Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lady Blah Blah and Lady Gaga - Waving

Thinking hard about the offshore drilling. The Udall Gambit? Rope-a-Dope? More on oil tomorrow, but meanwhile...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Health Care, National Polls, Local Sentiment and Common Sense

The "National Poll" is American political dialogue's red herring factory, pumping out misconceptions, misperceptions, and thoroughly useless information. Pick your favorite poll - whether it's from the left or the right.

Ignore national polls. Especially right now.

Even in the bluest of states, the current reception being given health care reform is modest at best. So, states such as Masachusetts and New York, ol' reliables in the liberal column, may "only" be in favor 57 to 43%. But in Texas, the anti-reform fever is running at 63 vs. 37%.

When you combine Mass. and NY states' opinion with that of Texas you get an overall 47% approval of reform with 53% against. Sounds damning.

This sort of scenario is playing out across all the states, and like national presidential polls these have no real bearing on legislation or future prospects.

We are a republic, not a direct democracy.

It makes no difference if a Democrat wins a district by 1,000 votes in New York State while a Republican wins a Texas district by 50,000 votes. They both go to Congress as equal members. At the moment both represent 650,000 citizens.*

The media are doing a disservice by not particularizing such splits and explaining the meaning of them. And politicians - especially the masters of misinformation on the right wing - are seized by tics, hiccups and a case of the whoops every time a national poll shifts one way or another.

On top of this, a more thorough set of polls would parse out the number of people who position themselves on points farther left in the Democratic Party who are dissatisfied with the outcome of health care reform. They, too, are unhappy, no doubt because of the loss of a public option, and perhaps are communicating their feelings by "disapproving" of the bill.

*Interestingly, of Texas's 32 House seats, 13 are held by Democrats. Of the combined 39 seats of the New York and Massachusetts delegations, 37 are held by Democrats.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The China Recall Syndrome

As China warns the United States that America has more to lose in a "trade war," we are left scratching our heads. Last year we were in the trade hole with China to the tune of $227 billion, better than 2008's $268 billion deficit, but no reason to send in the brass bands. (That's almost a half a trillion deficit in two years.)

What is more insulting is that often the products that China sends our way are not just poorly made, but downright dangerous. The Fisher-Price lead-painted toys recall cost that company between $40 and $70 million. If you think that kind of hit made China's manufacturers sit up and take notice, you're mistaken.

In the last month or so, everything from children's bicycle bells with lead paint to power packs that can burst into flame and explode, to kids hoodies with dangerous drawstrings around the neck to remote controls for gas-heated fireplaces and hockey sticks have been  recalled. (By no means should these be compared to the massive recall of Toyota products, but the response of Toyota - weak in spirit, but concrete in action - should be compared to the companies from China, which has no response except for the recalls. There were also salmonella precipitated recalls of food here recently.)

The biggest culprit in China is the incredibly low net profit margin on goods produced there. It runs in the range of 1 to 2%. Developed countries run around 6 to 9%.

This is part of a grand scheme to capture ever larger shares of markets and amounts to legalized dumping. Couple that with the manipulation of China's currency, the yuan, and we have a prescription for conflict. Toss in the impossibly low wage scales in China and the perfect import-export storm has developed.

This is a liberal cause because for decades now, through Democratic and Republican administrations, the expression Free Trade has been bandied about as if the universal panacea. Simultaneously, unions have been denigrated and demonized by economists from slightly left of center to the far right. Only truly leftist economists have completely understood and explained the value of unions.

Germany, which is second now to China in total manufacturing exports - having just slipped from first place - is about 34% unionized in its industrial sector. The United States runs about 12%. So, the issue isn't unions and efficiency.

Additionally, unions prevent under-priced, shoddily-made goods from entering the country they operate in. Multinationals with the assistance of their minions in government relentlessly persecute unions. Yet, consistently, right to work states, mostly in the American South, have consistently lower wages and purchase a higher proportion of goods from countries like China. Why are we racing to the bottom?

Right to work? How about right to compete on an equal footing? How about the right to a decent wage and legitimate benefits? Our governments have sold out our manufacturing workers.

This, in spite of the fact that American factories are the most efficient in the world along with Japan's and Germany's.

Related posts:

The Counterfeit Country Part 2

What can a closed society really produce? That which is safe, proven, nonthreatening. Thus it is with China.

Even modestly open societies such as Japan and South Korea are more capable of innovation than a closed system like the one in China.

Taking the idea of copying to its ultimate extreme, in January a Counterfeit Mall opened in Nanjing (click). It's a stunningly offensive idea, although not much more than Canal Street in New York, where many of the same fake brands made in the same shoddy way are sold under the nose of New York City authorities.

Why should we care? As the currency of advanced countries becomes more enmeshed with intellectual property, that currency becomes the source of our wealth. Agree or disagree with the value of the real liquids in PepsiCo's products, or the quality of Izod shirts, the people who own those brands have spent decades investing in their images, enhancing their desirability. And they've spent billions.

Moreover, products that rely almost solely on intellectual development - movies, books and music - take an enormous economic hit when illegal or pirated copies flood the market worldwide. One can argue that George Clooney or The Beatles don't really need the extra dollars that the fakes drain away. But, that money also ends up not going to small bit players and staff, and importantly is not re-invested in the companies that produce our intellectual or cultural products. So, lower earners, from the go-fer getting coffee for the main actors, to the gaffers, electricians and so forth are penalized by not having unrealized profits plowed back into new productions. Jobs are literally stolen.

Here are a few other examples of counterfeit brands and some of the not so pretty effects counterfeiting engenders. Click on the brand name:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Where Is The Health Coverage Of Yesteryear?

I want to add a personal coda to the madness we've witnessed in the last 14 months that culminated in the spitting, the racist and anti-Gay epithets, and the rocks flying through the windows of Democrats.

The year was 1970, 40 years gone now, and I was in college. Throughout that summer I worked a unionized construction job digging ditches, tearing apart concrete forms for huge skyscrapers and stacking and re-stacking lumber and other supplies.

My father had died the previous summer. Because I was a full-time college student, I was automatically enrolled in a plan for medical coverage under Medicare/Medicaid due to his death. (Coverage #1)

I also remained on our family health insurance, because I was still in college, a matter of a couple of dollars a month. (Coverage #2)

Additionally, like most colleges, mine folded health coverage into the usual tuition and fees. (Coverage #3)

In order to join the laborers local brotherhood for my summer job, I had to pay a very small portion of yet another health insurance plan. I believe my share was 15% of my overall plan cost, which came to less than 50 cents per week. I can't remember the exact percentage, but it was painless. I had to maintain the payments the whole year long if I wanted to work the following summer, which I did. (Coverage #4)

I never used one jot of the insurance, even though the union plan allowed for two free extensive check ups through their chosen network. The paperwork was a bit onerous, I was an impatient adolescent, and besides, my own family doctor charged a measly $7.50 for the mandatory back-to-school physical, a 15-minute once over with a couple of shots. (Prices from the New York metropolitan area.) It was much simpler to take it out of my own earnings in order to go to the doctor I had grown up with and liked very much.

I know there are some, especially the young, who might want to paint me as a "golden-ager," living an American version of "La vie en rose." I'm really not. Looking back, there are many things from that era that were demeaning and completely irrational. And I was a white middle class male, so you can imagine what others were enduring.

Health care was not one of those things that was completely irrational. I'm not just outraged, I'm consistently surprised at what has gone on with health care costs over four to four and a half decades.

Since 1965, real wages have gone up about 40% in the United States. Some things cost a lot more, but most things have remained quite stable. For instance, gasoline in 1965 was approximately $2.15 per gallon in constant dollar terms. In November of 2009 it was $2.61, a real rise of 22%. A loaf of bread cost about 39 cents, whereas now it costs about $1.49. (Stop thinking high end baguettes and boules!)

Health care has risen from 7.2% of GDP in 1965 to over 18% of GDP today, and it is projected to be 20 to 22% of GDP just 5 years from now.

Like most of us, I don't know how wonderful the Democratic Party's reform will be. I do know that when I look at the arc of my own life and those of my contemporaries vis a vis the old days and today, health care looks pretty good back then.

Was medical treatment as thorough? No, of course not. Innumerable advances have been made. Was it equitably distributed? No, it was not, but it isn't now and probably won't be in the future, either.

Is it worth 22% of our national income to get us to 85 or 90 instead of 77? 

Perhaps. Ask me when I'm 77. 


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lies - Big, Bigger, Biggest

This sounds so familiar, one would think current right wing strategists had cooked up the following last fall:

[The] primary rules [are]: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.

Actually, though, it's an excerpt from a description of "The Big Lie Theory" that is part of a profile developed by the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. The profile is of none other than the dictator everyone loves to hate, Adolph Hitler.

At the risk of offending some people, I contend that today Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, sounded an awful lot like this profile. I am not conflating Mr. Cantor's Jewishness with Nazism, but rather his rash words in a strategic situation that suspiciously mirror the theories of a detestable human being. That Cantor is a right wing radical should also speak volumes here regardless of his ethnicity or religious beliefs.

He said among other things:

That Democrats "were fanning the flames" by blaming Republicans for death threats and hate speech. (Never admit a fault.)

That he has "deep concerns that some - Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine in particular - are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon." (Never concede that there may be some good in your enemy.)

That Bart Stupak, DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen, and finally DNC chair Tim Keane in particular are guilty, guilty, guilty. Cantor specifically focuses on Stupak. (Concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong.)

That "Any suggestion that a leader in this body would incite threats or acts against other members is akin to saying that I would endanger myself, my wife or my children." (People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one. We can also add a big "Huh?" to this line.)

Brent Bozell, the head of the extreme right wing Media Research Center, said in an online post at GOP USA. “It is deplorable that our national news media went into overdrive on this Democrat public-relations initiative.” (Never accept blame.)

“The message of our web site is clear, it is time to put Nancy Pelosi out of a job,” said Katie Wright, a spokeswoman for the RNC. In fact, the website shows a graphic of Pelosi engulfed in flames in front of the Capitol. (If you repeat the lie frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.)

"Enough is enough," Cantor said. "It has to stop." (The Big Lie itself.)

Cantor also reported that someone had fired a bullet into one of his campaign offices. If this was intentional, of course everyone should condemn it. However, one would have to search far and wide to find a Democrat who was letting loose with the incendiary rhetoric remotely similar to both mainline and fringe Republicans' rantings and images.Which is the point being made by Democrats.

A statement from the Richmond, VA, police department said a bullet broke the window of a meeting room in Cantor's office at about 1 a.m. Tuesday. "A preliminary investigation shows that a bullet was fired into the air and struck the window in a downward direction, landing on the floor about a foot from the window," the police statement says. "The round struck with enough force to break the windowpane but did not penetrate the window blinds."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yes We Can vs No You Can't

Amidst the death threats, the spitting and the racial invective... Yes, we can.

Beck Glenn Beck


“Because the average Democrat is not the California hippie, Marxist, socialist, communist, progressive sticking flowers in the barrel, sitting around smoking dope all day during college and talking about how they can destroy the evil American empire. That's not what the average Democrat was doing or the average American. But that is what a lot of people in our government were doing in the 1960s. And I bet—what time it is now? A lot of them are still doing it.”
             - Glenn Beck

"I am become a name..."
              -Tennyson, from Ulysses

When he's not calling Obama the Anti-Christ, this Beck guy can be pretty amusing at times. He's now re-re-fighting the culture wars of the 1960s. (You know, first as tragedy, then as farce, and through Beck, low farce.) Whichever, it is certainly odd to see and hear oneself eulogized, lionized and vilified while still living.

Even those of us who were alive and kicking, joking and toking, laughing and scratching back then are sick of the culture wars. Why isn't he? Could be because he's mistaking his minority opinion for what the majority really thinks and does.

Just to review some facts:

Vietnam War - Opinion 

(Apparently quite a lot of Americans wanted to stick flowers in the barrels of guns, and older people, not Baby Boomers, led that opinion charge.)

In October of 1969, 58% of Gallup respondents said U.S. entry into the war was a mistake.

A Gallup poll in May of 1970 shows that 56% of the public believed that sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake, 61% of those over 50 expressed that belief compared to 49% of those between the ages of 21–29. (The so-called Greatest Generation was more anti-Vietnam War than the stereotyped "Hippie Generation.")

By May of 1971, the poll said that 72% of all Americans disagreed with the War in Vietnam.

Iraq - Opinion

Interestingly, the percentage of people in 2009 who thought the war in Iraq was a mistake was 58%. Not much changed in our view toward adventurist wars between '69 and '09, evidently. Over 65's were clearly against, Baby Boomers were - surprise - split, Gen Xers thought the war was a good idea and Millennials were overwhelmingly against.

GDP Growth 

Boomers started entering the workforce around 1965. At the time, per capita income was $3,664 per person. By 2009, as Boomers begin their retirement, the corresponding figure was $46,443. That is about 12-1/2 times larger.

In constant dollar terms, the per capita GDP went up by almost 40%, in spite of the fact that the US was not alone in its lock on world wealth creation as it was in 1965. We were joined along the way by some fierce competitors from around the world.

2009    $46,443

1965      $3,664


Among 18-to-24 year-olds 39.6% were enrolled in college as of 2008, according to census data. (This is up from 24% in 1973.)

Although the trend has been up for the last 37 years, the Millennials, largely the children of Baby Boomers, will end up being the most educated in American history.

Social Values

It is the children of Baby Boomers who began the long march (oops, I must be a Maoist!) away from serious drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and high crime rates. Gee... I wonder where they learned those values? 

Joe Biden

I don't know who Beck has in mind when he talks about people in the administration smoking weed. Most of them look sufficiently tense to me to prove they aren't inhaling. Now Joe Biden... hmm, we know he's been smoking SOMETHING! Maybe the President turned him on in Hawaii: We gon go get high of da pakalolo, braddah veep. You like try come?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Republican Lost Weekend and Some Advice From A Classic Mardi Gras Song

Surprise Video At End of Post :) It sums it up perfectly.

The Republicans now find themselves in the unenviable position of the drunkard who comes home, argues with his family, pees in the wastebasket, busts up the TV, yells crazed obscenities at the neighbors, kicks the dog then wakes up next morning to realize through his screaming-mimi hangover that he's the one who's going to pay for all the damage.

The GOP is now living in the ultimate lost political weekend. Lord knows what the headache remedy will be.

Gallup took a snap one-day poll yesterday regarding opinion concerning the passage of health care reform, and to put it mildly, nothing succeeds like success.

Of all adults in the country 49% say it's a good thing, 40% say a bad thing, and 11% have no opinion. Just for grins, let's split the no opinions in half and still leave the traditional 4% (terminally) undecided. That means we're splitting the remaining 7%, 3.5 and 3.5.

The result would then be 52.5% to 43.5% in favor of passage. That's 9 percentage points.

President Obama won the 2008 popular vote 52.9% to 45.7%. That's 7 percentage points. One can infer that reform is actually more popular than was Obama '08, but Gallup's measurement was of all adults, not likely voters.

I'd venture to say that the numbers are even more in favor of the Democrats since there is a certain percentage on the left who are still smarting from the exclusion of the government-option plank. So, some small fraction who say it's a bad thing, indeed are fairly far left on the spectrum. Scracely can they be lumped in with the right wing.

One other interesting stat of the moment - the stock market was up 103 points, or almost 1%, today.

Follow Up Vid - The Parkinson's Sufferer Who Has Money Thrown At Him By The Tea Partiers

How low are these people to treat a human being this way?

Quick Vid - The True Colors of The Tea Party

This stomach-turning video shows a Tea Partier throwing money at a sufferer of Parkinson's disease.After spitting, racial epithets, Gay-bashing and other forms of hysteria, this isn't really all that surprising. Make sure these people never come to power.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's Really Eating The Right Wing?

The whole world saw the virulence of the right wing over the weekend. The irrationality. The bigotry. The anti-Americanism that runs deep in veins, hearts and souls.

Using expressions like "nigger," "faggot," "baby killer," and John Boehner's sad, yet comical, "Hell no's" make us lose our breath as we realize again that these are actually our fellow citizens. "Unhinged" is the most accurate way to describe what the right wing extremists are right now. The door has flown off the frame.

So what is really gnawing at the "Party of I Don't Know?"

Let's clear racism out of the way first. It's a symptom. Clearly the rightists are terminally apoplectic that there is an African-American at the helm.

The outraged, foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Party-inspired mobs are virtually all white. (Try a Google image search and look at the crowds.) Republican Party enrollment is 95% white. The power structures of the states making up the Republican base are preponderantly white. The money behind all their guff is white.

There is something deeper in the right wing malaise, and it is from those depths that the racism, homophobia, disrespect and stubborn resistance to progress spring: they believe their own press.

Now that their illusions have been shattered by the health care reform vote, they are as hormonal as teenagers, as moody, sullen, hair-triggered and hare-brained.

A day doesn't go by that "Morning Joe" Scarborough or Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and now Glenn Beck pump up the hydrophobic base by saying something like, "America is and has always been a center-right country." They must live in some dream town that most of us have never visited, one we don't recognize from even basic textbooks.

Every single thing that has made us great in our own eyes or in the eyes of the world has been, well, socialistic or communalistic. Without exception.

That's the country I see and love. A bunch of driven, talented, educated, dedicated people who say "Let's band together and_______." (Fill in the blank) Not to say we haven't had plenty of nasty bumps, bruises and regrets in the America I know. (Recalling this weekend that Representative John Lewis was nearly beaten to death by Alabama State Police in Selma in 1965 reminds us that we still hike the long, rocky road to essential equality even after 400 years.) 

Despite the right wing's hallucinatory thinking, government involvement in every important event of our history is a given.

Begin with the Louisiana Purchase, a government action much maligned at the time passed the House by only 2 votes. Then continue the historic tour on the Erie Canal, which the State of New York funded to the tune of $7 million in 1817. Using a factoring process by putting the 1817 price in relation to current GDP, the cost of the canal would be about $125 billion today. (By those lights, New York State on its own could build a New York to Buffalo/New York to Montreal high speed train as well as a mega-fast internet network and still have money left over for Broadway tickets for the entire state's population.)

Seward's Ice Box - Alaska - cost about 2 cents per acre in 1867. Unenlightened government would have just skipped it. Good thing we owned it in 1967 or the Soviets would have been in our kitchen.

Speaking of railroads, not just the transcontinental line but practically the entire nationwide system was made possible by government largesse and encouragement through "granted" land, loan guarantees and favorable laws. Building the railroads without government involvement was inconceivable. (Ditto for our road system, water, sewer and schools.)

One could go on, whether it's the building of all hospitals for which taxpayers foot 55% of the bill for construction, or public universities, space exploration, or, or, or... the list is endless.

So just how do the righteous rightists come up with their anti-social material? They believe not only their own press, but a truncated and bowdlerized version of American history.

What do you think all the tricornered hats and Revolutionary War regalia of the Tea Party are about? History didn't really happen, it's a Saturday morning cartoon. You might as well trade in Foghorn Leghorn's version of the Civil War for Ken Burns's.

Take the real Boston Tea Party. It actually helped in the struggle that later brought about representative government in the 13 colonies. What the Tea Partiers then wanted, they got. What the Tea Partiers of today want is a retreat from representative government into a rule by mob, or at the very least by a narrow-minded subset of a minority party.

In their version of American history, "men were men and women damned glad of it." The only thing that mattered was grit, hard work and pluck.

The Homestead Acts of 1862, 1909 and 1916 had nothing to do with it. The Social Security Acts of 1935 and '65? Irrelevant.

And never would the GI Bill have seen the light of day in 1944. (Arm blown off on D-Day? Fix yer own dad-blamed problems and stop mooching off the government.)

The Tennessee Valley would still be doing its homework by kerosene lamp.

National Parks would be trailer parks.

In the extremist view of history, only myth lives. It's too tiresome to do the real studying (by lamplight or otherwise) that might lead to a deeper understanding of the role government has played from the outset of the American odyssey.

If all government intervention in our lives has been so bad, how did we get where we are today? How did we get to "The American Century?" How are we now poised for the second American Century?

Somehow the radical right believes ignorance paves the path to power. They found out something quite different Sunday night.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

JFK at Madison Square Garden, 1962, on Health Care Reform

To read the entire text of his stirring speech, click here

And A Few More Images - How Long? Too Long.

More Images of right wing racism and Obama - lest we forget

Least we ever forget...

The Mouse That Spat

You can draw a thick, straight, ugly line from the "birthers" to the right wing's despicable racist portraits of President Obama to yesterday's Tea Party spitting and hurling of racist (and anti-Gay) epithets.

The fact is, the right wing rank and file, particularly in the Old Confederacy, has a large racist component that no one in the Republican leadership resoundingly denounces. This hard core of anti-American, anti-humanist cave people needs a lesson that can only be taught by the Romneys, Pawlentys, McCains and Boehners of their party. Here is just a part of their hall of shame that culminated in their shouting out "nigger" to two fine men, United States Representatives, John Lewis and Andre Carson, and in their spitting upon Emanuel Cleaver.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fess Parker, Davy Crockett, Kenneth Jackson, and the Two Frontiers

The 1950s was an age of fads and crazes fueled by youth. Hula
Hoops, Silly Putty, the Frisbee, Elvis, rock n roll,  hot rodding, and of course, Davy Crockett. 

Fess Parker didn't just play Davy Crockett. In the eyes of American kids Parker was Davy Crockett.

Professor Kenneth Jackson of Columbia University is perhaps the most interesting academic in America. His work on the suburbanization of America, The Crabgrass Frontier, is a piercing, critical look into the phenomenon. (Jackson is also the editor and major-domo of the masterly Encyclopedia of New York City.)

Between 1945 and 1955, almost 10 million people moved from cities to the suburbs, to the crabgrass frontier. 

But somehow the old frontier called us back for another look. Fitting, since for the first time, many Americans found space and a sense of freedom unknown to their immediate ancestors. (Interestingly, it was Crockett who described the vicious Irish gangs of the area of Manhattan known as The Five Points as "too vicious to swab hell's kitchen.")

So, out of New York's Lower East Side and Little Italy, out of Williamsburg and East New York, out of the South Bronx they went. Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and all the old "eastern cities" seemed to be emptying, of whites at any rate.

And the prodigious number of kids the migrants were producing trekked out with them.

Side by side with the new clothes required for suburban living - preppy, casual, and most of all, clean - suddenly interloped coonskin hats, fringed jackets and pants, and Daisy air rifles. This was all due to the (some would say evil) marketing genius of Walt Disney. (Actually Disney was unprepared when the series first debuted, having produced not one retail item. You can imagine the frantic order to hat-makers in Orange, N.J., the "Hat City" - we need 2 million coonskin caps - yesterday!)

The power of the craze is almost impossible to convey today. The only thing that has ever rivaled it is the very familiar Beatlemania story of 10 years A.C. - After Crockett.

The series' episodes premiered on Disney's television program in December of 1954, continued on air through December of '55, and were combined into a theatrical release film the same year. There were subsequent seasons as well, but '55 was the monster year.

Remarkably, by the end of 1955 American kids and their parents had bought over 300 million dollars' worth of Davy Crockett paraphernalia. That's about $3 billion in 2010 money. In one year. (Take that, George Lucas.) So, while Disney is the house that mouse built, Davy Crockett furnished it, enlarged it and turned it into a castle. All this the same year Disneyland in Anaheim opened.

Four different versions of the show's theme song, The Ballad of Davy Crockett, were in Billboard's Top 10 at the same time. 

In the full version of the song, Crockett earns more sobriquets than Homer's Odysseus: King of the wild frontier, of course; the man who don't know fear; the buckskin buccaneer; choice of the whole frontier (when he ran for Congress); the Canebrake Congressman; fighter for liberty; the champion of us all!

In the ballad he was the father we all longed for. Could go off and do his business (in reality the world war) but still come:

Home fer the winter with his family, happy as squirrels in the ol' gum tree
Bein' the father he wanted to be, close to his boys as the pod an' the pea
Davy, Davy Crockett, holdin' his young'uns dear!

Buddy Epsen co-starred as Crockett's sidekick and he and Fess Parker toured the United States, Europe and Japan to much adulation. One can only wonder what the Japanese were thinking.

The power of TV, pop music, the myths of America's manifest destiny in the 19th century, mass marketing, a tsunami of disposable income, easy travel, and the new spirit of the suburbs all moshed together to create a cultural phenomenon. 

Crockett was the subject of the 1909 silent movie, In Hearts United, that began the frontiersman's rise to heroic stature after 70 years of relative obscurity. Crockett has since been played by John Wayne, Brian Keith, Johnny Cash, and Billy Bob Thorton among a score of others.

Parker was literally an accidental actor. He was playing college football in Abilene in 1946, when a near fatal road rage knifing incident cut short his athletic career. (He was 6'6" and weighed 240.) A half dozen years later, he landed a bit part in Springfield Rifle starring Gary Cooper. He also had a brief, but riveting appearance in the chilling movie Them, the role that brought him to Disney's attention.

What made Davy Crockett so appealing aside from his shootin' and fightin' was an almost supernatural sense of humor that Fess Parker brought to life for the kiddies. This sprang directly from the real-life Crocket, who, according to his hagiographers, was quite the backwoods humorist.

Supposedly he said in a speech to Congress:

I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust.

Most famously he said: Always make sure you're right, then go ahead.

As kids, we picked up on that comic vibe, bending the words to Davy's ballad so they were sung as "Killed in a bar when he was only three..."*  Looking back, it was a portent of what would come in the blithely anarchic 60s. 

Somewhere out there is a land... 20 or 30 miles from the heart of old American cities. The houses are new, the trees are recently-planted little stalks. Maybe the landscaping hasn't been quite finished yet, a barbecue is grilling, children are shouting, the Alamo is a pile of dirt. It was the greenest state in the land of the free. It was the frontier of the 50s.

* Real lyric: Kill't him a b'ar (bear) when he was only three.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Loco Local Friday - In NYC, No More Homemade Baked Goods, EVER!

  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our homemade brownies, But in ourselves, that we are couch potatoes.

For some time now, I've been holding off on criticizing the NYC ban on homemade baked goods sold at public school fundraisers. (Click here for the NY Times story) This may not seem an earth shaking controversy, but it is indicative of how often government, even the best-intentioned, seems to suffer myopia when it comes to big picture problem-solving. 

Last week, looking through some old family photographs, I saw pictures of my brother and me, cousins, neighborhood kids and classmates. It is the late 1950s and we are between 7 and maybe 13 years old. Thus open the flood gates of memory and desire.

The remarkable thing about the photos is that no one is obese, and hardly anyone even looks chubby. In fact, we most look rather scrawny, and when in bathing suits we look pretty well muscled, even the kids who I knew not to be "athletic." 

To describe our diets as anything but rich would be a lie. We devoured milk, ice cream, butter, and red meat until we practically mooed; desserts for lunch and dinner; no such thing as diet soda; nickel candy bars; the constant temptations of soda fountains; and serving sizes that would choke triathlon competitors. 

Yet, there we were looking as lean as Spartans.

We spent enormous amounts of time walking, running, playing, jumping, hanging by our feet, chasing, tagging, pushing, shoving, building, destroying, hiding, seeking, batting, shooting, passing, and generally a rollin' and a tumblin'. 

By age 10 I was walking, running or biking about 3/4 of a mile each way to school. I had a full 45 minutes of recess. (It had to be pouring rain or below 15 degrees before recess was canceled.) I had an hour's worth of gym 3 days a week. At 3 o'clock when I was dismissed, I ran or furiously pedaled home on my heavy, clunky bike (passed on to me by an older cousin through my older brother) that was more suited for U-boat ramming than land transportation.

From roughly 3:30 until it was either dark or suppertime, dozens of kids would play outdoors like "wild Indians," as the expression went or, even more exotically, "like wild Armenians." Indoors, we were "wild banshees." 

We would then tumble to the kitchen table cornucopia and gorge until sated. An hour, maybe an hour and a half, of homework ensued and we were done. Bathed. An hour of TV, maybe, but I think less - that was saved for Saturday and Sunday. Exhausted, almost comatose. Full. Happy. And, as it turns out, pretty learned. (In 5th grade I remember a geography test asking us to give the twenty principal rivers of the United States!)

Long story short, it's not the diet or desserts that have really changed. It's the exercise, stupid. (Not that I am recommending the animal fat and sugar rich diet of the 50s.)

Kids in New York City schools currently receive 24 minutes per day on average of phys ed. They average 15 minutes of recess. Many, especially as they move up the grades, have no recess at all. 

Because conditions have changed, kids don't walk, if ever, very far to school. Biking is not in the equation generally. Homework has grown to outlandish proportions. In middle school, they can have 2 to 3 hours of homework if they're working mach schnell. By high school, it's up to 3 to 4 hours and even more at crunch time.

No wonder they're craving sugar. I'd be craving a month in the Caribbean on a sugar cane plantation.

Toss in a couple of hours of media time and a midnight bedtime and you have all the keys to the obesity epidemic you need.

Insisting that parents stop baking goodies is weird, mean, and counterproductive. Asking PTAs to buy wholesale lots of chemical-laden Doritos or Pop-Tarts to resell at retail prices adds absurdity on top of impracticality. It further demolishes a fragile sense of community. New microscope for the bio lab? We didn't do it - Doritos did!

What to actually do? 

One strong possibility is to lengthen the school day and work both phys ed and the fine arts back into the curriculum. Mind, Body, Soul. However, given that the academic requirements of preparing for the modern world are more strenuous than in yesteryear, perhaps it is even a better idea to add a full year between 7th and 12th grade, making the primary/secondary schedule 13 years as opposed to the traditional 12.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Counterfeit Country and American Jobs

See "My Home Town Video" at end of post.

Aside from its unapologetic manipulation of its currency, Dark Ages-style wages and working conditions, and import tariffs that make it impossible for any country to have a reasonably balanced trade relationship with it, China is the epicenter of the production counterfeit products.

Indeed, China is the producer of 86% of all counterfeit products in the world.

$500,000's worth of (American company designed and licensed) Chinese-made knock off shoes found their way to Budapest last week.

Illegal American faux-label vodka with 120 times the normal amount of ethanol was marketed in Great Britain in 2009, causing 4 deaths.

The FDA of Nigeria in conjunction with 7 other African countries' enforcement agencies in 2009 seized a large consignment of counterfeit anti-malarial generic medicines with “Made in India” and "Made in USA" labels and later found that the fake drugs had in fact been produced in China. (There is a colder current involved in this one - the drugs are purposely made to be below acceptable standards in order to undermine India's drug market share in Africa.)

$3 billion worth of fake movie DVDs, based on the intellectual property of American studios, were distributed worldwide by Chinese counterfeiters in 2008. The figure is expected to leap by another half billion in 2009. 

Worse still, from the point of view of U.S. companies, is the fact that 80% of all software used on computers in China is counterfeit or illegally copied. (Amazingly, this is down from 90% in 2004.)

A United States patented rolled metal process for the making of fine filaments used in the making of circuitry boards in all kinds of electronics products is used freely in China in spite of the fact that companies from 12 other countries pay their fair share of licensing costs. This costs the American companies of the jointly-owned patents over $27 million per year in lost fees.

The Re-innovation Of Innovation

To add insult and further injury to the damage already stemming from this counterfeiting, China is promoting something they call "indigenous innovation." Sounds benign enough, doesn't it?

But the devilish detail is that the new law, Order 613, mandates that in order for foreign intellectual property (IP) to be put on a government procurement list, the IP must be developed, or owned and trademarked by a Chinese company or government agency.

Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said this:

China’s indigenous innovation includes original innovation and integrated innovation as well as the re-innovation of innovation that is introduced, digested, and absorbed. Indigenous innovation activities are open, and come from within enterprises. The indicators for accrediting indigenous innovation products are not based on the nature of the enterprise, but on whether the enterprise carries out innovative activity and gains products that have indigenous intellectual property rights.

Essentially, "re-innovation of innovation" means stealing.

Every software developer, content provider, film and music publisher in the rest of the world is against this. However, so far, national governments seem to be particularly disinterested.

It's time for the Obama Administration to step up and put real teeth into sanctions on China. American jobs, which are in notorious short supply these days, are being stolen.

While unions in the U.S. aren't free of sin, in prior generations they served as the front line in the battle against unfair trade practices by underhanded competitors.

Jobs mean everything to unions. And jobs mean prosperity. Having a skilled workforce does us not one iota of good if it can't work because of what amounts to piracy by an unfriendly government.

By gutting the unions and battling against active re-unionization, or by permitting "right-to-work" laws in many (mostly Southern) states, conservatives in the United States have taken the union foot soldiers away from this battlefront.

Now we reap the consequences of past right wing deeds.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Parade Of The Uninsured - A Recurring Bad Dream

It was very bad last night. The bedtime local news was full of intimations of the St. Patty's Day Parade in New York. The previews set off my recurring bad dream.

In the bad dream, there is a large reviewing stand set up somewhere on the Mall in Washington. In their seats are certain Senators, Representatives and other opponents of health care reform, as well as the executives of insurance companies, hospital corporations and some doctors' groups who lobby them. The parade begins.

The first part of the parade to roll by is composed of the caissons carrying the coffins of the dead who would be living if they had proper health insurance. There is only time to present the last decade of these dead. There are about 250,000 coffins. They've died of untreated hypertension, diabetes, lung disorders, heart disease, and undiagnosed cancers. But time is short and the parade is long.

The families, friends and neighbors of the dead follow. Perhaps 3,000,000 more people.

Next walking by the reviewing stand come America's 45 million uninsured walking 10 abreast, 24 hours a day for almost three months.

The 45 million uninsured represent more people than live in the 40 largest cities in the United States.

They represent more people than lived in the entire country in 1875.

America's uninsured group is bigger than the current populations of the entire states of New York and Texas combined. (44 million)

America's uninsured group is almost as large as Spain's entire population. (46 million)

California, having the largest state population, has the biggest single contingent in the parade. As of today, over 24% of all people in California under the age of 65 have no health insurance.That's 8.2 million people. New York City has a total population of 8.2 million people.

If all the uninsured were of working age, their combined income would be $1.2 trillion, a "GDP" larger than that of either India, Mexico, Australia, or South Korea.

It's one thing to be the Party of No. It's another thing to be the Party of Death.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Virginia Reel - Gay Rights in the Old Dominion

Virginia has ripened recently into a "purple state," although its legislature can't see fit to include one of the most basic human rights - that of sexual orientation - in its laws.

It fell recently to a less-than-enthralling executive directive by Governor Bob (for Jobs) McDonnell to articulate the state's position on discrimination against gay people employed by the state.

This followed a letter from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to Virgina's public colleges that contended those institutions lack the legal authority to protect their gay students and employees from discrimination, and advised all colleges to “bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia.” (The law on the books does not explicitly protect gay people.)

McDonnell's letter countered with: “Therefore, discrimination against classes of persons set forth in the Virginia Human Rights Act or discrimination against any class of persons without a rational basis is prohibited … I hereby direct that the hiring, promotion, compensation, treatment, discipline and termination of state employees shall be based on an individual’s job qualifications, merit and performance.”

This schizophrenic behavior within the same administration demonstrates what happens when a legislative body cannot define and then defend human rights. One executive says no; one says yes. A simple change in the executive branch therefore could damage or could help the march toward full rights. The craps shoot is always present.

Why do so many legislative bodies lack the courage to move forward on gay rights?

The broader question remains: Why isn't the fundamental right to be free from discrimination and hate crimes for any group recognized by acclaim? Who stands in the way? Most people reading this post likely embrace the notion that no one, for any reason, as a group or class, should be subjected to discrimination, intimidation, or violence.

 Our history is littered with sad and often bloody struggles for equal rights and equal protection.

When my oldest daughter was about 13, the 85th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was being celebrated. I explained to her that my grandmothers, born in the 1880s and 90s could not go into a voting booth until then. It was as if a big sign had been hung at the polling places: No Women. When I say my daughter's eyes were as big as saucers, I do mean it. It was inconceivable to her.

It wasn't so inconceivable to me. People of the post war generation remember well the Civil Rights struggle clearly. It was not a movie, a book, or photograph in a magazine.

Now when we see the water fountain signs from as recently as the 1960s that say "No Colored," we are rightly shocked, disbelieving, and feel revulsion. (Although we have probably collectively forgotten signs that said No Irish Need Apply - or Italian, or Chinese, or Japanese, or Mexican, or "Bohunks." A Bohunk is a derisive term for people of Eastern European ancestry.)

Today, though the signs are not clearly and officially painted and posted, nevertheless they hang on courtrooms and marriage bureaus, in police departments and bars, schools and insurance companies, hospitals and adoption agencies.

The signs say "No Gays." Read carefully. The message is there. Only the language is less overt. The sentiment is the same.

Lyndon Johnson, the President who stepped boldly forward to push through Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s said:

What convinces is conviction. Believe in the argument you're advancing. If you don't, you're as good as dead. The other person will sense that something isn't there, and no chain of reasoning, no matter how brilliant, will win your case for you.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The Coffee Party - Being Nice Is A Nice Idea For Nice People In A Nice Line Of Work

Everyone should wish the Coffee Party well. Noble thoughts and blithe spirits are in short supply these days.

But the Coffee Party is a puppy in a world of raging, ravenous hyenas who'd rather their puppies skinned and spit roasted. Listen to Harry Nilsson's "The Puppy Song" by clicking here.

The history of the right wing in the United States and elsewhere argues against "The Power of Nice" in the world of politics. In fact, I would argue that being nice and engaging in the political dialogue is exactly what the radical Republican Party would relish more than anything. They smell the blood of the puppies already.

Not that liberals and others on the left should engage in the loutishness of the Tea Partiers, but one had best be prepared to counter every single slur, every single falsehood, every single racist overtone, every single outlandish position, every slouching toward Bethlehem. Smiling and putting a bright-colroed bandana on the puppy isn't going to cut the mustard.

What liberals are faced with is a right wing strategy that hits on all fronts. Foreign policy, economics, environment, poverty, transportation, energy, and education, to name but a handful.

What the left brings to the table is often incoherent in message and tone, and merely reformist and not originalist in policy. The left simply fights to keep the right from becoming more rightist. Playing nice continues this strategy.

The left must always settle for "realism," while the right generates more and more extremist acts of government then ends up with fairly extreme acts. And they are quite happy until they get another bite at the puppy.

If we allow for the moment that there is a political spectrum from 1 to 10, and the center is 5, the right wing operates in the 8 to 9 range, whereas the left operates in the 4.5 to 5.5 range. Of course the country will lean further and further right, since liberals do not stand up for the real ideals that have made America great, which ultimately are liberal ideals.

For instance, during the health care reform debate, a dead on liberal viewpoint is that all people have a right to affordable health care. A right, not a privilege. The conservatives believe that no one, except for the power elite and the destitute have a right to any such thing.

So, instead of hammering home the idea that there should be a public option so that true, non-monopolistic competition can prevail, the center-left opts for a Byzantine code of subsidies, private contracts, etc., that leaves the monopoly in place.

By using the fog of war - terms such as death squads, socialism, Jesus Is My Single Payer - the right managed to dilute the real health care reform we need.

Instead of using visceral images, the left fell back on its hard-to-shake habit of technocratic mumbo-jumbo. (Although some pro-reform groups like AARP did a great job. See their Black SUV television spot at end of this post.) A Families USA report counts 68 premature deaths per day due to inadequate health care. (Click here for study details.)

It says, among other things that "In the 15 years since health reform was last debated (1995-2009), more than 290,000 American adults (25-64 years old) died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage." That's a city about the size of Buffalo.

The deaths of those people are on the hands of the right wing resisters to health care reform. They don't have to be called names. They do have to be called to account.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hunger Among The Elderly - Red State/Blue State Divide

Much of the time when we discuss the conflict between liberal and conservative policies, we fall back upon iconic flash points: civil rights, the place of government in people's lives, "values," etc. We lose sight of the human casualties in these ideological battles.

Usually, the face of hunger in America is that of a child, or the child's mother and sometimes (young) grandmother who may be raising the child. (Indeed, 4 of every 10 people who use food pantries are children under 18.)

But there is another face of want and it is old, and it promises to get older as the Baby Boom generation ages.

While the problem crosses all geographical and ideological lines, it is most acute in conservative states more likely to embrace "small government" philosophies.

Meals On Wheels has compiled a sobering list state-to-state of the percentage of people 60 to 90 at risk of going hungry. In all, about 6 million older Americans are going hungry on a regular basis. Every day, every night.

The statistics, mind you, bear only on "hunger," and not on good nutrition. It is simple enough to connect the dots between poor nutrition, the aging population and skyrocketing health care costs. Without even tabulating the numbers carefully, we know the cost of not confronting hunger among older people runs well into the tens of billions per year.

Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma headline the hall of shame, ranging from 12.39% at risk in Mississippi to 7.12% in Oklahoma.

The Dakotas fare particularly well, as do many northeastern states. More populous states, aside from Texas and its miserable record - 8.9% of older Texans are hungry - perform somewhere in the middle of the pack. (No state really gets a free pass on this one except perhaps North Dakota at a 1.53% of hunger among older people.)

At first glance, you could believe this is a rich state-poor state imbalance. It's not.

Kentucky, and Tennessee float slightly above the national average, while West Virginia is a bit below. Hawaii, a rich state, is right at the national average.

One can only surmise that it is the relative effectiveness of government (and private) programs that alleviate such conditions - or not.

Above and beyond the misery factor, we face a failure of moral will. Starving our elderly (and children, and people in between) is not humane, and casts doubt on our collective claim to be a civilized society.

An expenditure of $13 billion dollars per year would largely wipe out this problem.* That's about $36 million dollars per day.

By contrast the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost us $312 million per day. A 5% cut in the overall U.S. military budget would end all hunger in the country.

 *An intractable fraction could remain because of issues of the very old who are immobilized due to illness, injury or infirmity and reconfiguring housing, nursing home care, etc. Fully treating with this last remnant would create more costs. See North Dakota above, which has cut its rate to near zero. One could conclude that the communal will is there in ND, but perhaps not the financial resources to reach out to the hard core hungry.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cutting The Trade Imbalance With China In Half - Now

In 2009 our trade deficit with China was about $227 billion dollars. We sent them about $69.5 billion in goods and services and they sent us $294.4 billion.

The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, says its inventory of stock produced in China is expected to hit $22 billion this year, keeping the annual growth rate of over 20% consistent over two years.

Xu Jun, Wal-Mart China's director of external affairs recently said that China is Wal-Mart's most important supplier in the world. I looked further into this.

A spokesman in New York from Mr. Xu's bureau (also named Xu) said "If Wal-Mart were an individual economy, it would rank as China's eighth-biggest trading partner, ahead of Russia, Australia and Canada."

Furthermore, over 70% of the commodities sold in Wal-Mart are made in China. (Commodities such as textiles, toys, hardware, etc., as opposed to raw commodities like coffee, steel, etc.)

No China, no Wal-Mart.

But, aren't there other countries - Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico - Alabama and Mississippi - who can make the products Wal-Mart wants to sell? Certainly, but China engages in practices that create low prices for the American, European and other "western" markets (called first importers) on the backs of countries regarded as secondary importers (places like Pakistan, African nations, Brazil, Chile, and so forth).

One method is called an "arbitrage opportunity." Here's how it works.

Let's say Wal-Mart has the need for 1 million Dick Cheney bobble-head dolls. Wal-Mart strikes the design and owns the copyright. They transmit the design to China with the understanding that the Cheney bobbleheads (predicted to be wildly popular) will be landed in Los Angeles for 63 cents each.

BUT China has the right under the deal to make another 1 million Cheneys that can be sold anywhere except in Wal-Marted countries (the so-called secondary importer markets). These are sold to distributors or big retailers for $1.39 each by the Chinese manufacturers. Wal-Mart has done the marketability research, designed the schematics for production, tested the products, and rolled them out.

The average price for the full run of manufacturing is $1.01 per piece. Of course, Wal-Mart has only paid 63 cents and so when they sell them for $3 retail, there is a profit of $2.37, whereas those in the secondary importer markets have paid more than double to the manufacturer in China.

What are the net results for the United States? A very cheap Dick Cheney bobblehead doll, obviously. But also a loss of potential manufacturing opportunities.

Could we make the bobblehead dolls for 63 cents here? Probably never, especially if they require the hand painting of an arched eyebrow on Cheney's face. Might we be able to make them for the $1.01 average? Almost. We could probably make them for $1.10 or somewhere around that. Because our low-skill factory workers have to make $12 to $15 per hour as opposed to the $12 per DAY a worker makes in China.

But, the full story is really hidden in the second half of the 2 million bobblehead doll run. The Chinese engage in what is poetically called "quality fade." A few minutes after the 1 millionth doll for Wal-Mart is made, a cheaper spring that makes Cheney's head bobble is substituted, a cheaper grade (or even toxic grade) paint is used, lower quality shipping materials are employed, etc. So, within the second million, not only is the price charged higher to wholesalers, but the profit margin, because of shabbier workmanship and materials, is even stronger for the Chinese manufacturer.

In manufacturing, the United States makes big, complex products. Airplanes, turbines, tractors, computers, autos, etc. All products from the first to the very last that rolls off the line must be of as high quality. We don't expect Boeing to be cutting a whole lot of corners on the 800th plane of an order.

The import tariff + VAT taxes on finished goods going into China is anywhere between 22% and 40%. Between the US and EU, which many economists consider high but realistic given protectionist urges, the taxes run about 14% total either way on average.

Free Trade anyone? Essentially, we can't sell anything in China that the Chinese make themselves.

Death by a thousand cuts. Read the labels of the things you buy.

Stirrings of Hope Among -- The Coffee Party?

The rather clunky-sounding name aside, there's at least some sign of life on the left, a little organizing, a little socializing.

Fuzzy as an Easter duckling, sweet as apple pie, and hearts in the right place.

Check 'em out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

T is For Texas, T for Textbooks, T for Trilobites, and T for Trouble

Apparently it isn't quite enough for the Texas Chainsaw Board of Education to introduce creationism and intelligent design into classrooms to brainwash their children back into the 18th century. Now they want to do far worse in the area of Social Studies and History. 

The kooky right wing of the Texas Board of Ed wants to teach the Inaugural Address of Jefferson Davis side by side with the writings of Abraham Lincoln. Unsurprisingly, this document, one of the slave holders' gospel books, names the Union as the aggressor in the Civil War - not a problem except for that little battle called Fort Sumter. Apparently, re-writing history is a long tradition in the South and Texans aim to uphold that tradition.

With great foresight, Ol' Jeff Davis had this to say in his address:

"...the separation of the Confederate States has been marked by no aggression upon others and followed by no domestic convulsion. Our industrial pursuits have received no check. The cultivation of our fields has progressed as heretofore, and even should we be involved in war there would be no considerable diminution in the production of the staples which have constituted our exports and in which the commercial world has an interest scarcely less than our own."

As if elevating Davis to equal status with our greatest President weren't bad enough, the Textbookers want to raise Ronald Reagan to the level of the Founding Fathers, citing his efforts to shrink government and lighten the tax load on Americans. There is only one small hitch, as the chart shows below from, of all places, The Cato Institute. In fact, Reagan and George H. Bush almost doubled government spending during their administrations.

(Note: Reagan is the man some right wing re-writers of history want to replace U.S. Grant with on the $50 bill.)

Another rich one in the new proposals? References to Ralph Nader AND Ross Perot are to be replaced by a descriptive homage to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson as a model for effective leadership. Ask an African American about that one. Or anyone of any race with an understanding of the moral turpitude that permitted and encouraged slavery in the old South. 

But, while fighting to maintain slavery with saber in hand, apparently Stonewall felt pangs to take care of those he wanted kept in bondage.

"In my tent last night, after a fatiguing day's service, I remembered that I failed to send a contribution for our colored Sunday school. Enclosed you will find a check for that object, which please acknowledge at your earliest convenience and oblige yours faithfully." (Lt. General Thomas Jackson, in a letter to his Pastor)
Perhaps a field trip to Stone Mountain, Georgia is in order for all Texas school children so they can see the images of Jeff Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee carved in monumental breadth in granite. 
The right wing also has a bee in its bonnet about the "values" taught in Social Studies textbooks.  “To deny the Judeo-Christian values of our founding fathers is just a lie to our kids,” said Ken Mercer, a San Antonio Republican sitting on the Board of Education.

What he really means is they want to promote a specific form of Christianity - not the open-minded, loving, forgiving brand, but that which regards women as inferior, gun ownership a religious duty, and one in which the sciences of anthropology and geology are handmaidens of far out doctrines. And what about atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, Islam, Native American beliefs, and so forth?

Another guideline requires publishers to include a section on “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the NRA.”  Allusions to American "imperialism" would be replaced with the word "expansionism." Well, a rose by an other name.

Meanwhile, according to statistics I pulled from Ken Mercer's re-election site:

On the ACT, 44 states scored higher in English than did Texas (Graduating Class of 2008); 40 states scored higher in Reading.  

On the SAT, 42 states scored higher on the grammar/usage section than did Texas; on the essay, 43 states scored higher. (Even worse, from 1972 to 2009, Texas SAT scores in Critical Reading have declined 29 points. Why should we not be surprised?)

No amount of rewriting history, whether tilting to the left or right, and no amount of asserting that humans and dinosaurs co-existed about 10,000 years ago will raise those scores. 

Here's a kicker. Mercer has a college degree in biology and believes in creationism. Yep... 7 days about 10,000 years ago. Job well done. 

Never mind the 20,0000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux, the 40,000 year old bones in LaBrea, or the dinosaur bones dating back tens of millions of years that are on display in thousands of natural history museums around the world. 

Trilobites? I did not forget. They first appear in the fossil record about 540 million years ago. Just a few years before the Book of Genesis.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Back To Europe and the Basics of Liberal Foreign Policy

American overseas preoccupations of the last decade have centered on terrorism, the wars in south Asia, and the paper tiger of China, America's next great fall guy. Meanwhile our long, deep roots with Europe have centered around war aims, overt and covert and the bickering over climate change.

Together, the United States and the European Union together account for about $3 trillion in exports, and well over one third of the entire world's economic output despite having only 12% of its population. (China by contrast contains almost 20% of the world's population and accounts for 14% of world GDP. Japan has about 1/10th the population of China and has a larger share of world GDP.)

So, what are our priorities regarding Europe (and Japan, and other western style democracies)? Clearly, if we were to simply follow the money, we would be spending an enormous amount of time tightening our already firm bonds to Europe. We would play down the consternation over China's "rise," remembering always that it still has 1.1 billion people living at subsistence level with whom they will eventually have to engage.

Further, we would pay close attention, to use Lincoln's words, to "the mystic chords of memory," that bind Europe to America and we to them. While we have navigated the streams of democratization in parallel, we also share an intellectual and artistic history, a battlefield history, a religious commonality with Europe. We share the burdens of colonialism. And, although Europe has largely ignored its part in the tragedy, we share the legacy of slavery.

But our view of Europe remains calcified and simplistic. It is a very fine place to visit. The Brits will always be our friends. Inexplicably, the French are eternally annoying, if less so nowadays. The Germans still wear the mantle of militarism, even if they have been ultras pacific since the war. And what good workers! The Italians are amusing and unstable. The Spanish are unemployed. The Scandinavians are blond and very advanced considering their size. The Greeks profligate. The new, eastern EU members are enigmas and still viewed as a bulwark against the Russian bear.

So what should we be doing?

First, loosen economic ties with authoritarian China, which does not play fair and takes all criticism of its regime and its self-centered economic policies as "meddling." Establish new rules concerning "free trade," turning our bent with developing countries into "fair trade."

Second, together with the EU we should identify with and be by the side of rising democracies and do all we can to work with them. India comes to mind, as do certain African nations, Brazil, Argentina and other "second world" democratic economic powers. India, in particular, offers enormous opportunity for Europe and the United States.

While both the United States and Europe hamstring themselves through dependence on foreign energy sources, we need to switch focus from the oil states to the states of the southern Mediterranean basin: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The West also must stay focused on a just settlement for Jews and Palestinians in Israel.

Regardless of the country the West deals with, we must insist on expansion of human rights, whether these concern religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Economic justice - still an issue at home - must be pursued worldwide.

Violations of established intellectual property rights laws must be enforced. Giving away our edge in technology, such as in computer science, space, robotics and the internet, is suicidal. Innovation is at the core of western success. And our spirit.

Through our communal technological prowess, the US, EU, Japan and the other westernized societies must solve the energy crisis. For a better environment, for a better life for the entire planet, but also to choke of the seemingly unending conflicts we find ourselves involved with in south Asia and northeast Africa.

The United States and the European Union need a large, common goal beyond prosperity in our friendly zones. It might be space, medicine, water and food purity, or transportation. But something larger and more transcendent than growing richer has to bind us together even more deeply.

This is where real liberalism counts.