off the other 50 percent. This will require them to increase their cash reserves (with the sale money), reinforcing their reluctance to start lending again, which was the putative reason for adopting this meshugener scheme in the first place. If we are misreading the Times story referenced below, please write and tell us how.

Because if we are not, you are about to witness the greatest plundering of the public coffers in the history of the world. The trillion plus the government is ready to hand out to a handful of rogue banks will represent a redistribution of wealth that will make the cash sucked to the top during the last thirty years look like chump change.

And the money is coming from everywhere, including the TALF2 program, initially designed to make loans to real people and real businesses. Yet another trillion may be plundered from there.

Meanwhile, the interest rate on these loans has not been set and the question of how the American people will profit “if the troubled assets rise in value above the prices paid to acquire them” has also not been made clear. Neither interest rate nor rising property values will much matter, however, in a scenario that will probably see all that money disappear into a half a dozen banks, with little or no effect on the credit freeze.

They have fed us their bread and paraded their circuses before us, and we have gone, willing sheep, to the slaughter of our own best interests. Millions have lost their homes. We have all lost a large chunk of our retirement savings. The best and the brightest of our children, burdened by usurious and inescapable student loans, will work their entire lives for the corporatocracy. And our grandchildren’s financial security is now being stolen by these closed-door, weekend decisions that cost us trillions with every new-hatched scheme.

In the matter of the initial bank and A.I.G. bailouts, the Obama administration could credibly plead to no greater crime than accessory after the fact. They have no such defense this time around. Who could have imagined that we would come to such a pass?
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1 U.S. Expands Plan to Buy Banks' Troubled Assets, by Edmund L. Andrews and Eric Dash, from the New York Times, Mar 23, 2009, accessed Mar 24, 2009.
2 Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, if you really want to know.
tags: Economics | Governance

A Trillion Here, A Trillion There

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.
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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.
tags: Governance | Economics

All Work and No Play

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.
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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
tags: Education | Youth

Till Death Do Us Part

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.
tags: Human Nature | Human Rights

Getting Known

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

We had the nicest note from the nicest young woman the other day. She said that while visiting our site, she saw that we linked to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). (We don’t, really, although we did have occasion to mention them, with a link, back at No Rest for the Weary on October 14 last year.)

The young woman had a web site of her own, and asked whether we might link to each other. She had already posted our address on her site, where we were flattered to see she linked to only three others, all of them having to do with the theme of her own site: the causes, treatment, and cure of acne. Having a good friend who suffers from this affliction, as well as having been revisited by the scourge ourself of late, it felt like serendipity to us. We replied with our hearty consent to her linking to our site.

At first, we had some reservations, particularly as her site’s name seemed to be misspelled. On a sudden inspiration, we checked out the same name spelled correctly and sure enough there it was, leading us to believe she had sacrificed orthographic for aural fidelity.

We bloggers are a hapless lot. And what had moved us to give her the best plug we could when we first read her email was the fact that, after ten months of more or less daily blogging, this was the first unsolicited acknowledgment of our existence to emanate from someone we didn’t already know.

So if you are an acne sufferer, or you know someone who is, or if you only just wished you knew someone who was, check out Acne Assasin today. You’ll be glad you did.
tags: Working Together

Stop the Presses?

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.
tags: Media

Ruining Your Health

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
tags: Health | Governance

Scot Free

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
tags: Obama | Governance

The Employee Free Choice Act

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
tags: Labor

Bob and IRV

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.
tags: Politics | Governance

Arming the Bad Guys

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:

  • Arms sales agreements in 2007 were triple what they were in 2005.
  • During 2006 and 2007, we supplied arms and military training to 174 countries and territories, up from 123 in 2001. (There are only 195 countries in the world.)
  • Twenty of the 27 major conflicts ongoing in 2006/07 involved one or more parties armed and trained by the U.S.
  • Over half (13) of the 25 U.S. arms recipients in the developing world during 2006/07 were either undemocratic regimes or regimes that engaged in major human rights abuses.
The report also notes how sales to putative friends, such as Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, eventually come around to being used against us as friendships go sour.

Militarism is as American as apple pie, and it seems clear from this report that we will sell arms to just about anyone. The history of our own military adventures in just our lifetime, from Korea to Iraq 2, suggest that violence is our first response to provocation of any sort. And since Korea, it has rarely if ever resulted in a lasting resolution accruing to our benefit.

We are not a pacifist. Were we a Russian at Borodino or a Yank at the Battle of the Bulge, we would have gladly blown the head off any enemy we encountered, knowing full well that our nation and our own survival were at stake. However, when they aren’t at stake, when we are there for economic gain, for political maneuvering, or even for plain old-fashioned revenge, then what we bring to the unhappy people at the receiving end of our enormous military might is simply murder, and there is no two ways about it.
tags: Militarism

Talking to the Taliban

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.
tags: Governance | Militarism

Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?

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
tags: Employment | Governance

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

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
tags: Obama | Militarism | Governance

Aux Barricades! (March 2009)

Mar 06, 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.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
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.

  • Mar 31, 2009: Signed a Democracy for America petition urging Congress to including a public Medicare option in health care reform because, without it, it isn't reform. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 17, 2009: Signed an Avaaz.org petition to UN Sec Gen Ban Ki Moon, urging him to help free Burma’s political prisoners. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 13, 2009: Signed a MoveOn.org peittion urging our congressional delegation to close the loopholes for the oil industry and support green energy initiatives with the savings. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 12, 2009: Wrote a Human Rights First letter to Obama, urging him to have the U.S. run for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. You can write HERE.

  • Mar 9, 2009: Wrote a Food&WaterWatch letter to Obama thanking him for the $3.9 billion in the stimulus package devoted to water and wastewater infrastructure, and urging him to set up a trust fund for the $22 billion needed each year for this purpose. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 7, 2009: Wrote a letter, prompted by Food Democracy Now, to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, urging him not to promote the appointments of Michael Taylor, former Monsanto executive, or Michael Osterholm, a food safety “expert” who favors irradiation over comprehensive food safety policies and procedures, to positions in the Obama administration.

  • Mar 6, 2009: Signed a Credo petition to our House rep urging him to support the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee, whose memos written for the Bush White House justifying an attack on our Constitution earned him a federal judgeship for life. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 6, 2009: Signed a ColorOfChange letter to a group of Republican governors (including Jindal of LA) who are refusing to accept federal stimulus funds that are intended to expand and extend unemployment benefits. It is political posturing of the most cynical sort, and is denying their people an important piece of the stimulus package. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 6, 2009: Signed a TrueMajority letter to Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy, welcoming his efforts to investigate Bush-era criminality. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 5, 2009: Signed a Food&WaterWatch petition to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council urging them to allocate fishing rights to small fisherman in coastal communities. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 4, 2009: Signed a Human Rights First letter to Obama, urging him to speak out against arms dealers who are shipping weapons to Sudan in contravention of a UN resolution. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 3, 2009: Signed a MoveOn.org petition to our congressional delegation urging them to pass universal health care legislation this year. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 2, 2009: Signed an Avaaz.org petition to Congress, urging them to investigate Bush anti-terrorism practices and hold those accountable who broke the law. You can sign HERE.

  • Mar 2, 2009: Read Nicholas Kristof's note re: Mukhtar Mai, then wrote the three Pakistani officials whose emails were there, demanding justice for this brave and generous woman.

tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

Table of Contents, January-June 2009

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:

  1. Publication date
  2. Title (as a link)
  3. Item tags
You can display any item by clicking on the link. Click the Table of Contents tag in the left-hand column to display this and subsequent Tables of Contents, which you can then search for title words or tags.

April 2009
4/30/09 The Race is On, and On, and On Politics Business
4/29/09 Political Hacks Internet Politics Reference
4/28/09 Poor and Poorer Poverty Governance
4/27/09 Words of Wisdom and Warning Militarism Governance Terrorism
4/24/09 Guest Editorial: Shai Agassi Electricity Transportation Environment
4/23/09 Fifty-State Project States Politics Governance
4/22/09 Water Pressure Water Environment
4/21/09 United We Prevail Working together
4/20/09 Reality Matters Politics
4/17/09 The Starting Gate Education
4/16/09 It’s Off to Work We Go Employment
4/15/09 The Brain Drain Comes Home Education
4/14/09 Happy Daze Happy Daze
4/13/09 About Face(book) Human nature Media
4/9/09 The Road to Hell, Part 2 Economics
4/9/09 The Road to Hell, Part 1 Economics
4/8/09 Jobs Now! Employment
4/7/09 The Least Among Us Immigration Poverty
4/6/09 Aux Barricades! (April 2009) Aux barricades! Working together
4/3/09 The Quiet Crisis Volunteerism Employment Economics
4/2/09 Noted with Interest, March 2009 Noted with interest
4/1/09 Dawn of a New Day Working together Education Health

March 2009
3/31/09 No Entry Law States
3/30/09 Two Americas Governance Domestic unrest
3/27/09 The Killing Fields 2008 Death penalty
3/26/09 Down the Garden Path Economics Governance
3/25/09 A Trillion Here, A Trillion There Governance Economics
3/24/09 All Work and No Play Education Youth
3/23/09 Till Death Do Us Part Human nature Human rights
3/20/09 Getting Known Working together
3/19/09 Stop the Presses? Media
3/18/09 Ruining Your Health Health Governance
3/17/09 Scot Free Obama Governance
3/16/09 The Employee Free Choice Act Labor
3/13/09 Bob and IRV Politics Governance
3/12/09 Arming the Bad Guys Militarism
3/11/09 Talking to the Taliban Governance Militarism
3/10/09 Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare a Job? Employment Governance
3/9/09 Breaking Up Is Hard to Do Obama Militarism Governance
3/6/09 Aux Barricades! (March 2009) Aux barricades Working together
3/5/09 Table of Contents, January-June 2009 Table of contents
3/4/09 Let Us Now Praise ... Amy Goodman Golden a Media
3/3/09 Setting the Agenda Obama Governance
3/2/09 Noted with Interest, February 2009 Noted with interest

February 2009
2/27/09 Accountability NOW Congress Working together Politics
2/26/09 The Untouchables Working together Politics
2/25/09 The Bush Legacy of Shame Governance
2/24/09 What’s It Worth to You? States Economics Governance
2/23/09 The Gathering Storm Militarism Governance Domestic unrest
2/20/09 What You Don’t Know Media Politics
2/19/09 It’s a Crying Shame Youth Health
2/18/09 Getting Ours Economics Governance
2/17/09 Pondering Israel History Human rights Militarism
2/16/09 The Golden Rule, Explained Working together Employment Governance
2/15/09 Aux Barricades! (February 2009) Aux barricades! Working together
2/14/09 A Pun My Word! Human nature People
2/13/09 Falling Off a Cliff History Human nature Economics
2/12/09 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Governance
2/11/09 Pondering Term Limits Politics
2/10/09 Enlightening Our Self-Interest Poverty Population Working together
2/9/09 An Open Letter Governance People
2/8/09 Taking the Sales Out of Your Wind Wind Energy Politics
2/7/09 Daschle: A Post-Mortem Governance Politics Obama
2/6/09 Resting on One’s Laurels ATN Working together
2/5/09 The Forever War Militarism Terrorism
2/4/09 R.I.P. G.O.P. Politics Governance
2/3/09 Boeing, Boeing; or, Up, Up in the Air Business Militarism
2/2/09 After Life Human rights Human nature
2/1/09 Noted with Interest, January 2009 Noted with interest

January 2009
1/31/09 The Exception Disproves the Rule Governance Obama
1/30/09 Let George Do It Politics History Governance
1/29/09 Wage Slaves Poverty Labor Economics
1/28/09 A Billion Here, a Trillion There (282) Economics Governance
1/27/09 My Own Private Vermont Politics
1/26/09 Revolving Doors Politics Governance Business
1/25/09 File and Forget Governance
1/24/09 As California Goes... Youth Education Health
1/23/09 Prepare to Die Human nature Law
1/22/09 Live It Up! Economics
1/21/09 The First 100 Minutes Obama
1/20/09 January 20, 2009 Obama Governance
1/19/09 Inauguration Eve! Governance
--Hiatus--
1/11/09 Hey, Dude, Where’s My Money? Retirement Economics
1/10/09 Formula for Failure Obama Governance Economics
1/9/09 Meet the In-Crowd—Your 111th Congress Congress Reference
1/8/09 Economy Redux—A Progressive View Economics Business Governance
1/7/09 It’s the Economy, Stupid (267) Economics Business Governance
1/6/09 Noted with Interest Noted with interest
1/5/09 Day One Obama Governance
1/4/09 The High Cost of Medicare Health Governance
1/3/09 Unsafe At Any Age Governance Youth Business
1/2/09 Housekeeping ATN
1/1/09 Ringing in the New Governance
tags: Table of Contents

Let Us Now Praise ... Amy Goodman

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.
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1 DemocracyNow.org
tags: Golden A | Media

Setting the Agenda

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.

10 things you should know about Obama’s plan, but probably don’t

The plan:
  1. Makes a $634 billion down payment on fixing health care that will go a long way toward paying for a more efficient, more affordable health care system that covers every single American.3
  2. Reduces taxes for 95% of working Americans. And if your family makes less than $250,000, your taxes won’t go up one dime.4
  3. Invests more than $100 billion in clean energy technology, creating millions of green jobs that can never be outsourced.5
  4. Brings our troops home from Iraq on a firm timetable, finally bringing the war to a close—and freeing up almost ten billion dollars a month for domestic priorities.6
  5. Reverses growing income inequality. The plan lets the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire and focuses on strengthening the middle class.7
  6. Closes multi-billion-dollar tax loopholes for big oil companies.8
  7. Increases grants to help families pay for college—the largest increase ever.9
  8. Halves the deficit by 2013. President Obama inherited a legacy of huge deficits and an economy in shambles, but his plan brings the deficit under control as soon as the economy begins to recover.10
  9. Dramatically increases funding for the SEC and the CFTC—the agencies that police Wall Street.11
  10. Tells it straight. For years, budgets have used accounting tricks to hide the real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, and too many other programs. Obama’s budget gets rid of the smokescreens and lays out what America’s priorities are, what they cost, and how we’re going to pay for them.12
This is the change we voted for. President Obama has done his part, now we need to do ours.

Please pass this message on to your personal network.

Thanks for all you do,

—Daniel, Tanya, Peter, Justin, and the rest of the team

P.S. Turns out there are more than 10 amazing things in Obama’s budget and we couldn’t resist sharing just a few more.
  1. Stops unnecessary government subsidies to big banks, health insurance companies and big agribusinesses.13,14,15
  2. Expands access to early childhood education and expands schools by investing in programs that make sure every child has a qualified, strong teacher.16
  3. Negotiates for better prescription drug prices using Medicaid’s tremendous bargaining power.17
  4. Expands access to family planning for low-income women.18
  5. Caps the pollution that causes global warming, and makes polluters pay to support clean energy innovation.19
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1 Climate of Change, The New York Times, February 27, 2009
2 Obama Calls His Budget Sweeping, Needed Change, The New York Times, February 28, 2009
3 Obama Offers Broad Plan to Revamp Health Care, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
4 Obama Expects Fight Over $3.55 Trillion Budget Plan, Bloomberg News, February 28, 2009
5 Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness, Center for American Progress, February 26, 2009
6 The Economic Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan, The New York Times, March 1, 2009
7 Tax Cuts, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
8 Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness, Center for American Progress, February 26, 2009
9 Student Loans, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
10 Obama unveils budget blueprint, CNN, February 26, 2009
11 Obama budget would books SEC, CFTC, FBI, Reuters, February 26, 2009
12 Obama’s budget, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2009
13 Student Loans, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
14 Health Insurance Stocks Dive on Medicare Advantage Cuts, The Wall Street Journals, February 26, 2009
15 Agriculture, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
16 Investing Wisely in Our Children, Center for American Progress, February 26, 2009
17 Obama Offers Broad Plan to Revamp Health Care, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
18 Obama Offers Broad Plan to Revamp Health Care, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
19 Setting Green Goals, The New York Times, February 26, 2009
tags: Obama | Governance

Noted With Interest, February 2009

Mar 02, 2009

Track Your Congressional Delegation
Sign up for weekly email updates on key votes of your congressional delegation. Includes links to send email to them using pre-addressed forms, and news of upcoming votes for review. From Roll Call at Congress.org. Accessed Jan 31, 2009.

Understanding Science: How Science Really Works
Cool and useful guide to science. From The University of California at Berkeley. Accessed Jan 31, 2009.

Top Ten Jury Verdicts in 2009
Number 1? A $388 million judgment against the IRS. Gotcha! (Of course, we’re going to end up paying it.) From LawyersUSA. Accessed Jan 31, 2009.

Regional Trade Agreements Information System
A great reference tool, showing regional trade agreements in force and proposed around the world, including texts of the agreements. From the World Trade Organization. Accessed Jan 31, 2009.

A Citizen Journalist’s Guide to Open Government
Blogger Alert: Good information on getting hold of public records. From Knight Citizen News Network. Accessed Jan 31, 2009.

NOTICE: Links are always provided.
Every All Together Now item that discusses a document, a web site, a podcast, or other digital resource contains a link to that resource. On some systems that link might not be as apparent as it could be. For instance, here is an item from last month’s “Noted with Interest”:
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.

Virtual Volunteering
Yes, you can do it from home! Find out how. From ServiceLeader.org. Accessed Feb 10, 2009.

Henry’s Night (video)
Our friend, D.B. Johnson, is the author of a series of picturebooks about a bear named Henry. They are based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau. The first one, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, was a bestseller. We think his latest one, Henry’s Night, will be one, too. It has already received a starred review from an early reviewer. View the video trailer the author created and see if you agree. Accessed Feb 12, 2009.

GreenHomeGuide.com
There’s money in the stimulus package for greening up your home. This site tells you how. Accessed Feb 17, 2009.

February Oversight Report (.pdf, 499Kb, 52 pp.)
“…Treasury paid substantially more for the assets it purchased under the TARP than their then-current value.” From Congressional Oversight Panel, Feb 6, 2009. Accessed Feb 21, 2009.

Books Books Books
Below is a list of books that have come to our notice over the past month. All are recommended for anyone who wants to find out the truth behind all the misinformation, disinformation, and lies we are asked to swallow every day. The links will take you to the Amazon.com page for each book.

tags: Noted with Interest

Accountability NOW

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:

  • Moveon.Org, the largest online grassroots progressive organization in the country, with over four million members.
  • Democracy for America, another progressive online group, founded by Howard Dean, and experienced in training political organizers and backing progressive candidates.
  • ColorOfChange.org, an online organization that “exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice.” We have written about all three of these organizations extensively in All Together Now, and have taken part in many of their initiatives.
  • 21st Century Democrats. New to us. Their activities seem to overlap those of Democracy for America: training organizers and identifying and supporting progressive candidates.
  • BlogPAC. They “give grants, no strings attached, to activists on the internet who have demonstrated a record of success in either creating progressive change or creating the space for progressives to make change.”
  • Glenn Greenwald, a liberal blogger at Salon.com (and frequent interviewee on Democracy Now).
  • Jane Hamsher, blogger on Firedoglake.
  • DailyKos, another well-known progressive blog.
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This is the only member of Accountability Now we look on with skepticism. Andy Stern, the leader of SEIU, appears to be a grandstanding empire builder more interested in self-aggrandizement and stirring up internecine strife in the organized labor world than he is in doing his job fighting for the rights and benefits of his membership.2
The movement, at least on paper, is just what we have been waiting for (and writing about over the past couple of weeks): a cooperative venture among the widespread grassroots, Internet-based, political progressive movements around the country, aimed at supporting candidates for Congress who will move the country toward a humane, people-based, and equitable democracy. Well, Hallelujah!

We encourage you to sign up with them on their site. We will be keeping a close eye on them and will hope to be reporting back about the good work they are doing. We will also hope to see other Internet-based progressive groups (TrueMajority, etc.) join forces with them.

We can do this together, and only together. We can halt the military/corporatocracy that has dominated our country since the Vietnam War. We can retrieve our standing in the suffering world and help it toward a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future.

In his speech on Tuesday evening, Obama focused on three vital issues we need to address: energy, health care, and education. This is our agenda, and to reach it, we are going to need to elect more progressive candidates to Congress, candidates who are not beholden to those corporate and special interests whose agendas are diametrically opposed to Obama’s.

So go on the Accountability site and get on the bandwagon. We have the right man at the top. Now we need to build the base, and it seems to us this group may have a shot at leading the way.
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1 Bloggers and Unions Join Forces to Push Democrats, by Jim Rutenberg, from the New York Times, Feb 26, 2009, accessed Feb 26, 2009
2 Union Leaders Accuse Stern of Scheming for Control of America’s Only Union-Owned Commercial Bank, from Democracy Now, Feb 20, 2009, accessed Feb 26, 2009
tags: Congress | Working Together | Politics

The Untouchables

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.
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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.
tags: Working Together | Politics

The Bush Legacy of Shame

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

A government and its laws and regulations are the arrangements a people make in order to live in peace and prosperity with one another. Those arrangements may benefit the few, as in third world countries and the United States over the past thirty years, or they may be so arranged as to assure the greatest good for the greatest number, as in most modern Western European democracies and the rest of the English-speaking world.

The Bush Legacy: An assault on public protections from OMB Watch documents the shocking extent to which the Bush administration dismantled government and endangered the American people, for the purpose of advancing a failed political ideology while empowering the corporatocracy that today still retains its stranglehold on U.S. policy and procedures.

According to the report, the administration:
  • Watered down or repealed many Clinton-era regulations.
  • Filled regulatory positions with anti-regulatory ideologues taken from the industries they were charged with regulating.
  • Suppressed science and their own scientists when either interfered with right-wing ideology or threatened to increase safety regulations.
  • Issued a raft of “midnight regulations” in the closing weeks of their administration, most of them de-regulatory in nature. Though other administrations have issued such last-minute regs, few or none have issued such extensive numbers of them or have done so in such a cynical manner.
  • Fundamentally changed the method by which rules and regulations are generated by rule-making agencies, to the detriment of transparency and in the service of ideology over the regulatory responsibilities of the agencies.
  • Enabled a level of intimate association between the executive branch and special interests that a former Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security described as “almost incestuous.”
  • Under the pretense of national security, increased the level of secrecy in government to an extent never approached in the past, by weakening the Freedom of Information Act and deleting thousands of pages of information from the Internet.
  • Delayed regulatory action to the detriment of consumer and worker safety and endangered species, and, ultimately, caused the collapse of the global financial system.
  • Set up program assessment procedures which overrode congressional intent, advanced ideological ends, and penalized programs for following legal requirements.
  • Incapacitated government by slashing taxes, raising the deficit to historic levels, and exempting traditional avenues for the public to seek justice in cases of corporate malfeasance.
  • Disabled proper bidding and oversight of contractor services while vastly expanding the privatization of those services.
  • Left senior positions in many agencies vacant, or appointed unconfirmed interim personnel, effectively suspending agency operations.
  • Made so many appointments while the Senate was in recess, in an end run around the confirmation process, that the Senate was forced to remain in pro forma session to counter the procedure.
You will find it hard to believe much of this report (e.g., that the FDA continued to use a study it knew to be fraudulent in defending the release of a dangerous drug). It is all well documented and referenced, however.

The road back from a dangerously fascistic past eight years will be a long one. Tomorrow, we will propose one vehicle—call it a bandwagon—you may wish to climb aboard in order to begin that perilous and uncertain journey.
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1 See the report referenced in the text above. All the quotations and contentions are scrupulously reference in footnotes.
tags: Governance

What’s It Worth to You?

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:

  • “[T]he Virginia Department of Corrections replaced private food service contracts at several prisons when data showed that the services could be provided more cheaply in-house for a total annual savings of $851,000.” (So much for the wonders of privatization.)
  • With a far-seeing eye toward future crime and social service costs, Virginia also determined the cost-effectiveness of investing in prekindergarten.
  • Utah requires new programs to have measurable goals to gauge progress, and when those goals are not met, the program is killed or altered. A $300,000 program to help businesses recruit new employees was radically cut and retargeted when it failed to show measurable success.
  • Utah Governor Jon Huntsman challenged agencies to cut energy use 20 percent by 2015. The ensuing change to a four-day week with 10-hour days is expected to save the state $3 million in energy costs and save the employees $6 million in commuting expenses.
  • In Maryland, a statistical management system in Baltimore that generated $350 million in savings and won an Innovations on American Government Award from Harvard, has been expanded to the state level. Among other advantages, the state saved $1.5 million by closing an under-capacity juvenile justice detention center and transferring part of the funds to more effective community-based programs.
  • Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a former director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, has created a state-level version of the OMB that requires measurable goals from all government departments. Child services received additional funding when studies indicated the funds would lower instances of child abuse and neglect, and those goals are being carefully monitored. Other programs costing $1.5 million were cut because they did not provide explicit, measurable goals.
Not every government service is easily reducible to statistically measurable goals. Some, for instance the benefit of state subsidization of local libraries, is difficult to quantify, until such subsidies stop and local libraries cut staff, services, collections, and hours. Sometimes simple maintenance of the status quo is a measurable and desirable goal.

Nevertheless the idea of measuring the “Return on Investment” is a necessary and valuable one when contemplating any expenditure—federal, state, local, or around the kitchen table. Try it before your next discretionary purchase. If you can’t quantify the benefit, or, in the case of a jelly donut there is a negative benefit involved, maybe you will want to think twice about it.
____________________
1 The Golden Rule, Explained
tags: States | Economics | Governance

The Gathering Storm

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.
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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
tags: Militarism | Governance | Domestic Unrest

What You Don’t Know

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.

The Washington press corps has undergone a sea change in the past few years, with mainstream domestic media coverage down by over half and a marked rise in so-called niche outlets. These latter serve special interests with high-priced newsletters and subscription-based web sites that help special corporate interests learn how to press their agenda on Congress and the White House.

The New Washington Press Corp: A Special Report, written by journalist Tyler Marshall and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism relates a sad tale of a marked decline in coverage by outlets serving the public, which typically have an investigative slant to their reporting. Fewer than half the states have newspapers with Washington, D.C., bureaus. Wire and newspaper outlets accredited to cover Congress have plummeted from over 550 in 1985 to 160 in 2007, before the latest round of cutbacks. Only 32 of 1,400 newspapers had bureaus in Washington at the start of 2008 and is probably down to about 25 today. Many bureaus (Newhouse, Copley, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant) have closed altogether.

What used to be a tiny market of niche publications serving specialty interests, and looked down on by citizen-based media, have exploded in recent years. Bloomberg News is perhaps the best known. Some tidbits are available on its web site, but the cream is reserved for 275,000 clients worldwide who pay over $18,000 a year for access. These publications serve corporate and lobbyist interests and are rapidly supplanting news coverage that serves the public good.

Among the report’s conclusions: “Those influencing policy have access to more information then ever, while those affected by those policies—but not organized to shape them—are less likely to be informed.”

In tough economic times, the situation is only going to get worse. As D.C. reporting becomes less about keeping a watchful eye out for abuse, waste, corruption, and cronyism at the center of world power, and more about gathering useful intelligence for the purpose of advancing narrow corporate interests, the thirty-year trend toward vast inequities in wealth amid growing poverty and a declining middle class will only accelerate, imperiling our democracy.
tags: Media | Politics

It’s a Crying Shame

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.
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1 National Child Abuse Statistics, from ChildHelp, Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse, accessed February 15, 2009
tags: Youth | Health

Getting Ours

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:

  • Provide Medicaid relief to the states: $89 billion over nine calendar quarters.2
  • Help state and local governments avert budget cuts: $39.5 for education budgets, $8.8 billion for other key services, and $5 billion in incentive grants.3
  • Education: $44.6 billion to the Department of Education for Title I, Special Education, Pell Grants, and other national educational assistance purposes.4
  • Unemployment Insurance: $25/week increase in unemployment benefits. Eighteen million people are expected to benefit from this provision.5
  • Child Care: $2 billion to states to subsidize child care for low-income working families or low-income families in which the parents are engaged in education or training.6
  • Child Support: $1 billion to suspend a 2006 provision that would have reduced this support by 20 percent.7
  • Training and Employment Services: $3.95 billion for job training and employment services for dislocated workers, youths, and adults.8
  • Food Stamp (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) Program: $20 billion, most of which ($19 billion) would be used to increase maximum food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent. Fourteen million households will benefit.9
  • Emergency Shelter Grant Program: $1.5 billion for states (25 percent) and localities (75 percent) for homelessness prevention, emergency shelters, and street outreach.10
  • Child Tax Credit: Lowering the income threshold for eligibility for this tax credit will essentially increase the benefit currently received in low-income families, as well as increase the numbers of eligible families. It is estimated this benefit will total approximately $14.8 billion.11.
  • Making Work Pay Tax Credit: No figure was provided for this centerpiece of the tax relief provision of the stimulus package. However, most workers not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return will be eligible for a tax credit (reduction) of $400.12
Most independent economists (Stiglitz, Krugman, etc.) believe this stimulus package is about one-third as large as it needs to be in order to be effective. It is nevertheless being widely characterized as “the largest economic rescue program since Franklin Roosevelt launched the New Deal.”13

Effective? A New Deal? Time will tell.
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1 American Recover and Reinvestment Act of 2009: State-by-State Estimates of Key Provisions Affecting Low- and Moderate-Income Individuals, dated February 13, 2009, accessed February 15, 2009, as were all other footnoted items today
2 Temporary Increase in State Aid (.pdf, 27kb, 2 pp.)
3 State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (.pdf, 39kb, 2 pp.)
4 Education (.pdf, 22kb, 1 p.)
5 Unemployment Insurance (.pdf, 10kb, 1 p.)
6 Child Care (.pdf, 10kb, 1 p.)
7 Child Support (.pdf, 70kb, 2 pp.)
8 Training and Employment Services (.pdf, 26kb, 2 pp.)
9 Food Stamp Program (.pdf, 31kb, 2 pp.)
10 Emergency Shelter Grant Program (.pdf, 27kb, 2 pp.)
11 Child Tax Credit (.pdf, 11kb, 1 p.)
12 Making Work Pay Tax Credit (.pdf 53kb, 1 p.)
13 DemocracyNow.org, February 13, 2009
tags: Economics | Governance

Pondering Israel

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.
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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
tags: History | Human Rights | Militarism

The Golden Rule, Explained

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.
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1 Amount and Duration of [Unemployment Compensation] Benefits, accessed Feb 13, 2009
tags: Working Together | Employment | Governance

Aux Barricades! (February 2009)

Feb 15, 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.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Here is a new ATN feature which we hope will help increase support for the good guys. Starting in March, the item posted for the second day of each month will be that month’s Aux Barricades!, a listing of actions you can take to help advance the progressive agenda. It will be updated all month with new initiatives we hear about (and take part in). Most of the actions take place online and take only a minute or two. We will provide you with a link that will usually take you directly to the site where you can take action.

We used to post these actions, and update them, back on the December 14 item, which was hard to find. Now, the current month’s action items will always be available on the main page—just scroll down to the second day of the current month to find them. Or click the “Aux Barricades!” tag in the left-hand column under ATN.

To start off, here are the actions we have taken part in during February 2009. This list will be updated throughout the month, then we’ll start another one on March 2.

Send us ideas for more activities. If we take part in them, we will add them here.
  • Feb 27, 2009: Signed a Democracy for America petition urging Congress to investigate the constitutional abuses of the Bush/Cheney administration. You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 27, 2009: Signed a Credo petition urging Attorney General Holder to enforce the congressional subpoena for Karl Rove, who continues to ignore it. You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 26, 2009: Joined Accountability Now political action committee and donated a few dollars to the cause.

  • Feb 24, 2009: Wrote a Credo letter to the Big Energy companies, urging them to dump coal and ramp up their efforts on clean, renewable energy. You can write HERE.

  • Feb 24, 2009: Signed a TrueMajority petition, urging Congress to cut the Pentagon budget. You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 21, 2009: Signed a Human Rights First letter to our congressional delegation, urging them to support a bill limiting the White House’s ability to retain the abusive secrecy of the Bush administration regarding torture, secret prisons, etc. You can sign HERE. (Hat tip to LA.)

  • Feb 21, 2009: Signed a Democracy for America petition urging Congress to investigate constitutional abuses in the Bush administration. We commented, “Finding out the truth regarding criminal abuses over the past eight years will serve to minimize them over the next eight. Various acts of omission and commission by the Obama administration have already shown that this is going to be necessary.” You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 19, 2009: Wrote a letter, facilitated by Wal-Mart Watch, urging my representative to support the Employee Free Choice Act. You can write yours HERE.

  • Feb 19, 2009: Signed a petition facilitated by ColorOfChange urging the New York Post to apologize for the racist and violent overtones in a cartoon depicting the author of the stimulus package as a monkey shot by the police. You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 18, 2009: Wrote the White House: “War is not the answer and 17,000 more troops in Afghanistan will not work. You have left the country in the hands of the military/corporatocracy and are in the process of betraying the hope you stirred in the American people.” You can write HERE.

  • Feb 18, 2009: Signed a petition facilitated by Food&WaterWatch, urging Dept of Interior Ken Salazar not to allow open ocean fish farms. You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 16, 2009: Signed a petition facilitated by ColorOfChange urging Mississippi District Attorney Lawrence to launch a full investigation into the police slaying of Billey Joe Johnson. You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 15, 2009: Wrote the White House urging them to name Howard Dean as Sec of HHS and Ralph Nader as Sec of Commerce. You can write them at the White House.

  • Feb 12, 2009: Signed a petition facilitated by Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, in favor of 7 paid sick days for full-time workers in VT. (Nearly 66 percent of employers in VT offer NO paid sick days.) You can sign HERE.

  • Feb 11, 2009: Wrote our Vermont representative, thanking her for sponsoring the gay marriage bill.

  • Feb 11, 2009: Wrote the White House regarding the abysmal plan Geithner has floated to save the banks and to hell with the people.

  • Feb 10, 2009: Wrote our congressional delegation urging them not to support the House version of the SBIR Reauthorization Bill, which would have terrible ramifications for the health of our country's small, high-tech business community.

  • Feb 10, 2009: Signed a petition to Obama, facilitated by Moveon.org, urging him to name a true progressive to the post of Secretary of Health and Human Services (preferably Howard Dean) since the time has come for universal health care.

  • Feb 10, 2009: Signed a petition to our senators, facilitated by Credo Action, urging them to vote for S.22 to preserve two million acres of our public land and keep it from getting into the hands of a few plutocrats.

  • Feb 8, 2009: Attended a Vermont Progressive Party open committee meeting in Montpelier. Very enlightening.

  • Feb 8, 2009: Wrote Obama administration urging them to name Howard Dean as Sec. of HHS.

  • Feb 7, 2009: Wrote our congressional delegation, urging them to bolster aid in the stimulus package for wind power electric generation, which has increased by 50 percent in 2008, adding enough capacity to power 2 million homes while increasing employment by 70 percent. Its momentum is in trouble owing to the economic meltdown, and this important short- and long-term solution to our energy needs must be supported.

  • Feb 7, 2009: Signed a Food&WaterWatch petition urging congress to allow schools to purchase organic milk and/or milk free from additives such as bovine growth hormone.

  • Feb 3, 2009: Signed a petition to our senators, facilitated by Credo Action, urging them to support five important changes to the stimulus package: 1) Shift $2 billion from “clean coal” to green infrastructure and alternative energy development; 2) Infrastructure, not tax cuts; 3) Reinstate the Medicaid Family Planning State Option; 4) Include meaningful bankruptcy reform; 5) Do not give Verizon $1.6 billion in tax cuts for not expanding broadband to rural areas.

  • Feb 2, 2009: Signed a petition facilitated by the National Parks Conservation Association urging the Senate to restore funding for national parks which they have cut in half, compared to the House plan.

  • Feb 2, 2009: Signed an Open Letter to Wal-Mart employees, facilitated by Wal-Mart Watch, on the occasion of the naming of a new CEO, urging them to stand together to demand better working wages and conditions.

  • Feb 2, 2009: Wrote our Congressional delegation a rather nasty note regarding the bank bonuses everyone is making a fuss about. We couldn’t resist the tone:
    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.

tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

A Pun My Word!

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.

Pun Intended

  1. Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.
  2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”
  3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.
  4. A dyslexic man walks into a bra.
  5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: “A beer please, and one for the road.”
  6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: “Does this taste funny to you?”
  7. “Doc, I can’t stop singing ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home.’” “That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome.” “Is it common?” “Well, It’s Not Unusual.”
  8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, “I was artificially inseminated this morning.” “I don’t believe you,” says Dolly. “It’s true, no bull!” exclaims Daisy.
  9. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at.
  10. DejaMoo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.
  11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn’t find any.
  12. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, “Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs!” The doctor replied, “I know you can’t - I’ve cut off your arms!”
  13. I went to a seafood disco last week... and pulled a mussel.
  14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
  15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says “Dam!”
  16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
  17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse.  “But why,” they asked, as they moved off. “Because”, he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”
  18. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named “Ahmal.” The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him “Juan.” Years later; Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, “They’re twins! If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal.”
  19. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good)..... A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
  20. And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh.
    No pun in ten did.

tags: Human Nature | People

Falling Off A Cliff

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
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1 The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats, accessed February 10, 2009
2 Memorable Quotes for All About Eve, accessed February 10, 2009
tags: History | Human Nature | Economics

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

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:

  • Maintained a flat municipal tax rate for the last two years of his three-year term;
  • Presided over a city economy where wages have grown 7 percent over three years, while statewide they have grown 4.6 percent;
  • Seen private sector jobs increase by 4.9 percent in Burlington while statewide they only grew one-tenth of one percent;
  • Increased reserves fivefold from $400,000 to over $2 million;
  • Managed to limit budget growth, which probably outstripped inflation in your town, to less than half the rate of inflation;
  • Saved the town pension fund $350,000 a year by sensible management;
  • Involved citizen participation in significant and substantive ways in the selection of a police chief, the planning of a major waterfront project, and the development of the town budget;
  • Initiated or supported a host of environmental improvement measures.
The true measure of a great Progressive political leader is how he manages in hard times. We hope Bob Kiss is re-elected on March 3. This is one dude we want to see at the wheel in a crisis.1
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1 Re-Elect Bob Kiss, accessed February 9, 2009
tags: Governance

Pondering Term Limits

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.
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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
tags: Politics

Enlightening Our Self-Interest

Feb 10, 2009

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).
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.

The first farmers who planted a crop certainly found it preferable to going after a sabre-tooth tiger with a sharp stick for their dinner. Little did they know that introducing agriculture would lead to overpopulation, green revolutions, and factory farms that led to more overpopulation, genetically modified seed that led to yet more overpopulation, until, facing, by midcentury, the prospect of 9 billion human souls sharing a fragile planet with a rapidly diminishing host of fellow creatures, things began to seriously fall apart.

Understanding the ramifications of the long term should help us adjust our actions for the short term. And this will bring us to the understanding that our self-interest lies in maximizing the well-being of all human beings who share this overburdened globe with us.

Improved circumstances lead to fewer children, and overpopulation remains the prime challenge which the human species must overcome, and one which by itself is responsible for most of the other crises we face. Now that the western world has conquered the basics—clean water, safe food, decent education and health care, and a consensus on the need for a sustainable economy—it is time to extend these benefits worldwide, for the sake of our own survival.

If we focus only on our individual short-term well-being, we will fail to acknowledge the gathering tsunami of ignorance and want which in time will overwhelm us.
tags: Poverty | Population | Working Together

An Open Letter

Feb 09, 2009
To: The Vermont State Legislature

Friends,

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.
tags: Governance | People

Taking the Sales Out of Your Wind

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.
tags: Wind | Energy | Politics

Daschle: A Post-Mortem

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
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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
tags: Governance | Politics | Obama

Resting on One’s Laurels

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.
tags: ATN | Working Together

The Forever War

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.
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1 The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, 2008 (accessed Feb 1, 2009)
tags: Militarism | Terrorism

R.I.P. G.O.P.1

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.
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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
tags: Politics | Governance

Boeing Boeing; or, Up, Up in the Air

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.

Boeing to be sole bidder on Air Force One
Apparently, Boeing’s only competition for the new fleet of three mega-jets for our none-dare-call-it-imperial presidency is Europe’s Airbus. When Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced legislation requiring the fleet contract be awarded to an American firm, Airbus dropped out. So look for another multi-billion-dollar non-competitive contract being awarded soon. But don’t tell Boeing. They might jack up the price. Read more at the L.A. Times: Airbus to stay out of contest for Air Force One.

Obama pledges support in first Pentagon meeting
Everything went swimmingly for militarism at Obama’s first sit-down with our boys in uniform, with nary a discouraging word apparently raised regarding the futility of force which has been demonstrated over and over again in the last sixty years. Read more in Defense News: At Pentagon, Obama Pledges Decisions “Immediately.”

Delta re-ups for federal safety program
Are we reading this right? Is Delta just now allowing their pilots to report safety violations without fear of reprisals? And other domestic carriers aren’t? Can you say “federal whistleblower laws”? Read more at Bloomberg.com: Delta, Pilots Rejoining U.S. Airline Safety Program.

Report: Pentagon pushed sole-source contract for CSAR-X
That’s a $15 billion helicopter program, for which the Pentagon pressured the Air Force into skipping open bidding in favor of—you guessed it—Boeing. Read more at AviationWeek: Pentagon Wanted Sole Source Search, Rescue.

Boeing to slash 10,000 jobs this year
Hold the phone, Jim. There may be some good news on the way.

Trains, buses lag far behind airlines on security
More than 75 percent of rail and bus systems fail to meet Homeland Security guidelines. New DHS chief Janet Napolitano will have us taking our shoes off on the Amtrak platform soon. Daily Reminder: Don’t forget to be afraid.
And that’s it for today. More juicy inside stuff about the M-I C tomorrow.
tags: Business | Militarism

After Life

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.
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1 Pascal’s Wager, from Wikipedia (accessed January 29, 2009)
tags: Human Rights | Human Nature

Noted With Interest, January 2009

Feb 01, 2009

Involuntary part-time work on the rise (.pdf, 4 pp., 60Kb)
When is a job less than a job? When your hours are cut involuntarily—and the numbers are soaring. Today, at over 7,000,000, they are as high as they have ever been. (From the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed January 3, 2009)

Million-Dollar Farms in the New Century
Though they comprise only two percent of all U.S. farms, they account for half of all farm sales. (From the USDA Economic Research Service. Accessed January 3, 2009)

Utah Philips and Howard Zinn
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. (From Democracy Now. Accessed January 8, 2009)

COBRA Premiums for Family Health Coverage Consume 84 Percent of Unemployment Benefits
We talked about the scant health care options for the unemployed in Health Care in Hard Times. Now FamiliesUSA.org quantifies the COBRA numbers in this press release. COBRA premiums exceed three-quarters of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in 41 states and exceed 100 percent of UI benefits in nine of them. Essentially, unemployment equals loss of health care in these states. (From FamiliesUSA, January 9, 2009. Accessed January 10, 2009)

Ethanol’s Federal Subsidy Grab
The news release shows how corn-based ethanol, an alternative energy that has failed to realize its promise in many ways, continues to grab the lion’s share of federal support, leaving far cleaner alternative energy technologies such as wind, solar, and geothermal begging for the crumbs. (From Environmental Working Group. Accessed January 10, 2009)

Cost of Raising a Child Calculator
They don’t come cheap! And perhaps this calculator will help some people stop at one or two when they realize the annual costs of raising a child. And this doesn't include college! (From U.S. Dept of Agriculture. Accessed January 25, 2009)

Sanders Votes No on Geithner
Find out why Vermont’s Independent senator voted against Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary. (Thanks to CF for the tip.) (From Democracy Now, January 28, 2009. Accessed January 29, 2009)

David Korten: Agenda for a New Economy
Why aren’t more voices sounding like this one: “We’ve got finite resources. And the question is, what are our economic priorities? How do we allocate those resources? And it requires a fundamentally different approach to the economy: evaluating economic performance by the things that we really want, in terms of human and natural well-being, rather than a system that is purely designed to increase financial returns to the already very wealthy.” (From Democracy Now, January 26, 2009. Accessed January 31, 2009)

Update: City Lights
U.S. Conference of Mayors now has over 15,000 ready-to-go projects to add 1.22 million jobs to the economy—right now! (From U.S. Conference of Mayors. Accessed January 13, 2009)

Update: All Together Now
Lots of January activities, petitions, and other outreach. Remember, send us what you are doing—we want to take part!

tags: Noted with Interest

The Exception Disproves the Rule

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


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

Let George Do It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wage Slaves

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

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

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

A Billion Here, a Trillion There

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

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

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

My Own Private Vermont

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

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

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

Revolving Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

File and Forget

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

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

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

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

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

As California Goes...

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

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

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

Prepare to Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live It Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First 100 Minutes

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

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

We gasped at Dick Cheney morphing into Dr. Strangelove.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 20, 2009

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

Inauguration Eve!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Dude, Where’s My Money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Formula for Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the In-Crowd—Your 111th Congress

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

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

Economy Redux—A Progressive View

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

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

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

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

It’s the Economy, Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

Noted with Interest, December 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: No Sex, Please, We’re Abstaining
An article in the January 2009 journal Pediatrics reports that “The sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage... Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially virginity pledgers.” (From Pediatric. Accessed December 31, 2008)

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

tags: Noted with Interest

Day One

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

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

The High Cost of Medicare

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

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

Medicare is divided into three parts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsafe at Any Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Housekeeping

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

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

tags: ATN

Ringing in the New

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



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

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

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