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Sep 30, 2015
Thanks to a cool new tool called Genius, you can now talk back to me with comments, arguments, guffaws, whatever. Simply block any word, phrase, sentence, or group of sentences. An odd-looking icon (what is that, anyway?) will appear above the blocked copy. Click it and an annotation section will open up on the right side of your screen. Once you annotate something, it thereafter displays with a yellow background. Click anything with a yellow background, and its associated annotations open up.

You may be sure I will keep an eye open for annotations and will respond to any that are not abusive, profane, or stupid. It would be even better if Genius could send me an email alert whenever a new annotation is created.
tags: Working Together

All Together Now

Dec 31, 2013
Maybe next year.

Maybe in 2014 all those voices of dissatisfaction, from the unemployed, the underpaid, and the underrepresented; to the homeless and the hopeless; to Krugman and Stiglitz and Reich; to Mother Jones, Sister Amy, and Brother Cornell; to Scahill and Hedges and Greenwald; to Chomsky and Nader and Ehrenreich; to Snowden and Manning and Assange; to Occupy Wall Street and even to the Tea Party; and finally and firstly to you and me; maybe in 2014 we will get together and begin to forge the New Age of American Democracy.

Without such a new age, 99 percent of our children are doomed to a marginal income even in the professions, to a rampant and unrestrained corporatocracy, to one meteorological disaster after another, to the triumph of tyranny as China assumes command of the world, to a very possible fiery end in nuclear cataclysm.

Everything is broken. The end is near. Let's get to work.
tags: Working Together

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obtained for a time criminally and fraudulently via a police state system of spies, torture, and murder; but when it is withdrawn, that government is finished.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: Working Together

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: Working Together

The Wall Street Way

Nov 27, 2010
We live in an Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman world now. Dog eat dog. Every man for himself. Greed is good. A world where selfishness has become a moral imperative. And we see where it has gotten us. Income inequity of medieval proportions. One out of four or five Americans out of work or working part time or for peanuts or well below their level of education and expertise. A financial sector as out of control as any rogue nation or organized criminal enterprise. Obesity and diabetes epidemics, particularly among our children, threatening to blow health care costs into the stratosphere. Social, economic, and political systems in the hands of an international corporate plutocracy hellbent on destroying those systems, humanity, and the earth itself in pursuit of ever higher profits.

This is where the Chicago School has brought us, and there is no arguing with the numbers or the damage already done.

So why not jettison this twisted perversion of Darwinism, and instead promote a system with a moral imperative exactly counter to the failed policies of the last thirty years. This system says, in essence, “We will all be better off if we all are better off.”.

I am sick when I think of the scores of children who have died while I write this short piece1. I know that had these children been spared, educated, and allowed to engage with the family of man into adulthood, this world would be so much richer, in its art, its science, its humanity.

Instead, we live in a world where the few squeeze the many, gutting our hard-won middle class standard of living in order to fill pockets already overflowing with ill-gotten gains. There is a better way, working together for the benefit of all. Most of us are ready to make do with a little less, and a few must make do with a lot less (they will still enjoy levels of wealth way beyond their needs), in order that all of us have enough. FDR said it best: “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.”.

If this is true—and Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed are with me in believing it is—then in pursuing policies exactly in contradiction to this path, our world is heading for trouble. Progressives recognize this; Tea Partiers recognize this, though they ascribe it to the wrong reasons. Greg Mortenson, Paul Farmer, Sarah Chayes, and hundreds of lesser known toilers in the most bereft corners of the world recognize this. If there is a people anywhere on our globe more capable of recognizing this, and acting on it, than those of us here in the U.S., I don’t know who they are.

If not us, who? If not now, when?
____________________
1 Today, over 22,000 children died around the world, from GlobalIssues.org, accessed November 27, 2010.
tags: Working Together

Aux Barricades!, July 2009

Jul 12, 2009

Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.

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

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

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

tags: Working Together

Aux Barricades!, June 2009

Jun 30, 2009

Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


tags: Working Together

Guest Editorial: Alex Tabarrok

May 08, 2009
Perhaps the central theme of All Together Now is our belief that the way to future progress in the world—and away from the divisiveness, animosities, and looming social, political, and environmental disasters we face on so many fronts—is to optimize our human capital. We must free humanity from the shackles of poverty, ignorance, and oppression, not out of altruistic motives but as a survival tactic. We are going to need all the help we can get in the 21st century if our species is to survive, let alone to thrive. As we are now able to end poverty and ignorance and oppression, so we must work tirelessly to do so, liberating billions of minds and bodies to join in our common struggle for survival.

This TED Talk by economist Alex Tabarrok, entitled How ideas trump economic crises—a surprising lesson from 1929, supports and advances our thesis from an economic perspective.
tags: Working Together

Aux Barricades!, May 2009

May 04, 2009

Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tags: Working Together

United We Prevail

Apr 21, 2009
Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are three worthy organizations all engaged in more or less the same endeavor—monitoring and fighting human rights abuses around the world. And there are many other such organizations.

MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, True Majority.org, and Credo Action are four worthy organizations all engaged in more or less the same endeavor—organizing voters to support progressive issues and candidates. November5.org and Accountability NOW are also engaged in these pursuits, although both seem to have been stillborn.

Food&WaterWatch and Food Democracy Now, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are three worthy organizations that monitor and promote progressive food safety issues. Again, there are many others.

The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy are three of the better known organizations among scores of others advocating environmental protection and reform.

These groups all compete for the same support dollar within their spheres of interest, inevitably “balkanizing” themselves and their missions. What it seems to us we need in our struggle to bring about real progressive change is some amalgamating facility that will bring us together in a coordinated, targeted, and sustained effort. We believe that effort should be aimed at finding, funding, and electing a new generation of “untouchable” politicians committed to a progressive agenda, politicians who are not naive regarding the harsh realities of a dangerous world, but are committed to marshalling the resources of the Great Idea which is America to bring peace and plenty to a suffering planet.

We don’t know how to do this. A charismatic figure such as Martin Luther King could galvanize these groups, although no one of that stature has appeared since we lost Dr. King. To be sure, the forces of Darkness are masters at kludging a grabbag of conflicting interests into a formidable political force, and they are hard at work doing so today.

Time is short, as the world spins toward political, environmental, and economic disaster. Nuclear arms are proliferating; political repression is spreading; environmental degradation continues apace. Before our worser natures are caught up in a dog-eat-dog catalcysm of resource wars and fascist repression, we must empower our better natures to save the world, assured that it is entirely within our grasp to do so.
tags: Working Together

Aux Barricades! (April 2009)

Apr 06, 2009

Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


tags: Working Together

Dawn of a New Day

Apr 01, 2009
We took the day off yesterday (Friday, March 27) and we’re glad we did. We were home to receive a phone call from James Carmichael, an aid to Rahm Emanuel in the White House. Back in the heady days of the interregnum we had had the audacity to hope for a position in the new Obama White House and had applied for same on the Change.gov web site. Now they were finally getting back to us, and with an offer we are still finding it difficult to believe.

The Initiative for an Equitable Society will be a new cabinet-level department Obama will announce this week, if he hasn’t already. We were offered the position of Research Manager in the office, where we would oversee fact-gathering for upper management tasked, initially, with three assignments:

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

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

Getting Known

Mar 20, 2009

Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas... Getting known.
from Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett

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

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

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

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

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

Aux Barricades! (March 2009)

Mar 06, 2009

Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Follow us on Twitter.com for early notice of these Action Items, and click the Aux Barricades! tag in the left-hand column to display earlier Action Items. Send your Action Items to us and we will add them to this list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tags: Working Together

Accountability NOW

Feb 27, 2009
After a week of pretty bleak entries, we are delighted to end it with one that inspires pure joy, at least tentatively.

Accountability Now PAC (Political Action Committee) has just come under our radar, thanks to Twitter and a story in yesterday’s New York Times, “Bloggers and Unions Join Forces to Push Democrats.”1 Even the staid Times was scarcely able to hide its enthusiasm in an article that almost reads as a call to arms: A large and growing coalition of progressive voices are teaming up for a full court press on Congress. They will seek to identify and support candidates who are to the left of centrist Democrats and may eventually target Republican primary contests as well. The players so far, as reported in the Times and on the Accountability Now web site:

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

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

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

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

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

The Untouchables

Feb 26, 2009
Yesterday’s piece on the abysmal Bush legacy,1 our recent ruminations on term limits,2 and an interview on Bill Moyers Journal on February 203 have combined to prompt us toward a modest proposal. The Moyers interview was with Robert G. Kaiser, a Washington Post reporter, who was publicizing his new book, So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government.4 The title is a judgment on just what is wrong with our political system today: the corrupting influence of money.

Money was a corrupting influence on efforts to enforce prohibition in the 1920s as well. Capone and Co. were able to easily buy off enforcement efforts in the corrupt Chicago environment of their day. That is, until Eliot Ness came along. The young head of operations for the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) in Chicago assembled a team of reliable agents who were nicknamed “The Untouchables” after Capone was unable to purchase their cooperation in his bootlegging efforts.5

We need untouchables in politics. We need a new breed of civic-minded politicians who understand the corrupting influence of money and the generally noxious atmosphere of Washington today, where lobbyists write legislation and corporate donations fuel ridiculously expensive campaigns. We need them to enter the arena, and pledge themselves to devote their service to a government of, by, and for the people.

However, to get that new breed of untouchable politician, the people need to elect them, and in order to do that, they must wake up and understand what the politics of privilege has done to them over the past thirty years. The present fiscal crisis may be the catalyst to bring about that awakening. If it is, it will constitute the single silver lining we can perceive in a political and economic climate that is as perilous to our democracy as any we have faced in our 233 years.

To aid in that awakening must be the priority of every right-minded citizen, as it already is for so very many we have written about here at All Together Now. Whether you devote five minutes a week, or your life, to this effort, you must get aboard this new ship of state. We cannot and will not whether this storm without all hands on deck.
____________________
1 The Bush Legacy of Shame, All Together Now, February 25, 2009
2 Pondering Term Limits, All Together now, February 11, 2009
3 Interview with Robert G. Kaiser, from Bill Moyers Journal, Feb 20, 2009
4 So Damn Much Money, by Robert G. Kaiser, on Amazon.com, published Jan 20, 2009.
5 Eliot Ness, from Wikipedia. Our illustration is not of Ness, of course, but of Robert Stack, the actor who played him on a popular television show between 1959 and 1963.
tags: Working Together

The Golden Rule, Explained

Feb 16, 2009
We harp. We know we harp. We can’t help it. Some people just don’t get it.

This morning (Feb 13), New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, announced 300 layoffs of state employees. What are the likely consequences of these layoffs? Presumably there will be longer lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and other government services will deterioriate. For the unlucky 300, the consequences will be a good deal more dire. Most people live from paycheck to paycheck. When that spigot abrubtly turns off, they will immediately dip into your pocket and mine to claim unemployment compensation.

In New Hampshire, benefits range from $32 to $427 a week for up to 26 weeks.1 For those earning from $2,800 to $41,500 a year, that benefit will be slightly more than half their gross pay. For those earning more, it will be less.

The stresses these people will suffer will be many and varied. Some will not be able to keep up with their mortgages and will be tossed out of their homes (sound familiar?). The values of those houses, now white elephants owned by the bank, will drop through the floor. If the houses are on your block, your home value will decrease as well. If it decreases enough to make your home worth less than you owe on it, you may actually be well advised to abandon it, as at present you have no leverage (or government assistance) to renegotiate your mortgage.

Besides dipping into our pockets for cash benefits and decreasing the value of our prime asset, those 300 laid-off neighbors will cease enjoying the luxury of any discretionary spending, creating a ripple effect (or perhaps we should call it a non-ripple effect) across the immediate purview of their erstwhile economic landscape, increasing the downward slide of local restaurants, movie theatres, hardware and clothing stores, etc., etc. If the effect is great enough (and remember we are talking about 2.5 million of these hapless folks just over the past five months), then many of those establishments will close, further contributing to the downward momentum toward deflation and depression.

Since those who are pretty bad off to begin with (minorities, minimum-wage earners) are generally the first to get it in the neck during an economic downturn, some will become so desperate that they will be driven to extreme measures, becoming a physical threat to their neighbors and the general infrastructure. The court system will become clogged and jails will suffer further overcrowding, requiring yet more millions in public funds.

The Golden Rule—Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You—is not a touchy-feely, altruistic expression of noblesse oblige. It is a survival tactic. We are either in this together or we are in this alone. If we are in this together, we do everything we can to forestall layoffs, foreclosures, and closings, and that includes cutting back for a time on what we have in order to share the temporarily diminished pie. If we are in this alone, there is really only one thing we need to do.

Buy a gun.
____________________
1 Amount and Duration of [Unemployment Compensation] Benefits, accessed Feb 13, 2009
tags: Working Together

Aux Barricades! (February 2009)

Feb 15, 2009

Those who profess to love freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
Here is a new ATN feature which we hope will help increase support for the good guys. Starting in March, the item posted for the second day of each month will be that month’s Aux Barricades!, a listing of actions you can take to help advance the progressive agenda. It will be updated all month with new initiatives we hear about (and take part in). Most of the actions take place online and take only a minute or two. We will provide you with a link that will usually take you directly to the site where you can take action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Feb 2, 2009: Wrote our Congressional delegation a rather nasty note regarding the bank bonuses everyone is making a fuss about. We couldn’t resist the tone:
    Why all the brouhaha over bonuses? If you give someone $350 billion dollars with no strings attached, how can you pretend to be shocked that they pocket only $18.5 billion of it?

    The only possible way Congress could turn over $350 billion, $700 billion, another $800 billion in “stimulus money” to come(?) without strings attached is if they are in collusion with the people they are giving the money to. Let’s cut out the disingenuousness and the protestations. The fault lies squarely on your doorstep.

tags: Working Together

Enlightening Our Self-Interest

Feb 10, 2009

Myth: we have to save the earth. Frankly, the earth doesn’t need to be saved. Nature doesn’t give a hoot if human beings are here or not. The planet has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widely believed, 99 percent of all species have come and gone while the planet has remained. Saving the environment is really about saving our environment—making it safe for ourselves, our children, and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment to actually do so.
—Robert M. Lilienfeld, management consultant and author (b. 1953), and William L. Rathje, archaeologist and author (b. 1945).
This self-evident reminder is apparently not so self-evident to many. Or perhaps the real problem lies in perspective. We live our individual lives in the short term, whereas the life of our species is lived in the long term. And what satisfies exigent needs is often—possibly even usually—harmful in the long run.

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

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

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

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

Resting on One’s Laurels

Feb 06, 2009
Yesterday’s item was the 250th entry in All Together Now since it was launched on May 25, 2008—an entry a day with a one-week hiatus. It is time to sit back, relax, pat ourself on the back, and ask, “What the hell are we doing this for?”

Our web host reports 10,183 unique visitors to this site in January, which we don’t believe for a minute, because if we actually had 10,000 readers, at least one of them with whom we were not already acquainted would have clicked the Email Alerts link by now or sent the webmaster a nice or nasty note. So we discount the visitor stats and presume only a few of the forty-nine people we send the weekly reminder to read the occasional posting. (And most of them didn’t ask for the reminder and are therefore technically being spammed by us.)

If we could, we would find a more hands-on opportunity to express ourself and help our suffering world more directly, preferably some opportunity not involving dengue fever or the prospect of being sold into slavery, one that promised a living wage and some basic health care. However, we’re not as young as we were when we went to teach in Vietnam with the International Voluntary Services in 1967 (a clever draft dodge if there ever was one). The White House has our résumé, but they’re dragging their feet getting back to us.

And there’s a stack of books over by our easy chair that we would rather be reading than all these dreary press releases and think tank reports.

So why go on? Because there are too many people out there who need us, and now I use the third-person plural not as the editorial “we,” but as you and me. They need us working together to arrange for them some measure of relief from the torments of poverty, ill-health, tyranny, and ignorance under which their generations groan. Your life is blessed (if you are reading this), as is mine; however, it is far, far poorer than it might be, if only we could bring to the rest of the world a fair helping of the blessings that we so take for granted.
tags: Working Together

More Talk

Dec 23, 2008
Yesterday, we wrote about a topic which may have struck you as being of fairly marginal interest to a limited number of people—the problems citizens and congressional representatives are finding in sharing communications back and forth in the age of the Internet and instant and easy communication. However, we believe these are issues of enormous importance to the future ability of progressives to press their agenda.

The gist of the problem is that representatives and senators are being inundated with communications, many of which are solicited, aggregated, and communicated to Congress by special interest advocacy groups. Congressional staffers now spend an inordinate amount of time managing and responding to these communications.

Technology is the answer here, and rather than rely upon the disparate six or eight commercial products which now dot the Washington landscape, we believe the parties involved—citizen and advocacy groups and congressional offices—should cooperate to produce an open source software solution that would satisfy 95 percent of the players involved. We believe the following are among the requirements and features of such a product:

  • The system would cost between $25 and $30 million to develop and would take from two to four years;
  • The resulting collection of software applications, which would run on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux operating systems, would be free to all parties.
  • Although the “open source” software would be available to any developer to enhance, official enhancement releases would be managed by the World Wide Web Consortium or similar standards-setting body in much the same way the W3 manage HTML and CSS updates.
  • Standardized back-end database procedures would nevertheless allow for a continuing rich variety of front-end web designs and applications.
  • The software would allow for the production, management, and automation of two-way communication via email, postal mail, fax, Instant Messaging, voice, and other emerging media.
  • The system would be built with open source tools where appropriate.
  • The system would result in at least a 50 percent savings in staffers’ involvement with constituent communications.
Having been involved with computers, software, and programming since the early 1980s, we know this system can be built along the lines, and within the constraints, noted above. We could manage such a development effort ourself, and so could many others.

The level of constituent communications will continue to grow at a very fast pace, particularly that which is initiated and managed by advocacy groups. Those groups and congressional offices must harness tools to cope with these communications. They deserve the same level of acknowledgement and influence as more traditional one-to-one communications. The only way to accomplish this, and to avoid a continuing struggle amidst a Babel of conflicting standards and procedures, is for the parties to work together to forge a solid system that answers all their requirements.

It can be done. It must be done.
tags: Working Together

Can We Talk?

Dec 22, 2008
Good question.

The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) has been asking it vis-a-vis Congress for almost ten years, and their enlightening answer may be found in their report, Communicating with Congress: Recommendations for Improving the Democratic Dialog (.pdf, 3.5Mb).

The good news: The Internet has made it far easier for citizens to communicate with their Congressional representatives. The bad news: The Internet has made it far easier for citizens to communicate with their Congressional representatives. The result: A huge increase in communications to Congress, by both citizens and grassroots advocacy groups, has resulted in the expenditure of a great deal of effort on the part of both senders and recipients in trying to manage—and in some cases, to thwart—the efforts of the other. Sophisticated software tools to efficiently deal with these communications has yet to be developed.

Until it is, CMF has several recommendations for each participant. Among them, for the individual citizen:

  1. Develop a good understanding of how Congress operates.
  2. Contact your representatives only once per issue.
  3. Limit each message to one issue.
  4. Use consistent email and postal addresses.
  5. Be concise and clear.
  6. Make a specific request, and refer to the number of the pertinent bill if you can.
  7. Be respectful, as difficult as that may be from time to time.
The 84-page report fleshes out these recommendations a great deal, of course.

We were most interested in CMF’s recommendations for grassroots advocacy groups. We are involved with many of them (see our listing of several at What Now, Where Now, How Now?) and have signed many a petition they have organized to forward to Congress. We want those communications to be effective. Here are some of CMF’s recommendations to them:
  1. Send every communication with the knowledge, consent and action of the citizen. (As far as we know, all the groups we are involved with do this.)
  2. Encourage citizens to personalize their messages in some way. (This also is common with the groups mentioned in the posting noted above.)
  3. Communications should only come from constituents.
  4. Notify citizens to whom their communications are being sent. (There is room for improvement with our groups here.)
  5. Identify the organization behind a grassroots campaign.
  6. Grassroot organizations should develop a better understanding of Congress.
  7. The purpose of a campaign should be to influence public policy, not overwhelm an office.
Recommendations to Congress include:
  1. Allocate more funds for Members’ staffing.
  2. Adapt to the new communication environment.
  3. Collaborate with advocacy/interest groups to identify solutions and solve problems. (Of course!)
  4. Fully utilize email to respond to constituents.
  5. Provide separate web forms for constituent service requests.
  6. Provide answers to legislative inquiries online.
  7. Diligently maintain your constituent database.
Optimizing citizen/representative communications is a huge challenge and a top priority of our new information age. The issue is of major public importance and should be publicly funded. We take part in enough advocacy group outreaches to Congress to know that if we are to avoid a Babel of conflicting technologies, increased animosity between the parties, and continuing bottlenecks to having our combined voices heard in Congress, then all parties must dedicate themselves to working together to craft the effective solutions that are available to us through technology.
tags: Working Together

All Together Now

Dec 14, 2008
Actions we have taken to promote progressive change.

Your participation, in these or other efforts, will double the impact chronicled below. Bookmark this link in order to return to this posting to note future additions.

  • Jan 31, 2009: Signed a letter to President Obama, facilitated by Food and Water Watch, urging him not to appoint Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary. Gregg favors ocean farm fishing, which is very harmful to wild fish. See: Ocean Fish Farming Harms Wild Fish, at Science News.

  • Jan 31, 2009 (busy day): Signed a petition to U.S. Senators, facilitated by Food and Water Watch, urging our senators to restore funding slashed in the House for urgently needed water and wastewater infrastructure development and repairs.

  • Jan 31, 2009: Signed a petition, facilitated by Credo Action, urging our Representative to co-sponsor H.R. 104, a bill to establish a criminal investigation into acts committed by the Bush Administration.

  • Jan 31, 2009: Wrote to the White House urging the president to cease his support of tax cheats and promoters of genocide, and suggesting Howard Dean for Secretary of DHHS.

  • Jan 31, 2009: Wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice facilitated by Amnesty International, urging them to open an investigation into possible war crimes in Gaza based upon Amnesty’s on-the-ground findings.

  • Jan 30, 2009: Wrote a letter to our congressional delegation facilitated by the National Parks Conservation Association in support of the $2.25 billion investment in parks which is part of Obama’s stimulus package.

  • Jan 28, 2009: Signed a ColorOfChange petition urging the D.A. in the Oscar Grant case to prosecute a second officer for assault.

  • Jan 26, 2009: On reading the news that Biden thinks the banks will need more than the $700 billion authorized so far, we wrote our senators and representative in Washington adamantly opposing more bailout money until the country learns what was done with the first $700 billion and its effect, and until respected independent economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz call for additional assistance.

  • Jan 25, 2009: Donated a few dollars to the Vermont Progressive Party after writing them up for the Jan 27 ATN item.

  • Jan 24, 2009: Signed a Credo Action petition urging Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to suspend his delaying tactics regarding Eric Holder’s confirmation as Attorney General. Sen. Cornyn is concerned that the administration may seek to prosecute those who ordered or carried out torture in the last administration and is apparently seeking guarantees that it will not.

  • Jan 23, 2009: Signed an Amnesty International petition thanking Obama for signing the order to close Guantanamo and urging him to name a commission of inquiry to investigate and hold accountable any criminal acts committed there over the past eight years. Donated a few dollars to Amnesty (tax-deductible).

  • Jan 16, 2009: Signed a Food Democracy Now petition, urging the Dept of Agriculture Secretary-Designate to appoint Under Secretaries from a list of 12 candidates who favor sustainable agriculture.
    Update Feb 28, 2009: One of the Sustainable Dozen, Kathleen Merrigan, was named Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Further Food Democracy Now met with Secretary Vilsack on Feb 24, 2009, and presented him with 87,000 signatures on a petition supporting sustainable agriculture. You can sign HERE.

  • Jan 15, 2009: Signed an Amnesty International petition to our congressional delegation, asking them to do whatever they can to end the disaster in Gaza.

  • Jan 14, 2009: Found an Obama Inaugural Bash to attend on the MoveOn.org site. We were happy to see they were coordinating this organizational effort with TrueMajority, ColorOfChange, and other grassroots groups. We Shall Overcome—Together!

  • Jan 14, 2009: Donated $50 to Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute. This donation was gathered in a Pennies for Peace cup at our office.

  • Jan 13, 2009: Signed a ColorOfChange.org petition demanding CA Attorney General Jerry Brown take action against the BART officer who killed Oscar Grant in cold blood. Twelve days have gone by and the officer has not been, arrested, charged, or even questioned.
    Update Jan 15, 2009: Johannes Mehserle was arrested and charged with murder on Wednesday, Jan 14.

  • Jan 8, 2009: Signed a Democracy for America petition urging the new chair of the Democratic National Committee to retain the 50-state strategy which has been so successful.

  • Jan 3, 2009: Signed an Amnesty International petition to Sec. of State Rice expressing concern for the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

  • December 30, 2008: Donated a few dollars (tax-deductible) to three organizations badly hurt by Bernard Madoff, The Brennan Center for Justice, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. The contributions, made through MoveOn.org, were matched 2 to 1 by a pair of philanthropic agencies.

  • December 29, 2008: Signed an Avaaz.org petition for a cease fire in Gaza.

  • December 22, 2008: Signed an Avaaz.org petition for radio campaign in Zimbabwe. Donated a few dollars to help buy radio time there (deductible).

  • December 19, 2008: Filled in a survey for The Nation magazine, urging them to concentrate on three priorities: income, education, and health care.

  • December 18, 2008: Signed a ColorOfChange petition to the Louisiana legal authorities urging them to investigate vigilante killings of blacks post-Katrina.

  • December 16, 2008: Registered for, set up, and announced an Obama Health Care Community Discussion for Dec. 28.

  • Dec 15, 2008: Nominated topic for Moveon.Org to concentrate on in 2009.

    Donated a few dollars to Democracy Now! and Food&WaterWatch (tax-deductible).

    Signed a J Street petition urging the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization to condemn the recent violence, including two shootings, of Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

  • Dec 11, 2008: Signed petition from Food Democracy Now to Obama regarding the importance of reform in our nation’s agricultural practices and encouraging him to name a reformer as Secretary of Agriculture.

    Signed an Amnesty International petition urging Obama to take action to protect women and girls from sexual violence in the Congo.

  • Dec 10, 2008: Signed Amnesty International petition to our representative, encouraging him to co-sponsor HR.5927, the International Violence Against Women Act; and signed their Universal Declaration of Human Rights pledge.

    Sent a note to Chancellor Merkel in Poland, through Avaaz.org, urging her to stop stonewalling a proper European agreement on GHG emissions.
    Update, Dec 15, 2008: Chancellor Merkel scaled back elements of her opposition that would have resulted in greater GHG emissions, thanks in part to 200,000 worldwide signatories of the petition.

  • Dec 9, 2008: Sent messages to Vermont’s congressional delegation encouraging them to pursue a progressive agenda in the 111th Congress, and referencing two ATN postings, Great Expectations 1: The Domestic Scene and Great Expectations 2: Foreign Affairs.

  • Dec 8, 2008: Signed a National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) petition to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, opposing the sale of oil and gas leases on land adjoining two national parks and a national monument. Light, air, and noise pollution are among the threats these leases pose. The opportunity came through email from NPCA, and we were able to take part in the petition with two mouse clicks.
    Update: On December 10, 2008, the Bush administration abruptly dropped its plan to site new coal-burning electricity generating plants near national parks.

tags: Working Together

Only Connect!

Dec 13, 2008
We need to act.

We need to find ways to raise our voices in support of the progressive agenda or we are going find ourselves—and that agenda—out in the cold. We do not fail to sympathize with those who say it is early innings, he is not even president yet, give him a chance. However, our early misgivings regarding an Obama presidency (see our previous postings on Obama), together with the parade of Clinton retreads and right-of-center cabinet and White House appointments1 he has made so far, does not fill us with hope for change. Rather, these appointments require what filmmaker Eugene Jarecki calls “vigilant public attention.”2

Only connect!, adjured E.M. Forster,3 and this is the key to action. The American people—you and I— need to get back in the face of our public servants. We need to find the time to act, to contact our representatives, to join our voices to other organizations which are advancing the agenda. Thankfully, opportunities to do so efficiently and effectively are cropping up all over the place, mainly through the Internet.

Tomorrow, we will initiate a posting that relates what we are doing to press for a progressive agenda. We will update that posting and provide a link to it so that you can return to it from time to time to see what new efforts have been made by one person. It may provide ideas for you, although its primary intent is to move you to set aside a few minutes a week to take part in an effort which, without us and millions like us, is almost certainly doomed to fail. We also want to hear what you are doing (use the Webmaster link under Contact Us in the right-hand column). We will pass on good ideas you tell us about, and we will take part in those efforts ourself.

Obama is not enough. Hope is not enough. The buck stops with us.
____________________
1 Name by Name, Obama’s Cabinet taking shape, by the Associated Press, December 8, 2008, accessed, as are other references today, on December 9, 2008
2 Keeping Track of Change, by Eugene Jarecki, from Truthdig.com, December 5, 2008
3 Howard’s End, E.M. Forster, chapter 22, from Wikiquote, undated
tags: Working Together

Attitude Adjustment1

Dec 09, 2008
The Family of Man began as a family, huddled in a dark cave against the forces of a malevolent Nature, including—especially—the family in the cave next door. Reason was on our side, however, and reason, telling us there was strength in numbers, created the tribe. When agriculture settled us down ten thousand years ago, tribes became settlements, which became towns, cities, city-states, and, finally, countries, constructs, again, whose primary purpose was enhancing security for a larger base of the population.

Of course, along the way tribe fought tribe, Sparta fought Athens, England fought France, and complicated ad hoc alliances came and went in support of ever widening and, ultimately, global conflicts. Yet the quest for physical and economic security was always at the heart of those conflicts, even when they seemed to be initiated for purposes of conquest and empire.

The country is no longer the most-evolved unit in this search for security. Economic alliances such as NAFTA and political ones such as the European Union have gone beyond largely symbolic attempts at multinational cooperation most recently embodied in the United Nations. These alliances seek to knit countries together firmly enough in cooperative endeavors to render it unlikely they will ever again have at each others’s throats in battle.

We now find ourselves at a point in our evolution as a species where “two roads diverge in a yellow wood.” As separate countries with a limited number of extended alliances, many of us are powerful enough, should another conflict arise between us, to destroy civilization. Even absent such conflict, we face environmental threats to our security that could be equally devastating.

It seems to us that a great reckoning is at hand. Will we be capable, once again, of making the same attitude adjustment we have made countless times in the past, the adjustment that saw us lay down our arms and join an erstwhile enemy in order to defend against the greater danger perceived emanating from another quarter? Will we be able to do so when that greater enemy is ourselves? And if we do not, will not our own natures, or the Nature we have so abysmally abused, step in and write the final page in the chronicle of human history?

These are the questions to which the progress of civilization has brought us. These are the questions which will be answered. The 21st century will see the Family of Man become one family, or the 22nd will belong to the flora and fauna over which we enjoyed a short and unhappy dominion.
____________________
1 Our illustration: Family of Man, by Georg Schmerholz, 1976
tags: Working Together

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: Working Together

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.
____________________
1 Overcoming Zionism, Product Description, from Amazon.com (Accessed November 19, 2008)
tags: Working Together

What Now, Where Now, How Now?

Nov 17, 2008
Okay, our guy is busily naming his inner-circle aides (too many of whom are right of center) and floating ideas for cabinet secretaries (too many of whom are right of center). He has received thousands of job applications, met with Bush, started a commendable web site (change.gov), gone puppy shopping, and is generally getting himself ready for the big day.

What about the rest of us?

How do we continue that great leap of faith that brought us to the polls on November 4, audaciously hoping for change? Because if Obama’s past actions and present maneuverings are any indication, he is going to have to have a lot of help, with much pressure and many loud voices brought to bear, to move him toward doing the right things—and there are so many right things that need doing.

Frankly, we are not sure how best to organize the progressive voice we want speaking loudly and clearly to the White House. However, we do know the Internet is a powerful organizational tool, and we have been taking advantage of the Information Superhighway to speak truth to power for some time now, singly and in unison with many others. Here are a few ways we have found to participate and support the cause; you might look to “climb aboard” the Obama Express by joining one or more of these groups, too. We will bring others to your attention as they come to ours:

MoveOn.org
The granddaddy of online progressive membership sites. MoveOn is also first out of the gate with a planned activity. They are organizing local get-togethers this Thursday for people to celebrate Obama’s victory and to “brainstorm ways to work together locally to take advantage of this new opportunity for progressive change.” They boast 4.2 million members in their 10th year.
DemocracyForAmerica.com
Founded by Howard Dean and chaired by his brother, Jim, DFA has 725,000 members and was instrumental in identifying, targeting, and supporting many key congressional races in 2008.
TrueMajority.org
Founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, TrueMajority’s central objective is to “increase America’s investment in programs that benefit our children (like schools, health care, HeadStart) by cutting Cold War weapons systems and shifting our savings.”
ColorOfChange.org
Born out of the Katrina disaster, ColorOfChange.org “is comprised of Black folks from every economic class, as well as those of every color who seek to help our voices be heard.... We will do all we can to make sure all Americans are represented, served, and protected—regardless of race or class.”
ActBlue.com
ActBlue is a fundraising organization that uses the tools of the Internet to raise small amounts from many donors to advance progressive goals. Since 2004, they have sent more than $82 million dollars to 3200 candidates and committees from more than 420,000 donors. A central spot to find your candidate or cause and donate a few dollars.
Avaaz.org
Avaaz is international in scope, and has attracted 3.2 million members worldwide in just over a year. Their “simple democratic mission [is] to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want.”
BraveNewFilms.org
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald is the brains behind this very busy site. “Using cutting-edge new internet video campaigns, Brave New Films has created a quick-strike capability that challenges corporate media with the truth and empowers political action nationwide.”
JStreet.org
Although J Street, like most everyone else, supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict (we are among the minority that think only a one-state solution can endure), they are still worthy of our attention. “J Street represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own.... J Street supports diplomatic solutions over military ones....”
DemocracyInAction.org
We know this group only through one of its clients, OilChange. It is an organization that provides e-advocacy tools to progressive non-profits, essentially providing many of the sophisticated communication, fundraising, and action tools that are found in the larger sites noted above. What a great idea!
These sites all reach out to their membership via email, providing us with news and with opportunities to sign petitions, take part in local activities, and communicate targeted appeals to our congressional representatives and the executive branch. If you know of others like them, let us know. We support all the above sites with our attention, our participation, and a few of our dollars. Those few dollars from a few million people will ultimately break the back of corporate sponsors and free our representatives to represent us and not them.

So climb aboard and get involved. As Obama said, his victory only provides an opportunity for change. The progressive agenda has moved to the center in America. The majority want universal single-payer health care, an end to militarism and the corporate/military hegemony, fiscal equity for working people, world-class education for all children, and a peaceful and just world.

However, the forces of darkness are still with us, and you may assume that without you, without me, without us, none of this will happen.
tags: Working Together

Lonely House

Nov 14, 2008

Lonely house, lonely me;
Funny, with so many neighbors
How lonely it can be.
Lonely street, lonely town
Funny, you can be so lonely
With all those folks around.



We are becoming a lonely nation. The number of Americans who said they have no close confidants tripled between 1985 and 2004. The US Census estimates that 30 percent more Americans will live alone in 2010 than did so in 1980.1 There are almost twice as many single-parent households today than there were in 1970, with only about two-thirds of 73 million children living in a household with two married parents.2

Hannah Arendt had a theory that totalitarian governments wanted their subjects to be lonely. Isolating the populace was a political maneuver, fostering in them an inability to act because there is no one to act with.3 Fear, of course, isolates people as well, and the fear card has been played with a vengeance for the past eight years.

The automobile has taken us away from each other, and if we know our neighbors’ names we rarely know much more about them. Grandma is in the nursing home, the kids are upstairs at their computers, and Dad just fell asleep in front of the TV. Consumerism, generally practiced alone with earbuds intact, has replaced the ice cream social, tag, and a host of other opportunities to mingle with our fellows.

The Internet is supposed to change everything, but has it? Facebook and MySpace strike us as intensely, excruciatingly lonely endeavors, with millions of mostly young voices crying for attention in the void of cyberspace. Political organizing—MoveOn.org’s four million members being the prime example—has resulted only in daily email monologues from the organizers, isolating us the more by their incessant din and appeals for money.

This state of affairs is of great moment to us at All Together Now. Our theme, after all, is in our name. Our species’ gregariousness is a survival mechanism; we dominate life on this planet through our ability to communicate and cooperate. As our inclinations to do either begin to fade, or are inhibited through the machinations of the few, the stability of our species and our planet is endangered. Obama, like Bush before him, has promised to bring us together. Such a promise, even if kept this time around, is not enough. Only we can bring ourselves together—back together. As we struggle to do so, ATN will be here to cheer us on, to mark our triumphs, and to facilitate the process in whatever ways we can.

I guess there must be something I don't comprehend;
Sparrows have companions, even stray dogs find a friend.
The night for me is not romantic;
Unhook the stars and take them down.
I'm lonely in this lonely house
In this lonely town.4

____________________
1 Lonely Together, Caleb Crain, from The National, October 30, 2008
2 Single-Parent Households Showed Little Variation Since 1994, Census Bureau Reports
3 Hannah Arendt: Prophet for Our Time, by James M. Campbell (All footnotes accessed November 6, 2008)
4 Lonely House, lyrics by Elmer Rice, music by Kurt Weill, from Street Scene. The link will take you to one of many YouTube performances, this one by tenor John Longmuir.
tags: Working Together

Chump Change

Oct 19, 2008
We know we are talking in billions and trillions these days—an $850 billion bailout for the financial industry; a $10 trillion national debt. A few millions must seem like chump change. But when Americans are struggling on $6.55 an hour (the current minimum wage), government waste of even $30 million rises to the level of a national disgrace and we should be howling to the hills about it.

This is how much the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wasted in a few short months in Mississippi alone through ineffective oversight of a small portion of the contracts given out to deal with the Katrina disaster. We can only wonder in amazement how much of our money was wasted overall.

After four firms were paid billions of dollars to set up trailer sites in the wake of Katrina, through contracts awarded on a sole source, noncompetitive basis, the outcry was so great that FEMA solicited new bids for maintenance and deactivation of mobile homes and for site maintenance. These contracts are the ones the GAO investigated and found were responsible for $30 million in wasteful and improper or potentially fraudulent payments to the contractors over an eight-month period from June 2006 to January 2007.

Their report, Hurricane Katrina: Ineffective FEMA Oversight of Housing Maintenance Contracts in Mississippi Resulted in Millions of Dollars of Waste and Potential Fraud (.pdf) outlines in agonizing detail the failure of this “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva a job” agency to perform its role with anything like proper attention to its responsibilities to its employer—us. However, finally, it is the employer’s responsibility to prevent these abuses. Which of our representatives is most likely to do so?

McCain speaks of an across-the-board spending freeze for the federal government—an impossible aim if were even desirable, as anyone over the age of 14 must know. Obama speaks of a careful examination of each line item of the national budget, eliminating programs that don’t work and bolstering those that do. Neither speaks to the kind of regulatory oversight we must bring to bear on all levels of government spending. It is way too late when the GAO brings out its reports. By then, the money is irretrievably lost. Government expenditures must be determined to be legitimate at a point before the check is cut, and to do that will require the sort of government restructuring that only Nader is talking of, and he is not going to be elected.

The next four years will be a time of building, perhaps under a more or less benign and right-thinking Obama administration, perhaps under a chaotic, irascible, and frankly terrifying McCain administration. But build we must, from the grassroots up through all levels of our self-governance.

Strap on your toolbelt, and let’s get cracking.
tags: Working Together

2015? 2050? Ever?

Sep 20, 2008
In a unique and heartening display of unanimity and cooperation, the nations of the world came together in 2000 and signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, pledging to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women, and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.”1 Their blueprint for ending world poverty by 2015 consisted of eight goals:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, & other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development
Stunning successes have been met with in some countries for some of the goals, and they are all laid out in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2008. Progress is shown in almost all areas, though most often not enough to reach the target levels set for 2015. Poverty is down; the numbers of children enjoying at least a primary education are way up; childhood deaths from measles were reduced by two-thirds between 2000 to 2006; and some 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. In the less dramatic, although perhaps even more important, economic sphere, the share of developing countries’ export earnings devoted to servicing external debt fell from 12.5 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in 2006, and mobile phone technology has spread rapidly throughout the developing world.

Predictably, the least progress has been shown in areas affecting women. Half a million prospective mothers die annually in childbirth or of complications from pregnancy. Women are drastically underrepresented in government. Most employed women are in vulnerable jobs or are unpaid family workers. Additionally, sub-Saharan Africa is a virtual basket case, where the primary goal of reducing poverty by one-half by 2015 will almost surely not be met. The area also shows much slower progress meeting the other seven goals. And carbon dioxide emissions have continued to increase, despite the clear and present danger they pose.

“The single most important success to date has been the unprecedented breadth and depth of the commitment to the [Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)].”2 Therein lies our greatest hope. The MDGs are a framework around which we can coordinate a full-court assault on the perils that face life on earth. Increasingly, governments, foundations, NGOS, and civil societies are rallying around that framework. Perhaps by 2015, even if those goals are not met, we will have crafted an alliance which—all together now—can meet those goals in a generation or two.
____________________
1 Millennium Development Goals Report 2008, pg. 3
2 Op cit., p. 4
tags: Working Together

Nation Building Begins at Home

Sep 17, 2008
Having been born into a world with Europe in ruins; been witness to the debacles in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq II; and been horrified by the enormities of Cambodia, Serbia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and other lesser genocides, we are big fans of nation building. There are those on the left who might say we should mind our own business and stop throwing our muscle around in other countries. When they speak in the context of overthrowing legitimate leaders (Allende in Chile, Mossadegh in Iran, etc.), and invading nations primarily to bolster corporate interests (take your pick), they are right. However, under certain circumstances, nation building becomes a moral responsibility.

Eight of those circumstances are discussed in a report from the Rand Corporation's National Security Research Division.1 After the War: Nation-Building from FDR to George W. Bush concludes, “Successful nation-building requires unity of effort across multiple agencies and, often, multiple governments.”2

Two early successes discussed in the report, Germany and Japan, “remain the gold standard for postwar reconstruction. No subsequent nation-building effort has achieved comparable success.”3 It worked there, in part, because “[b]oth [countries] had been devastatingly defeated, and both had surrendered unconditionally.”4

Nation building went into abeyance during the Cold War and was revived in the 1990’s with successful programs in Bosnia and Kosovo and less successful attempts in Somalia and Haiti. The key to the successes were, as the report well argues, careful planning, widespread cooperation, and the political will to see it through.

The subsequent Bush II go-it-alone-on-a-shoestring strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan effectively threw out all the institutions and strategies for nation building developed during previous administrations back to FDR, and Afghanistan became “the least resourced US-led nation-building operations [sic] in modern history.”5

Nothing less than near-universal agreement that a nation requires nation building, followed by a massive and sustained effort by all interested parties to see the process through can bring about a desired result. We witness in the laboratories of Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq the consequences of a lesser commitment to this process, as well as the futility of unilateral implementation of a nation-building policy.

We will build a safe, peaceful, and democratic world together, or not at all.
____________________
1Rand National Security Research Division
2After the War (.pdf), p. xxiv
3Op cit. (.pdf), p. xiii
4Ibid. (.pdf)
5Op cit. (.pdf), p. xx
tags: Working Together

Getting Anti-Terrorism Right

Sep 14, 2008
Haiti is a mess. Probably everyone would agree with this, even ATN Golden A awardee Paul Farmer.

In late 2006 and early 2007, however, a United Nations operation in Haiti served as a model for the way things ought to be accomplished in a dangerous world. Gangs of thugs had taken over Port-au-Prince and were operating out of the city slums, kidnapping, robbing, and murdering at will, and with the financial backing of various political factions. After a spate of child kidnappings, the president of Haiti, René Préval, had enough and called for a United Nations peace enforcement initiative which ultimately defeated the gangs.

The U.N. needed—and received—a lot of help in their operation, from a mandate from the top to local military and police involvement, and reaching down to the level of the populace for actionable intelligence. A Special Report from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP)1 entitled Haiti: Confronting the Gangs of Port-au-Prince, by Michael Dziedzic and Robert M. Perito, offers a detailed analysis of the operation, its successes and its shortcomings. Together with its extensive recommendations for ameliorating those shortcomings, it is a blueprint for success in urban conflict against a nebulous foe entrenched within a civilian population. And it even makes from some exciting reading.

Its bottom line: “[T]he United Nations must be capable of mounting assertive operations to defend and enforce its mandates, and ... given the proper enabling conditions and the will to act, it is capable of doing so quite successfully.”
____________________
1 The USIP is “an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide.”
tags: Working Together

The Globalization of People

Sep 13, 2008
Immigration is a thorny issue, unless you’re one of those holding the opinion that the only good immigrant is a dead one. We need our immigrants, fully as much as we need our wide-screen TVs (made in China), our Nikes (made in Indonesia), and our underwear (ours is made in Canada).

Our immigrants don’t cost us wealth—they create it. They create it with their college and university tuitions: Over half a million foreign-born students attend U.S. higher education institutions.1 They create it for the employers who exploit them with substandard wages that are then spent locally on housing, food, and transportation. The legal ones who partake of social services such as education for their children pay their share in taxes; the illegal ones are harried and hounded and hunted, and cost us millions in wasted enforcement and wasted opportunity.

Like so many social issues today—health care, criminal justice, and family values to name but three—other western democracies are way ahead of us in their attitudes toward immigration matters. An enlightening September 2008 report2 from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, shows just how hard those democracies are working to incorporate what MPI calls circular migration into their societies. It is a win-win situation when a receiving nation can work together with a sending nation to accommodate each other’s needs, and there are over 300 bilaterial agreements in place to prove it.

The U.S. needs to improve and expand upon programs such as the H-1B3 and H-2B4 worker visa programs now in place, and we need to stop wasting money on pretending to control illegal immigration. As we noted in a recent ATN piece,5 we could end illegal immigration overnight by punishing employers instead of their hapless employees. That we don’t do that should be evidence enough that we don’t want to do that. We want rather to fill our corporate masters’ pockets with contracts to build futile walls along the Rio Grande (with large holes to accommodate rich folks whose estates are situated along the way).6

Worldwide economic development awaits sane policies supporting circular and one-way immigration. Our European and Canadian friends are showing us the way. It’s time to get on board.
____________________
1More Than 565,000 International Students Enrolled In U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, from the Institute of International Education, November 14, 2005 (Accessed September 9, 2008)
2Learning by Doing: Experiences of Circular Migration, press release and link to the report from the Migration Policy Institute, September 4, 2008 (Accessed September 9, 2008)
3 H-1B Visa, from Wikipedia (Accessed September 13, 2008)
4 H-2B Certification for Temporary Nonagricultural Work, from the U.S. Department of Labor, December 12, 2007 (Accessed September 13, 2008)
5Give Them Your Tired, from All Together Now, September 7, 2008.
6Border Wall Slashes Through Texas' Soul, by Elizabeth Stevens, from the News Center at CommonDreams.org, undated (Accessed September 9, 2008)
tags: Working Together

Software for Hard Times

Sep 08, 2008
Programming is the most fun you can have with a computer. If you're not a programmer, you may have written a macro in Word or (even better) in WordPerfect for DOS (the greatest software application ever). If so, you have gotten a tiny taste of the power waiting at your fingertips.

And if you can combine programming with doing someone some good, well, we can't think of a better way to spend a summer.

Neither, apparently, can the folks at HFOSS—the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software consortium. Started by a group of open source (that’s “FREE”) software proponents on the computing faculties of Trinity College (Hartford, CT), Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), and Connecticut College (New London, CT), HFOSS has grown to include efforts from other schools, including the University of Hartford, Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME), and the George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management (Washington, DC). In 2008, HFOSS offered a 10-week summer internship that provided 10 hard-coding undergraduate students with housing and a $4,000 stipend.1 They will be offering internships again in 2009.

Many of the software programs HFOSS develops2 are included in Sahana, “a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster, from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, [and] tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs), and the victims themselves.”

The three-college consortium has also received a hefty federal grant ($496,429) from the National Science Foundation “to help revitalize undergraduate computer education.”

HFOSS, Sahana, and the kids at their keyboards represent the sort of imaginative, collaborative, and altruistic endeavors that help us at All Together Now recapture some faith in our future.
____________________
1Students Help Humanity with Open Source Software, from The Wesleyan Connection (Accessed September 5, 2008)
2Project Showcase, from HFOSS (Accessed September 6, 2008)
tags: Working Together

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