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Out on a Limb

Apr 17, 2017
In the wake of last week’s Republican win in Kansas, and in anticipation of this week's special election in Georgia, I'll go out on a limb and make a couple of  predictions.

First, mid-term elections usually see significant gains made by the party not in the White House. I predict the 2018 midterms will see relatively few gains, if any, by the Democrats, and they will regain control of neither the House nor the Senate. They may even lose ground.

Second, twenty-five states currently enjoy Republican "trifectas," which means one party controls the house, senate, and governor's office. There are only six Democratic trifectas. I further predict these numbers will not change significantly (more than plus or minus 10%) in the 2018 midterms, and for the same reasons.

Why? For starters, the nation is so full of angry, poorly educated voters, who are so economically desperate and so easily manipulated by the massive infusions of money into the political process since Citizen's United that they voted a hugely unqualified candidate into the most powerful position in the world. Nothing the Democrats have done or are planning to do (so far as they have let any of us in on their plans to date) will address the anger, the education level, or the economic stressors afflicting those voters between now and November 2018. And billions will be poured into the midterms by the Mercers, the Kochs, and their ilk to retain the advantage of the Republican majority now held in all three federal branches.

So where is the Big Democratic Idea that will address the economic desperation of the 63 million who voted for Trump? Their numbers will only grow in the next two years, under the care and feeding of the Republicans. We may expect the party of Lincoln to dismantle labor and environmental protections; increase economic stressors on the poor and middle class in order to swell the wealth of the one percenters; and in general further diminish our American quality of life (US News currently ranks us #18). Nothing resembling business as usual will appeal to those disaffected voters. They will turn again to anything that looks like it will shake up the status quo in a do-or-die attempt to improve their situations. If they could make the suicidal move of supporting Trump in 2016, they will do it again in 2018—unless they have a clear and persuasive reason not to.

There is no going back to the country we all knew before last November. We don't yet know the extent to which it has changed or will change in the coming years; however, we know those changes will not be favorable to the general populace or to the future of our species. The stranglehold of the corporatocracy and the plutocrats who run it is now complete, and the mischief they may do while the new status quo obtains is incalculable.

Neither is there any going forward via the old business model. We either fix our problems or watch as they metastasize to the point where they engulf us all, and all the world along with us.

tags: Politics

Three Thoughts

Apr 01, 2017
Long-term economic insecurity is physically and mentally debilitating, ultimately infecting the sufferer with a level of resentment that is impossible for reason to reach. The mind seeks out scapegoats to blame for all that pain, and once they have been identified, no matter how erroneously or unfairly, it is almost impossible to dislodge them from the consciousness of the economically insecure.

Humiliating encounters with exploitative employers and social service bureaucrats provoke rage that too often results in violence toward oneself, one’s family, or society.

Constant reminders of how better off are one’s friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and just about everyone outside one’s own family produces a greater degree of resentment and depression than does awareness of the one-percenters and their ill-gotten billions.

Economic insecurity? Nearly 40% of the labor force is unemployed, and over half those who do have jobs do not earn enough to live on.

***

Trump’s dismantling of Obama’s modest environmental protections may be the first truly evil act of his administration.

Boasting about pawing female genitalia is the stuff of lowbrow locker room jabber (and who, after all, has actually come forth to accuse this bozo of following up on his boasts?).

Even the attack on immigrants may be defended by a confirmed xenophobe, who will point to Muslim mischief around the world while ignoring our own long, more lethal history of mischief making.

But Trump knows that climate change threatens our species, and he has gone ahead and advanced its onslaught in spite of that knowledge. Why? To toady to his ignorant base? To express his impotent rage at the world? Who knows?.

For whatever reason, his executive orders signed last week regarding the environment are evil, plain and simple.

***

Wealth is an addiction, as dangerous as heroin or opioids. And just as a heroin addict will knock his crippled grandmother on the head and sell her walker for a fix, so many wealthy individuals are without a moral compass or the capacity for any consideration beyond their drive for more more more.

The super-rich may, like the Mercers, the Koch brothers, and others, profess naďve political beliefs in order to cloak their insatiable greed, but no one is fooled. They are monsters of greed, and are, to a significant extent, now in control of my life, of your life, and of your children’s futures.

tags: Politics

What's the Big Idea?

Mar 18, 2017
The American political landscape is in ruins.

Our federal government and most of our states are controlled by forces determined to reverse the political, economic, social, and environmental gains achieved since the end of the Civil War.

A klepto-plutocracy is primed to destroy the remains of the middle class through fiscal policies and anti-worker legislation that will have us looking back fondly on the economic inequality of today.

Mindless abuse of the environment in this hypercritical period may well tip us past the point of no return in our struggle to maintain a climate that will support our species.

Our geopolitical affiliations are in tatters, with the repudiation of long-standing commitments to cooperation among the world’s democracies; with unwinnable wars raging across the globe and on into a second and third generation; and with a turning of our back on a world more in peril and in need of our example and our help than at any time since the end of the second world war.

And where is the opposition? Nowhere. There is no voice, outside those in the marginalized alternative media, that come near to expressing the perilous state in which we find ourselves. The Democratic party pursues a business-as-usual course (yes, even Bernie) that is positively zombie-like in its mindlessness. The mainstream media has been bullied into acquiescence with the false equivalency absurdities that have discombobulated our moral compass.

And even among the voices of loudest protest, where is the Big Idea? Where is the bold proposal—the tectonic shift in our national conscience and consciousness—that will bring us back into a decent comity to assuage the desperation of those millions whose extreme economic insecurity put this fraud in the White House and their sworn enemies in control of Congress and, soon, the Supreme Court? And where will they turn when their hopes are dashed? When their paychecks, if they are lucky enough to have one, shrink even further from provision of a decent living. Them? Rather, I should say us, as we are all threatened.

Only a Big Idea will save us—and the world—from even further dissolution of the grand American experiment. Only a new social contract, that puts people first—their jobs and their educations—will reverse the desperation that has brought us to this point. And where is that Big Idea? Amidst the carping, the protesting, and all our impotent handwringing, where is the Big Idea?

tags: Politics

Other Voices

Feb 12, 2017
I have run across a couple of essays I admire recently and want to pass along. They are both written by men described as “conservative,” which I do not consider myself to be; however, I expect labels such as these are not of much use any longer. We are bereft of any but self-serving leaders who are bankrupt of ideas of a scope and daring to bring us together; and our two political parties have deteriorated into a grotesque set of identical twins.

First some outtakes from “How to Build an Autocracy, by David Frum, March 2017 Atlantic. You can read the full piece HERE.

“[T]he proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

“. . .A culture that has accepted that graft is the norm, that rules don’t matter as much as relationships with those in power, and that people can be punished for speech and acts that remain theoretically legal—such a culture is not easily reoriented back to constitutionalism, freedom, and public integrity.

“. . .[E]xactly how much damage is allowed to be done is an open question—the most important near-term question in American politics. It is also an intensely personal one, for its answer will be determined by the answer to another question: What will you do? And you? And you?

“. . .If the story ends without too much harm to the republic, it won’t be because the dangers were imagined, but because citizens resisted.

“. . .And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”


Next is Andrew Sullivan, “The Madness of King Donald,” New York Magazine, dated February 10, 2017. You can read the full piece HERE.

“With someone like this barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements—each one shocking and destabilizing—round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.”

Read them and weep.

tags: Politics

An Open Letter to My Reps

Jan 31, 2017
To Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch:

We are in the hands of a rogue government led by a mentally ill narcissist with the emotional maturity of a seven year old. He has his hands on the Big Button and could end civilization in twenty minutes. Any act of cooperation, collaboration, or collusion with this administration on the part of any of you will destroy your credibility, as it has Elizabeth Warren’s. I know re-election is at least as important to you as the maintenance of civilization, so I ask you to take what I am saying very seriously.

You should oppose, without comment, all legislation proposed by the White House or the Republican congressional majority, even in the unlikely event you agree with it.

You should, also without comment, vote against all nominees at all levels of the Executive Branch, even in the unlikely event you think they may be qualified, and you should not confess, as at least one of you did in the case of Sessions, that you have given any of them even a moment’s thought.

You should stop posting your outrage on Twitter. I know you think it sounds like reasoned and reasonable discourse, and perhaps it would be under different circumstances, but the fact that you aren’t simply answering this madness with a horse laugh or an obscenity plays into the hands of this pugnacious and dangerously out-of-touch individual and his power-drunk minions.

And you should let the country know that you are opting out of any involvement in a dysfunctional government led by a man who probably shouldn’t be allowed to roam the streets unattended. You should identify the naked emperor for what he is and then get on with the real business which history has suddenly conferred upon you.

You should (and here comes the hard part) fashion a New Deal for the American people, one which will convince the economically desperate sixty million who voted for Trump that you have heard them, and that real help is on the way. No half measures will do. The status quo is dead. What is called for now is Drama with a capital D. See alltogethernow.org if you would like one idea of what to do; however, whatever you propose must be a game changer on the same level as that which is proposed there.

And then get on the phone. Bring together, as loud vocal proponents of your New Deal, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Sierra Club, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Black Lives Matter, Jerry Brown, Greenpeace, the SCLC, Warren Buffet, Hollywood, the AFT and the NEA, your family, my family, all those nurses in California, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Matt Taibbi, Naomi Klein, ThinkProgress, Edward Snowden, TalkPoverty, The Intercept. Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, the Onion—well, you get the idea: EVERYONE of a like mind, because we can ONLY take this on together. Then get back on the phone to the VFW, the American Legion, the other 24 veterans' organizations listed on Google, the Boy Scouts of America, and any other not-so-like-minded organizations that nonetheless would like to think the best of the U.S. and bring them on board as well. Remember above all else, we can only do this with a plan that will fix the economic train wreck we have been hurtling toward for the past 40 years.

That wreck is here, it has happened, it isn’t going away, our country hastens toward ruin, and there is no going back to November 7.
tags: Politics

What Happened?

Jan 24, 2017
In case you’ve been asleep since last August, when the mainstream media were predicting Hillary would be a shoo-in against the Donald: Good Morning!

Here’s what happened: Sixty million people, in desperation over their economic plight (37.4 percent of the labor force have no work and over half who do don’t earn enough to live on) voted their despair and put a scoundrel and buffoon in the White House rather than continue to support the status quo. Those of us who didn’t vote for him are just as responsible as those who did, having silently acquiesced in the hijacking of our nation over the past 35 years by the forces of unregulated capitalism and overweening greed.

Racism, abortion, immigration—these are all smokescreens for what is really going on—the emptying of your pockets by the super-super-rich, who are simultaneously killing the American Dream and threatening all human life with nuclear or climatic disaster.

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. But don’t look for a second coming to save you. This one’s up to you, Charley, and you and you and you. Ralph won’t save us; Bernie won’t save us; Elizabeth won’t save us: the status quo and all its traditional players are finished.

What will save us, if we’re lucky, is a daring New Economic Policy that will credibly revive for all Americans the ideals of equal opportunity and self-reliance upon which this brave new world was originally founded. And to my mind, this means jobs for all at wages that support a decent living. Promise the American people this and make them believe you can deliver, and in 2018 we can elect a veto-proof Congress that can set about making it happen.

Anything less, anything smacking of “business as usual,” is doomed to failure. And failure today carries a cost none of us wants to think about.

tags: Politics

Let Me Ask You

Dec 24, 2016
Let me ask you a couple of questions:

Do you think an adult living legally in the United States of America, between the ages of 18 and 65, who is ready, willing, and able to work should be able to get a job?

Do you think an adult living legally in the United States of America who is working full time should earn enough to live on?

If you answered “Yes” to either or both of these questions, then you need to be made aware of the extent to which you are living in a country where this is decidedly not the case, and then you need to answer a third question: What are you going to do about it?

The lack—not the love—of money is the root of all evil, and that evil displayed itself in spades on November 8.

Our actual unemployment rate is not four point something, it is 37.4%. That is the percentage of the labor force—Americans 16 years and over—that wasn’t employed in November 2016. In 1998, that number was 32.8%, and it has gone up in 16 of the 18 years since. You can look it up at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (data.bls.gov). In numbers, that is 119.2 million Americans who don’t work.

Of those who do work, more than half earn less than enough to live on. More than half! Read earlier blog entries here for citations you can look up to verify these numbers.

I don’t object to the rich. God love them, they’ll always be with us. But I do object to the poor. There is no excuse for poverty in the richest nation in history, never mind that that poverty has been increasing frighteningly since the Great Recession, as more and more multi-billionaires find more ways to squeeze the American workers—or do without them altogether—to enrich themselves beyond even their own wildest dreams.

And speaking of dreams. The American Dream must not be allowed to die. It will take the world with it, if it does. The next four years may not be dispositive of that question, but if we are not working from now until then to assure its survival, I am not at all sure it will survive.

Our traditional political parties are bankrupt of ideas. The Republican party has given itself over wholeheartedly to a reactionary and mean-spirited plutocracy. The Democratic party has self-destructed on the bifurcating influence of a misguided neoliberalism. Money dominates all.

Only a new, third party can save us. And it can happen. If Donald Trump can be elected president, anything can happen. But it will take a party that represents the beliefs of a large majority of Americans. To my mind, those beliefs include equity, opportunity, self-reliance, and independence. And none of those ideals is possible without assuring every American a job that pays enough to live on.

That is the first, non-negotiable, plank of the American Dream Party platform. More on the other planks next time.

tags: Politics

The Gathering Storm

Dec 15, 2016
We’ve heard it all our lives. We never really believed it. But now we find out it’s true: Anyone born in the United States can grow up to be president. Absolutely anyone at all.

I don’t know what will happen over the next four years. It is easy to imagine a worst-case scenario bringing about the end of civilization. Climate change or nuclear proliferation could spell our doom, and both are in “full vigor” to quote Ebenezer Scrooge.

Meanwhile, cities and states vow to become “sanctuaries” for Muslims and/or undocumented immigrants.

Mayor DiBlasio says NYC police won’t be pressured into increasing the use of stop-and-frisk.

Women’s rights advocates plan a “Million-Woman March” on Washington to exacerbate Trump’s hangover on the day after his inauguration.

It’s not enough.

It’s not enough to organize to stop the wave of unwelcome change that is coming our way. It’s not enough to support the status quo that was soundly rejected on November 8.

Sixty million Americans voted for someone they had ample reason to know was morally reprehensible, intellectually lazy, and utterly without the mindset or inclination for public service. Many of them voted against Hillary Clinton. All of them voted against the status quo. And forty-two percent of us didn’t vote at all.

And although we are about to be served up with “business as usual” on steroids for the next four years, further affecting our incomes and entitlements, especially for those who voted for Trump, business as usual will not do any longer.

Something in the social construct of America has to change. I believe that that change must happen in the areas of employment and compensation. All working-age Americans need to be able to obtain employment at a wage that affords them a decent living. Right now, we are so very far from that, and the number of people in the labor force who are working continues its 20-year decline.

The Tasmanian devil of unrestrained capitalism is about to have its way with America. Most of the social issues—abortion, immigration, gay marriage—are just smoke and mirrors for the real agenda, which is to concentrate as much wealth into as small a fraction of fabulously wealthy Americans as possible.

And we have just the president, congress and, soon, supreme court to do it.

tags: Politics

Bad News

Nov 13, 2016
The holocaust we visited upon the indigenous populations.

Four hundred years of African-American torture and oppression.

The Japanese internment.

My Lai.

Assassinations of foreign leaders.

Abu Ghraib.

Somehow, these horrific acts all pale when set against the worst enormity ever perpetrated by the ignorant, arrogant, and brutish citizenry of this benighted country. This week’s election should lay to rest forever the risible myth of American “exceptionalism” and may rank us with the lowest of the low among history’s tyrannies.

I am so ashamed of my country I can scarcely lift my head.

Though I may strongly disagree with, possibly even abhor, some of his policies and procedures, Obama is one of the most intelligent, eloquent, and gentlemanly leaders we have ever had the good fortune to have in the White House. He will be succeeded by a petulant, vindictive, and inarticulate boor who never grew up, who does not know how to behave in private or in public, who hasn’t the civic understanding of a sixth grader, who is incapable of acting for anything or anyone except for his own pathetic self-aggrandizement, who is a resounding failure in both his personal and business life and still imagines himself a success.

Now, a few days after the election, we enter a period of uncertainty. Some pundits are attempting to assuage our anxieties, telling us, “Oh, he can’t do that” or “Oh, he can’t do the other.” In truth, we have no idea what he can or will do.

What we do know is that on January 20, 2017, two of the three branches of our federal government will be in the hands of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic loonies who, in denying climate change, will hasten the greatest train wreck in history which is about to rule our days and nights and drive us to extremes of desperation.

What we also know is that shortly after January 20, all three branches will be in the hands of those loonies, after the Senate invokes “the nuclear option,” as they in all likelihood will, if it is the only way they can confirm Supreme Court nominees as disgusting as Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Thomas.

You may say, “Oh, he can’t do that,” but can he ignore the 60 million Americans he courted so shamelessly? Can he turn his back on building the wall; deporting tens of millions; killing NAFTA and the TPP; overturning Obamacare; repealing Roe v. Wade; letting slip the dogs of oppression against women, gays, and minorities; and “locking her up”?

I don’t really believe he has a clue as to what he is in for. He happened upon a line of virulent nonsense that was catnip to a fed-up and ignorant constituency, and he was swept, if not against his will then against his understanding, into the White House.

And so we march resolutely into the past, in search of a Great America that never was, but that we thought, perhaps, given our brash optimism and the blessings of our geographical situation, might be just ahead, if we could but muster the generosity, compassion, and political will that we hoped was in our hearts.


Note: I will be taking time off Alltogethernow.org for a while. Everyone seems to be doing a great deal of talking these days, and I am not sure who is listening to whom any more. I have grown as tired of my own voice as I have of all the cacophony around me. Silence is golden; and meanwhile we all await further developments.

tags: Politics

Stump Speech

Oct 09, 2016
My fellow Americans,

Good [morning | afternoon | evening].

I stand before you a rather odd duck: A politician without portfolio, a candidate for no office. I speak to you today not for my sake, but for the sake of my country.

I am not currently living in my country.

My country does not let bosses pay their workers less than a living wage, then force the rest of us to make up the difference.

My country does not educate its African-American citizens in inferior schools, then bedevil them throughout their lives with discriminatory hiring, housing, and policing.

My country does not become entangled in ruinous military adventures that deplete our public treasury of trillions of dollars while overflowing the private coffers of the obscenely wealthy.

My country does not kill, maim, and traumatize generations of its youth in order to bolster tyrannies which, if they were not our allies, would be our deadliest of enemies, opposed to all we stand for.

My country does not minimize, sexualize, or traumatize its female majority with boorish characterizations, substandard pay, and physical violence in order to assuage male insecurity.

My country does not risk the future of humanity in the face of the overwhelming evidence of imminent environmental apocalypse.

My country is not governed by men and women who are servants of big money, subservient to a tiny fraction of our population to the detriment of the rest of us.

No.

In my country everyone who can work has the opportunity to do so at a living wage, with only two expectations: That they perform their job to the best of their ability and that they be good citizens.

In my country, those who can’t work are cared for in a humane and benevolent environment designed to give them the fullest life possible.

In my country, the education of every single one of our young citizens is everyone’s priority and everyone’s most important task, as it is everyone’s only realistic hope for the future of our species.

In my country we acknowledge our racist tendencies and struggle mightily every day to overcome them, knowing that discriminating against a fellow human being is the worst thing you can do to them, short of depriving them of their life.

In my country, foreign relations are made for the purpose of promoting democracy, not commerce, and those nations that are not ready, willing, or able to entertain the prospect of endowing themselves with the blessings and responsibilities of self-determination may be tolerated without being welcomed into the community of a free people.

In my country, men are the equal of women.

In my country, our technological ingenuity is focused on the task of developing renewable energy sources for all our needs as soon as possible. And if it is not possible to do this within a decade or two, we will nevertheless turn our backs on the burning of fossil fuels and make do with whatever benefits may be had from the energy we can produce.

In my country, no special interest ever takes precedence over legislation to promote the good of all the people all the time.

In my country, there is inequality, but there is no poverty.

In my country, there are no hungry children.

In my country, we are all created equal and endowed with rights that may not be attenuated by reason of race, creed, class, income, gender, age, sexual orientation, or any other compartment into which the small-minded among us try to maneuver those of us whom they think of as threatening.

This is the country I hope to live in some day. So if my country is your country, let us make it our country. There is only one way to do that.

You know what it is.

tags: Politics

Does Someone Need to Shoot Donald Trump?

Sep 17, 2016
With the exception of Donald J. Trump, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the weakest candidate for president we have seen in our lifetime. She is an inept campaigner, cold as the proverbial well-digger’s knee, and widely mistrusted and disliked. She carries baggage that would floor anyone even moderately capable of being ashamed of themselves: her emails, the Libyan debacle, Bill, quarter-million-dollar speeches, habitual warmongering. And finally, it seems apparent she is not well. Should she have to drop out before the election, and should her running mate take her place at the top of the ticket, he has neither name recognition nor much of a track record in politics, and would seem to be unelectable given a choice between a celebrity and someone no one has ever heard of. Biden? Perhaps, but how can they justify a candidate who hasn't even campaigned?

This week in The New Yorker, John Cassidy asks, “The Big Question About Donald Trump’s Rise in the Polls.” In the piece, Cassidy mentions several recent polls which show Trump fast approaching Hillary’s numbers and, in one terrifying case, overtaking them. Cassidy’s Big Question is essentially, “Can he maintain this new momentum and carry himself into the White House?”

But we can’t have Donald Trump in the White House. So my Big Question is, “Does someone need to shoot him?” Or poison him, or strangle him, or toss him off a high bridge?

Now, before the Secret Service gets all bent out of shape, recall Trump has made more than one lightly veiled allusion to the desirability of someone offing his opponent. So tit for tat.

Of course, I don’t believe anyone needs to shoot Donald Trump. Or should. Any halfway competent opponent would have made mincemeat of this lightweight long since. And he’s no Hitler, as I have said elsewhere in this blog. However, in the White House, he is a menace to us all, to our pocketbooks, our health, our domestic tranquility, and to our lives. With his testy and dummkopf finger on the button, he could easily bring on the End Times.

At the very least he will preside over four years of political chaos in which the modest gains of the Obama years will disappear; Supreme Court justices even loonier than Clarence Thomas will be appointed; Black Lives will Matter not at all, never mind brown ones or, for that matter, any white ones not intimately associated with the inner sanctum. The world economy will stagger under his ignorant fumbling; our alliances will unravel; our climate will deteriorate further; and income inequality will soar.

If this sorry excuse for an American faces the Chief Justice on January 20th and mouths the oath of office, the office will never be the same and, in a way, perhaps, America will have fulfilled its destiny, after all.

tags: Politics

Goldman Sachs vs. the Yahoos

Jul 23, 2016
As we pause between the clumsy dud of a Republican convention last week and what will probably be a clumsy dud of a Democratic convention next week, let us contemplate what we will face on the day after the 102 endless days between Hillary’s investiture on July 28 and Election Day.

Someone on that parlous day will be President-Elect and, barring human or divine intervention, it will be either Donald J. Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As Bertie Wooster would, and probably did, say: The mind boggles.

I said my piece regarding Mr. Trump in Look Who’s (Maybe) Coming on April 28. Here, I will only remind you of Trump’s failures, as a husband (three wives), a businessman (four corporate bankruptcies), a writer (someone else scribbled all that nonsense), and a speaker (just listen). That Trump has never held elective office and now aspires to lead the free world by, presumably, the seat of his pants, speaks to his overweening arrogance, ambition, and asininity.

And then there is Hillary, who will probably win, because who can imagine we have produced sufficient Yahoos over the past few generations to actually propel this hateful and know-nothing narcissist into the Oval Office.

Hillary promises business as usual, which has got us where we are today and she will be frogmarching us for four years further down the now familiar path toward the destruction of our species. Her puppet masters have long been outed, and the corporatocracy will not count their pennies as they finance the necessary destruction of her loose cannon of an opponent. (Happily, the Yahoos are broke.)

With Hillary, we can look forward to increased income inequality, further degradation of the climate, employment anxiety for additional millions, and many more executive branch military adventures. Hillary never saw a war she didn’t like and is even today no doubt champing at the bit to start a few more splendid little conflicts here and there. After all, what’s good for Lockheed-Martin . . . .

Having taken the pledge (see my November 2014 entry), I have no stake in the coming debacle. No candidate has come forward with real solutions to the existential problems we face, so I will be sitting out this election, and almost certainly any others in the limited time remaining to me. I invite you to join me on the sidelines.

To paraphrase George Carlin, if you don't vote, you have every reason to complain about what those who did stuck you with.

tags: Politics

Make America Work Again: Our Employment Crisis

May 30, 2016

We are in the midst of an employment crisis in this country. Too few people are employed and too many who are earn less—sometimes far less—than enough to live on.

Nearly eight million people were on the unemployment rolls in April. [1] Only 62.7% of Americans of working age are employed or looking for work, the lowest percentage since 1978, [2] and this does not include the nearly 600,000 who have given up looking for work.[3]

Additionally, around three million people who are working earn at or below the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 at the federal level since 2009. [4] Living wage calculators at MIT [5] and the Economic Policy Institute [6] both indicate that $7.25 is less than one-third of a living wage for an adult with one dependent child living in Vermont or New Hampshire. Millions of other workers earn more than the minimum wage but much less than these calculated “living wages.” Almost half of all American workers earn less than the inadequate $15 per hour currently called for by various activists and politicians. [7]

Finally, around six million working people are involuntarily employed part-time and also probably earning well below a living wage. [8]

People need to work, and when they don’t, or when they work for less than a living wage, those of us who do work and earn a living wage are unfairly called upon to pick up the hefty slack, while employers reap the benefits, often, as in the case of the Walmart heirs, becoming multibillionaires in the process.

A recent study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC/Berkeley [9] determined that a mere four social welfare programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Medicaid cost $152 billion a year between 2009 and 2011. That is almost half a trillion dollars in only three years. Over half that assistance went to working families. And there are dozens of other taxpayer-funded federal, state, and local programs in addition to these.

How long would a business that only paid a third of its electric bill or half the cost of its raw materials remain open, or deserve to? And yet Walmart, only the largest employer to pay their workers less than a living wage, goes on growing year after year. Forbes magazine reported in 2014 that Walmart alone cost taxpayers about $6.2 billion a year in public assistance. [10]

We need to forge a new social contract with ourselves, setting out our rights and responsibilities. The two most important elements on the rights column would be an adequate education and a job that paid a living wage. Every U.S. citizen and legal resident should be guaranteed both. And in the responsibilities column?: Perform your job to the best of your ability and be a good citizen.

Then we can dismantle all these expensive, inefficient, ineffective, and humiliating “safety net” programs and let people enjoy the independence of which we are (almost) all capable. Those few who can’t work could be cared for. Those who can work and won’t, well, good luck to them.

When almost everyone is working and receiving a living wage, almost everyone will be paying into our shared tax pool instead of siphoning funds out of it. Tax revenue up; social “welfare” expenses down; lower taxes for all of us to pay.

Before any “political revolution,” we need a social revolution, one that acknowledges that although we are a liberty-loving, rambunctious, and ingenious people perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves, we are too easily tempted to let someone else take care of us if the opportunity is available.

We would all be much better off if our system encouraged, enabled, and, yes, expected us to exercise our natural independence rather than the contrary.

What individual of any political persuasion could offer a valid argument against such common sense? The left-leaning inclination to expand the safety net and the right-leaning inclination to limit such support to business and the one percenters, are both equally misguided. There is dignity in work, and there is equity when everyone, worker and business alike, pulls their own weight.

Our employment model needs to be based on the unique individualism, love of liberty, and instinct for self-reliance which has always characterized our people. It also needs to stop enabling so many of us—employer and employee alike—to be dependent on the rest of us.

But don’t take my word for it:

“This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States (1858-1919)

“It seems to me . . . that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country . . . and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of decent living.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States (1882-1945)

“The best social program is a good job.”
William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. (b. 1946)

Sources
[1]  http://tinyurl.com/zpu5uv
[2]  http://tinyurl.com/zpu5uv
[3]  http://tinyurl.com/h37rmuj
[4]   http://tinyurl.com/z6e53mp
[5]  http://livingwage.mit.edu/
[6]  http://www.epi.org/resources/budget/
[7]  http://tinyurl.com/h2p7h2n
[8]  
http://tinyurl.com/zmfhsbk
[9]  http://tinyurl.com/kda4v6q
[10]  http://tinyurl.com/jjyv7d3


tags: Politics

Look Who's (Maybe) Coming!

Apr 28, 2016
Adolph Hitler was the worst thing that ever happened to the world. And in the 2014 German seriocomic film, Look Who’s Back, he returns to the modern world and sets about happening to it again.

Halfway through the film, Hitler reminds the young man who is making a documentary about him of two important facts. One, he announced everything he was going to do in his book, Mein Kampf, published eight years before he came to power. And two, he came to power in a free election.

Here in 2016 U.S.A., we are presented with a candidate who has told us everything he is about and much of what he intends to do in easy-to-understand language, universally available for review by googling “things Trump has said. ”

In a few months we will have an opportunity to elect him in what will be a slightly less-than-free election, considering the stumbling blocks that have been erected to restrain many voters who normally vote Democratic from exercising their franchise. Nonetheless, it will have about it the patina of a free election.

The German people had no reason not to understand what they were getting. They knew who he was, they wanted who he was, and they got him.

I am not comparing Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler. Hitler was an evil genius. Trump is a cents-off demagogue who has happened upon an audacious sales pitch precisely attuned to the ear of a xeno- and homophobic, misogynistic, poorly educated, and plain fed-up constituency that just may elect him in November.

If they do—if we do—no one can tell us that, like the Germans, we didn’t know what we were getting.

And make no mistake, we produced that constituency ourselves over the past 35 years. So we have no grounds to excuse ourselves for the train wreck that may be coming.

tags: Politics

Here Comes Hillary!

Mar 19, 2016
If you think a black president poleaxed the U.S. Senate into sullen and resentful inaction, wait until you see what a woman does to them.

tags: Politics

Political Revolution?

Feb 11, 2016
Political revolution? As we bask in the short interval between Bernie’s New Hampshire rout of the Democratic establishment this week and the unknowable future in Nevada, South Carolina, and beyond, perhaps we can pause a moment to contemplate the possibility.

I have written in this space of my reservations regarding Bernie’s agenda, particularly his flagship issue of income inequality. His plan for a $15-per-hour minimum wage in a few years is hopelessly inadequate.

However, it is inarguable that he has hit the nail on the head regarding the ills America faces. And, incredibly, the electorate is responding to his message. Incredible, because most candidates never shut up about how exceptional and wonderful and perfect America is compared to the rest of the dreary, ill-informed, and dysfunctional world. Newsweek, too, had a piece following the NH primary which noted how very unusual this campaign round is in that regard.

I have also written in this space, “We will take our country back by ballot or by bullet. I cannot see any third alternative, and bullets are notoriously unpredictable. People are making noises about third parties, but nothing significant has been launched that I know of. Now is the time.”

This was way back in October 2011, when there was no hint of a Sanders candidacy. I wrote quite a lot about third parties back then because I could not imagine the coming of a candidate from either major party (could you?) who would espouse systemic reform to the extent that Bernie has.

So perhaps we do have a political revolution in the making. We certainly have as much of one as I am likely to see in my few remaining years. The establishment, as we have seen, will stop at very little to put the kibosh on that revolution, as they must. Establishments don’t make revolutions, people do.

So thank you, Bernie, for the frisson of hope you gave us this week. If the ball keeps rolling, well and good. If it falters, if the misrepresentations, belittlement, threats, and prognostications of doom from the establishment pundits, pols, and plutocrats combine to sufficiently intimidate and frighten the sovereign voters of this great nation, well, no one will be surprised.

But we’ll always have New Hampshire.

tags: Politics

Sermon on the Slope

Jan 01, 2016
We all are angry. We all are vindictive. We all are envious.

None of us of sound mind and body is free of the inclination, all too often, to feel and express the most deplorable, dispiriting, and destructive of human emotions. And the fact that we all are also capable of compassion and the many varieties of love does not compensate for that fact, unless we consciously reject the destructive in favor of the life-affirming attitudes and emotions.

It is especially important that we do this in the political arena. The Republican field in the 2016 presidential race is filled with individuals who are adept at arousing our least admirable and most destructive emotions. The more adept they are, the higher they rank in the polls, with Donald Trump—part demagogue, part buffoon—today leading the pack.

These people, whichever of them becomes the party’s nominee, would have us renege on the social contract we have with ourselves.

They would increase the income inequality that already today is marked by the largest gap in history and a disappearing middle class.

They would consign to the capitalist system large swaths of public life—education, retirement, infrastructure—that depend upon cooperation and not competition or the profit motive to succeed.

They would marginalize and criminalize large sectors of our population while protecting the privileges and power of a tiny band of the super-rich.

They would enter upon dangerous military adventures that have already siphoned trillions from our coffers in pursuit of losing battles and in support of corrupt dictatorships that tyrannize and murder their own people.

Unfortunately, on the Democratic side, though the picture is not so dire, neither can it be considered very hopeful. Hillary Clinton is the epitome of a “business as usual” candidate, and only at our great peril can we carry on as we have for the past 35 years. And even Bernie Sanders, with his “political revolution” fails to adequately address questions of militarism, domestic unrest, environmental catastrophe, and—surprisingly since this is his defining issue—income inequality (see my Open Letter to Bernie Sanders in September 2015).

We must set aside our anger, our vindictiveness, our envy, and our fears. We are better than this. We are stronger than this. We are a caring, liberty-loving, rambunctious, ingenious, and generous people. And our happiness depends on promoting the happiness of others. The fact that we have not attended to this business for a generation or two is responsible for the sorry state we find ourselves in at this start of a new year.

tags: Politics

Einstein and Me

Dec 06, 2015
It’s gratifying when you find a genius who agrees with you. Here’s what Einstein once said:

Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men—above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.

Einstein doesn’t just mean you need to keep your boss happy. If, for instance, your fellow citizens are ill-housed, un- or underemployed, impoverished, unhealthy, and uneducated, you can bet your life your happiness will be diminished if not ultimately destroyed.

Your happiness is diminished when your paycheck is plundered to provide a niggardly subsistence to those unable to provide for themselves. This includes the three million people who earn at or below the minimum wage (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics), not to mention the millions more who earn less than a living wage.

The current federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour since July 2009) is considerably less than half a living wage by most accounts (see, e.g., the living wage calculators at MIT and the Economic Policy Institute).

Your happiness is diminished by the increase in all sorts of crime and corruption that thrive in times when the absence of “smiles and well-being” is so apparent among so many. We are living in an angry world, where in the U.S. a mass shooting happens on average more than once a day; where millions risk death to flee places that should be considered their home and sanctuary; where existence is threatened for other millions by rising ocean levels and capricious weather patterns; where a vicious fundamentalism has replaced strong-man tyrannies and spread its venom throughout the world.

Your happiness is diminished by the cost of dealing with all this unhappiness, in domestic surveillance, enforcement, and imprisonment; and in international conflicts that siphon trillions from our treasury.

In Darwinian terms, ensuring the other guy’s “smiles and well-being” is a survival mechanism, not some feel-good, altruistic effort, and this is Einstein’s point: Our survival depends on the other person’s survival; our happiness on their happiness.

No candidate for president has proposed policies or programs that are not, finally and essentially, business as usual, or worse, or much worse. No candidate has proclaimed that we must rewrite our social contract with ourselves, to acknowledge the truth of Einstein’s observation and to pursue its goals with dispatch. Not even Bernie.

And for that reason, I despair of the short-term future for our nation, and of the long-term future for our planet.

tags: Politics

Open Letter to Bernie Sanders

Sep 26, 2015
Bernie,

I am writing this letter to you on my page because, even though the email I received from you today says, “we need to hear your ideas as to what issues are most important to you ....” there is nowhere on your official campaign website for me to say these things to you.

It is good to see you are fleshing out your platform beyond the one-note income inequality issue with which you launched your campaign. I agree with everything in this email that sets forth your position on many issues, with the following exception:

You say, “We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. . .Over a period of a few years the national minimum wage should be $15 per hour.”

You need to go much further than this. For one thing, $15 per hour is not a living wage right now, let alone will it be in a few years. MIT has an excellent Living Wage Calculator which I believe originated at Penn State. It indicates that a living wage for an adult with one child in our state of Vermont is already $22.04 per hour. Now of course what constitutes a living wage must of necessity be a matter for careful study and computation. The Economic Policy Institute, for example, estimates a living wage for the same adult with one child living in Vermont at $25.71 per hour.

I hate to say this to you, Bernie, because I believe you are sincere in your campaign. However, anyone arguing for less than a living wage TODAY is playing into the hands of the corporatocracy, not to say colluding with them, to maintain a high level of poverty in this country.

I have taken the pledge not to vote for any candidate who does not support my personal platform: A guaranteed job at a living wage for any adult 18-65 who wants one. Then dismantle the huge, expensive, humiliating, and ineffective social “safety net” of alphabet programs that simply sustain dependency among a population perfectly capable of independence.

The second essential plank of my platform is real education reform. The waste of brain power in this country (and throughout our world) is a disgrace. Real reform is going to be expensive and disruptive. However, it needs to be pursued with a single-minded purpose: That ALL our children will be provided with a quality education, whatever it takes, whatever it takes, whatever it takes.

So good luck, Bernie. I don’t expect to be voting for you or anyone else in 2016, unless a candidate comes along who is truly willing to speak truth to a populace exhausted by the wretched governance that has been foisted on us since the Reagan administration. We are in a downward spiral in this country, and a $15 minimum wage in a few years is not going to slow that descent one little bit.
tags: Politics

Keeping the Waltons Out of the Poorhouse

Apr 18, 2015
A new study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC/Berkeley quantifies the amounts spent by federal and state governments on four of the most costly public assistance programs. The researchers gathered data on expenditures for Medicaid/CHIP, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Between 2009 and 2011, $152.8 billion per year was spent on just these four programs. And the most shameful fact, which was no surprise to me, was that over half of that state and federal money—56%—went to working families.

You and I help support millions of underpaid workers while their employers, people like the heirs of Sam Walton, become multi-billionaires. Much of those billions going into their pockets are dollars you and I have worked hard to earn. How is it we can be played for such suckers?

The report also repeats some familiar and equally dismal facts: Real hourly wages for the median American worker increased by only 5 percent between 1979 and 2013. And for the bottom 10% of workers, the wages were 5 percent lower. Furthermore, wages for the bottom 70% of workers were either flat or in negative territory between 2003 and 2013. The rich are getting fabulously richer, the poor are getting poorer, and you and I are struggling hard to stay where we are.

There is something very wrong with this picture. We have two options: solve the problem or watch it get worse. Powerful forces in American politics are at work to guarantee the latter. If no one emerges to challenge the essentially identical economic programs of the current left and right, things will only get, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “unimaginably worse.” Just how bad do they have to get?

The solution is a simple one: Jobs for all, at a living wage, and end the many inefficient, ineffective, and humiliating programs masquerading as “safety nets” for the poor. All they do is sustain poverty and allow a capitalistic system run amok to maneuver more of us into that category.
tags: Politics

Take the Pledge

Nov 02, 2014
Someone (Mark Twain?) once famously commented, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Of course, the remark was intended to be a facetious one. What, after all, can one do about the weather? Precious little, as we are coming to realize in the face of global warming and increasingly dire episodes of out-of-control climate change.

Everybody (it seems) also talks about our current political situation, and have been talking about it eloquently for a good many years now, in films, books, newspaper columns, magazine articles, speeches, podcasts, tweets, and what-have-you. But nobody is doing anything about it.

Well, I am.

After attending to much of the material noted above, and after six years of blogging and considerable thought, I conclude that there are two bedrock issues we must address before we can do anything about all the others with which we are confronted. And those issues are poverty and education.

See The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012 and Poverty in the United States.

Poverty, always a problem in this, the richest nation in history, is getting worse. And as FDR told us, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

It is time to provide enough to those who have too little. And the only way I can see clear to doing that is through work. Men and women need to work, for their food and shelter, for their self-esteem, and in order to take their proper place in a society where, for better or for worse, we are dependent upon one another. And their work needs to earn them a living wage. It is immoral to take an adult’s full-time labor and compensate that adult with less than a living wage. It is immoral, and it ought to be illegal.

So I pledge to expend my precious vote only on candidates who themselves pledge to support the following: That any adult 18-65 who is able and wanting to work will be provided with a job that pays a living wage.

Education. No Child Left Behind is a wonderful sentiment. However, as anyone who is today associated with the education establishment, the public welfare bureaucracy, or the prison system knows all too well, it is a sentiment which is far from becoming a reality. We waste our human capital by the millions in this country, and the burden which an unemployed, uneducated, and all-too-often imprisoned citizenry places on the rest of us is unacceptable. If we are one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, then no child can any longer be left behind to grow up in neglect, poverty, and ignorance.

This will require a reallocation of resources, a makeover of our public education system, and long-term devotion to the betterment of each and every individual member of our society.

And so I pledge to expend my precious vote only on candidates who themselves pledge to support the following: That we as a nation will do whatever it takes to assure that every child will grow up in a sufficiently nurturing environment so as to optimize their potential for leading happy and productive lives.

And you out there, will you join me and take the pledge? Because you know that today your vote is wasted, that representative democracy in this country is no more, that even the best of our “public servants” are captives of corporate money and influence.

If you will, send me your name, town, and state, and I will add it to the list of others who have so pledged. If the list grows sufficiently, one day it will make a difference, and perhaps we will be on our way to reversing our present descent.

And if you won’t take the pledge, just what will you do? I hope it is something worthwhile, and I hope to hear about it, because I will want to do it, too.

tags: Politics

Sequestration

Feb 28, 2013
Tomorrow sequestration begins, and today the market flirted briefly with closing at an all-time high. Go figure. Apparently Wall Street loves the chaos, the upwardly mobile unemployment rate, the accelerated deterioration of our infrastructure, and the thousands of laid-off teachers who will shortly join the 300,000 who have been laid off since June 2008.

As always, the coming economic storm will hit the poor the hardest, and more of us hanging onto the middle class by our fingernails will be joining them. The inequality gap will increase even more, if that is possible.

Will this benighted country ever find its way back to its ideals? Can our world do without the beacon of our example? Have we become incapable of producing a man, a woman, or an idea that can bring us together in common cause to save our own souls?

Stay tuned.

tags: Politics

Noted with Interest, November 2012

Nov 08, 2012

* NEW * Obama and progressives: what will liberals do with their big election victory?
By Glenn Greenwald. Step One, according to Glenn: Gut Social Security. From The Guardian, Nov 7, 2012. Accessed Nov 8, 2012.


tags: Politics

Noted with Interest, September 2012

Sep 28, 2012

Libraries' ebook lending to be probed by government
by Chris Smith. I have stopped writing on this issue (click the tag “Books and Libraries” for the series), but am still interested in it. I think this initial “probe” by the UK may very well be a first step in requiring publishers to sell eBooks to libraries. I hope so, at any rate. From techradar. Accessed Sep 28, 2012.

The Five Reasons Why Romney/Ryan Must Be Defeated in 2012—And Why Conservatives Should Hope They Are
by Kurt Eichenwald, Sep 2, 2012. Accessed Sep 4, 2012.

tags: Politics

Angle of Decline

Sep 24, 2012
The countdown begins. The beauty pageant shifts into high gear. The pundits, the pollsters, and the pols strut their stuff in a dumbshow to convince us there is some kind of contest going on.

But the contest is over, the prizes have been handed out, and the winners are safe in their gated communities, laughing up their silken shirtsleeves at the suckers who put them there. You. And me. And Joe the Plumber.

We have stood by as our democracy was co-opted by an oligarchy more greedy, more shameless, more effective—and more empowered by the establishment—than any nineteenth century robber baron could have dreamed. And we have watched our economic system ruined by a small cabal of the filthy rich. Even more than our lost democracy, posterity may well mourn the criminalization of capitalism, and the havoc it wrought on a civilization so in need of its strengths.

Because as democracy plays out a pitiful last act, pandering to the groundlings while its makeup fades under the unforgiving lights, capitalism has departed the stage, stepped into a waiting limo, and left democracy and its audience far behind.

So enjoy the next 40 days or so, the debates, the tweets, the contortions of the mainstream media to make a cliffhanger out of a no-brainer. The only issue to be resolved on November 6 is our angle of decline over the next four years: steep or steeper.
tags: Politics

Gore Vidal, Prophet

Aug 29, 2012
Gore Vidal has joined the company of Martin Luther King and Howard Zinn. Another of my heroes is gone; I can’t think of any I have left now.

No one spoke truth to power with the humor, the eloquence, the urgency, the contempt, the rage—or the prescience—of Gore Vidal, and we suffer grievously without his voice.

I just finished his Collected Essays, 1952-1972. These few outtakes should impress you as much as they did me with his gifts of wit and prophecy. Long before we were what we are and had found the voice in which many of us are speaking today—before Vietnam, before Watergate, before Reagan—he was one of us, showing the way:

Here he is discussing the causes for the decline in the reading of novels, a plaint heard over and over in this collection:

“Nevertheless, appalling education combined with clever new toys has distracted that large public which found pleasure in prose fictions.”
“A Note on the Novel,” New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1956.
One of his most famous assertions, spoken not altogether with tongue in cheek, is one to which I have often related while composing the nostrums that litter this blog:
“I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
“Writing Plays for Television,” New World Writing #10, 1956.
Vidal was master of the Parthian shot, a final little twist of the knife at the conclusion of an already damning progression of put-downs. Having misspent several years, off and on, in the theatre, I can attest to the truth of this one.
“After the script was ready [for his Broadway play Visit to a Small Planet] there were the usual trials, delays, problems of temperament; each participant convinced that the others had gone into secret league to contrive his professional ruin (and on occasion cabals did flourish, for the theater is a child’s world).”
“Visit to a Small Planet,” The Reporter, July 11, 1957.
We finally “got it” in the Great Recession; Vidal got it almost 50 years ago:
“In public services [as a portion of our foreign aid], we lag behind all the industrialized nations of the West, preferring that the public money go not to the people but to big business. The result is a unique society in which we have free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.”
“Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger,” Book Week, November 3, 1963.
The futility of reversing a status quo that is destroying our country, the world, and the hopes of future generations was expressed succinctly by Vidal a few short years after Eisenhower’s famous warning regarding the military-industrial complex:
“Between the pork barrel and the terrible swift sword, Pentagon, Congress, and industry are locked together, and nothing short of a major popular revolt can shatter their embrace.”
“Edmund Wilson, Tax Dodger,” Book Week, November 3, 1963.
Vidal captures the essential lunacy—and tragedy—of the impulse toward religion and religious fundamentalism:
“And those who take solemnly the words of other men as absolutes are, in the deepest sense, maiming their own sensibilities and controverting the evidence of their own senses in a fashion which may be comforting to a terrified man but disastrous for an artist.”
“Norman Mailer’s Self-Advertisements,” The Nation, January 2, 1970.
Attending Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral, he makes this final observation:
“As the box containing her went past me, I thought, well, that’s that. We’re really on our own now.”
“Eleanor Roosevelt,” The New York Review of Books, Nov 18, 1971 (p. 424)
And so we are.

The last word, in another election year we find ourselves anticipating with dread:
“Persuading the people to vote against their best interest has been the awesome genius of the American political elite from the beginning.”
“Homage to Daniel Shays,” The New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972.

tags: Politics

Money, Paul Ryan, and You

Aug 20, 2012
There has been much ink spilled on news, editorial, and op-ed pages, not to mention the virtual oceans spilled on the Internet, since Paul Ryan was chosen to be Mitt Romney’s running mate (I don’t say Mitt Romney chose him, because I don’t think he did).

Ryan’s fiscal plan, 14 years in the making, unmaking, remaking,1 has captured the imagination of the lunatic right (those who, like Ryan, have Ayn Rand on their required reading lists). Speaker Boehner, knowing a bear trap when he sees one, has almost crippled himself in contortions aimed at distancing himself from the plan without alienating too many of his constituents.

The left meanwhile, to which no one any longer pays even nominal attention, is nevertheless having a field day with it. Krugman calls Ryan “an unserious man,”2 and Steve Nelson, head of the progressive Calhoun School in Manhattan and writer of the biweekly “Sensibilities” column in my local rag, the Valley News, characterizes the society Ryan’s plan aims to forge as one “committed to rugged individualism.” I agree with Krugman, but respectfully disagree with Nelson.

What has been developing over the past thirty years and more (since the Reagan Revolution—a real revolution and one which is ongoing) is not some nostalgic return to a Jeffersonian vision of hardy agrarian individuals going about their business in an egalitarian society with minimal governmental interference. Far from it. What we are witnessing rather is the largest transfer of wealth, enabled and abetted by a co-opted and corrupted central government, in the history of mankind.

No Republican is looking for smaller government. The national debt ballooned between 1981 and 2008 from less than a trillion dollars to over 10 trillion entirely during the administrations of Republicans.3 The five to six trillion added during the Obama administration4 has accrued primarily because of a combination of circumstances Obama was essentially powerless to affect: the downward momentum caused by the Great Recession, the bailouts committed during the last Bush administration, the continuation of the Bush tax cuts, the prosecution of multiple unwinnable but very expensive wars, and Congressional obstreperousness which has scotched every attempt by Democrat or Republican alike to contain our exploding debt.

No one in power today wants less government. The ones in control, and this includes Obama, want something else altogether. They want your money. They want government to be devoted entirely to enriching the already superrich at the expense of anyone who isn’t. Show me a single significant pending legislative initiative, or a single piece of significant legislation passed in the last thirty years which doesn’t advance this agenda and I’ll eat it.

This isn’t, in Nelson’s words, “a society committed to rugged individualism.” It is a society committed to brigandage.

I predict a Romney win in November, because I believe our country is ripe for a bloodless coup. The radical right is poised to take over our hapless land, by hook or by crook, and if they can’t buy the election, they are ready, willing, and able to steal it. And the sad fact is, they probably won’t have to put themselves out to too great an extent to do it. As Gore Vidal noted over fifty years ago, “Persuading the people to vote against their best interest has been the awesome genius of the American political elite from the beginning.”5

1 See, e.g., “Fussbudget: How Paul Ryan Captured the G.O.P.,” by Ryan Lizza, from The New Yorker, August 6, 2012.
2 An Unserious Man, by Paul Krugman, from the New York Times, August 19, 2012.
3 National Debt Chart
4 The US Debt Clock
5 “Homage to Daniel Shays,” The New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972.
tags: Politics

The Coming of the Candidates: Norman Solomon

Jun 02, 2012
Norman Solomon is running in the second congressional district of California, and has been endorsed by Dennis Kucinich, Glenn Greenwald, Mike Farrell, Raul Grijalva, and many other well-known progressives.

His primary is coming up on June 5, so I am rushing this notice to ATN to encourage you to give a last-minute contribution to his campaign, and watch for the results on Tuesday. Solomon is one of the strongest candidates in the progressive field, and certainly one of the most popular. How he does on Tuesday will provide a good indication of our chances in November.

And while we are election watching, don't miss Tuesday's results on the move to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Walker, you will remember, attempted to single-handedly end collective bargaining at the state level, essentially killing union representation for public employees. Wisconsin is polarized over the issue, millions of dollars in state and out-of-state money have poured in to Walker's coffers, and Tuesday's election is going to be a close one.
tags: Politics

Rocky Anderson's Platform

May 15, 2012
Here is what Rocky Anderson’s campaign stands for. If you take issue with any item here, I would like to hear what you think is wrong with it:

  • An immediate end to the ongoing wars;
  • Essential health care coverage for all citizens;
  • Urgent international leadership by the U.S. to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption;
  • Adequate revenues to balance the budget through fair taxation;
  • Treatment of substance abuse as a public health, rather than a criminal justice, issue;
  • Control of the Federal Reserve by the Treasury Department and Congress;
  • A balanced budget (or a surplus) except in times of war or major recession;
  • An end to the legal concept of corporate “personhood”; a constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United;
  • An end to the corrupting impact of money in our electoral system;
  • Protection of U.S. jobs, through re-negotiation of trade agreements and the establishment of jobs programs like WPA and CCC to improve our nation's infrastructure and employ millions of Americans;
  • An end to the stranglehold on our government by the military-industrial complex.
I would add a re-commitment to the rule of law. Somewhere since 9/11 we have misplaced our decency; instituted torture as a national policy; ended the notion of personal privacy; suspended habeas corpus and due process; and delivered misery and death to countless innocent men, women, and children.
tags: Politics

The Coming of the Candidates: Rocky Anderson

Apr 28, 2012
Ralph Nader has endorsed Ross "Rocky" Anderson for president and that is more than good enough for me.

Anderson, a two-term mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, has a biography that reveals a lifetime devoted to fighting for social justice and a political system in keeping with the progressive, egalitarian principles which I believe were intended by our Founding Fathers, and from which we have strayed dangerously over the past thirty years. (But I needn't rehash what I have been writing about on this site for four years.)

Now I have someone to vote for for president in 2012. I confess to having voted for Obama in 2008 and I have regretted ever since not giving my vote to Nader, who represented my views far more closely than Obama. The latter talked a good game, and talked me into it, but his subsequent actions have appalled me. I fully expect him to win re-election, running as he is against an idiot who will probably scuttle his own campaign long before November.

So why vote for someone who is going to lose? Well, number one, Anderson doesn’t necessarily have to lose. The majority of Americans support the majority of his positions, believe it or not. And if you don’t believe it, then go to PollingReport.com and find out.

And number two, the lesser of two evils is still evil. Obama has clearly shown he is in the camp of the corporatocracy. Furthermore, he has extended presidential powers well beyond the framework of the Constitution; scrapped due process as it is generally understood (by everyone but his toadying AG); killed, imprisoned, and stifled more American citizens than we know of solely by personal fiat; and betrayed (by omission and commission) his race, his party, and his country. You don’t vote for someone who has done to us what he has done.

Americans are ready to demand a change. The U.S. has never been quite the beacon of decency and hope we have attempted to appear to be before the world. And today our escutcheon is particularly banged up. But we are still in a position to lead the world to a new level of democracy and freedom, if we can only retrieve from the forces of greed and oligarchy our tarnished American soul.
tags: Politics

The New Anarchy

Nov 13, 2011
We are in a new age now. An age in which the many are subservient to the few. In which the wealth accorded those few outstrip the most magnificent treasuries of medieval monarchies or eastern potentates. In which anxiety, suffering, and want is, increasingly and inexorably, to be the lot of the 99%.

We have 25 million unemployed Americans and no jobs for them, either today or on the horizon. We probably have another 25 million or more working at part-time and/or low-wage jobs which barely—or don’t—allow them to scrape by. We have over 46 million Americans living without an income our government says is necessary to afford the basic necessities of life. And our government’s idea of what those necessities are is cruelly basic, indeed. Can you imagine supporting a spouse and two children on a gross salary of $22,350 a year?

The employment situation is not going to improve because the 1% have figured out how to prosper without the services or consumption of the lion’s share of the 99%. Scarcely anyone is needed to raise our food anymore, now that the “green revolution” and factory farming are well in place. Scarcely anyone is needed to manufacture the goods we consume, now that most manufacturing has been shifted to low-income labor in nations unhindered by environmental, safety, or other annoying considerations. Scarcely anyone is needed to perform a wide spectrum of services, from technology support, medical assistance, and legal research down to flipping burgers and pumping gas, now that the benefits of technology are maturing. Certainly no one is needed to vote any longer, our democratic institutions having been privatized by the corporatocracy.

Webster’s first definition of anarchy is “absence of government.” What we are experiencing is what I would call the New Anarchy, where institutions of public welfare, shared societal goals and responsibilities, and commonly held aspirations and the structures supported to realize those aspirations have been allowed to fade and disappear before our eyes. The “Me Generation” has been succeeded by the “Only Me Generation.”

Without a significant attitude adjustment to halt the runaway and quite literally antisocial train we find ourselves on, a great crash is in all our futures. A dog-eat-dog world can only end in a lonely death for the one dog left standing.

There is a better way, and it has been preached by preachers and sociologists and community organizers and philosophers and politicians since time immemorial. Ben Franklin may have said it best: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The gibbets are in place, and the bodies are beginning to pile up.
tags: Politics

Platform for a New Century

Oct 17, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement will fade away and fail unless a political structure is born from this social uprising. Chris Hedges, whose writings I admire as much as I do those of anyone commenting on the American political scene today, says the political process is dead, and street action is the only way to bring about change. He’s wrong.

The OWS movement is being tolerated now by a regime which has nothing at present to lose by its tolerance. The movement has stopped traffic a few times for a few hours. But it hasn’t stopped the momentum toward global hegemony which the corporatocracy has been pursuing for 30 years and which, at this point in time, is all but in the bag.

We will take our country back by ballot or by bullet. I cannot see any third alternative, and bullets are notoriously unpredictable. People are making noises about third parties, but nothing significant has been launched that I know of. The time is now.

A third party needs a platform that sets forth a substantively and substantially new direction for our nation. It must appeal to a broad range of constituents, including fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Partiers as well as the millions of liberal Americans who have become disaffected by a co-opted Democratic Party.

A third party needs to go after 435 House and 33 Senate seats first. Congress makes the laws, and presidential politics in America has been turned into little more than a smokescreen to keep our attention off the prize.

And a third party must put America back to work, in our factories and schools, on our infrastructure, and in the powerhouse laboratories where the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the American imagination will forge a new age of clean energy, world peace, and global liberty.

Here are ten planks in a platform for a New Century:

1. Assured employment opportunities at a living wage for everyone between the ages of 18 and 65.
2. An educational system second to none, with recognized national standards and public support; enhanced compensation for educators, with escalators for service and merit; and public support for post-secondary technical, occupational, and public university education.
3. Publicly supported universal health care.
4. A balanced federal budget.
5. Energy independence in 25 years via conservation, targeted taxation, and vigorous research and development of renewable energy sources to halt and reverse the damage to the environment caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
6. A capitalist economic structure regulated to serve the interests of the people, the nation, and the world. Globalization? Yes. But not at the expense of hard-won protections for workers and the environment.
7. A simplified tax system that enhances the competitiveness of U.S.-based businesses and reverses the unprecedented income inequality which has burgeoned over the past thirty years.
8. A redirection in our response to global terrorism from military action and occupation to a revitalized international police effort. Future executive branch military action will require a formal declaration of war by Congress.
9. Term limits for elective federal offices and regulations closing the revolving door between government and corporate affiliation.
10. A commitment to personal freedoms for the individual, when those freedoms do not directly and demonstrably impinge on the freedoms of others.
tags: Politics

The Sociopaths Among Us

May 18, 2011
Recent reports of bad boy behavior among the high and mighty (Strauss-Kahn, Schwarzenegger) have dovetailed with a couple of other news stories about bad boy behavior in the Ivy League, specifically at Yale and Dartmouth. These elite institutions are, of course, the breeding ground for our future leaders, and I am wondering if we are not seeing a pattern here. More to the point, I am wondering where our leaders get this outsized sense of entitlement, that they can run roughshod over common morality with such impunity. JFK and Eliot Spitzer are two other such egregious abusers of women (their concubines and their wives) who spring to mind. And there have been so many others.

I am beginning to think a significant proportion of the people we elect to high places are sociopaths. Definition: “A person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.” Sociopaths are often oh-so-charming, slick and manipulative, without any capacity for empathy—solipsists to the core, in fact, for whom no one and nothing exists except to serve their own gratification, amusement, and enrichment. How else can one account for the mess we are in today?

Of course, we are all solipsists to an extent. It takes a real effort to imaginatively experience the otherness of another. When we do, it sometimes comes with a euphoric shock of recognition and, for me at any rate, a welcome understanding that I am not alone “in this dark world and wide.” But the Profumos of this world (and he was the earliest manifestation of this sort of thing in my memory) have no such epiphanic moments. They live locked in a world of their own exclusivity, unable to share in the wonder of the other. Which, I guess, would be fine, except sociopathy so often manifests itself in pursuits inimical to a healthy society, from running for office to serial killing.

Is there some way we can identify and filter these people out of our political process? Probably not. Unless we can find a way to identify the right people (rather than allow the wrong ones to self-select themselves for political office), and encourage and support them in their races. Otherwise, we are left with the non-solution proposed by Gore Vidal, that “[a]ny American who is prepared to run for [office] should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.”
tags: Politics

The Age of Anxiety

Feb 26, 2011
The exciting, terrifying, edge-of-our-seats news from the Middle East these days has demonstrated to me something which I hadn't realized before. Governments not only should derive their legitimacy (their "just powers") from the consent of the governed (see the Declaration of Independence), but they can only derive their legitimacy from that consent.

The consent may be granted grudgingly; it may be obtained for a time criminally and fraudulently via a police state system of spies, torture, and murder; but when it is withdrawn, that government is finished.

Who knows what will come of the incredibly brave actions, the sacrifice, the turmoil that is overwhelming the Middle East these days? As Chris Hedges has written1, whatever comes of it will almost certainly not be to the benefit of the United States. We have partnered with these departing tyrants, have supported them, have bankrolled them, have too often set them on their thrones ourselves, in blatant disregard of our own avowed principles.

Whatever outcomes we may dread—civil wars, a resurgent fundamentalist Islam, a disrupted oil industry; other outcomes, just as likely, we may hope to see emerge—a democratic awakening; a flowering of Arab and Muslim culture in the hothouse atmosphere of freedom; a new populism—disappearing in our own culture—which celebrates the common man and woman and understands that 95 percent of us are not put on this earth to enrich the other five.

I find it all incredible and wonderful and worrisome. These departing tyrants are OUR tyrants. We believe that their oil is OUR oil. Iran is playing around with their warships approaching Israel. The spectre of Armageddon is not entirely out of the question.

The Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times,2 has been pronounced upon all our heads, and the Age of Anxiety3 is back.
____________________
1 What Corruption and Force Have Wrought in Egypt, by Chris Hedges, from Truthdig.com, Jan 30, 2011, accessed Feb 26, 2011.
2 May You Live in Interesting Times, from Wikipedia, accessed Feb 26, 2011.
3 The Age of Anxiety, from Wikipedia, accessed Feb 26, 2011.
tags: Politics

The Ostrich Syndrome

Dec 11, 2010
We’re all ostriches, our heads in the sand, hoping the threat goes away, hoping it’s not the threat we know it is, hoping someone else will do something about it before we have to because, frankly, we don’t have a clue about what to do.

Robert Reich’s piece in the Huffington Post the other day1 laid it out: The Republican worldview, that government needs to get out of the way and let the free market reign, has captured critical brainshare and momentum in American politics. This has happened despite the fact that this same too-free market has manipulated millions of households into foreclosure and thrown one of ten Americans out of work. Before this worldview is revealed as the disaster it is, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid could become historical curiosities; the economic powerhouse of the American middle class wither away; and society revert to that horrible Hobbesian vision where the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Now is the time to realize this and now is the time to act. There are two directions those actions can take: violent or nonviolent.

Violent acts consist of a spectrum from mild gestures of civil disobedience (marching, public interferences, tax strikes) to armed insurrection. Today, except for ill-disguised celebrity love-ins at the Lincoln Memorial, large (or small) public demonstrations seem beyond our capacity, and individual acts of rebellion are too isolated, infrequent, and obscure to matter. Armed insurrection would plunge us into a future where the only certainty I can imagine is that our glorious experiment in democracy would suffer a sea change into something as bad as the worst excesses of history have visited upon our species.

Nonviolent action is still possible and always preferable to the cost, pain, and uncertainty of violence. Our political structure, though tattered and almost wholly co-opted by the corporatocracy, nonetheless remains accessible to us. We can still elect a Kucinich or a Feingold (I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with my own Bernie Sanders whose recent “filibuster” seems to have been a mere publicity stunt).

In order to work within the political structure, however, I see no alternative to the daunting task of fashioning a second party. And I am not being cute when I say that. It is clear that the Republican and Democratic parties have converged into a single handmaid of the corporatocracy, and that we are as much under the thumb of a one-party system here as are the hapless Russians.2 Our new party must have a new American vision, one that understands how to strike the proper balance between self-reliance and government involvement in the lives of its citizens. I believe I began to outline that vision in my Nov 13, 2010, piece, “A New American Vision.” It is time to begin the hard task of building our new party by discussing this vision, adapting it, honing it, advertising it, slowly winning adherents, and then finding, supporting, and electing representatives at all levels of government who adhere to these new American principles. I believe they are, in essence, the old American principles we have long valued and little practiced.

I also believe that this year, this month, this week, with this pivotal piece of legislation pending before a lame-duck congress, that this is the hour we will look back on one day as the point where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” We are almost certainly going to take the wrong road. The crucial question will be, how far down that road will we go before we realize our mistake, and how much will it cost us to turn around and find our way back?
____________________
1 Why the Obama Tax Deal Confirms the Republic Worldview, by Robert Reich, from The Huffington Post, Dec 8, 2010. Accessed Dec 9, 2010.
2 Elections in Siberia Show Russia’s Drift to Single Party, by Clifford J. Levy, from the New York Times, Dec 10, 2010. Accessed Dec 11, 2010.
tags: Politics

Health Care Vermont, Part 1

Dec 05, 2010
Vermont’s legislature is considering a plan to implement health care for all its citizens. If successful, it will be a single-payer, government-administered, cradle-to-grave plan that will eliminate the profit and overhead costs of private insurance plans. It will not be easy to implement, even without the millions of dollars the health care industry will pour into defeating it. However, it is important that we succeed here and show the way to the rest of the nation.

To that end, I want to make a few suggestions regarding the direction we should go in crafting this plan.

The point of insurance is to share risk among the insured population, and to protect each of us from ruinous expenses. A car accident, a home destroyed by fire, or the onset of a serious disease can spell financial disaster for a family. Car insurance has long been issued on a no-fault basis, largely to spare society from protracted and expensive legal procedures. However, premiums are still calibrated in accordance with the perceived risk level of the drivers. Sixteen-year-old boys pay more, as do older drivers with poor records. If you set fire to your own house for the insurance, you have committed arson and you will have a hard time collecting.

In the realm of health care, the issue of fault also needs to be addressed. Some people will burden the system more than others for reasons relating to their lifestyle choices. The system should encourage a healthy lifestyle, and when it is burdened with procedures that are the result of unhealthy lifestyles, the patients involved must bear a greater share of the cost. How this is to be adjudicated or implemented is subject to debate. But it is clear to me that an acknowledgement, assignment, and assessment of fault should be part of a universal health care plan.

We all know that health care costs have been skyrocketing throughout most of our lifetimes, and now expend over 17 percent of our GDP—twice that of most other industrialized countries—and they are estimated to nearly double by 2019.1 This is not entirely the fault of greedy private insurance companies. Many diagnostic procedures require expensive new devices. The population is increasing and aging. The American diet is disastrous—childhood obesity, for instance, has tripled in the last thirty years and is now considered of epidemic proportions.2

If we are to craft a do-able universal health care plan, we must make prevention our first priority and we must calibrate coverage in a way that takes that priority into practical consideration.

In my next posting, I will discuss the issues of so-called health care rationing and the incendiary issue of end-of-life care.
____________________
1 National Health Expenditures Top 17% GDP
2 Overweight Trends Among Children and Adolescents
tags: Politics

A New American Vision

Nov 13, 2010
A government of, by, and for the people puts the people first, and molds its social, political, and economic institutions to serve the people, and not the other way around.

I propose a New American Vision where everyone works who can, and where all earn a living wage doing so. The ragged, heartless, and inefficient vestiges of the social “safety net”—food stamps, WIC, TANF, UI, CHIP, Medicaid, etc., etc.— can then be dismantled, with custodial care retained only for the very tiny minority who are not able to work.

I propose a New American Vision where a balanced federal budget, if necessary by Constitutional amendment, and a strong defense—the strongest in the world—are top priorities. In that context, I propose a six-month withdrawal from the hopeless military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. The efforts we are making in these countries cannot succeed through military force and must be handed over to a re-energized and adequately funded international police force.

I propose a New American Vision that harnesses our considerable resources in a concerted effort to develop clean, renewable energy. None but the most craven corporate lackeys will deny we will run out of nonrenewable resources this century. We must tax those remaining barrels of oil, gallons of natural gas, and tons of coal to finance the American innovative powerhouse that alone can show the world the way to safe, clean energy.

I propose a New American Vision that reinvents capitalism to serve the people, and not vice versa. This should begin with a sharply reduced corporate income tax and a more progressive personal income tax to counteract the unprecedented income inequality which has been allowed to metastasize over the last 30 years. Certain capitalist enterprises which tend to work against the interests they purport to serve, such as the medical and pharmaceutical industries, should be nationalized. In the context of a capitalism that serves the people, America will do business with any nation that strives to preserve the human rights and labor and environmental protections we have fought for so long and which are so vital to our society. It is unconscionable that we should do an “end run” around those rights and protections by exporting our manufacturing and other industries to nations which, far from sharing those values, are publicly and violently opposed to them.

I propose a New American Vision where federal elective offices immediately are assessed a five percent pay reduction and term limits are established for House and Senate seats—four terms for the former and two for the latter. A professional American political class is inimical to a people’s liberty, and a much higher number of our citizenry should and must become involved in our representative form of democracy.

Finally, I propose a New American Vision where, to quote the Constitution (10th Amendment), “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Those powers reserved to the people should be those powers over one’s individual behavior which do not adversely impact on the rights of others, including the power to ingest whatever substances one desires, the power to determine one’s own end of life, the power to marry whomever one chooses, etc. Regarding the latter, discrimination against any individual on the basis of their variation from some imagined “norm” is, to my mind, about as heinous an offense against another human being as can be conceived—it is a kind of murder, and it should be dealt with, wherever it appears, in as harsh and condemnatory a manner as possible.

And once our own house is in order, we can see ahead to a New World Vision, where a child doesn’t die every few seconds of starvation and polluted water; where war becomes a miserable memory; where the boundless potential of human capital is given a global opportunity to flourish; where, gradually, we re-learn to live in harmony on our one tiny world.

This is a New American Vision for we, the people, who have been given dominion over this fragile world and who must decide, and soon, whether that dominion will serve all the people and the generations to come, or be sacrificed to our dark side and to the blind greed of a few.
tags: Politics

The Scamming of America

Nov 07, 2010
Here is how it works, and it is really quite simple. A true-life example: The federal government reaches into your pocket and extracts three billion dollars. They give it to some other country, on the condition that that country purchase three billion dollars worth of weaponry from American corporations. The lion’s share of the profits from this sale goes into the pockets of a few high-level corporate executives who, in exchange, fund the campaigns of the individuals in the federal government who are empowered to enable this scam.1

Of course, a puny three billion dollar sale is just a drop in the bucket. The real bucks come with endless war. It has been estimated, by a Nobel Prize winning economist, that the war in Iraq will ultimately cause the extraction of three trillion dollars from our pockets—that’s three thousand billion dollars.2 And who can begin to guess what the one in AfPak will cost, now in its tenth year and no end in sight.

And when the Republicans return to power in 2011 and 2013, and begin chipping away at Social Security and Medicare, the last vestiges of the middle class will disappear into a maelstrom of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and suicides.

Both the Tea Party and the Progressive movements in the U.S. are made up of people who believe government has failed them, that the essential responsibility of their elected officials, to provide services and protections necessary to maintain an efficient, safe, and well-functioning society, have been abandoned in favor of the promotion of special interests which are inimical to the interests of society at large.

We live in a corporatocracy and a plutocracy, where fewer and fewer are becoming richer and richer, and we—miserable damn fools that we are—with our iPods and our televisions, fritter away the last days of democracy on Facebook and at the mall.

We need a new American vision, one that puts the people first. And we all need to get behind that vision. Tomorrow, I will flesh out a few details of that vision, as I see it, and I will challenge you to identify the ideology my vision comes from. It is an American vision, composed of the best ideas from left, right, center, the Tea Party, and Progressives. It is a vision that puts the people first, a vision to restore America’s promise to itself and to the world.

Let us hope it is not too late.
____________________
1 Israel Commits to F-35 Purchase, by John Reed, from DefenseNews, October 7, 2010, accessed October 11, 2010.
1 The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, on Amazon.com, accessed Oct 11, 2010.
tags: Politics

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: Politics

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.
____________________
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: Politics

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

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.
____________________
1 Utilitarianism, from Wikipedia, accessed Sep 1, 2009.
tags: Politics

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: 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: Politics

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

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: Politics

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: 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: 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: Politics

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: Politics

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

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?
____________________
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

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: Politics

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: Politics

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

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.
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1 Kiss re-elected by narrow margin, by John Briggs, from the Burlington Free Press, reprinted on FairVote, accessed Mar 8, 2009.
tags: Politics

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: 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: Politics

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: Politics

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

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: 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: Politics

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

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

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

Voting Counts and Counting Votes

Dec 18, 2008
Most states (48 of 50 and the District of Columbia) award all their electoral votes in a presidential election to the candidate who wins the majority of votes in their state. This results in serious disincentives for any candidate to campaign in those states that are safely in the camp of one party or another and, when you think about it, in equally serious disincentives for voters in those states to get out and vote.

These disincentives provide an argument for those who would do away with the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote for president, an even better argument than the one opposing the Electoral College because it favors small states.

FairVote.org provides hard numbers to back up these disincentive claims in their press release, 2008's Shrinking Battleground and Its Start [sic] Impact on Campaign Activity.1 They find:

  • Over half the presidential campaign events (57 percent) in the last month of the campaign took place in only four states (OH, FL, PA, VA) and virtually all the events during that period took place in only 18 states.
  • Over half the spending (54.5 percent) in the last two weeks of the campaign went to those same four states, and virtually all the spending during that period went to only 17 states.
  • Fourteen of the states where the outcome was not in doubt saw a drop in numbers of voters from the 2004 election.
  • The number of states which can be considered competitive battleground states for presidential elections have been cut in half since 1960, from 33 to 16.
A popular vote for president would almost certainly result in wider campaigning and, in tight election years, higher turnout. The problem, of course, will be in getting the states, particularly the ones with lower population, to give up the edge they enjoy under the Electoral College system. That system is a “child” of the federal system the Founding Fathers kludged together at the Constitutional Convention, where the individual states insisted on retaining significant powers. While there are good arguments for doing away with these “states’ rights” powers—they were, after all, largely responsible for the southern states thinking they could get away with secession in 1860-61—good arguments, as we all know to our loss, don’t always carry the day.

Several states (NJ, MD, IL, and HI) have exercised their power in an end run around the Electoral College. They have signed on to the National Popular Vote (NPV) bill, which says they agree to assign all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia once the number of participating states represents a majority of the Electoral College.

If you believe the president should be elected by a majority or plurality of the popular vote, you may want to encourage your state legislature to sign on to the NPV bill.
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1 Accessed December 14, 2008
tags: Politics

Great Expectations 2: Foreign Affairs

Dec 03, 2008
First, let us stop calling these affairs foreign. Globalization and its discontents, the Internet, the climate crisis, have inextricably intertwined the affairs of nations, making us finally realize the interdependence of all peoples which has always been a fact of life, though rarely acknowledged.

And then let us get on with the business of nurturing our planet and all its people. The progressive agenda of the first Obama administration must include the following:

A National Renunciation
America must renounce its “go-it-alone” bully-boy stance. We cannot lead from a position of moral poverty. Torture, extraordinary rendition kidnappings, abuse of constitutional rights, all must be abjured for good and all, and systems put in place to assure that these offenses will not come again to haunt the world. Full disclosure to the American people, and to the world, of the enormities of the past eight years must be forthcoming, whether conducted through a Truth and Reconciliation-type commission or through criminal investigations and prosecutions.

A League of Nations
America must rejoin and reinvigorate the community of nations, and in doing so it must voluntarily renounce a portion of its sovereignty for the common good. The neocon notion of a Pax Americana has been thoroughly debunked and must be discarded. We must imbue and empower the international community, through the United Nations and other organizations, with an energy and an agenda and a sense of urgency, and we must act together to bring clean water, plentiful food, higher education, peace, and social justice to a world hungry for all of these. We must stop exploiting, and start enabling, all of humanity. Our common future depends on it.

War No More
War is obsolete. The military adventures of the executive branch which the world has suffered over the past sixty years have only bolstered this argument. The more significant ones—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan—have all been losing propositions for the simple fact that we have not had to win them, and our adversaries have. Should a war we have to win ever be allowed to break out again, it will almost certainly destroy civilization. We must back off from our dependence on militarism by disarming, beginning with a full retreat from the threat of nuclear holocaust, and moving on from there to disallow armed conflict between and within nations. We must give peace a chance.

Ending Terrorism
Wars are fought between nations and to characterize efforts against terrorism as a “war” misuses and abuses that term. Terrorist activity warrants police action, not wars, although those actions may need to call upon military support and be international in scope. However, we also need to understand—and even empathize with—the root causes of terrorism. They have as much to do with failed states, our instinctive inclination to bolster political tyrannies, and the expropriation of natural resources as they have to do with fundamentalist religious beliefs.

An Economic Attitude Adjustment
Capitalism is the de facto winner in the modern struggle for economic supremacy. However, in winning the day, capitalism has become civilization’s master rather than its servant. This has to be reversed. Industry exists for the betterment of the individuals who buy and build its products, not the other way around. Just as we have decided, in assessing the needs of individuals, what is too little, we must decide what is too much, understanding that there is only one pie. While there will remain room for differences in wealth, those differences have reached grotesque proportions in the past thirty years, to the deprivation and horror of countless billions. We are one people on one earth, and our survival is not optimized by a system of exploitation and oppression, but by one of cooperation and mutual support.
These are the paths of the progressive agenda, toward a sustainable world where “One for all and all for one” is understood to be not simply a moral imperative, but a logical one, the one best suited to realizing a paradise on earth, and to averting the spectre of hell, to the brink of which the unbroken series of catastrophes we call human history have brought us today.
tags: Politics

Great Expectations 1: The Domestic Scene

Dec 02, 2008
Most progressive pundits we follow (among them Jeremy Scahill1, Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner2, and Robert Scheer3) are bummed out by the selections Obama has made so far for his White House staff and cabinet. And indeed, one cannot but sigh in despair at the right-of-center Democrats (and Republicans!) paraded across Change.gov, Obama’s web site, which is looking increasingly like an ingeniously designed propagandistic puff piece. What could be worse than a George W. Bush? A George W. Bush with a brain.

Kuttner reminds us that Obama will be the president, not Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton, or Robert Gates. Cold comfort, we fear. As noted last week in Center Stage, the progressive agenda has moved to the center of American politics, or the center has moved toward progressive solutions to the serious challenges we face. With that in mind, here are five exigent items on the domestic agenda we expect the Obama administration to engage from a progressive standpoint:

Income Inequality
We expect the tax cuts for the wealthy to be repealed and a living wage assured for all full-time workers. We expect the capital gains tax to be raised to a reasonable level, and we expect Social Security to be withheld on wages higher than the current maximum, which, at $102,000, is ridiculously low. We expect any economic bailout or recovery plan to be accountable to the people and to be crafted in such a manner as to benefit the greatest number. We expect an end to poverty for all working individuals and families in America.

A Dysfunctional Education System
We call for a national commission on educational reform that will be encouraged to throw out all the “sacred cows” and conventions in PreK-16 public education developed since the 19th century. It will consist of the widest possible spectrum of educational reformers who have displayed success in the field, many of whom we have featured here on All Together Now (see, for example, The War on Tenure, The Next Step, and SEED Money). It will be empowered to put forth a comprehensive set of recommendations for reinvigorating American education from the ground up, recommendations which the Obama administration will commit to implementing expeditiously. We are bleeding oceans of human capital, and the bleeding must be stopped.

Health Care
Implement a single-payer, federally managed health care system (Medicare for all), containing the best features of the dozens of such systems which have been in operation for more than a generation in the rest of the civilized world. To do less is to thwart the people’s will and to continue a system where the many exist only to enrich the few—a bankrupt system which must end.

Voting Rights and Wrongs
Impediments to the franchise are a scandal in this country. We must pass laws that will assure the public that everything possible is being done to enable every eligible voter to exercise the franchise, easily, efficiently, and with a high degree of assurance that their vote is being properly counted.

Social Realism
Social issues such as premarital sex and the taking of illegal drugs need to be confronted in a rational manner. When they are, we will realize that education is the key to solving these issues. Teens will engage in sex and people will take mind-altering substances. They always have and they always will. We need to stop punishing ourselves for these human inclinations and rather do what is necessary to protect ourselves from their less fortunate consequences. Our current responses to these perceived social ills, including abstinence-only indoctrination and more and longer incarcerations, are positively insane.
These are the domestic issues on which we will judge the first Obama term. If they are not pursued with vigor, we will have no interest in a second.
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1 Agents of Change or Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons? from Democracy Now, November 20, 2008 (Accessed November 30, 2008)
2 Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner and Michael Hudson Dissect Obama’s New Economic Team & Stimulus Plan, from Democracy Now, November 25, 2008 (Accessed November 30, 2008)
3 Obama Chooses Wall Street Over Main Street, by Robert Scheer, from truthdig.com, November 25, 2008 (Accessed November 30, 2008)
tags: Politics

The First Step

Nov 28, 2008
As we contemplate the coming of the era of change promised by Obama, the Center for American Progress, along with the New Democracy Project, is in the process of producing a book-length, comprehensive set of recommendations, called Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President. The complete Table of Contents of its 46 chapters include sections on The White House, Economic Policy, Domestic Policy, and National Security Policy.

The fact that the preface and first chapter are written by John Podesta, the co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition team (and a Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration), bodes well for attention being paid to this work by the new administration. It may even be, to a certain extent, what it is called: a blueprint for Obama’s presidency. In either case, progressives should pay attention to its contents, and we will feature some of them in future postings.

Today, we feature a chapter written by Michael Waldman, the Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Waldman’s chapter, Renewing Our Democracy (.pdf), deals with voting issues, the Brennan Center’s specialty, and he makes the following recommendations, which he says “will help permanently enlarge the constituency and coalition for progressive politics”:

  • No voter should be disenfranchised for lack of appropriate paperwork, and the government should issue free IDs if necessary.
  • Enact a national universal voter registration law and help fund the states to make the transitional changes required. Same-day registration should be allowed in all states.
  • Enact whatever laws are required to ensure that electronic voting machines work as they are supposed to work, including required audit trails and other measures.
  • Restore voting rights to prisoners upon their release.
  • Provide the Election Assistance Commission with sufficient funding so that makers of electronic voting machines, for instance, do not get to choose the labs that certify their products.
  • Reform congressional campaign funding, which still comes overwhelmingly from lobbyists and special interests, with only 10 percent coming from contributions of less than $200. Enacting the Fair Elections Now Act, providing public financing for congressional elections, would amplify the voices of the people, counterbalancing big money’s overwhelming influence. If we cannot get big money out, get more small money in, and make it matter by providing matching federal funds.
  • Reform the Federal Election Commission, removing it from the political arena.
  • End gerrymandering.
  • End the Electoral College and elect that candidate president who receives the highest popular vote count.
The universal franchise—the right of all adult citizens to vote—is the essential, defining characteristic of a democracy. Our laws must cease their emphasis on disabling that right, and must be crafted to enable it as widely and efficiently and effectively as possible.
tags: Politics

Laying Waste to Conservatism

Nov 27, 2008
If we need a historic record of the rapine of the Bush administration, we need go no further than Representative Raul M. Grijalva's (D-AZ) report emanating from his National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee within the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, entitled A Report on the Bush Administration Assaults on our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (A Partial List) (.pdf).

It opens, “Over the last seven and a half years, the Bush Administration has pushed a concerted strategy of reducing the protections for our public lands, parks and forests, and opening up these lands for every type of private, commercial and extractive industry possible.”

Grijalva’s list includes the despoliation of our national parks through mining; lowering air quality standards; wild animal slaughter; intrusive use of recreational vehicles; and undermining the National Park Service work force through outsourcing, politicization, wrongful terminations, and staffing cuts. The neoconservative calls to “starve the beast” of government by cutting funding has led to woefully inadequate budgeting for land and water conservation and maintenance, and deteriorating historical artifacts. The oversight responsibilities of the Bureau of Land Management have been undermined by rules streamlining development; by the hiring of “consultants” employed by oil and gas companies; by rendering voluntary many corporate cleanup responsibilities; by stifling public input; by pandering to the off-road vehicle industry which is creating legal and environmental chaos on public lands; by public land giveaways. The list goes on and on.

2008 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was in office one hundred years ago, and who was the greatest conservation president in the history of our republic. In fact, he practically invented the conservation movement in the U.S.1 He was also a Republican.

True conservatives are concerned about conservation—the two words share etymological roots, after all. They do not manufacture every opportunity possible to rape the landscape for the short-term gain of their masters, at the expense of the people, future generations, and the precious land itself.

The shame attaching to the Bush administration for the unconscionable abrogation of its responsibilities is exceeded only by our own shame at having let them get away with it. One can only wonder which body—them or us—history will judge more harshly.
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1 Theodore Roosevelt, Conservationist, from Wikipedia (Accessed November 22, 2008)
tags: Politics

Center Stage

Nov 26, 2008
By the time we read David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times, The Insider’s Crusade (November 21, 2008), the paper wasn’t accepting any more comments, having already taken in 580 of them. We weren’t surprised by the deluge of heated responses, having been chafing at the bit to add one of our own.

Brooks, in a rare display of ecumenism, was caught praising Obama’s selection of high-level advisors and cabinet secretaries, seemingly—and disingenuously—against his will, having first cast a smarmily disparaging eye upon the intellectual prowess evinced by their plethora of ivy league degrees.

We weren’t tempted, as many responders were, to toss our variation of “Ah, ha!” at Brooks, being about as appalled as he seemed to be impressed by the selections so far. We are beginning to wonder, with all the Clintonistas on board, whether the whole campaign season wasn’t a vast charade from the beginning, with the object of bringing back the “first black president” for another go-round.

Let the inveterate Republicans pretend their reluctant confessions of admiration for this parade of Clinton-era insiders and party hacks. It was Brooks’s parting shot that caught our attention and raised our dander. He wrote, “The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left....”

Excuse us, Mr. Brooks, but your inability to discern the shifting sands of the political spectrum from your cozy sinecure in the rightmost sector has blinded you to the fact that the progressive agenda in this country has moved to the center. To wit:

Most Americans think our nation is on the wrong track.1

Most Americans are opposed to continuing the war in Iraq and think America cannot win it.2

Most Americans want single-payer health insurance.3

Most Americans prefer investment in new energy technologies over exploration and drilling for more oil.4

We could add that most Americans want abortion to remain legal5 and the church to stay out of politics.6

If Obama is prepared to govern from the center, then these are the issues and the positions he will espouse. To the extent his administration waffles from these positions, to that extent will he be moving to the right and be in breach of his many pledges to serve the people.
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1 Poll: Most Americans Think U.S. on Wrong Track, from CBS News, January 13, 2008 (All accessed November 21, 2008)
2 Poll: Less than half of Americans think U.S. can win in Iraq, fro CNN.com, March 13, 2007
3 Doctor’s Orders: Health Coverage for Everyone, by Daina Saib, from Yes! Magazine, Fall 2008
4 Poll: Americans Don’t Think More Drilling Will Lower Gas Prices, by Timothy B. Hurst, from Red Green and Blue, July 25, 2008
5 Abortion and Birth Control, from PollingReport.com
6 The Separation of Church and State: U.S. Public Opinion Polls, from ReligousTolerance.org
tags: Politics

Separate and Unequal

Nov 24, 2008
Zionism, like apartheid, is a lost cause, and it is only a matter of time before it is consigned to history. Whether the Israeli people will take themselves down with it remains to be seen.

Author Joel Kovel, in his book, Overcoming Zionism (Pluto Press, 2007), argues that “only a single-state secular democracy can provide the justice essential to healing the wounds of the Middle East,”1 and we agree.

Kovel traces the history of Zionism, from Theodore Herzl to the present, and shows how its essentially racist policies are aimed not so much at subjugating the Palestinian people as they are at driving them entirely from the lands the Zionists believe is theirs by God-given right. An ardent advocate for acknowledging our common humanity, Kovel is essentially a “One-Worlder,” who understands that nationhood is a two-edged sword which, in its exclusionary, xenophobic, and inherently expansionary roles impedes the cause of world peace.

We know from hard-won experience that separate is inherently unequal. The walls must come down, the borders must be erased, the people must learn to live in a single, secular state. Impossible? Not so impossible as maintaining the status quo or forging an unjust, unequal, and futile two-state solution.

Thankfully, Zionism is a fading ideal in Israel, where the majority of the population now favor peace. They will move even closer to it when they realize they cannot live separate from the people they displaced. Can it happen? Can the Berlin Wall collapse without a single shot being fired? Can apartheid disappear without a drop of blood being spilt? Can America put a Black man in the White House?

Anything can happen.
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1 Overcoming Zionism, Product Description, from Amazon.com (Accessed November 19, 2008)
tags: Politics

City Lights

Nov 23, 2008
If the Obama administration doesn’t hit the ground running, it won’t be because the cities are dragging their feet. For a measly $24.5 billion (a tenth of the amount Treasury Secretary Paulson has already handed out to banks and investment houses, although we still do not know who has gotten what, and it hasn’t made much of a difference, has it?), the cities are ready to go with 4,591 infrastructure projects in 153 cities and in ten different categories, including energy, transit, highway, airport, Amtrak, water/wastewater, public safety, and school and public housing modernization.

In a press release from the United States Conference of Mayors, they state the projects are ready to go and could be started and completed in 2009. The projects would create more than a quarter of a million good-paying jobs.1

For a complete list of projects, costs, and employment figures, see the conference’s report, Ready-to-Go Projects (.pdf).

A boost to our sagging infrastructure and some major relief for our soaring unemployment! We hope Obama is listening, and we hope Paulson hasn’t emptied the whole $700 billion purse into his cronies’ pockets by January 20.

Update, Jan 13, 2009: The Conference of Mayors has released its third report. It now has over 15,000 ready-to-go projects in 641 cities capable of producing over 1.22 million jobs.2
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1 Press Release (.pdf), November 14, 2008 (Accessed November 18, 2008)
2 Press Release (.pdf), December 19, 2008 (Accessed January 13, 2009)
tags: Politics

Poor No More; No More Poor!

Nov 19, 2008
We’re sorry, but we’re going to keep harping on poor people until we get rid of them.

Poor people cost us money. When they get sick, they jack up our health insurance premiums with their uninsured visits to emergency rooms; when desperation drives them to crime, they fill our overfull prisons; they are responsible for scores of expensive local, state, and federal safety-net-type programs, from food stamps to SCHIP to WIC to you-name-it; and too many of them vote Republican which, as we know, costs us all real money.

A short report from the Working Poor Families Project entitled Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short explodes many of the myths surrounding working poor families, and reports how their numbers have skyrocketed during a period of solid economic growth.

A low-income working family (LIWF) is defined as a married-couple or single-parent family with at least one child under the age of 18 earning less than 200 percent of the poverty income threshold as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2006, that was $41,228 for a family of four. It is worthwhile to remember that the poverty income threshold is higher than a full-time job earns at the federal minimum wage, never mind 200 percent of that threshold. And 22 percent of all jobs, more than one in five, pay less than the poverty income threshold.

  • The number of LIWFs increased by 350,000 between 2002 and 2006.
  • During that period, the economy added 4.7 million jobs paying at the poverty-threshold level.
  • Almost half of all jobs require more than a high school education, and 88 million adult workers are not ready for these positions.
  • Myth: LIWFs are slackers. Truth: The average annual work effort of LIWFs is the equivalent of 1.25 full-time jobs.
  • Myth: LIWFs are headed by single parents. Truth: 52 percent of LIWFs are headed by married couples.
  • Myth: LIWFs are headed by immigrants. Truth: 69 percent of LIWFs have only American-born parents.
  • As a Vermonter, we are proud to see that Vermont ranks number 1 in income equality between the top and bottom income quintiles.
Although many states are implementing innovative policies involving skills training and financial aid, we believe the federal government should cut to the chase, end poverty among working Americans overnight, and save us all a ton of money. See our November 15, 2008, item, Double Up and Win for the magic formula.

And once we have money in American pockets and at least a high school diploma on every wall, the Republicans will have to stop relying on the ignorant poor to win elections; return to the core values of the party of Lincoln, T.R., and Eisenhower; and perhaps reclaim a degree of respect within the framework of American politics.
tags: Politics

The High Cost of Winning

Nov 18, 2008
Money in politics. Whether viewed as the 800-pound gorilla or the elephant in the room, it is the animal we seem doomed to have to live with. Try as we might, we cannot tame this beast, which grows more voracious at each election cycle. We recall being appalled at the $60 million Nixon’s re-election committee raised in 1972. Today, that’s chump change even in 2008 dollars, as the presidential campaigns for the first time this year passed the billion-dollar mark in revenues raised.1

The Campaign Finance Institute has given us a revealing “First Look at Money in the House and Senate Elections”—a first look because a few races are still unresolved. Among the most notable results:

The High Cost of Winning
Winners in the House races raised an average of $1,282,597 in 2008, twice the amount raised ten years ago. On the Senate side, winners raised $5,507,146, a third more than was raised by winners ten years ago.

When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go
In the House race, 15 Democrats and 4 Republicans defeated incumbents, and they did so even though they raised, on average, around $400,000 less than their incumbent opponents. Nevertheless, 377 other House incumbents won re-election, outraising their upstart challengers two-and-a-half to one. Similarly on the Senate side, the two incumbents who lost (both Republicans—Sununu (NH) and Dole (NC)) outraised their Democratic challengers almost two to one and still failed to retain their seats. Twenty-four incumbents won in the Senate, outraising their challengers by over three-and-a-half to one. Incumbency may be an advantage, but it is an expensive one.

Landslide or Squeaker?
Results in the races for open seats (no incumbent) in the House and Senate may be a good indication of just how profound the move to the left was in this election. Was Obama’s commanding electoral count (about 365 to McCain’s 162) reflected in Democratic successes in runs for open seats? In a word, no. Of five open seats in the Senate, three were won by Democrats and two by Republicans. Of the 33 open seats in the House, Democrats won a slim majority of 17; Republicans, 16. The three Democratic senators had to raise an average of $10 million dollars for those seats; the two Republicans only $3.3 million. Put those laurels back in the closet. We can’t rest on them yet.

A Little Help From Our Friends
Figures above reflect monies raised by candidate campaigns. Add to the mix the “independent expenditures” by national party committees in the 2008 Congressional general election alone, which amounted to $204,261,538. The Democratic committees outspent the Republicans two-and-a-half to one. The lion’s share of the $36 million spent by the Republican Senatorial Committee—$23,683,935—went to two definite losers, Sununu and Dole, and two potential losers (results are not yet in), Coleman (MN) and Smith (OR). The Democratic Senatorial Committee spent $42,817,912 on those races.
We may as well reconcile ourselves to the sorry fact that money in politics is here to stay, at least until some smart lawyer can disassociate campaign contributions from freedom of speech to the satisfaction of five Supreme Court justices. Until that day, let’s remember the power of the little guy in politics. If the roughly 125 million people who voted in the 2008 presidential election each contributed a mere $15 to a national campaign finance fund, it would raise as much money as all the federal races combined, and that includes candidate and party revenues. As these funds come from small, individual donations over time, perhaps our elected officials will voluntarily spend less time cuddling up to the fat cats and corporate hegemonists and pay more attention to the people they are supposed to represent.

If not, we’re going to have to take it to the polls, find candidates who will represent us, and throw the blackguards out.
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1 Banking on Becoming President, from OpenSecrets.org (Accessed November 15, 2008)
tags: Politics

Farewell to All This

Nov 12, 2008
We write this piece five days before the election, although it will not appear until eight days after it is over. Today, the radio, newspapers, television, and Internet are abuzz with efforts by the Republicans to limit the Democratic vote: to purge voter rolls1; to intimidate new, elderly, and minority voters2; to deny paper ballot alternatives where electronic voting machines have proven defective3,4; to ensure long lines in Democratic districts5; to fool the unwary into turning up to vote on Wednesday6; to produce ballots so confusing as to guarantee many voters won’t vote for the candidate of their choice.7

If we cannot agree that we should make every effort to find, register, and bring to the polls all qualified voters;

If we cannot agree to invite, welcome, and inform new, elderly, and minority voters;

If we cannot agree to offer every voter who is unsure of the reliability of electronic voting machines the alternative of a paper ballot;

If we cannot agree to provide sufficient voting booths or machines at every polling station, and to keep those stations open long enough for voters to cast their ballots efficiently and expeditiously;

If we cannot agree to vigorously pursue, prosecute, and imprison anyone guilty of dirty tricks intended to limit voter turnout;

If we cannot agree to produce simple, clear ballots that can be easily understood by any literate American;

If we cannot agree that the right to vote is the most precious and fundamental right a free people can bestow on themselves;

If we cannot agree on these principles, then we cannot agree on anything; our Constitution is a sham; “We the People” is a sham; and our promise to the world, to ourselves, and to our posterity is a cruel and malicious deception.
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1 U.S. judge orders Colo. to stop purging voter rolls, from USA Today, October 31, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
2 Legislators voice concern about voter intimidation in St. Paul police pay campaign, by Mara H. Gottfried, from TwinCities.com (The St. Paul Pioneer Press web site), October 31, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
3 U.S. judge orders backup paper ballots in PA, from USA Today, October 29, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
4 Vote Flipping on Touch Screens in WV, from Bradblog.com (Accessed October 31, 2008)
5 Long lines, glitches reported during early voting, from CNN, October 28, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
6 Phony Flyer Tells Virginia Democrats to Vote Wednesday, November 5, by Karen Hatter, from NowPublic.com, October 28, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
7 Voting Rights Watch: Could confusing ballots swing the presidential election in NC?, from The Institute for Southern Studies, October 20, 2008 (Accessed October 31, 2008)
tags: Politics

Our Better Selves

Nov 06, 2008
With the election of Barack Obama, we have consulted our better selves and taken a step back from the brink. It is not a giant step, and it does not include an about-face.

We are ten trillion dollars in debt; two futile and unwinnable wars continue to rage while opportunities for effective resistance to our enemies are squandered or ignored; our vicious, inhuman, and unilateral militarism, which both Washington and Eisenhower warned us against, oppresses the world; one in every six Americans is without protection against ill health and the other five are abused by a hugely expensive, inefficient, and underperforming system; rampaging, unregulated capitalism dominates our economy and our elected officials, enriching a tiny few at the expense of American business, the American worker, our world, and future generations; and fewer children are graduating high school today than did their parents a generation ago.

Obama has done little to address these issues head on and, when he has, his responses have been equivocal and his proffered solutions inadequate or wrongheaded. He is surrounded by advisers from the failed Clinton administration, starting with his new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (whom Nader describes as a “militarist reactionary,”1) and he has alienated both the Muslim world and the American and Israeli Jewish majority yearning for peace by continuing our ham-handed defense of the increasingly isolated radical Jewish right. Through his votes he has explicitly supported domestic spying and implicitly corroborated in the war crimes and unconstitutional acts of the Bush administration.

And yet...and yet.

To be witness to the election of a smart, sane, compassionate African-American to the highest office in the land is the culmination of a dream which even Martin Luther King might not have imagined he would see had he been granted a normal lifespan. He would have been 80 years old on Inauguration Day.

With all due respect to the memory of Ronald Reagan, January 20, 2009, will bring us a true Morning in America, the first since that chilly day in March 1933.

As for what the rest of that day will bring us, that is up to us. It will bring us, as all days bring us, precisely and solely what we make of it.
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1 Hold Your Heads Up High, an email communication dated and accessed November 5, 2008
tags: Politics

The Day After

Nov 05, 2008
Let us hope today, which we are writing about on October 25, is not as horrific an aftermath as that depicted in the TV film “The Day After” 25 years ago.1

We have lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation our entire life. How can this world continue to tolerate the anxiety and the threat of these weapons? Some signs point to the possibility that it cannot and will not continue to tolerate them. Most leaders of nuclear nations have expressed interest in reducing the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. is actively reducing our own.2 Nevertheless, much remains to be done to move efforts along aimed at zero nuclear weapons in a world where the global development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes is set to expand significantly in the next generation.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced a reported entitled Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: Why the United States Should Lead, by George Perkovich. Billed as “Foreign Policy for the Next President,” it sets out “four security interests that would be served by making the long-term project of abolishing nuclear weapons a central purpose of U.S. policy:

  • Preventing proliferation
  • Preventing nuclear terrorism
  • Reducing towards zero the unique threat of nuclear annihilation
  • Fostering optimism regarding U.S. global leadership
Should America one day return to rational governance, these goals could be met. The Carnegie report bears reading in order to understand the difficulties the country faces—internally and externally—in pursuing these goals.

Difficult or not, it is the ultimate responsibility of the nation that brought nuclear weapons into the world to see that they are ultimately removed.
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1 The Day After (1983) (TV), from IMDB (Accessed October 25, 2008)
2 United States Reducing Nuclear Weapons at an Extraordinary Pace, by Jacquelyn S. Port, from America.gov, April 25, 2008 (Accessed October 25, 2008)
tags: Politics

Election Day

Nov 04, 2008
One hundred and twenty-two million people—60.6 percent of eligible voters—voted in the 2004 election. Higher numbers are predicted for today, although they are unlikely to go as high as 200 million, which some have predicted.1

The 2000 election debacle resulted in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. This federal program provided money to the states which, constitutionally, are in charge of elections in this country The money was for purposes of improving the administration of federal elections. In some cases, it has been spent wisely and appropriately, and in other cases it has been spent to obfuscate, complicate, befuddle, and, finally, to disenfranchise those voters most likely to vote for progressive and Democratic candidates.2

Today, we find out whether the misappropriation of HAVA funds, together with the dirty tricks and voter intimidation tactics of the Republican Party and the racism marbled through the layers of our society will propel an unqualified and dangerous candidate into the White House.

Woe unto our nation—and our world—if it does.
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1 Record Turnout Likely for 2008 General Election, by Meghan Loftus, from America.gov, October 2, 2008 (Accessed October 25, 2008)
2 Help America Vote Act, Criticisms from Wikipedia (Accessed October 25, 2008)
tags: Politics

And the Envelope, Please...

Nov 03, 2008
Tomorrow you will vote in the most important and momentous election in your lifetime. It is no exaggeration to say the future of our world hangs in the balance.

Some of you won’t vote for fear of being arrested if you show up at the polls, or you will go to the wrong address, or you will get tired of waiting for hours in line, or your ballot will be thrown out for any of a dozen reasons, or you won’t show up until the day after tomorrow because Democrats have been scheduled to vote on Wednesday owing to the expected heavy turnout.

We will never know how many hundreds of thousands of votes will be lost through these Republican shenanigans.

Our country is in the midst of a bloodless fascist takeover. A conspiracy of far, far right ideologues have gotten all the fools on their side, and when you do that, as Frank Dane said, you can be elected to anything. Particularly if you are ready, willing, and able to resort to any unethical and criminal act necessary to assure that election.

We have been agonizing over our vote for many months. The Republicans and Democrats have put up candidates whose positions on the vital issues of the day—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the fiscal, health care, and educational crises; the erosion of our Constitutional rights—are essentially the same. That one of the candidates is an intelligent, articulate, and charismatic black man only adds to the frustration we feel at his illiberal and short-sighted policies.

In contrast, our views—as well as the majority views of the American public—have had a voice in Ralph Nader’s independent candidacy. Nader understands, as Eisenhower did, the peril of ceding our freedoms to a corporate plutocracy that has co-opted and now controls both major parties and, as a result, the political future of our country. If this stranglehold is not broken, and soon, America will cease even paying lip service to its ideals, let alone having the capacity to continue pursuing them.

Nader will not win tomorrow, because the fearful American population does not have the courage of its convictions. Instead, McCain or Obama will win, and when we contemplate the possibility of the former’s accession to the White House, we are filled with horror. Despite the apparent similarity of their views on the defining issues of the day, there is an enormous difference between the two men. To the extent McCain is not lock-stock-and-barrel a captive of the corporate plutocracy, he is an erratic, choleric, vengeful, and ignorant old man, sick in body and mind, and seconded by a vice presidential candidate unfit for public office. Although we believe he will be victorious tomorrow (see yesterday’s Out on a Limb), if we believed we played the smallest part in that victory, we could never live with ourselves.

Regretfully, we will vote for Obama.
tags: Politics

Out on a Limb

Nov 02, 2008
Writing this eleven days, and running it two days, before election, we don’t think one needs to go very far out on a limb to predict a McCain victory.

A full-court press against America’s right to vote—for the Democratic presidential nominee at any rate—will assure a close election goes to the Republican, as it did in 2000 and 2004. How do we know this? Let us count the ways (and many more have come to light than we summarize below):

  • An email circulating in Texas and targeting supporters of Obama advises voters to do just the opposite of what they have to do in order to vote for Obama when also voting the “straight party ticket.” New voters will be especially confused by this procedure.1
  • Mailings and robocalls in swing states are branding Obama a terrorist.2
  • Early voters have reported that voting machines are switching their votes from Obama to McCain and in some cases refusing to acknowledge a vote for Obama.3
  • North Carolina also suffers from the “straight party ticket” blues of Texas. In North Carolina, however, a vote for the straight Democratic party ticket does not include a vote for Obama. North Carolina voters must vote for both, while in Texas voting for both nullifies both votes.4
  • In swing state Virginia, an online questionnaire for students to determine their place of legal residence “actually may confuse, mislead, and intimidate student voters. It asks personal and irrelevant questions that may scare off voters likely to vote for Obama.”5
  • By putting voting machine makers in charge of secret procedures to certify their own products, serious defects have gone unannounced and unrepaired. Since the federal Election Assistance Administration took over the testing in 2005, not a single voting machine has been certified. Tens of thousands of computerized voting machines whose flaws have been demonstrated over and over will be in operation on November 4.6
  • Scores of laws and new “policies” regarding registration and IDs, together with widespread lack of understanding among the nation’s election officials, promise to disenfranchise thousands of poor, minority, and new voters in 2008.7,8
  • In a cynical attempt at taking the spotlight off truly criminal voter fraud activities, the administration has ordered its federal police to go after ACORN, the nonpartisan grassroots group that has registered hundreds of thousands of new voters, most of them poor and black and likely to vote for Obama. The occasional flawed registrations handed in by ACORN employees are openly acknowledged by ACORN, as are ACORN’s rigorous efforts to detect and flag them. Remember those eight attorneys general who were fired by the still-unemployed Alberto Gonzalez? They were fired because they could not find the actionable Democratic voter fraud their masters wanted them to find and to prosecute.9
  • For a roundup of several McCain party attempts at stealing the election, read the transcript from Amy Goodman’s October 22, 2008, Democracy Now! interview with Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media culture and communication at New York University. Miller offers proof that the 2004 election was stolen in Ohio and explains in detail the nuts and bolts of how it will be again in 2008, primarily through electronic vote fixing.10
  • Finally, Obama is black, and this country cannot forgive itself for what it did to the black race, and cannot free itself from its soul-withering racism. Miller dismisses the Bradley Effect—wherein voters lie to pollsters about their intentions in order to mask their racism—as simply the “narrative” Republicans will use to explain how Obama lost the election they are already in the process of stealing. However, we would not be surprised that when it comes down to the highest office in the land, the Bradley Effect will kick in on Tuesday with a vengeance. Unlike the allegations made by Miller, however, this phenomenon will be all but impossible to prove.
Tomorrow, we will pass along our choice for our next president.
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1 Democrats cry foul over suspicious email, by Kelley Shannon, Associated Press, in the Dallas News, October 15, 2008 (This and other items accessed October 24, 2008)
2 Voters slam McCain Mailer, Robocalls Linking Obama to Terrorists, from FoxNews.com, October 17, 2008
3 N. Texas residents say machines switched Dem votes, by Libby Cluett, McClatchy-Tribune, on Chron.com (The Houston Chronicle), October 24, 2008
4 Straight-ticket omits presidential race, by James T. Hamilton, from the Charlotte Observer, October 7, 2008
5 Misleading VA Board of Elections Website Could Deter Student Voters, from Brennan Center for Justice, September 16, 2008
6 Warning on voting machines reveals oversight failures, by Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers, on KansasCity.com, October 24, 2008
7 Voter ID battle shifts to proof of citizenship, Ian Urbina, from The New York Times, May 12, 2008
8 De facto disenfranchisement, by Erica Wood and Rachel Bloom, from Brennan Center for Justice, October 1, 2008
9 FBI investigating ACORN voter fraud claims, from Newsday, on the Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2008
10 Early voting sees reports of voter intimidation, machine malfunctions, from Democracy Now, October 22, 2008
tags: Politics

No Swimming, No Fishing, No Drinking

Oct 29, 2008
The Clean Water Act is 36 years old this month. For those Americans who want government to get out of their faces, take note:

  • In 1972, only a third of our nation’s waters were considered swimmable, fishable, or drinkable. Today, two thirds are.
  • In 1968, sewage treatment facilities served 140 million Americans; today over 207 million are served by them.
  • In 1972, we were losing wetlands at the rate of 450,000 acres a year; in the 1990s those losses had slowed to one-fourth that rate.
However, the Bush 2 administration has done all it could to undermine the Clean Water Act and to reverse its successes:
  • The entirety of the Clean Water Act has been thrown into chaos through a pair of confusing, badly divided Supreme Court decisions.
  • The Bush administration has taken advantage of these decisions by issuing new regulations inconsistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act.
  • Despite the fact that the EPA and others estimate infrastructure repairs amounting to $200 to $300 billion are required in the next 20 years, Bush has requested annual cuts of 40 percent to the program that funds these repairs. For 2009, he has made the lowest request ever—only $555 million.
  • Through actions too numerous to mention here, the Bush administration has sought to undermine and reverse the efforts and successes of the last 36 years of the Clean Water Act.
Further details on this portentous anniversary and on Bush’s reckless acts of sabotage, may be found in Stagnant Waters: 2008 Clean Water Act Report, by the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

When asked by Bob Woodward how history would judge his role in starting the Iraq war, Bush replied “History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”1 We don’t think so. We think history will hop to it a bit more smartly than that, to relate the tale of an arrogant, ignorant, out-of-control administration and its all-out assault on America, its wealth, its stature, its promise. In fact, history’s first draft has already been written in a thousand op-ed pieces and scores of books.

History is now, and it has spoken.
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1 We’ll All Be Dead, by Dr. Gerry Lower, citing “Woodward Shares War Secrets,” CBS News, 60 Minutes, April 18, 2004 (Accessed October 22, 2008)
tags: Politics

Fooling All of the People

Oct 26, 2008
Sarah Palin actually warned us, in her debate with Joe Biden, that "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people…"1

Without such forewarning, you might not have noticed, as you probably didn’t notice during the presidential debates, that the question asked of the candidates wasn’t always the question they answered.

A pair of studies by the Harvard Business School entitled Conversational Blindness: Answering the Wrong Question the Right Way reveals just how often this phenomenon occurs. In the first study, a questioner asks a question and the interviewee proceeds to answer some other unasked question, and we usually fail to notice! When the answer is to a similar question, most of us can’t even remember the original question.

More remarkably, the second study discovered that we will rate someone who provides a good answer to a question they weren’t asked more highly than we will rate someone who gives a poor answer to the question that was asked.

Maybe we’d better all have a closer look at those debates2,3,4,5. Sometimes the Straight Talk Express is the Fast Talk Express, and we’re the ones being taken for a ride.
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1 Transcript of Palin, Biden Debate, from CNN, October 3, 2008 (Accessed October 21, 2008)
2 Full Vice Presidential Debate with Gov. Palin and Sen. Biden, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
3 Third 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
4 Second 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
5 First 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
tags: Politics

Looking for a Few Good People

Oct 22, 2008
We may not vote for Obama, but should he win the White House anyway, we would love to work for him.

Last weekend, Polltrack’s Presidential Race Map projected Obama winning 273 electoral votes on Election Day, three more than needed to win. We think it likely, in light of the Republican Party’s full court press to disenfranchise as many of the Obama electorate as they possibly can (they’ve had eight years and two presidential elections to hone their skills in this regard) that Obama will have to win by a landslide—perhaps by as much as 20 percentage points—if he is to squeak into the White House.

If he does, he is going to be looking for a lot of help. Despite surrounding himself with Clinton-era advisers during the campaign, we hope Obama will wield the proverbial new broom once in the White House. If he does, considering the stranglehold Republicans have had on the federal government for thirty disastrous years, he will need to look far afield to gather a new set of subordinates. Many of them will be pretty clueless regarding the ins and outs of D.C. politics. The IBM Center for The Business of Government has rushed in to fill the gap in this knowledge with The Presidential Transition, a guide for government executives.

They offer mini-essays on “Six ‘To-Dos’”:

  • Before Confirmation, Be Careful
  • Learn How Things Work
  • Act Quickly on What Can’t Wait
  • Develop a Vision and a Focused Agenda
  • Assemble Your Leadership Team
  • Manage Your Environment
Also, there are somewhat longer essays, by well-known Washington insiders and cognoscenti, on interacting with and managing stakeholders, including the White House, Congress, colleagues, constituencies, and overseers.

If Obama is the man we hope he is, and if he is elected, we expect an outreach well beyond the D.C. beltline for energized talent that can shape a new direction so desperately needed for our nation and our world.

Now, where did we put that résumé?
tags: Politics

Party Time

Oct 17, 2008
Two hundred and fifty-eight parties have been thrown for members of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee so far in 2008. Many of them were hosted by lobbyists for the finance, insurance, and real estate industries, the very corporate giants that were bailed out in the recent rush to pour money into these industries without offering a penny of relief to homeowners and others strapped by usurious debt.

This report comes from The Sunlight Foundation, “co-founded in 2006 ... with the non-partisan mission of using the revolutionary power of the Internet to make information about Congress and the federal government more meaningfully accessible to citizens.”

Their press release, Financial Sector Fetes Lawmakers Making Bailout Decisions, says it collects hard-to-find information regarding these events—which slip under the radar of campaign finance laws—from sources whose anonymity is protected. From football games to beer-tasting events, the list goes on and on.
Sunlight’s web site rewards time spent plumbing its depths. We especially enjoyed the Earmarks Visualization page, showing in graphic detail how much each state benefited from those nasty giveaways. Guess which one enjoyed the highest per capita earmarks in 2005, more than three times the amount enjoyed by the state in second place? You got it. Alaska!
tags: Politics

Cities on the Hill

Oct 15, 2008
Our salvation, if we are to be saved, will rise up from the people, and will not trickle down from above. With a new administration on the horizon—whoever wins—that will retain the old links to their corporate masters, that will mortgage our future to its stubborn tunnel vision of dependence on military might, that will continue to erode constitutional rights in the name of national security, the time has come to begin the restructuring of our political system from the ground up.

It is therefore heartening to discover that lower levels of our governance structures—our state houses and municipal offices—are keenly aware of the problems we face and of their responsibility to take part in their amelioration. The National League of Cities, a lobbying organization representing 19,000 cities, villages, and towns, has published a report, Poverty and Economic Insecurity: Views from City Hall, revealing “that ninety percent of municipal leaders surveyed said that poverty has either increased or stayed the same in their cities over the past decade.”

The famous “War on Poverty” declared in the mid-sixties has been lost, as have our other wars launched since then. With a current poverty rate (12.3 percent) scarcely two points lower than at the “war’s” beginning (14.2 percent), and that based on outmoded calculation parameters which, if modernized, would almost surely indicate higher levels of poverty today, action needs to be taken on all levels to end this national disgrace. Happily, city leaders are taking responsibility:

  • Eight in ten municipal officals (81%) believe taking action to reduce poverty is a responsibility of city government.
  • Three in four city officials (75%) express interest in becoming a municipal leader on poverty.
  • Unhappily, three in four officials think poverty levels in their city will increase (43%) or stay the same (33%) over the next decade.
  • Over 70 percent say the Federal Poverty Threshold (which sets $17,170 as the threshold for a family of three) is higher in their cities, 30 percent saying it is $30,000 or higher.
  • Poverty, say most officials, is concentrated in single-parent families (73%) and confined to certain neighborhoods (65%).
  • When asked what strategies could work to alleviate poverty in their cities, and which of those strategies were their cities in a good position to implement, it is interesting to note the the most popular strategy (91%) was creating better lives for the next generation by improving schools, although only 57 percent felt this strategy was within their city’s capacity.
  • Effective strategies that were within their cities’ capacities were economic development to bring more jobs (89%/89%) and improving neighborhoods by making them safer, enhancing services, and improving infrastructure (86%/88%).
  • “While only three percent say the city has a comprehensive strategic, municipal plan to address poverty, a much larger proportion (28%) says this would be the most effective approach for their city.
Regarding their chances for re-election, only one percent of elected officials felt reducing poverty was the most important factor, while 68 percent felt that bringing about economic development was. To us, they are inextricably linked, together with a determination to see an end to the myriad social inequities that have stalled the war on poverty from its very inception.
tags: Politics

Corruption and Poverty: Perfect Together

Oct 10, 2008
What do the recently resigned Prime Minister of Israel and the longest-serving American senator have in common? Corruption. The latter is currently on trial and the former resigned in order to prepare for his likely day in court. Nothing saps a people’s self-esteem or optimism for the future so much as knowing they are governed by corrupt officials. Dante consigned traitors to the deepest circle in Hell and corruption in office is a kind of treason. It not only betrays an indifference to the policies and processes that brought the corrupt officials to their post, but it destroys the value of whatever purpose, integrity, or worth they might have brought to their position.

Corruption and poverty are the twin afflictions of the failed state, the extent to which one is present more often than not reflected in the extent of the other. Transparency International, its principal offices in Berlin, fights societal and political corruption in all its forms. Their 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index rates corruption in 180 countries, based on tabulations taken from up to 13 surveys and expert assessments. At least three were required for a country to be included in the findings, which rated countries from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean). Among the findings:

  • Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand are tied at 9.3 for the least corrupt countries.
  • Somalia, at 1.0, is the most corrupt country.
  • Close behind Somalia, tied for next to last place, is Iraq (1.3), into which we are pouring $10 billion per month; Afghanistan is fifth from last place (1.5).
  • The U.S. is in 18th place, tied with Japan and Belgium at a rating of 7.3.
  • 72 of the 180 countries scored below 3.0; only 22 countries scored 7.0 or above.
China kills its corrupt officials, both in sport, in one of the most popular video games in the country, and, from time to time, for real.1 We can appreciate the sentiment, as much as we may deplore its application.
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1 China enjoys anti-corruption game, from BBC News, August 2, 2007 (Accessed October 5, 2008)
tags: Politics

No Voter Left Behind

Oct 09, 2008
Here comes November 4th! Are we ready for what may be the biggest voter turnout ever1? No, we are not!

The Annenberg Public Policy Center has just released an Election Survey (.pdf) with some startling revelations:

  • Which candidate (Obama or McCain) is more likely to support free trade agreements like NAFTA? Only 28 percent correctly identified McCain.
  • Who is the candidate offering $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families to help buy life insurance? Almost twice as many people attributed this McCain plan to Obama, and only one in five correctly identified it as McCain’s.
  • Who wants to close Guantanamo? Forty-three percent said only Obama; only eight percent knew the truth: both McCain and Obama favor the idea.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents don’t know what it takes to override a presidential veto (a 2/3 vote of the House and Senate).
Perhaps what we need isn’t a poll tax so much as a poll test.

Here’s something for those of you responsible for running a proper polling station. The Brennan Center for Justice, together with Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation have assembled a Ballot Accounting Checklist (.pdf) representing “a minimum of what election officials should do to account for all ballots and votes cast on Election Day.” We especially favor the last recommendation: “Make all results public.”

And finally, from the Sentencing Project comes an update on disenfranchisement reform. We used to think convicted felons lost their right to vote forever. Such is far from the case, however. The report, Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisment Reform 1997-2008 (.pdf) relates how 760,000 citizens have regained their right to vote, although five million others will continue to be ineligible to vote in November’s election. Furthermore:
  • Thirteen percent of black men are disenfranchised—seven times the national average.
  • 2.1 million disenfranchised persons are ex-offenders who have completed their sentences.
  • The state of Florida had an estimated 960,000 ex-felons who were unable to vote in the 2004 election.
  • Kentucky and Virginia are the only two states that permanently disenfranchise ex-felons.
  • Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow current inmates to vote.2
Interestingly, another Brennan Center report (produced in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union), De Facto Disenfranchisement (.pdf) “reveals widespread misunderstanding among state election officials of laws governing the right to vote of citizens with felony convictions.” Should we have a close election again this year, look for a massive traffic jam of litigation.

In June 2008, Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, said, “Once somebody has truly paid their debt to society, we should recognize it. We should welcome them back into society and give them that second chance. Who doesn’t deserve a second chance?”

Who, indeed? Maybe we can even grant that second chance to Florida.
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1 Obama Campaign Sets Stage for Record Voter Turnout, by Katie Garrety, ABC News, August 18, 2008 (Accessed October 4, 2008)
2 Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States (.pdf), from The Sentencing Project (Accessed October 4, 2008)
tags: Politics

Appalled

Oct 08, 2008
We have a friend out on the west coast, a very funny and a very nice guy, who is appalled at our posts about Nader and our reluctance to commit ourself to voting for Obama.1 In a recent pair of emails, he reminds us that McCain is a loaded gun, with “a chip on his shoulder a mile wide” and spoiling for the sort of revenge that portends nuclear winter.

His running mate, Palin, is worse—an undereducated, religiously unbalanced redneck, with a 1 in 7 chance of finding her finger on the button in the next four years, should her ticket prevail in November. How could anyone fail to run to the nearest polling station and devote one’s franchise to defeating such a terrifying and homicidal ticket?

And we could not agree with him more.

In fact, we’ll go him one better. All Together Now is dedicated to the memory and the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.,2 whom we consider one of the great benefactors of the human race, a man of enormous courage, compassion, and vision, and a representative of a race so ill-treated by our own—to this day—that a thousand years of restitution would not entitle us to a moiety of forgiveness. That another black man—intelligent, eloquent, liberal, with a wonderful wife and two adorable children—is now heading up the ticket for the highest office in the land is the most gratifying miracle we have witnessed in our lifetime.

And yet we probably won’t vote for him. And why? Because he is wrong. He is wrong on domestic spying, he is wrong on the middle east conflict, and he is wrong on economic reform. We will not—we can not—vote for a man who condones the Bush administration’s gutting of the Constitution; who shares our nation’s tragic reliance on doomed militaristic responses to international challenges; who aligns himself with the corporations and their stranglehold on American society and all its institutions.

However, we have four weeks yet to listen between the lines to what Obama has to say. We realize his first duty is to get elected and that if he spoke with the voice that speaks in our heart—of universal brotherhood, of one world, of the need to transform our nation into a true representation of its highest ideals—he wouldn’t stand a chance. And we will try, we will try our damnedest, to vote for him.

If we have not found our way into Obama’s corner by election day, we will vote for Ralph Nader, the man who does speak with our voice. And it will be among the saddest days of our life.
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1 Click the Nader, Obama, or Politics tag in the left-hand column to view pertinent posts.
2 Announcing ATN, June 1, 2008
tags: Politics

A Rising Tide that Lifts Only Yachts

Oct 06, 2008
Income and wealth disparity in this country has ballooned out of control since 1980. This may be the starkest way of illustrating this fact: The 40 percent of the population (you and me, probably) who were making between $50,000 and $100,000 in 1980 (in 2005 dollars) were still making between $50,000 and $100,000 25 years later. Those in the top five percent of the population, however, whose mean family income in 1980 was about $150,000, were making over $300,000 in 2005. The disparity between the top one-tenth of one percent and the rest of us is even more obscene. This small number of Americans—about 300,000— had more wealth in 2006 than the poorest 120 million Americans combined.1

Americans support these sorts of inequities apparently because we have become convinced that we are plausible candidates for enjoying this windfall in the future and to mess with the status quo could scotch our chances. Perhaps our national Horatio Alger myths, combined with the ubiquitous (and cruelly regressive) lotteries, have molded this attitude among our people. One wonders how many generations of such growing disparities, how many financial collapses, how many foreclosed mortgages it will take to snap us out our willful ignorance of the facts.

The Century Foundation has provided a graphic summary of income and wealth disparities in their recent report, A Rising Tide that Lifts Only Yachts (.pdf).

This country needs an attitude adjustment. We need to decide what is too little and what is too much, and then rebalance our resources so no one falls into either extreme. At one end, our minimum wage for a full-time worker needs to be adequate to feed, clothe, house, and insure a reasonably sized family. At the other extreme, we have to stop rewarding failed CEOs with $210 million golden parachutes.2 There is a happy medium within our grasp. A truly democratic nation’s role is to enable the greatest good for the greatest number, sacrificing none of its precious human resources to predatory capitalism, but harnessing that capitalism to raise a tide that will lift all boats.

Anything less is slow suicide, as the last few weeks have shown.
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1 ’04 Income in U.S. Was Below 2000 Level, by David Cay Johnston, from the New York Times, November 28, 2006 (Accessed September 27, 2008)
2 Nardelli out at Home Depot, by Parija B. Kavilanz, from CNNMoney.com, January 3, 2007 (Accessed September 27, 2008)
tags: Politics

A Royal-ty Beating

Oct 03, 2008
When minerals are extracted from federally owned lands, the businesses doing the extracting are required to pay royalties to the government, that is, to us. Such royalties comprise the second largest source of revenue for the federal government, after taxes. In fiscal 2007 alone, the government collected the equivalent of over $9 billion in oil and gas royalties.

We say “the equivalent” because around ten years ago, during the Clinton administration, the oil and gas industry managed to get a royalty-in-kind (RIK) program initiated by the Department of the Interior (DOI). In some of the key source areas of RIK revenues, over half are received “in kind.”

The recent disclosures regarding drug and sex scandals at DOI1 have ripped the lid off the Minerals Management Service, the office from which the scandals emanated. In the process, the shoddy practices regarding RIK collections and audits have come to light. Millions, perhaps billions, of dollars may have been underpaid by oil and gas companies during the life of the RIK program. The records are so opaque and incomplete that we may never know what happened to the money.

This all comes as no surprise to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which smelled a rat associated with the RIK program years ago and, since 1995, has published five reports on it. The latest, Drilling the Taxpayer: Department of Interior’s Royality-in-Kind Program, is the first to call for the abolition of the program altogether.

[I]n light of the proposed plan to expand the program yet again, and given the numerous damning reports about the RIK program and MMS’s inability to prove that it is beneficial to the taxpayers—even ten years after its first pilot program—enough is enough. The RIK program should be terminated, and the system should revert to collecting royalties through the royalty-in-value system.
Enron et al., tax cuts for the rich, Cheney’s secretive Energy Task Force, CEOs’ platinum parachutes, a collapsing financial system, and outright scandals such as the above: They all seem to point to a single-minded attempt to remove transparency and accountability from the American business sector, to the detriment of the people, the exhaustion of the people’s coffers, and the enrichment of a tiny few.

How many other such revelations, still obscured within the shadows of the most secretive administration in history, await the light of a new day and a new administration?
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1 Sex, Drug Use and Graft Cited in Interior Department, by Charlie Savage, from the New York Times, September 10, 2008 (Accessed September 28, 2008)
tags: Politics

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Oct 02, 2008
We are writing this on the evening of Wednesday, October 1, 2008. U. S. senators are gathering to approve the Bush/Paulsen bailout plan to save the economy. The bill has been packed with extraneous provisions to induce the senators to vote for it, like enticing a child into an abyss with a bauble. The plan itself calls for turning over $700 billion of public money to an individual over whom there will be scant supervision, difficult if not impossible to impose. No one has defined exactly what the problem is or whether the plan is likely to solve it.

It comes on the heels of a half dozen extraordinary measures taken by the executive branch, which together have failed to forestall this massive federal intervention into, and disruption of, our economy. The measures have included the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie Mac, IndyBank, and AIG; the brokered sales of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual to J.P. Morgan/Chase, Merrill Lynch to Bank of America, and Wachovia to Citigroup; and passive witness to the death of Lehman Brothers. Through it all, not a single criminal accusation, let alone a charge, has been leveled at the masters of the universe who created this mess.

There has been no debate on the nature or correctness of the plan, and no alternative method has been posed for alleviating the alleged stress on the credit markets. Mere dickering over details of the one idea on the table has failed to secure real oversight, adequate guarantees of public ownership of the entities which will be bailed out, or any relief for the struggling homeowners who were conned into mortgages they could not afford by the flim-flam boys posing as bankers and who are now in charge of the “recovery.”

Two days ago the House rejected the plan 228 to 205. The stock market dipped 778 points, then gained well over half of that back the next day. Today it was down twenty points. No foundations trembled.

The New York Times is in favor of the plan, as is their respected op-ed economic columnist Paul Krugman, both major party presidential candidates Obama and McCain, and apparently every pundit, policy wonk, and economist in the land. The people, however, are opposed, with their phone calls to legislators running 100 to one against its passage.1

Should this plan be passed by a Congress with a 15 percent approval rating,2 half that of the most unpopular president in history,3 in the sixth year of an endless war; our good name in tatters; the middle class losing ground while the richest live like emperors;4 prisons bursting with our young men;5 our elderly torn between buying their medicine and heating their homes;6 our youth directionless and stupid from years of repression, neglect, and disdain; our planet in a maelstrom of climatic change and degradation; should this plan be passed, starving our government of another trillion dollars and consigning our fate into the hands of foreign nations assuming this debt, then the papers, and the pundits, and the politicos take warning:

The voice of the people is the voice of god.

And it will have the final say.
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1 Bailout Defeated, Blame Flies, Wall Street Tanks, by Karen Tumulty, from Time Magazine, September 29, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
2 Congressional Performance, from Rasmussen Report, August 27, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
3 Bush’s Approval Rating Drops to New Low, by Jeffrey M. Jones, from USA Today/Gallup Poll September 26-27, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
4 Income Gap is Widening, Data Shows, by David Cay Johnston, from the New York Times, March 29, 2007 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
5 New High in U.S. Prison Number, by N.C. Aizenman, from the Washington Post, February 29, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
6 Winter heat crisis looms, little relief seen, by Ben Rooney, from CNNMoney.com, September 2, 2008 (Accessed October 1, 2008)
tags: Politics

Let Us Now Praise ... Ralph Nader

Sep 30, 2008
All Together Now bestows our Golden A on individuals who have devoted their professional lives to bringing about a world we believe in: a world of compassion and hope and cooperation; of liberty and justice; without bullies or unearned privilege or despair; where no one is allowed to go hungry or uneducated or to brutalize their fellows, physically or economically. Our awardees have foregone physical comforts in pursuit of their beliefs and of our common interests.

No one better epitomizes these qualities than Ralph Nader. With his early success with Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that revealed fatal design flaws in the automobile industry, and the $425,000 he won from General Motors in a subsequent invasion-of-privacy suit, Nader established the first of over 100 nonprofit organizations devoted to fighting for the public interest of all citizens. His work was instrumental in establishing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, among others.

In his three major campaigns for the presidency, he has spoken in the voice of the American middle class against a plutocratic corporate/governmental complex that has hijacked our country; stifled our economic growth; engaged us in endless war; and enriched itself beyond the dreams of European aristocracy or Asian potentates. American moral leadership is in tatters and our economic leadership has vanished in the pincer of emerging capitalist giants abroad and gross financial mismanagement at home.

For his lifelong devotion to the bedrock principles of democracy, that all citizens are created equal and that government is the servant of the people; for his tireless and eloquent struggle against corporate hegemony; for the inspiration that has brought generations of young people to his side to fight entrenched one-party rule in Washington; and for the solid legislative successes which have held the line on an even more oppressive and exploitative ruling class, we award Ralph Nader our fourth “Golden A” for Achievement.
tags: Politics

It Can Happen Here; It Is Happening Here

Sep 29, 2008
A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. —James Madison, 1822

Without transparency in government, there is no accountability. This administration has specialized in secrecy, opacity, and non-accountability. Utilizing 9/11 in a cynical power grab, it rushed Congress and the American people into the Patriot Act—dismantling basic Constitutional freedoms—and a unilateral war against a non-aggressor. As this item is being written (September 26), it is going for the hat trick, using the burst housing bubble, which it engineered, to take secret control of our economy, with no transparency and no legal or congressional oversight.

The Paulsen plan, if enacted in its essence with only minor amendments, will destroy the underpinnings of our country’s economy. When government is in bed with industry, the former supported by the profits of the latter, and the latter protected against losses by the former, when risk is removed from the capitalist equation by the governing body, the political system can no longer be called a democracy and the economic system can no longer be called capitalism. What they amount to then is plainly and simply fascism.

The Century Foundation—too late, perhaps?—has just released a report entitled Reinventing Transparent Government, written by Patrick Radden Keefe. It details the extraordinary lengths to which the Bush administration has gone in blanketing our government in secrecy, and makes five recommendations for beginning the task of returning transparency, and thus accountability, to our government:

  • Create a national declassification center and database
  • Establish transparency and oversight in government budgets and contracts
  • Clarify a uniform set of definitions for sensitive but unclassified information
  • Reinvigorate the Freedom of Information Act
  • Rein in the use of the State Secrets Doctrine
They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.
—Benjamin Franklin.

This, of course, is exactly what we have done, in buckling under to the Patriot Act and its extension, in tolerating a war of aggression against an “enemy” who has been sold to us as boldly and baldly as we are sold deodorant, and, now perhaps, in handing over our economic vitality to an administration which has stripped our government of all accountability in the name of national security.

We will have no one to blame but ourselves when the jackboots and the brownshirts bring Crystalnacht to the American heartland.
tags: Politics

Voters in the Hands of an Angry God

Sep 27, 2008
Tomorrow, pastors in 20 states will give politically based sermons in protest of the IRS’s rule disallowing 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in political activities. Should any of the churches then have their 501(c)(3) status withdrawn by the IRS, the organizers of the protest, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), is expected to bring suit challenging the constitutionality of the penalties.

The ADF, like most such outfits, is a tireless defender of a small selection of freedoms, including the freedom to require the American taxpayer to underwrite political proselytizing on behalf of radical religious groups.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides us with a a cogent analysis of ADF’s plans. Pastors to Protest IRS Rules on Political Advocacy features an excellent interview with Robert W. Tuttle, law professor at George Washington University Law School who holds a slew of degrees in law and religion. Professor Tuttle weighs the pros and cons of the possible law suit, concluding that it probably would not be successful.

Given the current constitution of the Court, however, one cannot be too sure.


Update: More than two dozen pastors challenged the IRA on September 28, some of them endorsing a candidate. The next day, Americans United For Separation of Church and State filed complaints with the IRS regarding six of the sermons.1
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1 Americans Wary of Church Involvement in Partisan Politics, from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, October 1, 2008 (Accessed October 5, 2008)
tags: Politics

Capitalism and the Future of Democracy

Sep 25, 2008
Capitalism is either the servant or the master of the people. When it is the master, as it has been throughout its existence in China, and as it has been, once again, throughout the last thirty years in the United States, the results are disastrous. We will take up China, with its rampant pollution; its countryside in chaotic, open revolt; its scrambling and scattershot repression; its suborning of global industry, at a later date. Home is where our heart is.

A government of the people, by the people, and for the people devotes its institutions—social, economic, and political—to the general welfare and improvement of its citizenry—that is its purpose and its reason for being. Its institutions exist to ensure that all the people have adequate housing, nutrition, sanitation, education, mobility, economic opportunities, and protection from economic and physical threats from within and without. If they exist for any other reason—say, to enrich a small plutocracy at the expense of the people, their environment, and the future of the planet—then it is not a government of, by, and for the people nor, to the extent the plutocracy has a stranglehold on that government’s institutions, can it be said to be a democracy.

In 2008, five weeks and five days before a national election, our democracy is on the brink of dissolution. The plutocracy that has dominated our government since 1980 has brought us perpetual war,1 global economic collapse,2 a ten trillion dollar deficit with more trillions to come,3 and a suspended Constitution. The Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 has done nothing to stem the tide of these developments. Nor does either major presidential candidate question the fundamental misdirection of our nation or acknowledge its expropriation by an international corporate plutocracy.

The only candidate who does—Ralph Nader—will not be elected. And so, during the next administration, we will enter a fourth decade of corporate hegemony over American democratic institutions. Whether this will bring about worldwide depression, devastating global conflicts, or the final deterioration of the American moral example, no one can say. However, it will surely not result in the pursuit or realization of those goals noted above, the only goals to which a democratic government can, or should, aspire.
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1 Perpetual War, from Wikipedia (“Perpetual war is a war with no clear ending conditions. It also describes a situation of ongoing tension that seems likely to escalate at any moment, similar to the Cold War.”) (Accessed September 21, 2008)
2 Can American Afford It?, by Robert Gavin, from the Boston Globe, September 21, 2008 (“The crisis, which began in the nation’s housing bust and spread into credit and stock markets, is pushing the global financial system to the brink of collapse....”) (Accessed September 21, 2008)
3 The U.S. National Debt Clock (Accessed September 21, 2008)
tags: Politics

The IQ Wars, or, My Guy’s Dumber Than Your Guy

Sep 23, 2008
Scott Simon interviewed a Republican woman on NPR this morning (September 20, 2008) who sheepishly and apologetically admitted she thought Obama was, well, just plain more intelligent than Sarah Palin.

Intelligence is something you have to apologize for in American politics. It’s something you have to hide. Stevenson (in '52 and '56), McGovern, Carter (in '80), Gore, and Kerry—just to mention losing presidential candidates in our time—were all arguably more intelligent—some way more intelligent—than their opponents. Goldwater, Humphrey, Mondale, and Dukakis probably were as well.

To be intelligent in American politics is to be branded an elitist—and that shows how the New Republican Order has gotten the whammy on our collective common sense. Palin is not an asset to the ticket because she brings intelligence to the team. She is an asset because she is of decidedly average brain power, and therefore identifiable to the masses who have been trained—incredibly—to reject intelligence in a leader.

The top of the ticket is worse. That a man who, in the midst of the worst economic catastrophe in eighty years, has confessed to a weak head for economics; a man who, unquestioningly supportive of the most expensive military debacle in our nation’s history, does not know the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim and thinks Iraq borders Pakistan; a man who doesn’t know Somalia from Sudan or the fact that Czechoslovakia no longer exists; that such a man—additionally well past retirement age, choleric, cancerous, and traumatized—can nevertheless be neck-and-neck with a man whose most outstanding asset is his intelligence demonstrates the extent to which intelligence is a detriment in the American political arena.

Should we be surprised, however, at the tail end of the second administration of a man who cannot put a coherent unscripted sentence together to save his life?

Indeed, Ralph Nader, the candidate who is both most intelligent and most experienced in the race, who has spent his life wrestling in the mud of federal politics and done more to ensure that government live up to its responsibilities than all the other candidates combined, is effectively a non-candidate, ignored by the mainstream media and so feared by the Democratic and Republican contingents that they refuse to debate him.

The Kennedy administration, employing “the best and the brightest,” nevertheless got us into the tangle of Vietnam. Is it any wonder the current crop of less-than-middling intellects have gotten us into far worse pickles, at home and abroad.
tags: Politics

Obama Among the Ruins

Sep 22, 2008
At the tail end of a very bad couple of weeks for the American citizen, when we assumed the bad debts of Fannie and Freddie without a ripple of protest from the Democrats controlling Congress, and with the explicit approval of Barack Obama1; and when we then assumed the bad debts of AIG with the implicit approval of Obama,2 the time has come to revisit our attitude toward him.

On Wednesday, September 17, 2008, Democracy Now featured an interview with economists Nomi Prins and Michael Hudson. Their views are summarized in anchor Amy Goodman’s column on Truthdig.com, entitled Wall Street Socialists. Prins contends the government has taken on “the risk of items it cannot begin to understand.” She identifies the true culprit in the sudden collapse of all these investment banks and other agglomerated financial institutions—Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, IndyMac— as the enormous amount of debt they took on to invest in instruments that have now gone bad owing to the subprime mortgage crisis. That debt sometimes reached 25 to 30 times the amount of capital put up for the purchases. This is all too reminiscent of the margin calls in 1929 that precipitated the collapse of Wall Street and worldwide finance which only recovered ten years later with the advent of the most destructive war in human history.

Protections were put in place back then to disallow the practices that caused the Depression, one of the main ones being the Glass-Steagall Act. That act, along with several other regulatory measures, was repealed after 20 years of vigorous opposition by far right laissez-faire capitalists. Repealed by Republicans? No, by President Clinton.3

So here we are, citizens without a viable champion to vigorously protect our pensions, our homes (four million of which are expected to be lost this year), our investments; indeed, our government and our candidates have rushed to protect everyone except its ordinary citizens. Where this will lead, whether to a ten-year depression, to a bankrupt FDIC, to war—who can say? But the failures are not over, a fact that everyone seems to agree on, and the national debt stands today on the brink of $10 trillion dollars with several trillions more to come imminently from these bailouts, not to mention two continuing and losing wars financed entirely on borrowed money.

On June 26, we noted that we could not vote for a warmonger.4 We also cannot vote for a man who essentially supports a status quo where narrow corporate interests and a small circle of billionaires at odds with the general welfare control the direction of our nation. If today were November 4, with despair in our heart, we would pull the lever for Ralph Nader.

But it is not November 4. There are still six weeks to go.
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1 Obama says intervention of U.S. housing lenders necessary, from Reuters News Service, September 7, 2008 (Accessed September 18, 2008)
2 AIG bailout prompts more criticism from McCain, Obama, by Mike Sunnucks, from the Phoenix Business Journal, September 17, 2008 (Accessed September 18, 2008)
3 The Long Demise of Glass-Steagall, from PBS.org’s Frontline, undated (Accessed September 18, 2008)
4 Obama v. Nader, Part 1, from All Together Now, June 26, 2008
tags: Politics

Stand Up and Be Counted!

Sep 21, 2008
Balloting is getting as unpredictable as the weather.

Since 2000, voting problems have been popping up all over the place. Electronic voting machines regularly malfunction.1 Poor ballot designs cause confusion, especially for the elderly, low income, and new voters.2 Hanging chads and other physical ballot deficiencies generate uncertainty and potential abuse.3 Voter identification laws and procedures have been enacted since 2000 that severely impact the ability of low income and new voters to exercise their right to vote.4 One of the most egregious examples of this comes from the chair of the Macomb County, Michigan, Republican Party, who has said, “We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.”5 This despite the fact that many people live legally for many months in foreclosed homes, and many ultimately reverse their foreclosures by catching up on their payments.

Common Cause and The Century Foundation have gotten together to examine controversies likely to arise after the voting on November 4. Voting in 2008: Ten Swing States, by Tova Wang, Samuel Oliker-Friedland, Melissa Reiss, and Kristen Oshyn, looks closely at the seven battleground states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; and at three others “whose new status as possible swing states—and potential for election administration difficulties— have made them newly relevant to our survey.” Those three are Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia.

The report, which is must reading if you live in one of the swing states, examines issues around which potential abuses may occur. They include voter registration and identification; caging and challenges; deceptive electioneering practices; provisional ballots; voting machine allocation; poll worker recruitment and training; voter education; and student voting rights.

Does anyone recall all this brouhaha over disenfranchisement when Ike was running? Or Nixon? Or Reagan? No, this all started in 2000, with the hanging chads and the disappeared voters in Florida6 and the presidential election finally decided by only 9 voters in a 5-4 split.

And we’ve been hearing nothing since, in 2002, 2004, 2006, and now in 2008, but faulty voting machines, and systematic attempts at disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voters.

As Kucinich enjoined us so forcefully at the Democratic Convention,7 “Wake Up, America!”
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1 Can You Count on Voting Machines?, by Clive Thompson, from the New York Times, January 6, 2008 (Accessed September 16, 2008)
2 Better Ballots, by Lawrence Norden, David Kimball, Whitney Quesenbery, and Margaret Chen, from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, 2008 (.pdf). Check out the real-life examples of bad ballot design. You won’t believe some of them.
3 Election Day in Florida May Look Familiar, by Damien Cave, from the New York Times, April 28, 2008 (Accessed September 16, 2008)
4 Restrictive Voter Identification Requirements, from ProjectVote.org, March 23, 2007 (Accessed September 16, 2008)
5 Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote, by Eartha Jane Melzer, in the Michigan Messenger, September 10, 2008 (Accessed September 17, 2008)
6 Florida’s ‘Disappeared Voters’: Disenfranchised by the GOP, by Gregory Palast, from The Nation, January 18, 2001 (Accessed September 17, 2008)
7 Dennis Kucinich Video at the Democratic Convention, 2008 (Accessed September 17, 2008)
tags: Politics

You Can Look It Up

Sep 19, 2008
Obama wants kids to learn about sex before they can read; Alaska produces 20 percent of U.S. energy; and McCain doesn't know a Sunni from a Shia.

Actually, that last one is true. The other statements, however, are not. And if you are not sure about any of them, you can look it up on one of our favorite web sites, the eminently bookmarkable FactCheck.org. A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, FactCheck.org “monitor[s] the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.”

FactCheck.org is where all that spin (and worse) goes to die. A recent check of the home page revealed 12 entries regarding the Big Race. Nine of the 12 were critical of McCain campaign distortions (or outright lies) regarding the Obama campaign; two were critical of the Obama campaign.

The twelfth, interestingly enough, was called “Sliming Palin,” and corrected misstatements regarding the Divine Sarah which had popped up on the Internet. The corrections were even headed “False Internet claims and rumors fly about McCain’s running mate”; Obama’s name is not mentioned. Nevertheless, the McCain campaign produced an ad quoting FactCheck.org and ascribing those Internet misstatements to the Obama campaign. FactCheck, predictably, called them on it.

The truth can be viciously suppressed, as it is in China and most of the rest of the world. It can be bought off, as the military-industrial complex has bought off mainstream American media.1 Or it can be distorted, spun, or simply ignored altogether, as it is in political campaigns in the Age of Rove. The existence of a FactCheck.org then becomes crucial to those members of the populace who care about the truth, and understand that to the extent we are deprived of it, to that extent are we deprived of our liberty.
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1 The Media Are the Message, from All Together Now, September 6, 2008
tags: Politics

The Social Animal

Sep 16, 2008
The Times’s op-ed columnist David Brooks is an odd duck. We find many of his right-leaning columns consist of the same twaddle we get from Fox News and other bought-and-paid-for toadies of the neoconservative lunatic fringe. On McCain: “The main axis of McCain’s worldview is not left-right. It’s public service versus narrow self-interest.”1 Anyone who thinks John McCain has a coherent political philosophy of any kind or is anything but a wrathful time bomb awaiting the chance to get his hand on the button hasn’t been paying much attention for the past two years. And anyone who could characterize Sarah Palin as a “marvelous person” and “a dazzling political performer” when what she is is a very frightening believer in the End Times,2 should have his head examined along with hers.

Nevertheless, every now and then, Brooks comes along with thoughtful, much-needed, and unique commentary on issues that may matter even more than the 2008 election. An example would be his piece on “Harmony and the Dream”3 regarding the advantages of a collectivist society (China) as opposed to an individualistic one (U.S.), though it went a bit far in its praise of the former (characterizing the marching band in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics as “a high-tech vision of the harmonious society,” for instance—just ask the followers of Falun Gong how harmonious Chinese society is today).

Brooks is, I suspect, a closet ATN’er, in sympathy with the basic premise of this web site, that we’re all in this together, and together we will either stand or fall. His latest piece, which shares the title of this entry,4 debunks the individualistic mentality of the far right, most risibly realized in the heroes of Ayn Rand novels, concluding, “this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong.” Republicans cling to this mentality, however, and Brooks warns them they must find their way back to an understanding of community, institutions, and the social fabric if they are to preserve their relevance to a public suffering from enforced go-it-aloneness. He fails to mention the fact that Republican policies over the past 30 years have created this alienation from our fellows and our society. Indeed, alienation of the populace has been the cornerstone of everything they have done.

Which is why they must—and eventually will—be defeated.
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1What the Palin Pick Says, by David Brooks, from the New York Times, September 1, 2008 (free registration required) (Accessed September 12, 2008)
2End Time, from Wikipedia (Accessed September 12, 2008)
3Harmony and the Dream, by David Brooks, from the New York Times, August 11, 2008 (free registration required) (Accessed September 12, 2008)
4The Social Animal, by David Brooks, from the New York Times, September 11, 2008 (free registration required) (Accessed September 12, 2008)
tags: Politics

Playing the God Card

Sep 12, 2008
For every Stoic was a Stoic, but in Christendom where is the Christian?”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We hear a powerful lot about God and Jesus during political campaigns. As in wars, both sides claim divine fealty to their cause. The deity is dragged to the podium every four years, decked out in elephant red or donkey blue, and his imagined positions regurgitated in evidence of their support of a political stance.

A majority of Americans now believe religion should be kept out of politics,2 according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Republicans showed the greatest change of heart between August 2004 and August 2008, with 14 percent more of them contending that religion (i.e., churches) should keep out of politics (37 percent rose to 51 percent).

Probably a good thing, too. Emerson’s question is a valid one. Jesus’ central teaching was “love your neighbor as yourself,” and he wasn’t talking about the neigbor from whom you borrow a cup of sugar, but the one who poisons your dog. Were he to return today and preach such twaddle, he would either be ignored as an irrelevancy or, should he actually inspire a following of any magnitude, extraordinarily rendered to some black site in an undesignated foreign land and tortured to death again.

Because for all their sanctimoniousness, today’s so-called Christians aren’t. When a rich man asked Jesus how he could get into heaven, Jesus replied with a single, simple formula: Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me. This is the essence of Christianity and this is the essence of achieving peace on earth. This central New Testament injunction was recalled to our notice by an excellent 2005 opinion piece by Bill McKibben2 in Harper’s Magazine.

Let survival stand in for heaven. Jesus was telling the rich man that his survival was dependent upon his attitude toward his fellow man. And that attitude needed to be one of love and concern, not of hate, distrust, or exploitation. It is a radical notion, perhaps the most radical proposed throughout history.

While All Together Now does not subscribe to the economic extremism in Jesus’ teaching, we do subscribe to the goal of survival, and believe it to be inextricably entwined with liberty, equity, and justice for all. The mature economies and advanced technologies of the 21st century must be devoted to winning those basics for all of humanity. They can do so by ensuring that everyone has access to fresh water, adequate nutrition, educational opportunities up to and including the Ph.D. level, and basic democratic rights.

Today, people who are diametrically opposed to this position have nonetheless expropriated its chief proponent as their own, as Emerson knew, when he asked that impertinent question.

If anything, it is more pertinent today than it was 200 years ago.
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1More Americans Question Religion’s Role in Politics
2The Christian paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong, from Harper’s Magazine, August 2005 (Accessed September 7, 2008)
tags: Politics

The Race Is On!

Sep 10, 2008
The conventions are over, the $200 or $300 million that they cost the mainly corporate underwriters has been redistributed among the bunting manufacturers and microbrewers, and we’re off and running.

Expect close to a billion dollars to be spent in the next eight weeks in order to elect a man—whether Democrat or Republican—who has not pledged to get us out of Iraq; who has no plan to implement definitive universal health care; who has not promised to end a national practice of kidnapping, torture, and domestic spying; and who has not even hinted at supporting an end to corporate dominance of our body politic.

Who in their right mind could vote for either of them?

Still, we expect a couple of hundred million of us will do just that come November 4, and to help us anticipate the day, an outfit called Polltrack has set up a web site to help us watch the big race and all the little ones, as the candidates head into the first turn, down the backstretch, and home to the final (photo?) finish.

Their three Presidential Race Maps show the ongoing race from three perspectives. “Today’s Map Today” shows the state of the race today, according to Polltrack’s aggregation of poll results and other input. As of September 6, this map has Obama at 255 electoral votes and McCain at 224, with 50 too close to call and 270 needed to win.

“Tomorrow’s Map Today” “charts the momentum of the race in the coming days or weeks.” We’re not too sure what that means or how to take the current numbers (Obama 255; McCain 252). “Election Day Map Today” forecasts the outcome of the race, where the folks at Polltrack might stick their neck out furthest with an actual call for a winner. However, as of September 6, that map backs way off, presenting the numbers as Obama 153, McCain 157, and No Call 238. However, as time moves on, it may prove both addictive as well as vaguely disquieting to follow Polltrack’s maps.

Polltrack also provides a slew of current statistics in its Tracking the Nation section, and maps are also promised soon for both the Senate and House Races.
tags: Politics

Farewell, Fannie & Freddie!

Sep 09, 2008
We read in the NYTimes this morning1 that the federal government is taking over management of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, replacing the boards and officers with federal functionaries. Their rationale: “Publicly, administration officials have tried to bolster the companies because the nation’s mortgage system relies on their continued ability to purchase mortgages from commercial lenders and pull the housing markets out of their slump.”

The FM/2 failures stand to cost billions of taxpayer dollars in the near future. The home mortgage mess, combined with the Iraq mess, will add trillions more to our already $9.67 trillion national debt.2 Foreclosures are up, ruining the savings and the lives of millions of Americans. And since 2003, the CEO of Freddie Mac has walked away with $38 million in compensation.

Can someone tell us why this should be? Can someone tell us why those “commercial lenders” should be allowed to make loans they have reason to believe are bad ones—indeed, to actively pursue insolvent borrowers and hornswoggle them into signing up for adjustable rate mortgages that only look good until the first adjustment puts them out on the streets—then be able to resell them to a government-guaranteed corporation where, when they go belly up, as millions have, the taxpayer picks up the loss? And expropriate—you certainly cannot characterize it as earning—millions in “compensation” while they’re doing it?

We will tell us why. Because we let them. Because we were so busy shopping and following the vicissitudes of Paris Hilton and watching television and working two jobs that we failed to notice, a few years back, that the henhouse had been turned over to the foxes. And now the henhouse is decimated,3 middle-class income has deteriorated,4 the foxes are fattening up on easy pickings,5 and we are looking around for a third job.

What will it take to wake us up, and may it not, by then, be too late?
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1U.S. Rescue Seen at Hand for 2 Mortgage Giants, from the New York Times, September 6, 2008 (free registration may be required) (Accessed September 6, 2008)
2U.S. National Debt Clock, from information obtained from the U.S. Department of Treasury (Accessed September 6, 2008)
3Foreclosures in Connecticut, Nation at Record Rate, from the Hartford Courant, September 6, 2008 (Accessed September 6, 2008)
4Earning Less and Dying Younger: How the Growing Strain on America’s Middle Class Is Pummeling Our Health, from Alternet.org, September 4, 2008 (Accessed September 6, 2008)
5Exxon Shatters Record Profits, from CNNMoney.com, February 1, 2008 (Accessed September 6, 2008)
tags: Politics

The Media Are the Message

Sep 06, 2008
Is the Mainstream Media (MSM) finished? Has consolidation and the bean counters taken us past the point of no return?

  • Item: Before that staunch Democrat Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, conservative Clear Channel owned the maximum number of radio stations allowed: 40. Afterwards, at their peak, they owned nearly 1,200.1
  • Item: Twenty-five years ago, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of the MSM (newspapers, radio, and television). In 2004, that number was down to five.2
  • Item: The number of foreign correspondents, during a period when we desperately needed to know more about the world, dropped from 188 in 2002 to 141 in 2006. Major newspapers such as the Boston Globe and Baltimore Sun have closed all their foreign bureaus.3
  • Item: The administration, as part of what we have termed its Exit Strategy, has proposed cuts to funding for public broadcasting—the most trusted institution among the MSM—4that would slash 56 percent of their annual budget.5
Common Cause, in their recent report,6 identified significant problems with MSM today, including:
  • Consolidation
  • Failure to serve local interests
  • The assault on public broadcasting support
  • Attacks on Net Neutrality
  • An FCC deaf to the voice of the public
  • Flawed transition to digital television
Though on page 2 the reports asserts, “The media cannot play its role effectively unless it is independent from government influence,” we have to wonder whether the opposite is not more the case today. Whether or not the media has undue influence over the government or not, it will require government influence to fix the problems with media.

Newspapers may be purely private endeavors; the airwaves, however, are public, and those who utilize them are required by law to serve the public interest, and not merely the interests of their masters. As the report reminds us, “We have the obligation and authority to regulate the media to encourage it to perform its constitutionally intended role, and we have limits on overregulation that would stifle the role of the media. The trick is to find the right balance. The balance is out of kilter and it is time to assert responsible regulation so that the media can more effectively serve our democracy.” (pp. 2-3)

The report suggests solutions to each of the problems it identifies, and it is at least worth downloading for future reference and for the record it provides of the campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of 24 major MSM players.

In our view, the MSM is probably beyond redeeming as a public service (where is Ralph Nader, for instance, who is polling 6-8 percent in some places despite a 100 percent MSM blackout?). We need rather to turn our attention to preserving Net Neutrality, already suffering from corporate incursions that threaten the nature and value of this brave new medium. Once Internet service providers (ISPs) obtain the right to charge sites for moving into the fast lane, the Net is dead. That day is at hand, and a McCain presidency will see it implemented.

ISP mega-giants Comcast and Verizon know this very well, and since 2005 it’s been worth a cumulative $75 million to them in campaign contributions and lobbying to make that point to our elected public servants.
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1False Premises, False Promises, by Peter DiCola, Research Director, Future of Music Coalition, December 2006 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
2Media Reform Information Center (Accessed July 26, 2008)
3US media can’t cover the news if they don’t cover the world, by John Hughes, The Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2007 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
4National Roper Poll Ranks PBS #1 in Public Trust for the Fourth Consecutive Year, PBS Press Release, March 22, 2007 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
5Administration’s budget proposal includes unprecedented cuts for public broadcasting,from Tell Them Public Matters.org, undated (Accessed September 1, 2008)
6Media and Democracy in America Today: A Reform Plan for a New Administration (.pdf) (Accessed September 1, 2008)
tags: Politics

The Problem with Pork

Sep 05, 2008
The truth is messy, and things are usually more complicated than they seem.

This brilliant conclusion arose through a perusal of the 2007 Senate1 and House2 Scorecards put out by the Council for Citizens Against Governmental Waste (CCAGW). Pork is CCAGW’s bête noir, particularly as it takes form in Congressional earmarks, those add-ins to major legislation that send federal dollars to legislators’ pet projects back home. The poster child for recent earmarks is Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere, a $223 million earmark obtained by Senator Ted Stevens, currently under indictment for some low-level bad-boy behavior.3

The Scorecards examine votes relating to earmarks and are graded in one of two ways: The Taxpayers Won or The Taxpayers Lost. The taxpayers lost 32 of 35 such votes in the Senate and 96 of 100 votes in the House. Those results alone should go some way toward justifying our identification of the CCAGW as a community of soreheads.

A closer look at a few specific votes provides grist for additional conclusions regarding the CCAGW, such as their elitist proclivities.

Senate vote #11 to repeal the estate tax was defeated and the taxpayers were said to have lost. Well, of course, some taxpayers did lose—the richest one percent or so—but the rest of us won a reprieve from the additional taxation we would have had to shoulder to make up the shortfall from killing a tax that helps preserve an economic balance throughout America that was dear to the hearts of the founders. Louis Brandeis echoed their opinion when he said, “We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”

Most of the 100 cited House votes were either to remove funds from projects which had already been voted for or to cut various appropriations across the board by half to one percent. The lion’s share of such measures was overwhelmingly defeated, and one wonders just how much time the House spends attempting to undo its own accomplishments.

Given the extent to which organizations like CCAGW favor privatization of federal job functions, it is curious to see them characterize two failed initiatives to restrict privatization (House votes 28 and 77) as losses for the taxpayer.

Of the 435 members of the House, 40 voted CCAGW’s way 90 percent or more of the time in 2007; 212 voted CCAGW’s way 0 to 10 percent of the time. One wonders what would induce the four representatives who voted CCAGW’s way 100 percent of the time (Flake, R-AZ; Latta, R-OH; Hensarling, R-TX; and Sensenbrenner, R-WI) to vote for a federal expenditure of any kind—perhaps an amendment to reduce their salaries?

The Senate numbers were even more lopsided: 5 voted in the top 90 percent; 48 in the bottom 10 percent. Only one senator was rated voting CCAGW’s way 100 percent of the time, a fellow named McCain from Arizona.

Earmarks are a complicated issue. No doubt a few of them are outright “pork” others, however, fund worthy local projects in representatives’ districts which do not merit separate legislation and do not fit conveniently into other appropriations bills. No one wants to waste taxpayer dollars, probably not even our legislators. However, the waste of a three-trillion-dollar mistake in Iraq dwarfs the cumulative effect of a hundred years’ worth of earmarks. And to agonize over the latter provides little more than a smokescreen to deflect our concentration on the former.
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12007 Senate Scorecard (.pdf)
22007 House Scorecard (.pdf)
3Alaska senator, under indictment, wins primary. From the International Herald Tribune, August 27, 2008 (Accessed August 31, 2008)
tags: Politics

Donkey Days

Sep 02, 2008
The Democratic convention is over: A few observations:

  • The speeches are still available at the Democratic Convention site linked below. They require the installation of a couple of browser plug-ins, but the procedure is quick and painless.

  • Two years ago, who would not have bet the farm that they wouldn’t live to see a black man or a woman of any shade accept the nomination for president from a major American political party. Beyond a doubt, we witnessed history last Thursday night, and Republicans and Democrats alike should have been thrilled.

  • We recommend the speeches of Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry, both of whom came across as sincere and impassioned, which is more than we can say for the other professional politicians we listened to. There remain huge undercurrents of racism, of Clintonian resentment, and—we hope—of corporate uneasiness surrounding Obama’s nomination. He will need to struggle as mightily to overcome these forces within his own party as he will to overcome the petty, scurrilous, and beside-the-point (but enormously successful) tactics of the Republican opposition if he is to take that final giant step to the White House.

  • Jimmy Carter’s presence at the convention was, at the last minute, reduced from a speech to a three-minute video, probably because of his stand on the Israeli-Palestine issue. The American people, and the world, are finished with one-sided, unquestioning support of Israel in their struggle to solidify and expand their presence on lands to which others have a justifiable claim. That the Obama campaign continues the tradition of thralldom to the Israeli lobby, to the extent that it can disrespect a former president from its own party, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and one of the world’s most ardent and effective supporters of peace and brotherhood, does not bode well for its chances with a significant minority of voters for whom these issues are paramount.

  • Michelle Obama, her non-professional enthusiasm and her palpable sincerity, may just become Obama’s most important secret weapon in this race.

  • Ralph Nader gave, as usual, the most pertinent speech of the week, at his rally on Wedneday evening. View the video on his home page. Though some may accuse Nader of being a “Johnny-One-Note,” the note he harps on—that an unholy alliance of neocons and multi-national corporations have hijacked the American political process and American government, and are destroying fundamental American values—is supported by the facts, which we try to bring you on All Together Now. Obama has made no statement I know of to acknowledge this fundamental challenge to our democracy. On the contrary, he has surrounded himself with advisors who have been instrumental in enabling this situation, from Jason Furman to Robert Rubin, and others. This stands beside his shameful about-face on telecomm immunity and his quite arguably misplaced reliance on military power to turn the Afghanistan debacle around, stances which must be amended in some manner before he can be assured of the votes of some of his earliest supporters.

  • Eugene V. Debs: “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”

tags: Politics

Official Democratic Convention Site (w/Videos)

Exit Strategy

Aug 27, 2008
In the waning months of the Bush 2 debacle, watch for any number of very quiet efforts on the part of the departing (we hope!) neocons and robber barons to strip the government of its protective prerogatives. We will highlight them here as they come to our attention.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has blown the whistle on a recent effort to gut protections for America’s imperiled wildlife. Says NWF’s Executive Director John Kostyack, “I have been working on the Endangered Species Act for 15 years and have never seen such a sneaky attack ... Do not be fooled when the Administration claims it is merely tweaking the law. The cumulative impact of these changes equals a full blown attack on America’s premier conservation law.”

Among the changes proposed:

  • Eliminate informal consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which are required if a proposed act by an agency will have any effect whatsoever on an endangered species. By allowing the agency to make that determination unilaterally, the amendment effectively puts the fox in charge of the hen house.
  • Reduce the number of formal consultations by granting the same unilateral determination to agencies.
  • Impose an unreasonably short deadline on the consultation period.
In essence, these changes signal the death of the Endangered Species Act and are yet another signal to big business that our nation, our wildlife, and our world are fair game for despoliation in their breakneck pursuit of the unholy buck (no pun intended).
tags: Politics

Read the News Release and Download the Analysis

No Laughing Matter

Aug 26, 2008
We can’t simply be appalled at what the White House has wrought over the past disastrous eight years. We have to try to laugh at it from time to time.

At least, that’s how the Union of Concerned Scientists sees it. They hosted the 2008 Science Idol Contest for cartoons satirizing the farce the White House would make of science in this country (where 79 percent of the population believe in angels1). See, for instance, Take a Deep Breath and Stifle Yourself.

You can view the top twelve winners and a couple of runners-up at the link below. My favorites? Numbers 5 and 7 and the first runner-up. However, on the whole, this collection, more than anything else, shows just how hard it is to be funny about anti-intellectuals in power.
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110/28/05 FOX Poll: More Believe in Heaven Than Hell (Accessed August 21, 2008)
tags: Politics

View the Cartoons

Not Another Piece About Health Care!

Aug 25, 2008

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein (attributed)]
Between 1988 and 2006, many states tried doing the same thing over and over again, with each of them consistently coming up with the same disappointing result. They were making the admirable attempt to insure that all of their citizens received adequate medical care when they needed it.

In a paper in a recent issue of the International Journal of Health Services entitled, “State Health Reform Flatlines,” the authors Steffie Woolhandler, Benjamin Day, and David U. Himmelstein relate the remarkably similar tales of seven states that thought they were instituting universal health care. In every case, the number of uninsured increased throughout the life of their plans. The paper was recently featured on the web site of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), an organization of physicians in favor of single-payer national health insurance.

Why the dismal results? The authors conclude that a combination of rising, uncontainable costs, and the flagging determination of legislators doomed the plans to failure. Their final word:
We remain convinced that more radical reforms can simultaneously expand coverage and control costs. A shift from our complex and fragmented payment system to a simple single-payer approach could save about 14.3 percent of total health spending—equivalent to $323 billion in 2007—on reimbursement-driven bureaucracy. Such administrative savings are unattainable with lesser reforms. A nonprofit national health insurance system could also curtail wasteful over-investment in medical technology (e.g., the proliferation of new cardiac care hospitals located near existing ones) and attenuate incentives for unnecessary and even harmful care.
What keeps our presidential candidates from taking the position that a solid majority of Americans and a growing number of physicians now favor?1 What keeps our nation from investigating a system the rest of the civilized world has had in place now, in some instances, for well over a generation? Why are our per capita costs for health care per year twice what other countries are spending? Why are over 47 million Americans still uninsured, with the numbers growing rapidly every year?

We know why, of course. For the same reason the middle class is disappearing, suffering a net loss in income over the Bush 2 years while the richest one percent have become as wealthy as medieval royalty.2 For the same reason we are in Iraq, where billions are being made by the few, while brave, if ignorant, Americans are being slaughtered every day. For the same reason famine has come knocking on the doors of over a billion of our fellow humans.

A great reckoning is at hand. We cannot persist in the same patterns and expect anything other than to continue on the downward path we tread. To expect anything different is, well, insanity.
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1Sentiment shifts as primary season approaches, by The Associated Press, undated story on Yahoo News (Accessed August 20, 2008)
2Middle-Class Life Under Bush: Less Affordable and Less Secure (Accessed August 20, 2008)
tags: Politics

Read the Press Release and Download the Paper

Public-Private Partnerships

Aug 23, 2008
As readers are already aware in the short time All Together Now has been online, we are not a fan of privatization. (See Water, Incorporated and Interstate, Inc.) So we were not happy to run across an outfit called the Reason Foundation and its “Annual Privatization Report 2008.”

However, having plumbed about half its 120-page depth so far, a few observations and a somewhat modified stance are called for:

  • The Office of Management and Budget, an executive branch office, in a May 2008 report, registered frustration at the level of competitive sourcing (read “privatization”) efforts made by the federal government. Most such efforts (73 percent) resulted in awards going to public employees anyway. Popular activities for competitive sourcing include maintenance/property management, information technology, and logistics.
  • A section of the report discusses the state of privatization initiatives taken by states and localities, where such activities are quite spotty in their successes, and involve a number of dramatic failures, particularly in the area of software development.
  • The report also discusses the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), put in place during the Clinton administration and expanded during Bush 2, which rates all annual and long-term programs throughout all federal agencies, scoring them as Effective, Moderately Effective, Adequate, or Ineffective. Although “Congress has been slow to use PART information to make budget allocations,” many marginal programs have been eliminated or had their budgets reduced and effective programs have seen increases. Perhaps if Congress had more of a say in the development and scoring of PART, they might be more inclined to respect and act upon its outcomes.
  • The restaurants in the House of Representatives are run by a private concern, regularly turn a profit, and return commissions to the House to the tune of about a quarter of a million dollars each year. Senate restaurants, whose public employees work for something called the Architect of the Capitol, serve a reportedly dismal menu and are projected to lose $2 million this year alone. Senator Diane Feinstein (D–CA), against heated opposition from members of her own party, managed this year to transfer the Senate restaurant operation to the same private outfit running the service in the House. They are expected to begin making commission payments back to the Senate of $800,000 per year in a few years.
  • Congress is currently cutting back on competitive sourcing activities, the House going so far as to vote a three-year moratorium on new competitions at the Department of Defense (search for H.R. 5658 here). I suspect the apparent use and abuse of private contractors in Iraq has made Congress skittish about privatization in general—possibly an unfortunate overreaction.
Many products and services are appropriately obtained from the private sector, where capital risk, competition, the law of supply and demand, and the profit motive combine to enable considerable savings and a better product, as in the restaurant service discussed above. In other areas, however, privatization is a big mistake, encouraging and enabling political corruption and resulting in a lack of oversight and accountability, higher costs to the citizen, and a minimal product delivered in an inequitable manner.

More later, should other nuggets worthy of passing on come to light.
tags: Politics

Read the Summary and Download the Report

Write Your Legislators!

Aug 22, 2008
What I Can Do. What You Can Do.
Feeling powerless? Well, cut it out! Because you’re not.

Our elected representatives have to come to us, hat in hand, every two, four, or six years to renew their sinecures—excuse me—their offices. And regardless of the degree to which their obscenely expensive campaigns are underwritten by corporate interests, it’s still, thank heaven, “one voter, one vote” in this country, and our representatives are keenly aware of this.

They are also aware that the point of view made known to them by one person represents the point of view of many others from whom they are not hearing. So your letter, phone call, or email gets their attention, you may be sure. This makes it your responsibility to make that point of view known.

There are many online organizations that have automated the process of sending email communications to legislators, and have made it easy for you to sign on to those efforts. However, these emails are more like signing petitions, which is fine for its purpose. However, a personal communication from you to your legislators carries an impact beyond these group petitions, for the reasons noted above, and we should all get in the habit of making our views known in personal communications to our legislators as often as an issue arises about which we feel strongly.

Finding Your Legislators: The link below will take you to the page on Congress.org’s site where you can find all your state and federal elected officials by entering your zip code in the box in the left-hand column. Contact information, as well as information on bills your legislators introduced or co-sponsored, and their votes on important legislation can all be found here.

I gather my state and federal legislators into two email lists that make it easy to send to all of them with one message. Legislators who limit their Internet contact to forms you have to fill in on their site, as opposed to email addresses, should be encouraged to provide the latter.

Another site worthy of mention, from which you can keep a close and detailed eye on your state legislators, is the State Legislatures Internet Links page on the National Conference of State Legislatures site.

Your voice is as important as—and probably more effective than—your vote. Make it heard!
tags: Politics

Find Your State and Federal Legislators

Yes, Virginia, There Is a 2009

Aug 20, 2008
Think tank reports are usually something of a yawn, and when they come out with the recommendation of the Brookings Institution I approach them with a large round cardboard container of Morton’s salt in my hand.

However, I just came across one touted on the Brookings site but coming from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Their “About Us” page shows a nicely multiracial bunch of guys in ties and gals in what I take to be pant suits (I can’t see their pants), looking very well-paid and healthy on a floral veranda outside their no doubt plush D.C. offices.

Their report, titled “Strategic Leadership: Framework for a 21st Century National Security Strategy,” is actually a joint effort among a number of entities whose identities are not made entirely clear. Affiliations among the authors include the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (staff director), the Brookings Institution (twice), CNAS, Duke University, Hoover Institution/Stanford University, Albright Capital Management, Princeton University, Center for American Progress, and the University of Texas at Austin. Something called FoxKiser apparently provided the conference room and the bagels.

A favorable review of the report in Atlantic.com1 reveals that an unnamed early participant was Susan Rice, who dropped out because she is “so closely involved with the Obama campaign.” I am glad I ran across this little morsel, because if the report is at all a reflection of the foreign policy thinking of the Obama camp, it moves me a bit further along on the Obama route to the polling booth in November. Some outtakes from the Executive Summary, with not-so-subtle subtexts emphasized:

  • Our core goals today are the same ones envisaged by our founding fathers: the resolute pursuit of security, liberty, and prosperity both for our own people and as the basis for a just and stable international order.
  • While America remains the single most powerful country in the world today, it cannot take global leadership for granted, nor can it revert to what worked in previous eras.
  • [E]ffective leadership is not always centered in Washington.
  • A doctrine of strategic leadership seeks effective action rather than American leadership for its own sake. It exercises judgment as much as resolve.
  • The United States must ... adapt military strategy to better fit counterterrorism missions; and ensure consistency with the rule of law and fundamental American principles.
  • [W]e must work with others to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and change current patterns of energy consumption.
  • Strategic leadership ... recognizes that in an interconnected world, the best way to secure our own interests is to understand and help secure the interests of others. It understands that in a world in which power has diffused, leadership can mean convening, listening and brokering agreements as well as seizing the initiative and expecting others to follow.
Well, what do you know? Some others may see us on our way—all together now—to that better world.
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1Phoenix Initiative, by Matthew Iglesias, in The Atlantic.com (Accessed August 13, 2008)
tags: Politics

Read the Brookings Summary and Download the Report

Interstate, Inc.

Aug 11, 2008
We’ve previously noted the ill effects that can arise from letting the private sector intrude on the public infrastructure that delivers and treats our water (see Water, Incorporated). Now comes this Congressional Research Service (CRS) report (RL34567) on “Public-Private Partnerships in Highway and Transit Infrastructure Provision.”

We are moving into Phase II of all those tax cuts we’ve been seeing over the course of the last several administrations. We see now it was all for the purpose of starving government to the point it had to consider introducing the profit motive into areas where the profit motive is inappropriate. Business is a wonderful thing in its place. In a free market where competition is assured, where transactions may occur—or not—between a willing buyer and a willing seller, businesses must be lean and quick, grabbing at opportunities that present themselves and dropping hot potatoes with dispatch. The rough-and-tumble of markets, of buying and selling, of profit and loss, of growth and decline, have no place in the public sector, where products and services essential to a stable social infrastructure must be delivered equally to all, without regard to considerations of supply and demand.

The private sector has one responsibility to its constituents, who are its owner/shareholders and not the public, and that is the maximization of profit before and beyond any other consideration. And that is as it should be. And that is why the private sector must be kept out of the public sector. And that is why only a single-payer, public health care system will ever work—perhaps not as well as we might want it to in our ideal imagination—but far better than it ever could if kept within the private sector, and far, far better than it does now.

And that goes for our roads, our tunnels, our bridges, and our entire transportation infrastructure. Where we have privatized it—in the railroads, in the airways, and in the airwaves—it’s a mess, with no consideration but that of delivering a minimal product at a maximum profit.
tags: Politics

Read the Summary and Download the Report

No Respect

Aug 10, 2008
What are the consequences of arrogantly bullying one’s way into a unilateral, pre-emptive, unjustified, and hopeless conflict, then stubbornly pursuing it for six years against the wishes of the international community and even of one’s own citizens?

Among the serious consequences is the sorry fact that the U.S. finds itself becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of international relations. With our enormous military might stalemated year after year by disorganized gangs of ill-equipped street thugs, our credibility, our integrity, and our influence have steadily dissipated, not to the least degree among the very countries most affected by our present misadventure.

In a report entitled “The New Arab Diplomacy: Not With the U.S. and Not Against the U.S.,” by Marina Ottaway and Mohammed Herzallah, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace draws the following dispiriting conclusions:

In general, a growing web of diplomatic initiatives and contacts is being spun throughout the Gulf and the Levant, and the United States is not part of it ... The hard-line, confrontational policy the United States has embraced under the Bush administration has inadvertently demonstrated the limits of U.S. power ... The rejection of diplomacy has thus reduced the United States to a condition of self-inflicted powerlessness regarding many problems. The vacuum is being filled in part by U.S. adversaries—Iran, Syria, HAMAS, and Hizbollah—and in part by friendly Arab regimes, which seek to find a way forward in situations where U.S. policy has contributed to stalemate ... In this new regional diplomacy, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major player while Egypt has sidelined itself in the waning years of the Mubarak regime, turning inward while it waits for the succession—and possibly a succession crisis—to unfold ... [M]ost Gulf countries and even Egypt no longer believe the Bush administration can contribute to solutions because of its unwillingness to talk to and negotiate with all sides and to help forge compromises ... the United States now has little leverage over the policies of even friendly countries....
A sorry legacy for the next administration to confront.
tags: Politics

Read the Summary and Download the Report

Count Me Out

Aug 08, 2008
I don’t support our troops.

I don’t write them letters or read their blogs. I don’t mourn them when they die or are disabled. I don’t grieve with their parents, who grew up during the Vietnam war and, in many cases, participated in it, and should know better—a lot better.

No, I don’t oppose the war while supporting the troops because the troops are supporting the war voluntarily, mindlessly, recklessly, by putting their lives at the service of a lying, grasping, illegal administration that should have been impeached as soon as it was clear that they knew all along that the justifications they put forth for invading Iraq were bogus.1

Our troops, for all their sacrifices (and 4,127 of them are dead and 30,324 are wounded as of today2), are willing pawns in another militaristic and imperialistic blunder by the world’s great bully. This administration has bankrupted us financially,3 and it has bankrupted us morally.4 They have torn up the greatest document the world has ever known establishing self-government by a free people. They have destroyed the symbol of our nation as a beacon to the world's oppressed who struggle in darkness toward freedom. In the memorable imagery of Robert Bly, “They are loosening the nails on Noah’s Ark.”

And we, the people, have let them do it, and our troops have been at the forefront of the enablers, without whom the bullyboy neocons could not have gotten us and our world into this unholy mess.

“What if somebody gave a war, and nobody came?”5 Maybe next time.
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1“Waggy Dog Stories,” by Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 30, 2003 (Accessed August 2, 2008)
2Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, on icasualty.org (Accessed August 2, 2008)
3“Scary deficit forecast calls for straight talk,” Des Moine Register, August 2, 2008 (Accesed August 2, 2008)
4“America Is Bankrupt,” by Ronald van Raak, SP International, August 1, 2008 (Accessed August 2, 2008)
5Allen Ginsburg on Quoteland.com (Accessed August 2, 2008)
tags: Politics

Numbers Don’t Lie

Aug 04, 2008
Sometimes, however, numbers tell a pretty surprising story.

I want Ralph Nader on the ballot, not because I want him to win, which he can’t barring a sudden return to consciousness of the stupefied electorate, but because I want his voice in the debates. As the only one among the three frontrunners who has even mentioned the international corporate hegemony which is destroying our world, the only one who supports a rational universal medical health plan, the only one who has pledged to get us out of Iraq, the only one who has promised to reduce a military budget that is almost as large as the rest of the world’s combined,1 the only one supporting impeachment, the only one in favor of a direct vote of the people on matters of critical national importance, as the only one among Obama, McCain, and himself who is advocating these positions, I want him heard on a national forum—and I want to hear what the other two have to say in opposition to these sensible and necessary positions.

So I have been working on gathering signatures to help get Nader on the ballot in Vermont, although fairly sluggishly. As I’ve opined elsewhere on All Together Now, it has been my belief that Nader has a better chance of playing spoiler for Obama’s chances this year than he had in 2000, when Gore—for all the howling recriminations voiced by my fellow progressives—clearly lost the election for himself.

But lo and behold! A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (taken July 18-21) shows Obama ahead of McCain 47-41 in a two-way race. Obama’s 6-point lead, however, is doubled when both Ralph Nader and the Libertarian candidate, Bob Barr, are included in the race. Then it’s Obama 48 to McCain’s 35. McCain’s hold on his cool, skittish, fed-up constituency is so weak that if you throw a Nader and a libertarian into the mix, they steal votes from him.

So I’m back on the streets this weekend. Nader needs 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot in Vermont. He has signatures enough for 18 state ballots already. If you’d like some fireworks in the debates, say you’re for Nader when the pollsters call. Apparently, it can only hurt McCain.

[Update: Nader has gathered the 1000 signatures needed for Vermont.]
____________________
1Global Issues (Accessed August 4, 2008)
tags: Politics

Read the Article on MSNBC and Download the Poll

Here They Stand

Aug 03, 2008
The Brookings Institute has provided useful summaries to Obama and McCain’s positions on seven critical topics facing our next president: fiscal responsibility, children, Iraq, health care, immigration, climate change, and trade. I wish they had included positions held by, at least, Ralph Nader and the Green Party, both of which share important positions on ending an endless war and relying less on old energy technologies with proven and intractable drawbacks. Knowing Brookings, it is also understandable that they have altogether missed the most pressing issue of our day, and one which affects, and to a large degree determines, the efficacy of efforts to ameliorate the problems associated with the seven topics they do cover: international corporate hegemony.

That quibble aside, the summaries clearly show that McCain is cleaving to the positions of an administration which has threatened our nation to a far greater degree than any cave-dwelling terrorist ever could, has squandered our treasury in a failed attempt to combat international terrorism, torn up the Constitution, diminished us to Lilliputian proportions throughout the world and in our own eyes, and filled its own and its cronies’ pockets to the detriment of its citizens’ fiscal health to a degree unheard of since the worst excesses of the heyday of European aristocracy.

Obama’s single greatest challenge, should he manage to get elected, will be to confront that corporate hegemony and the devastating consequences it has wrought upon the world, and restore government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And nothing in the Brookings summaries or anywhere else I have found indicate to me that such an effort is on his agenda. It is Priority One on Nader’s, however. And until it at least appears somewhere on Obama’s to-do list, I cannot vote for him.
tags: Politics

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Dear Barack

Aug 02, 2008
The Nation has a heartfelt “Open Letter to Barack Obama” asking him to “listen to the voices of the people who can lift you to the presidency and beyond” (I’m not sure where the “beyond” they refer to might be, but never mind). They want Obama to return to his primary campaign roots and espouse the positions and ideals he voiced so eloquently then and which he seems now to be backing away from.

Most distressing to many was his reversal on the FISA re-authorization bill that included retroactive immunity for the telecomms that may have conspired with the executive branch to spy on Americans. From a position promising to filibuster any bill that included that provision, Obama ended up voting in favor of it.

Of course, a politician’s first duty is to get elected. However, if Obama continues to abandon the people who brought him to the threshold of the Democratic candidacy, he is going to lose many of them in November—to Ralph Nader, to Cynthia McKinney, to Bob Barr, or to stay-at-home apathy. And that could cost him the race, and cost this nation a chance for a fresh start.
tags: Politics

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Drugs on the Market

Jul 25, 2008
An interesting concatenation of reports came across my radar on the same day recently:

The pharmaceutical lobby (the largest in a crowded field) spent $168 million dollars lobbying Congress in 2007, 32 percent more than in 2006. This increase was probably owing to the Democratic takeover of Congress, and the subsequent hearings chaired by the new guys on drug issues. (I wonder sometimes whether those hearings aren’t intended to prime the pump for lobbying and campaign expenditures rather than to develop real reforms. More than $6.8 million of the $14.4 million the industry contributed to campaigns in 2006 went to members of the three committees that “regulate” the industry, according to the article.) There are several more eyebrow-raising facts about the questionable relationships among the drug companies, Congress, and the FDA (such as the fact that drug companies fund over a quarter of the FDA's budget), but I'll leave you to read about them in the article (link below).

Meanwhile, we in the U.S. spent $286.5 billion last year for prescription drugs, marching to the beat of a 20-fold increase in direct-to-consumer advertising over the past decade. That figure amounted to $29.9 billion in 2005, according to a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine.1

Chump change, when you look at the flipside: the trade in what our paternalistic government has deemed “illicit” drugs. No one knows the global proceeds from illegal drugs, with estimates ranging from $100 billion to a whopping $1 trillion. The U.S. will spend $14 billion dollars in FY 2008 (and more every year after that) in the losing battle to keep drugs out of the U.S. We spent almost $400 million on crop eradication in Colombia and Afghanistan alone in 2006. I leave it to you to decide whether it was $400 million well spent.

The CRS report, which is available here at OpenCRS, a project of the Center for Democracy and Technology, describes in detail the methods used by the U.S. to stop the drug trade in the U.S. The libertarian in me wonders why we don’t just legalize them all, and devote a tiny fraction of what we are spending to keep them out of the country to treat those individuals who succumb to an addiction. That tiny fraction could easily be made up by taxing the drugs the way we tax the legal killers, alcohol and tobacco. At the very least, marijuana should be legalized and taxed, and that alone could underwrite our continuing unsuccessful efforts to control debilitating substances such as heroin. The liquor lobby has been stunningly successful in associating marijuana with these dangerous substances; however, the research is clear that alcohol (and tobacco) are far more addictive and costly to our economy and to our people than is marijuana.2
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1A Decade of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs,” by Julie M. Donohue, Ph.D., et al., volume 357, number 7, pp. 673-681 (Accessed July 20, 2008)
2Health Education: Marijuana at Brown University (Accessed July 20, 2008)
tags: Politics

Read “Pushing Prescriptions”

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Jul 24, 2008
I hate debt. Other than a small mortgage, which we only have because it provides a tax deduction, my wife and I don't carry any consumer debt. I don’t even use a credit card anymore (which I used to pay off every month). Now, it’s strictly the debit card. I’m not looking for a medal. I’m describing a personality quirk. Debt makes me nervous.

A recent, really scary article by Gretchen Mortenson in the New York Times reminded me why. “Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Deeper Into Debt” describes the hapless story of Diane McLeod, a middle-class woman from a thrifty home who ended up jobless, homeless, penniless, and under a mountain of debt. Some of the numbers in the story are terrifying: Americans carry $2.56 trillion in consumer debt, up 22 percent since 2000. The average household’s credit card debt is over $8,500, up 15 percent since 2000. But the numbers aren’t as scary as the reasons behind them.

Why all this growth in consumer debt? To paraphrase Field of Dreams, if the opportunity to borrow is there, they’ll come. And it is there aplenty following all the banking and investment deregulation that has gone on since the Reagan years, through Clinton, and bigtime during Bush. What it essentially comes down to is risk reduction. Lenders no longer have to assess the risks involved in lending—which used to be their primary responsibility—because they can lay off a loan as soon as they make it, and well before it goes bad, by packaging it into bundles of securities which are then resold and off their books. Along the way, lenders can assess all sorts of fees that make up for the initial come-on of unrealistically low interest rates.

McCain, who has confessed to a weak head for economics1, would have this situation continue. Obama has not, as yet, come out with an economic plan that does much to reverse the scandalous lack of regulation, or to restore the accountability, of lending institutions.

Money is a drug. And if our banks are going to stand on every street corner and whisper, “Psst! Want a taste?” to passersby because they stand only to reap the profits and are uninvolved in the consequences, then we need to treat them as we treat other such predators.

See also Going Under: A Nation in Debt
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1"The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should," quoted in “Responding to Recession,” by Paul Krugman, The New York Times, January 14, 2008 (Accessed July 20, 2008)
tags: Politics

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The Limits of Sovereignty

Jul 22, 2008
Just how sovereign is a “sovereign” nation? How far can it go in allowing—or colluding in—the exploition and brutalization of its people before intervention is justified, or even required, by outside powers? This is a question that has been pondered for a long while. In 1948, the U.N. General Assembly ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide1, which is one of the few instances where the international community has placed formal limits on state sovereignty.

Although this resolution is only one among many others which sustain the sovereignty of nations against outside interference, the tide is beginning to turn, and it is becoming an increasingly acceptable stance that national sovereignty involves responsibilities as well as rights.

The House of Commons Library, the British equivalent of the U.S.’s Congressional Research Service, has produced an admirable paper entitled “Reinventing Humanitarian Intervention: Two Cheers for the Responsibility to Protect?” The paper summarizes the historic debate on national sovereignty, and shows how the crises in the 1990s in Somalia, Rwanda, and Kosovo led to the development of the “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” doctrine.

For an old unreconstructed one-worlder like myself, comments like the following are music to my ears. They come from members of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), whose work led to the R2P document:

  • “We sought to turn the whole weary debate about the right to intervene on its head, and to re-characterise it not as an argument about the ‘right’ of state[s] to anything, but rather about their ‘responsibility’....”2
  • “If sovereignty becomes an obstacle to the realisation of freedom, then it can, should and must be discarded.”3
The ICISS’s three-prong doctrine included the responsibility of international communities to prevent, to react, and to rebuild in instances where sovereign nations are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens. This doctrine, somewhat watered down, was incorporated into the Outcome Document of the 2005 U.N. World Summit—a miracle of negotiation considering the climate of multilateral hostilities engendered by the U.S.’s essentially unilateral invasion of Iraq. R2P now awaits an international incident which will test its effectiveness. Why the situation in Darfur hasn’t brought it to the fore—though many have argued that it should4,5— is a mystery to me.

However, with R2P now officially a part of United Nations policy, we may be on the road—finally, actually, effectively, and multilaterally—to becoming our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

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1General Assembly Resolution 260 A (III), 9 December 1948
2Gareth Evans, Co-Chair, ICISS
3Ramesh Thakur, Member, ICISS
4“The Responsibility to Protect Darfur,” by William G. O'Neill, The Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2008 (Accessed July 19, 2008)
5Crisis in Darfur, from the Responsibility to Protect web page, undated (Accessed July 19, 2008)
tags: Politics

Find the Link and Download the Paper

Park Central

Jul 21, 2008
The 340,000-member National Parks Conservation Association finds itself approaching with high anxiety the centennial of American national parks (Yellowstone was the first in 1916). Their report, “The State of Our National Parks: A Resources Index,” summarizes the results of the first 54 resource assessments of individual national parks. This first-ever scientific assessment of the condition of our national parks rates the system’s natural resources (wildlife, ecosystem health, air and water quality) at 70 points (out of 100) and its cultural resources (historic buildings, cultural landscapes, and museums) at only 61. Both scores are in the low “Fair” range, with the cultural resource score bordering on “Poor.”

As with so many federal programs in the current administration, the parks system is being starved for funding, which manifests itself in many ways, especially in the inability to hire sufficient professional staff to care for the natural and cultural resources. Other stressors include outside forces such as air pollution, global warming, and overpopulation.

Our national parks represent our attitude towards ourselves as a people, and that attitude is deteriorating. We need to find our way back to ourselves as a great nation with enormous responsibilities to the world, and with the means and the humanity to meet them. Instead, we IM and twitter all day and strut our stuff on MySpace and Facebook to an audience of one, and we’re more isolated and alone and lonely than we’ve ever been, tiny pods of consumerism that have lost the joy and the energy of community.

As our parks go, so goes our nation.
tags: Politics

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Exit Strategy

Jul 14, 2008
“Quickly, Carefully, Generously” is a report of the Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq and was released in June 2008. The Task Force, initiated by the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA) at the Commonwealth Institute of Massachusetts, consisted of 14 experts from a variety of U.S. academic and NGO venues (and one from the University of London).

They set forth a number of initiatives similar to those recommended by the Iraq-Study Group (also called the Baker-Hamilton Commission) in December 2006, and I expect it will receive as much respect and will have as much influence on the progress of the conflict as that one did. In brief, both reports advise we begin a phased withdrawal of combat troops and engage Iraq's neighbors (especially Iran and Syria) in multilateral discussions regarding the future of the area. In addition, the PDA Task Force recommended a more substantial role for the U.N., and it set out various procedures and programs that should be instituted to make up for the damage we have done to the country, its people, and the region.

Having lived through the debacle of Vietnam (and still reeling from the realization that I am actually witnessing another such mega-misadventure in my lifetime), I entertain few illusions regarding a well-ordered—or early—retreat from this Slough of Despond. We are all aware of McCain's plans to stay in Iraq for a hundred years; and Obama is also—tragically, albeit characteristically—retreating from his hard line for withdrawal which earned him such adulation during the primaries.1

Still, the report is worth reading, if only to fantasize what it would be like for a great nation, a rich nation, a democratic nation, to do the right thing, admit the error of its ways and make just recompense. However, even if such a fantasy were practical and achievable, I wonder whether Iraq is salvageable at all as a separate entity, given the brutality, sectarian conflict, and stores of bitterness and rancor it has accumulated, under Saddam Hussein and afterward.
____________________
1"Obama fuels pullout debate with remarks," New York Times, July 4, 2008.
tags: Politics

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Water, Incorporated

Jul 06, 2008
Formula for making a lot of money: Get elected to a position of public responsibility, and collude with your fellow elected officials to neglect your responsibility until the disasters begin to mount, meanwhile investing in the private companies which will ultimately clean up your mess to their own—and your—very tidy profit.

Some services belong in the public sector, and none more so than the provision of clean water and wastewater disposal. That provision is threatened, however, as our aging and neglected national infrastructure deteriorates and industry pushes in to take over the costly task of restoring it. It is estimated we will have to spend up to $1 trillion between 2002 and 2019 to upgrade and repair 1.5 million miles of piping and treatment plants.1

In a report by the Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and food, entitled “Costly Returns,” the group warns that “corporate advocates are deceitfully using the costliness of those [infrastructure] upgrades as ammunition to push elected officials into privatizing their water and sewer systems.” Many of those elected officials don't need much pushing, since they believe everything from Social Security to our armed forces should be privatized, the better to enrich themselves and their cronies.

The report shows in stark terms how undercutting the public good in the management of water services enhances corporate profits at the expense of the environment and the consumer. When the profit motive is substituted for the public good—whether in schools, prisons, libraries, or the delivery of essential public services—you can bet the public good is going to suffer. Profit and public services are incompatible and when they are brought together, the services will suffer for the benefit of the profits. We have seen it happen time and again; the present report documents several instances where large municipalities have rued the day they turned their water management over to the private sector, and have cancelled their contracts.

Our water is one of our collective responsibilities, and the public sector exists to fulfill those responsibilities, notwithstanding the cupidity of many of our current elected officials.

And if you can't drink to that, look for many a dry season ahead.

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1 “Future Investment in Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure.” Congressional Budget Office, Washington, D.C., November 2002, p.8.
tags: Politics

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Hart-Felt

Jul 04, 2008
I always liked Gary Hart, the politician undone by a photograph. His recent op-ed piece in the New York Times addresses the cycles American politics goes through, the swings from left to right, from conservatism to innovation, and speculates about the new cycle that, by anyone's calculation, is due—or overdue. He summarizes what the new cycle should stand for:

...the next American cycle should include, at minimum, three elements. National security requires a new, expanded, post-cold-war definition. America must transition from a consumer economy to a producing one. And the moral obligations of our stewardship of the planet must become paramount.
He dares Obama to “use his campaign as a platform for designing a new political cycle and achieve a mandate for starting it.” I believe Obama offered that promise throughout the primary campaign. I also believe that that promise is beginning to crumble in one reversal, one retreat, one flip-flop after another. If Obama loses the base of the young, the progressive, and the politically alienated, he will not prevail in November. Nor will he deserve to.
tags: Politics

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Bathtub Logic

Jul 02, 2008
It was Grover Norquist who made the widely quoted quip, “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

But that was no quip, and if you want to know how serious these people are about starving government, take note of a bill now before the Senate, brought to our attention by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Ostensibly intended to provide some relief to homeowners during the current housing debacle, it “includes a provision that would allow non-itemizers to deduct property taxes up to an amount of $500 for an individual and $1,000 for a couple.”1 That's the first tax decrease provision.

But there's a catch, a very sneaky one, and it comprises the second tax decrease attempt. The deduction would be denied to any resident of a locality that increases its property tax rate between the time of the enactment of the bill and December 31 of this year. There are some exemptions to that provision, but in essence we see here a reaching down from the federal to the local level to turn off another spigot of taxation.

We all know how much depends on our local property taxes—schools, fire and police, libraries, local road maintenance, social services, and more. And when housing values fall, local property tax rates have to rise just to generate the same level of income.

This is more than an overreaching, tax-averse, corporate-dominated federal government power play. Local property tax rates are already a cause for contention in small communities. This legislation would set neighbor against neighbor and citizens against their own elected representatives. This legislation seeks to do an end-run around the states' prerogative to grant taxing power to localities, and to drown local government in the bathtub.

And where are the voices of the Democrats who gained a majority in Congress in 2006? As silent as they were when they granted Bush the funds to continue his war through the end of his term; as silent as they were when they extended his power to spy on Americans and indemnified his accomplices.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
____________________
1 The provision is Sec. 3012 of the Dodd-Shelby Substitute to the House bill (H.R. 3221).
tags: Politics

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Nader v. Obama, Part 1

Jun 26, 2008

Now let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper, but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders. [Barack Obama, speaking before the American-Israel Public Affairs Committe (AIPAC), video excerpted on Democracy Now, June 18, 2008]

I think Barack Obama is in training to become panderer-in-chief. [Ralph Nader, speaking on Democracy Now, same day, in response to Obama's AIPAC speech]
We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything. [Barack Obama, video excerpt on Democracy Now, same day.]
The military-industrial complex and the politicians like Obama and McCain who support it—700 billion dollars, over half of the federal government's operating expenditure now is the military budget—are desperately looking for enemies, desperately exaggerating enemies. Iran has not invaded anybody in 250 years, yet it's obviously frightened. It's surrounded by the U.S. military, west, south, east, it's been labelled Axis of Evil by Bush who invaded Iraq after he labelled them Axis of Evil.... [Ralph Nader, ibid.]

A politician’s first duty is to get elected. And perhaps Obama believes the Palestinians’ security is as sacrosanct and non-negotiable as Israel’s, but he can’t say that before AIPAC. Perhaps Obama doesn’t believe it is within his power, absent a declaration of war by Congress, to drop a nuclear bomb, unilaterally, preemptively, and without provocation, on Iran. Despite the fact that our current president certainly believes it is within his power, and despite the fact that we have had dozens of executive branch military adventures since the last congressional declaration of war in 1941.

We will not vote for a warmonger. We will not vote for a politician who will continue the corporate hegemony that is destroying our liberty, our health, our country, and our planet. We will not vote for a candidate for whom the middle east is a black-and-white issue.

We believe Ralph Nader has a better opportunity to be responsible for putting McCain in the White House than he had for putting Bush there. And yet we cannot and will not vote for Barack Obama unless he convinces us that he will bring a paradigm shift to American politics if he is elected. Because if it is to be "business as usual" for the next eight years, it doesn't matter who is in the White House. We're finished, as a nation, as a world, and as a species.
tags: Politics

Watch the Episode

Election 2008

Jun 23, 2008
It's not about lapel pins or gay marriage. It's not about the minister who baptized our children or the lobbyists who moonlight as campaign consultants.

In his May 20, 2008, opinion piece, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert concisely and comprehensively detailed what this campaign is about. "Let's Be Serious," Herbert pleads, and we ignore at our peril the serious issues he summarizes as we move into the most important election in the last 60 years.
tags: Politics

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Failing the Failed States

Jun 22, 2008
The Rand Corporation, the conservative think tank...

Isn’t it sad and distressing that when one of those words—liberal, conservative—comes up, half of us suddenly go deaf and the other half are prepared to swallow any nonsense—no matter how ridiculous—that follows. We have to cut that out. We have to stop demonizing one another on such slim evidence as a broadly characterizing adjective. The polarization that has infected political discourse over the past 30 years has got to go. It has been useful in assembling sufficient constituencies of erstwhile fringe groups (some lunatic) to bring to power a generation of corporate thieves masquerading as right-wing ideologues. Have they now been sufficiently unmasked, their motives and their boundless cupidity sufficiently revealed over the past decade, that we may hope to bid them a happy farewell in the not too distant future?

I am convinced that a true conservative and a true liberal share many of the same hopes and aspirations for this world. Sometimes I can’t decide which I am, particularly when I find myself reading a report like the one that is the subject of this entry.

The Rand Corporation, a conservative think tank, has published an enlightening and useful “Occasional Paper,” entitled “Breaking the Failed-State Cycle,” by Marla C. Haims, David C. Gompert, Gregory F. Treverton, and Brooke K. Stearns. The link to the report is below, and it is well worth reading in its entirety (58 pp.); however, it can be summed up in a few words: Assistance to failed states almost always fails because the institutions doing the assisting don’t work together.

Failed states, for the purpose of this paper, are the ones flagged for “Alert” by the Fund for Peace in its annual Failed State Index. Thirty-two of the 177 countries covered in this Index are flagged for “Alert” and a whopping 97 others are in the next category, “Warning.” Failed states fail in the areas of security, economics, and governance. Different donor institutions serve different areas, and they are not integrated in their approach, so their efforts more often than not come to naught. The paper’s concluding recommendations may be summed up in even fewer words: Get together!

This, of course, is the theme of All Together Now. We’ve stressed it in the past and, in varying ways, it may be discerned in every entry on this site. We will continue to return to it over and over. The problems we face—and they are many and perilous—will only be solved by concerted action. We cannot wait for our “leaders” to decide the time is ripe. They are incapable of acting to ameliorate the unique perils faced by our species at this moment in history. I wonder if they were ever capable of advancing the well-being of our species. Today, they are in thrall to a worldwide corporate hegemony that threatens all life on the planet. We, the People, acting together, will reverse the tide of environmental degradation, of militaristic brinkmanship, of the exploitation of the earth’s resources by predatory elites—or no one will.
tags: Politics

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Reference: Congress

Jun 19, 2008
Basic information regarding U.S. representatives and senators, including contact information, website, bios, etc., brought to you by GPOAccess, a service of the Government Printing Office.
tags: Politics

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Let's Get Organized: Part I

Jun 13, 2008
ICE: Internet Changes Everything. Nowhere is this more evident than in grassroots political organizing. Back in the day, it was a matter of street-corner setups and endless telephoning, mimeograph machines and word-of-mouth. If you were out of the loop and wanted in, you weren't too sure how to begin. If you were a fairly standard Republican or Democrat, there was probably an accessible local committee; however, if you were inclined somewhat more to the right or left than the standard-issue elephant or donkey, kindred spirits could be hard to come by.

No more. The Internet is chock-a-block with grassroots organizations that you can join with a click of the mouse button. They organize petition drives, phone-in campaigns, door-to-door canvassing, fundraising, vigils, demonstrations, candidate interviews and debates, etc., etc. And they are increasingly effective in getting the attention of our elected leaders, as well as getting the right ones elected in the first place.

The granddaddy of these organizations is MoveOn.org, now divided into two organizations:

MoveOn.org Civic Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization ... primarily focuses on education and advocacy on important national issues. MoveOn.org Political Action, a federal PAC ... mobilizes people across the country to fight important battles in Congress and help elect candidates who reflect our values. Both organizations are entirely funded by individuals.
MoveOn.org has its roots in the Clinton years, during the impeachment brouhaha. Their motto then was "Censure and Move On." Their call for supporters back then elicited hundreds of thousands of responses within days, and a new grassroots paradigm was born.

There's no cost to join the 3.3 million MoveOn members; joining will put you into the loop, where you can pick and choose among the initiatives MoveOn is organizing, and where you'll have a voice in suggesting new ones. Their daily emails may seem like a nuisance, but hey! If you're a progressive in this day and age, you know you have a job to do. And in politics, it's numbers that count. If you're sympathetic to MoveOn's goals, you've got 3.3 million like-minded individuals at your back, and together they are making a mighty loud noise.

In future weeks, we'll feature other Internet-based political grassroots groups you may wish to support.
tags: Politics

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One Life to Live

Jun 07, 2008
Here and there, here and there.

Here, fewer than 15 mothers die during every 100,000 live births; there, over 1,000. Here a man may expect to live 79 years; there, half that. Here three children out of 1,000 may be expected to die before the age of five; there, 260.

The inequities we tolerate may be the heaviest cross we bear as a species. Nowhere—not in the economic or political spheres—are those inequities more blatant, heartbreaking, or unforgivable as they are in the sphere of health care.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just released its World Health Statistics 2008 report. Read it and weep.
tags: Politics

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