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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Didnít 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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


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
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.
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.
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.
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

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