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Noted With Interest, June 2009

Jun 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tags: Noted with Interest

Happy Daze, June 2009

Jun 30, 2009
Happy Daze will compile only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Aux Barricades! lists action ideas, and Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes of interest.

Happy Daze is devoted to reminding us that good things do happen, progress is being made, and that even Armageddon may, at times, seem to have a silver lining.

Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes this month’s so far:

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

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

tags: Happy Daze

Aux Barricades!, June 2009

Jun 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


tags: Aux Barricades! | Working Together

NPP Plank 3: Health Care

Jun 28, 2009

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.
—Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)
The current, very heated debate surrounding health care reform is being conducted entirely within the context of the status quo, whereas medicine and health care will experience revolutionary change this century, rendering the status quo unrecognizable, probably within a generation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPP Plank 2: Education

Jun 13, 2009
The U.S. system of universal free public education, developed in the 19th century, is one of the brightest stars in the firmament of American democracy. But even the brightest stars eventually go out, and today the system so suffers from its shortcomings, and the cost of those shortcomings has become so high, that the American system of education finds itself undergoing a sea change.

The most glaring among its shortcomings is its failure to deliver a quality product across the full spectrum of society. Urban, rural, and minority populations have consistently received short shrift. Urban minorities, in particular, have been relegated to what are essentially custodial detention facilities, abysmally underfunded, where generations have been lost to poverty and violence, in a downward spiral of despair.

Though impossible to say just how the education system will appear once the smoke clears, it is safe to speculate that there is a better than even chance that the new system will do a superior job of delivering on the egalitarian promise of universal education. Note, for instance, the excellent work being done by the following schools and institutions:

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

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

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

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

Yosemite Sam Rides Again

Jun 07, 2009
The controversial amendment1 to the recent Credit Card bill, allowing loaded weapons, including assault rifles, in national parks, was supported by all three Vermont members of Congress, Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders and Representative Peter Welch. We had written them all, urging them to oppose this notion that was even too radical for Ronald Reagan. Two of them, Sanders and Welch, responded, and claimed they were voting for the measure because they wanted to leave the issue up to the states. Leahy did not respond.

How voting to change a federal law may be considered “leaving it up to the states” is a question not easily answered. However, need we bother looking for an answer? The vote is such an obvious sop to the gun interests in Vermont and to the NRA, that their silly attempt at a rational response is just that—silly.

The Second Amendment is of vital importance to a people who do not want their government to be the only ones allowed to possess and bear arms. However, like schools and other public places where children predominate and a pacific atmosphere is necessary to the enjoyment of the venue, national parks are no places for gun-toting good old boys and their M-16s.

And our congressional delegation ought to be ashamed of going Ronald Reagan one better and allowing them back in.

To see how your delegation did, and to write them if you don’t like their stand, see several entries in the May 2009 Noted with Interest.
____________________
1 Search for Bill Number H.R. 627, then find Text of Amendments, pp. S5384-5385.
tags: Politics

Czar This!

Jun 06, 2009
The Obama administration should stop calling people czars: the drug czar,1 the cyber czar,2 the Great Lakes czar,3 the pay czar,4 the car czar.5 By some accounts, there are now 20 or more “czars” running around Washington,6 czaring it up and giving us all a false sense of security: After all, if a czar is in charge, something must be getting done.

There are at least two objections to the utilization of this designation:

First, czars—and we are speaking of the real thing now—were among the most despicable villains in history, whether we called them czars, kaisers, or, to go back to the original, Caesar himself. The Russian czars (later deeming themselves emperors as well)—Ivan, Catherine, Peter, Alexander, Nicholas, et al.—were among the cruelest, greediest, and most self-indulgent monarchs in the unhappy human panoply of absolute rulers.

And in that “absolute” lies the second objection. Czars were absolute rulers, with life-and-death power over their wretched populations, subject to no checks and balances to their boundless presumptions. Our czars, in contrast, are frauds, holding little or no power over even their carefully delimited corner of the political world. They are straw men (and notice they are all men, nary a czarina in sight), propped up to deflect attention from the real center of power (the Oval Office) and to give the impression, as noted above, that powerful forces are at work cutting through the red tape and bureaucracy of the normal D.C. slough to bring swift and certain resolution to knotty problems of policy and politics, when nothing could be further from the truth. They are, rather, mere P.R. bandaids slapped onto wounds too complicated and difficult of resolution for us to contemplate in the light of day. Turn those wounds over to a czar, however, and we can all rest easy.

If only it were that simple, and if only czars—ever champions of the status quo—could be counted on to foster change for the common good.
____________________
1 US drug czar calls for end of “war on drugs,” by Andy Sullivan, from Reuters, Jun 5, 2009, accessed, as all notes in this item, Jun 6, 2009.
2 Obama Set to Create “Cyber Czar” Position, by Siobhan Gorman and Yochi J. Dreazen, from the Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2009.
3 President Obama names Great Lakes czar to oversee cleanup efforts, by Tom Jackson, from the Sandusky Register Online, Jun 6, 2009.
4 All Bow to the Pay Czar, by Caitlin McDevitt, from Reuters, Jun 5, 2009.
5 Barney Frank: Car Czar, from the Wall Street Journal, Jun 5, 2009.
6 Here a Czar, there a Czar, everywhere a Czar Czar..., from TheCitizen.com, undated.
tags: Governance | Politics

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