Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So, What IS Terrorism?

When Joseph Stack flew his plane into the IRS building in Austin and his manifesto was published, I admit my knee jerked and I said "terrorist" to myself. Well, truth be told, I said "right wing terrorist."

His political jeremiad aside, I now think Stack is not a terrorist at all as we understand the word in the 21st century. He sort of shared similar beliefs with some already identified terrorists and he acted a lot like terrorists generally do. In this case, though, Stack doesn't pass the smell test. 

Aside from the people who were victimized by him (and their family and friends) and the extensive property damage, does anyone feel exactly terrorized by his act? I would venture that the answer is a firm "maybe" verging toward a soft "no." There are good reasons for this.

First, we know that there will eternally be lone nuts out there ready to act horrifically who are motivated by a variety of beliefs and impulses, some political, some personal, occasionally a blend of the two as was the case with Stack. (There are, as well, psychopaths for whom reason is never in season. There is also the terror of organized crime and drug cartels, other castes altogether.)

Second, Stack's sense of personal victimization at the hands of government clearly shoved him into what he considered "political" beliefs. If the IRS had magically dropped its case against him, his plane would still be on a runway ready to whisk him to his next contract job. If Stack had remained relatively prosperous and still developed a theory of social inequity - a la Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and even Lenin and Trotsky - then we might be able to view his acts as political. 

Third, there is no Stackian Liberation Army lurking about, ready to strike again. Might there be other radical tax protesters willing to act? Possibly. These are very edgy times. But you can be sure such radicals didn't train with Stack, nor read polemics by Stack, or congregate in a radical, anti-tax madrassa established and funded by Stack or shadowy associates.

At least in my book terrorism has to have three components. There has to be a group. The group has to have an ideology or defined political goal, not just a set of personal gripes. The effort to terrorize has to be ongoing, concerted and somewhat consistent, if not constant. 

I think of our current battle with Islamist extremists as fitting the bill. And the OK City bombing. The French Reign of Terror. The terror that Japan inflicted on Korea and Manchuria. The Holocaust. Stalin's collectivization terror. Our own terrorism against Native Americans. The Killing Fields of Cambodia. The Algerian uprising against Franch colonialism. The Irish campaigns against the British (and vice versa). I cite these not because of the scale of terror, but rather because in each case they were performed by a cohesive group with a set ideology or goal and were carried out over some period of time.

People were terrified. 

As the old blues saying goes: "When Jesus gets you, that's a church song. When the Devil gets you, that's the blues."

And you know it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Cost of War Rolls On... and On

Since this blog was begun on January 22, 2010, America has spent another $10 billion on the twin wars in Asia. That's in just 32 days. Or $312,500,000 per DAY. One dollar a day from each of us. (Click here for the "War Cost Clock" and see how much your state and local contribution has been.)
Meanwhile, much ado is made of Scott Brown and a handful of other "moderate" Republicans voting for closure on a skimpy $15 billion jobs bill. This is the country we want? Say it ain't so.

Young men and women dying, our debt going through the ceiling, and a need to create 22 million jobs by 2013 just to get us back to the employment rate we enjoyed we late 2006...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Marketing Environmentalism 3 - The Pitfall of Apocalypticism

Even Sir Isaac Newton succumbed to end-of-the-world speculation. Based on biblical  research, he predicted it would come in the year 2060. Who can forget the weirdness of Y2K? Recently we have been exposed to the ruckus over the Mayan calendar's 2012 doomsday scenario. Global warming champions exemplify another, if subtler, form of this syndrome. 

We have met the enemy and he is our apocalyptic self.

Perfectly well-intentioned proponents of the Global Warming Theory have fallen prey to this pseudo-religious fervor that never seems to entirely disappear from human thinking. Whether global warming is real (which it is) is not material to our well being in the here and now. There are more concrete, existential threats on our doorstep at this very moment and apocalyptic thinking is destroying our chances to do something about them today, tomorrow, next week.

This morning the American Heart Association reaffirmed its stand on the correlation between excess deaths from heart and arterial disease and air pollution. Click for the statement. 

It says, among other things, that air pollution: "is a serious public health problem because an enormous number of people are exposed over an entire lifetime," and "epidemiological studies conducted worldwide have shown a consistent, increased risk for cardiovascular events, including heart and stroke deaths, in relation to short- and long-term exposure to present-day concentrations of pollution, especially particulate matter."

In April of 2009, Aruni Bhatnagar of the University of Louisville and Robert Brook of the University of Michigan organized a symposium, Environmental Factors in Heart Disease, at the Experimental Biology conference in New Orleans.

Among the deeply disturbing findings they and other participants in the conference presented:
  • A study of six U.S. cities found that people died earlier when they lived in cities with higher pollution levels. A majority of these deaths were due to heart disease.
  • A study of 250 metropolitan areas around the world found a spike in air pollution is followed by a spike in heart attacks. 
  • A study in Salt Lake City found that when a nearby steel mill shut down for a period of months, there was a 4-6% drop in mortality. The mortality rose to previous levels when the steel mill reopened. 
  • The risk of heart attack increases in parallel with time spent in traffic the previous day. 
  • Within 15 minutes of inhaling pollutants, there is a very rapid increase in blood pressure.
  • Aldehydes increase blood cholesterol levels and activate enzymes that cause plaque in the blood vessels to rupture. (Aldehydes are a toxic class of chemicals found in most forms of smoke, including cigarette smoke and car exhaust.)
Some epidemiologists believe that upwards of 1,000,000 excess deaths per year in the United States are caused by fine particulate matter alone.

We are also certain of the role that air borne pollution plays in the astronomical rise in contemporary asthma rates, especially in inner cities around the world. Direct yearly costs of asthma in the U.S. accounts for nearly $10 billion (hospitalizations the single largest portion of direct cost) and indirect costs of $8 billion (lost earnings due to illness or death).  

We are not certain of air pollution's effect on autism rates, depression due to circulatory and chemical issues, or the effect on those with pneumonia and otherwise relatively benign (in the developed world) pulmonary afflictions. Although the accusing epidemiological finger is pointing more directly at pollution.

So, we may battle over global warming, Left against Right, all we want. Meanwhile millions worldwide are dying prematurely, suffering with chronic conditions, or leading miserable material lives because of pollution. 

Focusing so much activist energy on global warming is a disaster. It allows us to say we MUST solve this enormous problem but "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," while in fact we do nothing. It allows the badly informed to indulge in thinking that leads them to dismiss the basically sound science of global warming. It allows those so inclined to pray to God, shrug their shoulders, and think of the afterlife. After all, life on earth is supposed to be a vail of tears, isn't it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Think Local, Ummm… Think Narrow?

(See video at end of post)
On February 18, the New York Times published a profile of urban sociologist, Sharon Zukin, a professor at Brooklyn College. (link) As many of us do, Professor Zukin decries the passing of neighborhoods with special charm and character. But Zukin is wrong; they have not passed. They have moved to northern Manhattan, the Bronx, and countless neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.

From what the Times says of Zukin, one would think that the entire swath of the five boroughs has descended into an 8 million person shopping mall more worthy of Phoenix than the Northeast. What seems closer to reality is that the likes of Zukin keep their middle-class binoculars focused on the old ethnic enclaves of Manhattan and Brooklyn that were made up largely of white ethnic groups. 

To cite one "colorful" ethnic group - Italian Americans - not very long ago, there were about 2 million people of Italian descent living in the 5 boroughs. Now there are about 625,000. (However, there are 3.3 million Italians living in the overall metro area.) To greater or lesser degrees, this holds true for the Jewish, Irish, German and Slavic populations. Of course their descendants are living in New York City, but they are more homogenized, less colorful and thus less able to lend their old neighborhoods ethnic flavor. As a coda, in the last census estimates, fewer than 100,000 people living in Manhattan identified themselves as Italian-American.

Yet we know that there are ethnic groups abounding in the great metropolis.

New Yorkers speak 170 languages in their homes and there are about 275 ethnic newspapers and magazines published here in 40 or so different languages. The striving, struggling and dreaming goes on, just not in the narrow confines of the Village, Soho or Noho, or formerly German/Slavic Yorkville on the Upper East Side. But, from what The Times says of Zukin's point of view, one would think that the entire swath of the five boroughs has descended into an 8 million person shopping mall more worthy of Phoenix than the Northeast. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

A visit to most of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and especially Queens - the most ethnically diverse county in the country - will confirm this. Ya want ethnic flavor? Get out of town!

Behind the picturesqueness or lack of same, however, comes a portrait of the new ethnic individual, however. A majority are working class, but they are not employed in manufacturing since New York's factory world has been disintegrating since World War II. Now there are less than 100,000 manufacturing jobs here, a loss of 1,000,000 since 1942.

The European-American, hearty lunch-pail image of the New York that we know so well from movies like On The Waterfront and The Naked City is gone for the foreseeable future. 

30% of people with less than a high school diploma who are employed at all, work in manufacturing. The remaining low skill workers toil in the food service industry, retail, and menial labor jobs. Since manufacturing jobs traditionally pay more than those other categories, this does not bode well for us. The difference, once upon a time, between a white collar professional and a skilled blue collar worker was largely a matter of luxury income. Now the chasms are gargantuan. (The blue collar workers of the building trades, and the light blue collar telecommunications and health care fields somewhat ameliorate the situation.)

Is the flavor of Manhattan below 110th Street becoming Walmarted? It surely is. Can that be governed? Probably not. The chaining of America is not a micro, but rather a macro trend.

To recreate the faded industrial era, one would have to bring back the garment industry that once made 70% of all women's and 40% of all men's clothing in the country. Or bring back the dozen and a half big breweries from Rupert's to Rhiengold's to Lion's. Or the slaughterhouse and meat packing business. And shipbuilding, brick making and railroad tie making.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Liberal Friday Look-Alikes

Look alike and act alike (Do not dress alike.)
Think alike but do not act alike.
(Pope has no electricity in fingertips.)
Shave alike but do not sing alike.
Drawn alike. One is a real woman, the other a cartoon.
Do not look alike but act alike.

David Brooks, Extremism, Elitism, Corporate Racism and Workers' Wages

Today David Brooks in the New York Times has written a spurious, inaccurate column (link to it here) about America's power elite in which he feebly tries to explain the angry disaffection abroad in the land.
Among the dim-witted statements he has made (and quick commentary following them) are:
  • "As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted."                                                                                                                      Meritocracy, indeed. In fact, for instance, the U.S. Senate has one African-American, one Asian-American, one Hispanic member, and 16 women. There are 4 African-Americans heading Fortune 500 Companies, only one woman among them. The first black Fortune 500 CEO was only appointed in 1999: Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae. The Executive Leadership Council, a group in Alexandria, Virginia, notes that the percentage of Fortune 500 CEO seats occupied by white males, stayed steady in 2009 at 73%.
  • "It could be that Americans actually feel less connected to their leadership class now than they did then..."                                                                                                         The reason, Mr. Brooks, is not that the rich and powerful grow ever more so, but that the meat-and-potatoes middle and working classes grow steadily less rich and powerful. Until the 1970's, the standard of blue collar "middle-class" was a $20 per hour wage (adjusted to 2010 money). Since then the percentage of people earning at least $20 an hour has eroded in every sector of the economy, falling in 2008 to 16 percent of all hourly workers from 23 percent in 1979 — a gradual unwinding of post-World War II gains. The decline is greatest in manufacturing, where only 1.9 million hourly workers still earn that much, down 60 percent since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This neatly coincides with the rise of "Free Trade" and helter-skelter immigration policies that have pushed wages down and kept native born African-Americans, among others, from good paying jobs that were traditionally the second rung on the ladder of group success. “The most important model that rolled off the Detroit assembly lines in the 20th century,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at the University of California at Berkeley, “was the middle class for blue-collar workers.” 
  • King Harvest (Has Surely Come) by The Band
    • "[S]ociety is too transparent... I’d observe that the more government has become transparent, the less people are inclined to trust it."                                                   Where does one begin to point out the deficient thinking of such statements? Perhaps with the Bush Administration's manipulation of intelligence that lead to the Iraqi War? Or should we dally in the vale of the meltdown of the banks, of which 99% of Americans were unaware before the hard rains came? Or perhaps we should consider that details of the bailout of the same devious banks are perniciously being kept secret by the Federal Reserve? How about secret renditions, the pressure for closed military trials of terrorists, or even the rules governing chemicals in the food we eat? Democracy argues eternally for MORE, not less transparency, except in time of dire emergency, and I do mean dire.
    Finally, the top 1% of Americans controls almost 43% of the wealth in the country. About 17% of our population controls 93% of the wealth. That means that 255 million Americans are splitting the remaining 7% of the wealth. This is a prescription for________________ (fill in your favorite doomsday scenario.)

    Look no further for the lack of trust in the power elite, or the ever quickening rage boiling in so many of our fellow citizens. As always, follow the money. 

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Marketing Environmentalism 2

    See video below.

    When it comes to common folks who merely want clean air and less dependence on foreign oil, the right wing usually just can't spit the words out. So we'll have to settle for this excellent short video put together by Senator John Warner (R-Va), even if it is with a divided heart.

    Hard as it is we'll have to hold our liberal noses and swallow the clarity and professionalism of the message. It's a brilliant strategy and terrific execution. Warner's 100% correct. His points are dead center bulls eyes. $700 billion a year flows out of our economy mostly to countries with whom at best we share a tense antipathy. Soldiers and civilians alike are dying over the black, murky liquid gumming up the works.

    Note the flag waving in the opening seconds, the serious tone, the mentions of security, terrorism, the visuals showing soldiers sandbagging floodwaters, discussion of "our sons and daughters" who may serve in these energy wars, and the handsome captain-spokesmodel saying "it's like taking every hornet's nest we have around the world and shaking it up." Images of warfare, natural disaster, refugees, and a masked Islamic radical firing his gun are intermixed with apple pie images of America. The apocalyptic music lends the perfect creepy touch.

    This is the way to sell the huge changes we need in order to get off our oil high. Contrast this video with the stiff, didactic way in which we on the left have framed the argument.

    Climate Patriots from Laura Lightbody on Vimeo.

    Shipping, Globalization, Pasta and the Earth

    Maersk, the mammoth Danish shipping company (late of Somali pirate notoriety) has announced that by "slow steaming" it can save up to 30% of the fuel it normally uses.* This means traveling 12 to 20 knots per hour. The full article on slow steaming is here at Mother Nature Network. At about half speed, fuel consumption drops to 100-150 tons of fuel a day from 350 tons, saving as much as $5,000 an hour. In addition, the World Shipping Council is moving toward higher fuel efficiency standards for cargo ships much like those for automobiles.These are laudable baby steps toward reducing pollution that has no pinpoint national origin. (But big shippers should not yet to be awarded the good citizen gold star just yet. See the graphic below.)

    [Slow boat to china]
    There are more profound questions in play here that relate to globalization, pollution and domestic well-being.

    Once, not very long ago, products you consumed were pretty much made close to where you lived. Manufacturing was first concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. California, Texas, the Northwest and the South eventually blossomed. Goods might take a day or maybe two to arrive from their origin to a warehouse for local distribution. More than likely they arrived on trains.

    In the North and Midwest, at least, the hat you wore was made in Orange, NJ, the toggle bolt was crafted in Toledo, the everyday kitchen soup bowl was made in Syracuse or Indianapolis, and the television may have been made in GE's plant in Schenectady, or by Magnavox in Ft. Wayne.

    Free traders wiped that spectacularly successful national industrial model out over the course of 25 years beginning in the 1970s, accelerating it during the Reagan era; it continued moving at the speed of light through the Clinton years.

    Without doubt, international trade has an important place in the world economy. But historically, American imports were of products we either couldn't make here because of technical or materials limitations, or of products that another country's producers had a firm lock on. (Pre-World War II German precision instruments, for example.)

    Now, in New York, when shoppers buy pasta they find that Italian brands from Naples are often far cheaper than, say, Ronzoni, which is now manufactured in Harrisburg, PA. (Formerly made in New York City.) This is next to impossible to fathom.

    Much Italian pasta is made with American grown durum wheat, Australian wheat, (and other wheat primarily from France.) The American and Aussie wheat is shipped across oceans, worked into pasta in Italy, then re-shipped back across the oceans yet still can be priced more cheaply than the domestic brand.

    Curiously, in a country like Italy we are dealing with pretty much the same wage structure as in the United States, (versus China, where workers are paid about $200 a month in semi-skilled positions.)

    So what gives?

    Aside from a welter of subsidies that often makes American wheat cheaper to buy in Italy than at home, there has grown up an unnatural dependence on too-cheap, pollutant-spewing shipping, and for some products, pollutant-spewing air cargo planes. This shipping madness would be all well and good if these conveyances were clean running machines. But they aren't. They're filthy. Even when running 30% more efficiently.

    There are a number of hidden costs involved in all this transoceanic shipping. The first is the degrading of our air and water, commonly held human resources. Second, the developed world's gluttonous consumption of oil keeps us stuck to the tar-baby of Middle-Eastern oil and all the political consequences that entails. The third issue is the loss of decent-paying jobs that were exported, without good reason, to other countries. Fourth, there is a continual loss of manufacturing skill sets that could take a generation or more to recover. Finally, and perhaps most dangerously tragic, there is a loss of community, pride, and a raison d'etre for people with a modicum of education who might be working the jobs we cast away so thoughtlessly.

    *(By comparison, if we re-imposed the 55 mph speed limit for cars, we would save about 20% of the fuel now used for cars and trucking.)

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Patriotism, Seccession and Srpska

    When Al Qaeda first impressed its murderous intent upon our national consciousness on 9/11, there was much hubbub on the right wing urging moderates in the Islamic world to speak up and condemn the radical nihilists among them. Fair enough. Good people should not stand by when evil arises in their midst.

    Today, however, where are so-called "moderate" mainstream Republicans in condemning the likes of Rick "The Traitor" Perry, Governor of Texas, the closet racist secessionists in Vermont, the neo-Confederates of South Carolina, the white libertarian Alaskan split-off movements, and the Sandpoint, Idaho, gold-hoarding, conspiracy theorists? 

    Why don't Collins and Snowe of Maine; Oregon's Gordon Smith; Minnesota's Norm Coleman; and Voinovich and Warner respectively of Ohio and West Virginia step forward? Are they really on the side of the American Talibans?

    I doubt that. But they are so in thrall to their own extremist right wing element that they stand weak-kneed and, in the end, anti-patriotic themselves. 

    What they condone is talk that harks back to the secessionist prattle of the Yankee Federalist Party during the War of 1812, the Civil War, and more embarrassingly brings to mind movements in Third World regions today. For instance:
    • Srpska in Herzogovina, itself born of secession.
    • Moldova has been confronted for almost two decades with the secession of Transdniestria.
    • Karelia, a small corner of Russia, wants to secede and join Finland.
    • Abkhazia-South Ossetia in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.
    • Southern Sudan.
     But let us get back to our own country. The opportunistic separatists lurking among us do not want good things for our country. They want to make money by inventing organizations and creating websites populated by hysterically-toned, poorly-informed legalistic arguments based on the 10th Amendment. They are mercenaries in the truest sense of the word. Many, chief among them Sarah Palin, have enriched themselves in a time of national and international crisis.

    More insultingly, they have costumed themselves in the clothing of the patriots of the American Revolutionary period. 

    In his concise masterwork, "The Crisis," Thomas Paine wrote "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country..." 

    Paine referred, of course, to people who will remain loyal to an ideal as long as it is easy. Once the going gets tough, only the real patriots, the "Winter Soldiers," will stick by their country.

    In the go-go '90s and the acceptable economy of the first decade of the 2000's, these sunshine soldiers were fattening up at the trough of the American bounty. Now that times have gotten a bit tough, and we have a liberal, African-American President, these fair weather friends of our country act like cowardly little mice. So, step up, Republican "moderates." Tell it like it is.

    Factoid of the Day - Flag Waving, Raving Patriots of the Northeast!

    According to Pew Social Research, significantly more Northeasterners and Midwesterners fly the flag than do residents of the South or the West.

    Roughly seven-in-ten residents of the Northeast (69%) say they fly the flag, compared with 67% in the Midwest, 58% in the South, and 57% in the West.

    I venture to say the percentage would be even higher in the Northeast, especially the big cities of Boston, NY, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the densely populated smaller cities in between given the nature of our living arrangements. (One can't really fly the flag from an apartment building window - it just isn't done. And, in big cities, car ownership is much lower, so decals, antenna flags, and the like don't come into play as much.)

    Flying the flag isn't the most accurate indicator of patriotism, of course. But it is noteworthy that public discourse, and private dinner table conversations literally never turn to talk of secession or state nullification of Federal Laws in the more heavily flag-waving areas of our country.

    It's hard to pinpoint why this may be. Perhaps in the Northeast, in particular, but the older parts of the Midwest as well, we've been flying the flag for a longer, and more completely uninterrupted period, than, say, the South. Perhaps we are more at ease with our patriotism, more directly connected to the struggles of the War For Independence and the War of 1812? Perhaps our collective unconscious and our political DNA recall foreign power domination.

    It might even be that flag flying is part and parcel of the actual decor of a certain kind of America - one that embraces continuity of loyalty and trust in the real founding principles. I am thinking of the landscapes of suburban and rural New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland where stone walls containing more masonry than the Great Wall of China, American eagles guarding the lintels of front doors, covered bridges - and the flag itself - make up a visual unity of feeling that is ineluctable. Patriotism isn't embroidered on the breast pocket for any temporal political purpose.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Climate Change - The Marketing Problem

    Around 1990 my wife became editor of Columbia University's Environmental Law Review and global warming popped up on my personal radar. Almost immediately, she and I came into conflict over this issue, even though we are both fervent environmentalists. 

    I insisted that people cannot and do not want to wrap their minds around the Apocalypse, especially if they won't be able to drive to Armageddon.

    Being more technocratically inclined than I, she insisted that education on the subject would change that. What sane person would ignore the facts?

    That was 20 years ago and in our righteous passion, we liberals have wasted two decades of trying to convince the dim-witted, uneducated, science-resistant and self-absorbed American public that global warming is 1) a reality and 2) a menace to the planet. Too bad. Time is money.

    All consumers - in this case consumers of information - need to be sold the benefits of a clean environment. If a consumer is told carefully and repeatedly that the warming of the atmosphere is dangerous, his or her first reaction is "When?" Second reaction is "Where will these changes occur? Near me?" Their third reaction is most likely "Tilt. I can't do anything about it anyway. Problem's too big." 

    In a country where half the population believes the earth and all its creatures were created in a 7-day week about 10,000 years ago, global warming and necessary remedies simply won't sell. Moreover, the focus on global warming conveniently tosses all notions about the immediate dangers of air, water and soil pollution to the side of the road.

    For instance, a Stanford University study shows that in the U.S., solely because of excess CO2, there are 2,000 excess deaths every year.* Total deaths from pollution in the U.S. number in the hundreds of thousands, hovering close to 1,000,000. And ocean chemistry is being radically altered by CO2 (and other pollutants) to such an extent that the fish and marine life population is beginning to suffer so severely that by the end of this century essentially we will see the end of natural populations of all food fish.** (*Mark Z. Jacobson (Stanford University). On the causal link between carbon dioxide and air pollution mortality.  **James Zachos, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Toby Tyrrell, Southampton University, U.K.)
    In fact, scientists now overwhelmingly agree that about 40% of ALL deaths in the world can be attributed to pollution,

    So, what has marketing got to do with it? Simple. Passionate, convinced environmentalists have to stop selling the Apocalypse and start selling the cost benefits in the here and now. Stop selling the steak and start selling the sizzle.

    The sizzle may be the decline in the daily catch and consequent rise of fish prices. It may be the increased cost burden of medical care or life insurance. It may be the decline in productivity and wealth due to lost days of work. It may be the cost of re-painting a house every 6 years instead of every 10. It may be appealing to patriotism by persuading people to get off the junkie's addiction to foreign oil.

    The average American thinks in the concrete, not the abstract. There are literally hundreds of reasons why we should have a cleaner environment. Global warming is the overarching one, but it just ain't selling. (Think this way: Toothpaste Brand X has decided brighter teeth is its position. But the company discovers through research that people care more about fewer cavities and fresh breath. Well? Do you keep advertising brighter teeth?)

    In marketing there are a number of terms that drive the thinking before the actual message - a TV commercial, for instance - is born. Let's suppose that our company is Clean Environment, Inc. Our products are good healthy air, water, and soil. A strategy is needed.  

    Strategy is how a brand or product line will achieve its objectives. The strategy provides decisions and direction regarding variables such as identification of the target market, the segmentation of the market, positioning, marketing mix, and expenditures of time/money/energy. Tactics address the "how." Do we use, aside from the usual media mix, premiums or incentives like tote bags or a free vacation, a club, initiatives in schools and churches; is the campaigning seasonal or year round? Message: We are off message on the environmental issue. Off the top of my head I'd say there are a few catch-words that need to be employed as if they were Holy Writ: Cleaner, Cheaper, Children, Country, God. 

    More on this to come.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Nuremberg, Eichmann and Terror Trials Today

    There can be no greater argument for holding the imminent terror trials in a fair, transparent setting than the two photographs in this posting, the top from Nuremberg, below from Jerusalem.

    These barbarous men, instruments of evil during the Nazi era, were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people and property destruction the likes of which the world had never known, and has not known since. Many of these deaths were not part of the so-called normal course of war, but systematic terrorist acts against helpless civilians.

    Yet, in front of the whole world, they were put on trial, evidence was brought, weighed, deliberated upon, and sentences passed. It would have been easier to summarily shoot these fiends, but then billions of eyes would never have seen, billions of ears would never have heard of the scale and scope of their monstrousness.

    I don't argue for holding the contemporary terror trials in either civilian or military courts, nor do I argue for lower Manhattan versus a secure military base. The cost of the Manhattan scenario seems repellently high, on the order of $1 billion+.

    Regardless of venue, I do argue for the same complete transparency that Nuremberg and the Eichmann trials gave civilization, two complicated acts of juristic courage that will color history forever.

    The terror trials should be wide open to the press from all corners as were the World War II trials: 250 journalist covered Nuremberg, 500 Eichmann's.

    Eichmann's was the first war crimes trial to be treated to full television coverage. For those of us old enough to remember, he was the Man in the Glass Booth, flickering across the airwaves, a sinister manifestation of a past we knew only in legend.

    From where does the argument come to make Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and his devilish brethren "Men in Concrete Bunkers?" From the right wing, naturally.

    Senator Lindsey Graham, an extremist Republican who wants the trials to be held away from the eyes of journalists, said disingenuously today: "These Al Qaeda terrorists are not common criminals." Thank you for that sunning insight, Mr. Graham.

    In comparison to Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Speer, Neurath, Fritzsche, Bormann, Eichmann and the rest of the devil's disciples?The radical Sheikh is a two-bit murderer who should at least get a clean undershirt for the trial.

    In a mere 10 months, the Nuremberg trials dealt with six years of war crimes and 21 accused. For all the complaints at the time of "victors' justic," the trial was astonishingly fair to the accused, with three being acquitted. Eichmann's trial was short, as well, although appeals put off his death sentence for a year after the trial.

    Keep the trials open, well-covered by all members of the press around the planet, hold dear to our system of openness and fairness. Let the Republican radicals understand that vengeance and justice are two distinct ideas, let the world know that proper evidence has been brought and serious deliberation been made in an open society.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Solar Power 1954 - Yep

    Here Comes The Sun King (click to listen and watch a static YouTube screen)

    For my own obscure reasons I was looking up the word "solanum" (a kind of nightshade shrub) last night in bed when my eyes glanced down to the next set of words, all of which contained, "solar."

    Here they are, alongside their dates of entry into English: solar battery 1954, solar cell 1958, solar collector 1955, solar panel 1961, solar pond 1961, and solar sail 1958.

    In 1954 Dwight Eisenhower was President. Since Ike, we have had 10 more Presidents. A few thousand people have rotated through Congress.We have gone to the moon; the Computer/Internet Age has dawned and matured; our phones are now marvels of mobility and connectivity, and so forth.

    Yet, the European Union leads the United States in solar generation by a factor of 4.5 to 1*, despite our having much sunnier conditions in many more places than Europe, and a relatively large technological lead that has grown out of our space program. 

    Solar power is more important than ever, especially if coupled with a solid domestic jobs program.

    Places like Detroit, Ohio, northwest Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and other so-called rust belt metro areas have armies of idle skilled industrial workers. The construction industry across the country has been socked hard by declining employment. What could be a better marriage at this point?

    A good first step was Congress's extension of tax credits to the solar industry in September of 2008. However, it doesn't go far enough.

    From the time of first settlement, government has taken the lead in transformative projects.

    The building of the Erie Canal turned New York City into the nation's leading port. The Panama Canal, which had strategic importance as well as commercial importance, was built by the U.S. government. The system of railroad land grants - fair or not - by the federal government after the Civil War was undeniably instrumental in creation of what became the world's greatest rail system. The Interstate Highway System. which one can today fairly argue is an albatross around our collective neck, nevertheless spurred enormous economic activity and could not have been managed by any entity other than the central government.

    Today, every major transit system in the country is run by municipal governments or their factotums, regional transportation authorities.

    New York City's transit system, to cite one instance, moves close to 3 billion people a year. There are currently at least 7 MAJOR transit projects born of government planning and foresight currently in the building phase, accounting for tens of billions of dollars in taxable payroll, and secondary economic activity.

    So, why exactly is the federal government such a laggard when it comes to development of solar, among other alternative sources? One could reflexively say "big oil," but it seems as if integrated energy companies would welcome some sort of involvement now, given the volatility of oil prices and oil producing regions.

    It seems to me that, more crucially, the culprit lies in the anti-government philosophy that has gripped the extremist Republican Party, our tried and true philosophy of "Can Do," being challenged by their philosophy of "Can't Do." The hatred of government in a genuine democracy seems to me to be a form of self-hatred and defeatism.

    So, after 50 years - the rough mean time since the entry into the dictionary of words that today still define our technology - what's the delay? "How long?" as was said for expansion of civil rights. "Too long," is also the answer about the slow arrival of solar power.

    Interestingly, the same brand of radical naysayers who were responsible for holding civil rights legislation up are responsible for keeping us dependent on foreign energy. The plantation mentality is alive and well, my friends.

     * 3.8 Terrawatt hours vs. .83 TW-h.  A TW-h is 1,000,000 KW hours.

    In total renewables - hydro, wind, bio, solar and geothermal - we rank 4th, mainly because hydro figures so highly among those ahead of us - China, the EU and Brazil. It should be noted, however, that Canada's hydro production is almost totally consumed by the United States, so when one combines the two North American countries, they would far outstrip any other region. Contrapuntally, as most environmentalists know, hydro creates its own set of ecological nightmares. 

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Minority in a minority of a shrinking minority party

    Many reports have said there were 1200 people at the Nashville Tea Party "Convention." (Heck, there are bigger family reunions than that.) But let's be generous and double it. Let's say 2400 fringies attended. 

    So where does all the hysterical (pro and con) media coverage spring from? Is there something all that engaging about a group of very white, slightly over-the-hill, angry Americans that morbidly draws us in, like rubberneckers passing a bloody car accident? 

    Is the infotainment industry so incapable of separating urgent national issues from political bloodletting? Why do they insist on running from the right side to the left then back again, gasoline cans in hand, to keep the fires of division stoked?

    The TP-ers are an extremist sliver of the right wing minority residing within the minority Republican Party, which itself has shrunk to a self-identifying group of 21% of the electorate. (Democrats are still in the 35% range, nothing to beat the chest over, but 1.6 times greater than Republicans. Independents make up about 38% of the total. Small party enrollments make up the rest.) 

    We look at the TP-ers "through a glass darkly," seeing the worst angels in ourselves, fascinated and appalled by their tribal lust.

    I am reminded of Beat poet Delmore Schartz's poem that puts its finger on our barbaric impulses, ones that the Tea Partiers indulge themselves in with no moral compunction:

    The hungry beating brutish one
    In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
    Crazy factotum, dishevelling all...

    Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
    A caricature, a swollen shadow,
    A stupid clown of the spirit's motive,
    Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
    The secret life of belly and bone,
    Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown...

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Runaway Boys on Wall Street

    Scenario: Mother inherits valuable 100 year-old family heirloom, instructs son, 8, to never, ever touch it. Bad angel on shoulder pipes up, "Awwww, g'wan. What could happen?" Boy shatters heirloom. Mother scolds and punishes. Boy runs away. Smirking, cynical uncle takes boy in so he avoids consequences. Prodigal is eventually welcomed home and such is relief of mother that he's never truly punished. Mother places  freshly acquired heirloom in conspicuous spot...

    So goeth Wall Street's boys. Without giving home buyers who fed of the poisoned trough a free pass, we all know who fashioned and filled the trough. 

    Rumbling like a runaway train come reports of bonuses that have been "cut."  Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase will get $17 million. Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein is facing the bleakness of 2010 with a cut to a mere $9 million. Bank of America sets aside $4 billion for 2009 bonuses. Click here for Tom Petty's Runaway Train

    (It would take a somewhat above-average worker earning $60,000 a year about 150 years to earn the same amount as Blankfein's one year bonus, and almost 283 years to earn what Dimon will make.)

    While there are certainly ample social good arguments against such bonuses, and ample remedies through taxes to help Mainstreeters return to productive lives, there is little talk of either the morality of the doling out of such great bacon slabs, or of any sort of compensatory, voluntary actions by the recipients to right their wrongs. (How about creating a few hundred community banks with the cash?)

    Instead these executives are stuck in Neverland, boys clothed in $5,000 suits instead of woodland-inspired togs.

    Never gonna be a man,
    I won't!
    Like to see somebody try
    And make me.
    Anyone who wants to try
    And make me turn into a man,
    Catch me if you can.
    I won't grow up. 

    They argue straight-faced that these goitrous bonuses are necessary to "retain talent." There are about 125,000 people in the United States alone with MBAs. (In 1960, there were about 5,000). Then there are people with advanced degrees in economics, all those with undergraduate degrees in some sort of finance or business related field, and finally there are legions of smart, tough people who learned finance through working retail sales. The domestic pool of talent is enormous. And, because the world economy is globalized, the pool is now the size of an ocean. So much for the need to retain talent through sacrilegiously sized bonuses.

    Now to the trickier issue of morality. Everyone's happy the bank bailout loans and other funds are being repaid to our treasury. But, that is like chipping in on gas money if you've wiped out someone's family in a car crash.

    Until the financial world's leaders - leaders with names and faces and homes and private, interior lives like you and I have - take full responsibility, they will and should remain pariahs in our country. And the heaviest hammer of economic justice available should come down on them for waging war on the middle class, and the aspiring middle class.

    Finally, the best part: as Democrats push harder for restitution through higher taxes and tighter control of the industry, the Wall Street boys are beginning to give more money to the Republicans. 

    The NY Times reported today: Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he visited New York about twice a month to try to tap into Wall Street’s “buyers’ remorse.” 

    “I just don’t know how long you can expect people to contribute money to a political party whose main plank of their platform is to punish you,” Mr. Cornyn said."

    Lost the boys of Wall Street may be, but ever so slick and ever so self-serving.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    A Tale of Two Ladies

    Of Deficits and Demons

    We're Not Gonna Take It - The Who (Click to play song) (a nice exploration in song of why blindly following leaders who pander to groupthink isn't a super idea...)

    From Paul Krugman's Column, February 4, 2010 (click for full article)

    So once the economic crisis is past, the U.S. government will have to increase its revenue and control its costs. And in the long run there’s no way to make the budget math work unless something is done about health care costs.

    But there’s no reason to panic about budget prospects for the next few years, or even for the next decade. Consider, for example, what the latest budget proposal from the Obama administration says about interest payments on federal debt; according to the projections, a decade from now they’ll have risen to 3.5 percent of G.D.P. How scary is that? It’s about the same as interest costs under the first President Bush.

    Why, then, all the hysteria? The answer is politics.

    The main difference between last summer, when we were mostly (and appropriately) taking deficits in stride, and the current sense of panic is that deficit fear-mongering has become a key part of Republican political strategy, doing double duty: it damages President Obama’s image even as it cripples his policy agenda. And if the hypocrisy is breathtaking — politicians who voted for budget-busting tax cuts posing as apostles of fiscal rectitude, politicians demonizing attempts to rein in Medicare costs one day (death panels!), then denouncing excessive government spending the next — well, what else is new?

    The trouble, however, is that it’s apparently hard for many people to tell the difference between cynical posturing and serious economic argument. And that is having tragic consequences.

    For the fact is that thanks to deficit hysteria, Washington now has its priorities all wrong: all the talk is about how to shave a few billion dollars off government spending, while there’s hardly any willingness to tackle mass unemployment. Policy is headed in the wrong direction — and millions of Americans will pay the price

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Are We Less Well-Informed Than We Used To Be?

    First, I'd like to say that I am not planning to fully answer this question, but rather put a bit of perspective on it and offer one possible solution. Someone recently sent me an article from September, 1999 from It makes the head spin. (There's a "reward song" at the end of this post that will stop said head from spinning too much.)

    Here are some pull quotes from the various studies in the Salon article:

    On a typical election day, 56 percent of Americans can't name a single candidate in their own district, for any office.

    A poll by the nonprofit Pew Research Center, released in 1999... showed that 56 percent of Americans could not name a single Democratic candidate for president. Things weren't better for the Republicans: Only 63 percent could recall the name "Bush."

    One month after the Republican revolution in 1994, in which conservatives, led by Newt Gingrich, finally took control of the House of Representatives, 57 percent of the electorate did not know who Gingrich was.

    Nor is this a new development or the product of young minds warped by MTV. In 1964, at the height of the Cold War, only 38 percent of Americans could say for sure whether the Soviet Union was a member of NATO.

    A 1996 Washington Post-Harvard survey found that “only 26 percent knew the 6-year term of office of a U.S. senator” and less than half the public knows that a member of the House of Representative is elected to a two-year term.

    Although surveys were not methodically taken then, we know anecdotally that an outcry over such ignorance was raised as long ago as the 1870s.

    Naturally, ignorance was more understandable in the 19th century because information was more difficult to obtain, and campaigns of misinformation less developed, and perhaps issues were less confusing. (Although the reaction to slavery was certainly not uncomplicated.)

    Blind ignorance had been going on for generations apparently though. James Madison warned:

    A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. 

    I think there is a larger discussion to be had, however. Dilution.

    In 1910 when there were 391 members of the House, each represented about 236,000 people. Today, its 435 members represent an average of 707,000 people, a dilution factor of 3 over the course of the last 100 years. (In 1820, the number was around 6,000 - small enough so a Representative could know every enfranchised voter by name!)

    Worse off is senatorial representation in many modestly populous to very populous states. Wyoming, the least populous state, has 544,000 people represented by two Senators. California has 37 million. How close can citizens in a big state realistically hope to get to a Senator's decision-making process? 

    Finally, across the breadth of the entire country, we still only have 9 Supreme Court Justices, the same number as in 1869. (The Court has gone from as few as 5 members to as many as 10 in its history.) No wonder liberals and conservatives so often feel frustrated, angry and betrayed by many of the Court's decisions. Of course, Justices are not supposed to be strictly representative of the electorate, but it bears mulling over that there is only one of them for every 34 million of us. Could they possibly be reflective of a huge, diverse population? I think not.

    A liberal take on this imbalance would see the House grow by at least double, and the Senate completely re-apportioned, while still ensuring some sort of voice for small states. (I can feel a rant about my views on the filibuster welling up, so I will wind this post down.) And the Supreme Court could certainly be expanded to 17 or 19.

    People unarguably are ignorant about politics. But, we grow farther and farther away from a reasonable connection with their Federal representatives with each year of new population growth. Why keep attuned and informed when you feel so out of touch?

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    College Loan Revamping Threatened By Greedy Lobbyists and Complicit Senators

    From The New York Times February 5, 2010 (Click here for full article):

    "Sallie Mae, a publicly traded company that is the nation’s biggest student lender with $22 billion in loans originated last year, led the field in spending $8 million on lobbying in 2009, more than double the year before, and other lenders spent millions of dollars more, according to an analysis prepared for The New York Times by the Center for Responsive Politics." 

    As discussed on New York Liberal State of Mind, January 29, 2010, the revision/rehabilitation of the way Federal college loans are administered is being threatened by self-serving lobbyists. (See original blog post).

    The projected savings in the bill over 10 years would be $80 billion dollars.

    The private lenders are often enormous institutions like Sallie Mae, Citi, and Wells Fargo, although there are many mid-size competitors, many of which are not household names unless you're in the market for a student loan.

    Industry lobbyists claim that some, although they can't or won't say how many, of the 35,000 jobs will be lost if the government takes the reins of the out-of-control profits the companies are making. Let's make an extreme case: one quarter of those 35,000 jobs will be lost under the new plan, or 8750 jobs.

    By distributing that $80 billion dollars in savings amongst those theoretical 8750 workers if they are not laid off, each of those jobs would be subsidized by taxpayers at the rate of $91,000 per year, every year over the ten year cycle. Who wouldn't love to run a company with that kind of government subsidy? I volunteer immediately to receive my $91,000.

    Put another way, the financial institutions will be receiving $266 from every man, woman and child in America in order to save these pointless jobs. (We know that children don't pay taxes, and we also know that about 1/4th of all adults pay little or no taxes, so you can figure your real share is more along the lines of $400 to support big banks and the like. Great, isn't it?)

    There are many alternatives to the current system leaving aside straight up federal administration. States could administer the loans, as could colleges, or scholarship foundations. Direct grants could be made to students using the savings.

    Interestingly, Sallie Mae, while it was spending $8 million in lobbying last year maintains a "scholarships" program. The amount they give away? $250,000 - about 3% of what they spend for lobbying. Click here for their "scholarships" page.

    There has also been a shocking degree of corruption and lack of oversight of the program as now administered. Educational institutions are entwined with the lenders on an unimaginable scale. Click here to read some highlights - or low-lights, as the case may be.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Factoid(s) of the Day February 4, 2010 and some music

    Before you read on... here are a few "work" songs: Working At The Car Wash Blues (Jim Croce), I've Been Working (Van Morrison), Get Back In Line (Kinks)

    Now that you've been entertained, you can proceed to feel appalled (again).

    When Ronald Reagan was president, unemployment was over 10% for a solid ten months and over 9% for another 9 months. Republicans canonized Reagan.

    1982-09 10.10 10.1
    1982-10 10.40 10.4
    1982-11 10.80 10.8
    1982-12 10.80 10.8
    1983-01 10.40 10.4
    1983-02 10.40 10.4
    1983-03 10.30 10.3
    1983-04 10.20 10.2
    1983-05 10.10 10.1
    1983-06 10.10 10.1

    When Bill Clinton was president, unemployment at one juncture was under 5% from July of 1997 through the end of his term in January of 2001, occasionally dipping to 3.9 and 3.8%. The Republicans tried to impeach President Clinton.

    Now that another Democrat is in the White House, we are going through the same drill with the extremist right wing Republican Party. They simply don't take ownership of their disastrous policies. Let's split 2009 in two, however, and give all responsibility for the first half to Bush and all responsibility for the second half to Obama. (After all, the current administration was not going to come in and flip a switch and make things better in the first six months - at least.)

    In the previous 6 months while we struggled to get out from under Bush policies, unemployment was up 2.3%. Under Obama unemployment has ticked up 1.5%.

    In fact, from a low of 4.4% in October of 2006, unemployment directly related to Bush policies caused it to rise to 9.5% in mid 2009, a difference of more than 5 full points.

    And the radical Republican Party is calling for Obama's head?

    Bring ME the head of George W. Bush and Jerry Garcia. 

    The Music Man and The Burqa

    Heed the warning before it's too late!
    Watch for the telltale signs of corruption!

    The first Broadway musical I ever saw, way back in 1958 on my eighth birthday, was The Music Man. It took me another 12 years to comprehend that the show lampooned American closed-mindedness about sex, leisure, the Puritan work ethic, alcohol use, and a plain old verve for life.

    One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
    Headin' for the dance at the Arm'ry!
    Libertine men and scarlet women!
    And rag-time, shameless music
    That'll grab your son and your daughter…

    We rightly find the burqa disturbing, and I think the French – heavens forbid in this francophobic country of ours – are on the right track in curtailing its use. The burqa is degrading to women, all women, of any faith or ethnic background, a slap in their collective face casting them as somehow being responsible for “sin.”

    It is also an insult to men, positioning them as eternal adolescents who somehow can’t control their surging hormones when they see an uncovered woman outside the home.

    As Robert Preston sang as Professor Harold Hill in “Trouble,”

    The first big step on the road
    To the depths of degradation…
    I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon,
    Then beer from a bottle!

    This is the reactionary impulse embodied in the burqa. One little glimpse, one little glance, a hint, a nuance… and the dam will break and a pent up reservoir of lust will be loosed upon the world. France, and Gaul before it, among other places, has gotten along quite nicely without women covering their faces for a few thousand years.

    While Western values are not the only path to social and cultural improvement, in our fitful, too-slow way we proceed. And more importantly, we hope to proceed.

    Finally, the Koran makes no reference to the wearing of a burqa. This is some dreamed up vision of society – not unlike that imposed by St. Paul beyond the four gospels upon Christianity – in which women are cast in roles as temptresses, harlots, and adulterers, with men their witless, childish victims ensnared in an endless teenage boyhood.

    The burqa has no place in the Western World. It has no place in the Islamic World either, but that is a larger discussion.

    We've surely got trouble!
    Right here in River City!
    Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock
    and the Golden Rule!

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Factoid of the Day - February 3, 2010

    The House of Representatives has passed 239 bills in the last year that the Senate has yet to even take up.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Frightening Survey of Republican "Values" By the Daily Kos

    While I am only the grandchild and great-grandchild of immigrants, a certain amount of my ancestors' values rubbed off on me. 

    First and foremost they believed in knowledge. It could have been knowledge about anything - a trade, the natural world, a language, history, politics, mathematics. Being free young people, we could pretty much choose our fields of interest. "Study hard and be smart," they might have said. "Smarter than we are." When we began to surpass them in book learning, they would tease us by calling us "Professor," or "Doctor," often in Italian, but their faces also beamed with pride and joy.

    None of my grandparents went beyond the 8th grade, and my parents only graduated from high school, although my father had "some college."  Even though they were all staunch Catholics, I never heard them speak of creationism, or doubt the theory of evolution.  Science and medicine were practically worshiped. History took the silver medal; we were from a culture that was 2700 years old, after all. And speaking well, utilizing good grammar and elegant words, earned even more kudos. It was shameful to be ignorant. Better to keep silent rather than betray your own stupidity. 

    Now, however, in the dangerously right wing Republican Party, there has somehow grown up a pride in ignorance, misinformation, and lack of awareness. Even so radical a commentator as William Kristol warned the New Know Nothings in 2006 in The Weekly Standard against "turning the GOP into an anti-immigration, Know-Nothing party..." adding, "It could easily dash Republican hopes of becoming a long-term governing party. How many Republicans will have the courage to stand up and prevent the yahoos from driving the party off a cliff?”

    Click here for the survey