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Noted with Interest, December 2010

Dec 27, 2010

Help Stop Destruction of the Free Internet Now
By Eliot D. Cohen. Net neutrality is dead. Look for censorship, mainstream media dominance of the bandwidth, increased government surveillance, pricing by download, etc. Act together and act now: Go offline between 2 and 3 pm Eastern Time on New Year's Day. From Truthdig.com, Dec 26, 2010. Accessed Dec 27, 2010.

2011: A Brave New Dystopia
by Chris Hedges. Happy New Year. From Truthdig.com, Dec 27, 2010. Accessed Dec 27, 2010.

How to Be President in a Fact-Free America
by Gary Young. Wise words from across the pond. From The Nation, Jan 3, 2011. Accessed Dec 18, 2010, 2010.

Obama Threatens Social Security,
by William Greider, from The Nation, Dec 9, 2010. Accessed Dec 11, 2010.

In Defense of Government
by Kai Wright. From The Nation, Dec 6, 2010. Accessed Dec 8, 2010.

From Jefferson to Assange
by Robert Scheer. If we abandon Assange, we abandon democracy. From Truthdig.com, Dec 7, 2010. Accessed Dec 8, 2010.

Happy as a Hangman
by Chris Hedges. We are all complicit. From Truthdig.com, Dec 6, 2010. Accessed Dec 7, 2010.

tags: Noted with Interest

Strawberry Fields or Killing Fields?

Dec 26, 2010
There will be no more California strawberries in this house. Their Department of Pesticide Regulation recently (at the tail end of Republican Schwarzenegger’s last term as governor) approved the use of methyl iodide as a pesticide for their state’s strawberry fields. California’s own Scientific Review Panel stated that “methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical” whose use “would have a significant adverse impact on public health.”1

But this is how it happens in a corporate-dominated society. If Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the largest private pesticide company in the world according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN),1 wants to spray a carcinogen all over your strawberries, infecting the workers who plant and pick them and, potentially, the groundwater which millions of Californians depend on, then by god Arysta will do it. They will get the Bush administration’s EPA to sign off on its use, they will hire PR and lobbying firms to buy off our elected representatives, and they will convince you, with lower prices and massive advertising campaigns, to ignore your and your children’s best interests and buy their poison by the truckload.

The Scientific Review Panel’s findings and other documents related to this scandal, may be found at the PAN link below. Read them and weep. Then write the new governor and the EPA, both of whom have indicated they may reverse the decisions allowing this travesty in public health.
1 Pesticide Action Network North America
tags: Food and Agriculture | Business | Governance

The Business of America Is Work

Dec 18, 2010
People have to work. They have to work for their bread. They have to work for their self-esteem. They have to work in order to take their place in a society which requires their portion of labor and which is only able to underwrite their idleness to a limited extent before it begins to crack apart.

One in every four American workers is not working now—at all or enough or at a sufficient wage to qualify them as adequately employed. They are threatening to become a permanent underclass of un- and underemployed Americans. The middle class who are employed are losing ground, losing hours, losing wages, forced by globalization to drift ever nearer to the status of the third-world neo-slave labor force that is inundating our globe with cheap goods and environmental degradation.

If we are to avoid social cataclysm, work must become the top priority in America. And the only way to do that is to guarantee every American worker a job at a living wage.

The recent tax cut legislation passed by Congress is another poison pill dropped into the social brew. That brew has been poisoned for thirty years by the nonsense of trickle-down economics, as enormous fortunes have been made by brigands with whom the robber barons of the 19th century would have been ashamed to associate. The legislation will have little or no effect on employment, which can only be bettered by finding our way back to a vibrant, productive economy. If we have to jump start that economy by governmental intervention to put people—all people—back to work, then so be it.

The fact that we should never have allowed ourselves to reach the point where such action is required is beside the point. We are there. Americans in vast numbers are losing their homes, their jobs, and their savings, and with home, job, and savings go their self-esteem and their connectedness to community. As we enter the third year of economic bust in America, huge numbers of the unemployed will begin to exhaust their 99 weeks of unemployment compensation. Cold and hunger will then visit America to an extent not felt since the first half of the 19th century. Few who feel this cold and hunger will be unjustified in believing their social contract has been broken, and we may look for a rapid decline in social order, a ramping up of police state repression, and a swift decline into third world status ourselves.

This need not be, howsoever present policies seem to be condemning us to this fate. We, the people, remain the masters of our fate. And while that is still so, we must act, with speed, decisiveness, and a spirit of cooperation not seen since the founding fathers came together from disparate political spheres to establish this grand experiment in the first place.
tags: Labor | Employment | Governance

The Ostrich Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great 2010 Boondoggle

Dec 09, 2010
Many are the voices,1,2 all urging the same thing: “Give him a break, he’s doing the best he can.” Meanwhile, for the progressive base, currently led by Bernie Sanders and his filibuster threat, this is the last straw.

The “package,” which would add nearly a trillion dollars more to the deficit before the next election3, represents a huge giveaway to the super-rich and peanuts to the poor. It will further solidify a permanent underclass of unemployed Americans, extending their puny benefits for another 13 months, while retaining for the plutocracy their ability to continue scrambling for an ever larger portion of the pie.

The long death march of Social Security takes another giant step forward, as a third of the payroll deduction is slashed for one year, a cut which the corporatocracy will almost surely try to make permanent, as the Bush tax cuts are shaping up to be.

The capital gains and dividends giveaway—they are taxed at 15%, only about half the 25-28% the middle class pay on their income—will be extended another two years.

Blood in the streets is postponed by extending unemployment benefits to a chunk of the 15.1 million idle Americans. That largess accounts for only $56 billion of the $900 billion price tag on the package, as 7 million unemployed were facing no income and virtually no prospects of work in 2011.

This “center” cannot hold, and should a filibuster fail to materialize or fail to be effective against this boondoggle, then look for things to begin falling apart in 2011. Whether it take the form of China calling in our markers, a third conflict initiated against Iran, a descent into anarchy via the reinvigorated Republican assault on government, or something unexpected and out of the blue, yet it will come.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has provided one of the clearest and most comprehensive explanations of what is happening, and why the current tax “compromise” has to be where we draw the line in the sand.4
1 No Deficit of Courage,by Jon Meacham, from the NY Times, Dec 8, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
2 Falling Off the Bandwagon, by Gail Collins, from the NY Times, Dec 8, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
3 Tax Deal Suggests New Path for Obama, by David M. Herszenhorn and Jackie Calmes, from the NY Times, Dec 6, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
4 Why the Obama Tax Deal Confirms the Republic Worldview, by Robert Reich, in the Huffington Post, Dec 8, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
tags: Governance | Economics | Congress

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: Health | Politics | Working Together

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