Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Blogroll please...

Our newest blogbrother...Tantrums of a Restless Mind...welcome!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Setting the Record Straight

To those of you who have been directed to this blog by way of the Newsweek piece I'd like to clarify a few details:

I spoke with David Remnick last summer during a 30-minute phone call about a gathering at the Ayers/Dohrn home in 1995. It appears that Mr. Remnick conflated two different events, one of which I did not attend. The get-together I attended occurred long after the one where Alice Palmer introduced Obama to the movers and shakers of Hyde Park. Alice Palmer was not at the event I attended. By the time I met Barack and Michelle Obama, he'd already had a major falling out with Palmer over backing away from his assurances to her that he would step out of the race for her seat should she want to keep it.

The irony here is that while Obama and Ayers were closer than either one of them has admitted, Obama's politics then and now have always been centrist. During the presidential campaign, however, the demagoguing from Palin and the Right along with the opportunistic left-baiting by Ben Smith at Politico about the Ayers connection served only to obscure the way this event underscored what others have said about Obama's early success, namely, his ability to appear to be all things to all people.

Labor Board Appointee

From the letter's section of yesterday's NYTimes

To the Editor:

Business groups fear that the appointment of Craig Becker, a lawyer for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., to the National Labor Relations Board will promote unionism (“Deadlock Is Ending on Labor Board,” Business Day, April 1).

But that is the precise purpose of the Wagner Act of 1935. Section 1 declares that it is “the policy of the United States” to encourage “the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.” It notes that “inequality of bargaining power” aggravates “recurrent business depressions.” Both the policy and its rationale have been ignored for too long.

Judith Stein
New York, April 1, 2010

The writer is a professor of history at the Graduate Center and City College, CUNY.

ht alr

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hoping for a Hurricane

In the hoopla surrounding last week’s State of the Union, we should not overlook the double dose of Duncan—Arne that is—served up in the New Yorker and The Washington Post. Carlo Rotella’s profile of Obama’s Secretary of Education in the New Yorker (the full online article is available only to subscribers, alas), describes Duncan as “firmly on the market-forces side” of the debate on how to improve public education. Rotella observes that while Duncan tries to play both ends against the middle, he pretty much comes down on the side of the fence that makes him a darling to conservatives.:
Duncan must contend with critics on the right who don’t accept the federal government’s active role in education and those on the left who see him as a neoliberal enforcer, exploiting Obama’s Democratic bona fides to impose the free-market reform agenda on the unions. And yet Duncan believes that “a perfect storm for reform”—a heightened awareness of global competition, agreement that there is a crisis, plus desperation in near-broke states—will allow him to push his program through.
Turns out, that when Duncan says, a “perfect storm” provides an ideal environment for reforming education, he’s not just speaking metaphorically. Commenting last week on reform efforts in New Orleans, Duncan said,
I spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and this is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that 'we have to do better.' And the progress that they've made in four years since the hurricane is unbelievable. They have a chance to create a phenomenal school district. Long way to go, but that -- that city was not serious about its education. Those children were being desperately underserved prior, and the amount of progress and the amount of reform we've seen in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing."
This is reprehensible.

Sure, Duncan is right in saying that school children in New Orleans were “desperately underserved.” But behind the disastrous state of public education in pre-Katrina New Orleans, or in any pre-economic collapse urban school system, was chronic underfunding and neglect verging on the criminal, the right’s resolute commitment to demonizing the public sector, and the unmitigated assault on the poor that is neoliberalism. The result has been to run these systems into the ground but to chalk up their failures to technical obsolescence and union intransigence both of which are presumed to derive from public schooling’s insulation from the “salutary” effect of market forces.

In the wake of this manufactured disaster, free-market compatible reforms can’t help but offer “some” improvement over what previously existed, and because reformers refuse to support with sufficient funding any models that don’t incorporate their key measures (on the assumption that other alternatives have already been tried and found wanting), they pretty much have a free hand to do what they want to do.

There’s no doubting Duncan’s sincerity in wanting to improve education for all students. But the issue here is not his sincerity. For the past quarter century the notion of commonsense coming from the right—to which the Democrats, if not much of the left, have acquiesced—is that public sector spending is out of control. Any discussion about improving public services starts with reining in costs, as illustrated by the Obama administration’s approach to healthcare.

With cost-cutting as square one, the rest of the game becomes a matter of improving what Stanford economist and Hoover Institution Fellow, Caroline Hoxby (a proponent of free-market methods in education) terms “productivity,” which is a measure of outcomes, say test scores, against input (per pupil expenditures). On this scale it counts as a plus for charters and other alternatives not only if their students actually do better than students in traditional schools, but also if they do roughly the same for less money.

Given the prevailing commonsense and the straitened circumstances of state governments, what we’re likely to see as education reform going forward is modest improvements in educational achievement as measured by test scores, coupled with flat or slightly decreased state-level expenditures for public education. Underwriting any educational cost control will be growing precariousness in the situation of teachers, with higher rewards for entrepreneurial types at the top, and increased scrutiny for those struggling in difficult circumstances.

Particularly pernicious is that Duncan and Co. will represent the current discussion as a truly open consideration of all viable approaches to education, never acknowledging that what has undermined those measures we know produce better teaching and learning environments--smaller class sizes, better school facilities, overall increases in teacher pay, and instruction in the arts--is an unwillingness to start from the position that we need to fund education at all levels more generously and more equitably than we have ever done.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In answer to your question, Mr. President

From the letters section in today's NYTimes:

To the Editor:

President Obama’s State of the Union address had a high point when he pledged that anyone with a “better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.”

Thank you, Mr. President. The answer is the reform supported by 65 percent of the public and even 59 percent of physicians. It’s remarkably simple, and the nation has already had 44 years of successful experience with it in financing health care for our elderly and the totally disabled.

It is, of course, Medicare-for-all, single-payer, not-for-profit national health insurance. Its superiority lies in excluding profit-seeking insurance companies and Big Pharma from controlling and undermining our health system. This is your answer, Mr. President.

Quentin Young
Chicago, Jan. 28, 2010

The writer, a doctor, is national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Good answer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What A Speech!

A State of the Union with so many highlights: What about that moment when Obama announced he was issuing an executive order suspending healthcare benefits for all members of Congress until they brought him a bill that provided full healthcare for all US residents, and then we all looked at each other and said,” Can he do that? Woo Hoo BHO!”

And then, the way he followed that by announcing he was cutting congressional pay by a third until they passed a full employment act?

Oh, and what about how he blistered the illogic of Chief Justice Robert’s concurring opinion in the Citizen’s United Case. Spake the President: “Our august Chief Justice has put the rule of law in jeopardy. In one breath he says that controversial decisions reached over spirited dissents ‘undermine the precedent’s ability to contribute to the stable and orderly development of the law.’ Then, in the next he affirms a narrow 5-4 decision over spirited dissent. He presides over a Court that is defined by narrow 5-4 rulings. We must abolish lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices, appointing them instead to 12-year staggered terms. Lifetime tenure was intended to shield the Court from political pressures. It now serves the opposite purpose, emboldening justices to seek narrow rulings whose legitimacy depends only on the ability to hold a majority. Justices now hang on their seats—unless the will of god deems otherwise—and step down only when it allows a President of their party can make a new appointment. By contrast, knowing that the make-up of the court will be changing will encourage the court to seek rulings defined by broad consensus.”

Then there was the timetable for nationalizing the banks.

And then—Red Rabbit elbowed me and told me I was talking in my sleep.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti and the US Military

Any criticism of relief efforts in face of a disaster as unfathomable as the earthquake in Haiti requires caution. Indeed, some aid groups have said the challenges in Haiti are greater than those that followed in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Nonetheless a couple of observations might be in order: We know that immediately following the earthquake the US military assumed the lead role in directing search, rescue, and relief efforts. We also know that various aid organizations, most prominently Doctors Without Borders, reported difficulties and delays getting their people, equipment, and supplies into the country.

There’s no reason to assume the US military was trying to stall or derail efforts to aid the Haitians. On the contrary, the Armed Forces seemed to be trying to do the best job they could.

The problem though, is that when the US military assumes authority over a situation, Job One will be that of providing “security.” The idea of allowing aid workers or doctors into areas before you’ve figured out how to get your troops there becomes unthinkable or irresponsible. In discussing what to do, the counsel of experienced aid providers will not avail against US commanders’ assessment of what needs to be done.

The militarization of authority in times of disaster was also the story of Katrina, but a story obscured by the unbridled cronyism, gross incompetence, and colossal disdain for governance of the Bush Administration. In the years after 9/11 FEMA had been folded into Homeland Security with the result that all disasters or circumstances of extreme distress become immediately matters of security subject to military rather than civilian authority, despite the fact that Homeland Security is a civilian agency. As the Homeland Security website affirms, “While the Department was created to secure our country against those who seek to disrupt the American way of life, our charter also includes preparation for and response to all hazards and disasters.”

What these recent responses to disasters reveal is how severely the idea and prestige of civilian authority has been eroded over the past two decades. Bush regularly misstated that his oath of office bound him to defend the nation (and not the US Constitution), an error that Obama compounded in his acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize when he described himself as a “head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation.”

Interestingly, in that speech Obama paid lip service to the idea that security doesn't begin with boots on the ground, acknowledging that "security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within."

But what he asserted in one breath he retracted in the next when he defined the threat of global climate change in terms that extolled military leadership: "it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action -- it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance."

The point to be made here is that our well being demands that military power and interest always be subordinated to civil authority and that we should not need to justify the measures we think best by first determining whether or not they accord with the military’s security protocols.*

It will take some effort to restore the idea that security does not precede, but follows from, meeting the material, emotional, and social needs of people, both in times of acute distress and as a matter of course, but it's necessary that we do so. Perhaps a handful of those Haitians who survived the quake but perished because search and rescue teams hadn’t reached them three or four days later, or because their injuries weren’t attended to in a more timely fashion, might be alive today if US military security had not been the default posture after the quake. But as I said at the outset, one has to be careful here, because the challenges of delivering aid after such a disaster mean such tragedies will occur despite the best efforts of would-be rescuers. The real point here is that we should not allow the exigencies of disasters and extreme situations to undermine further the principle that the military serves us and not the other way around.

*Perhaps not so coincidentally last week an NPR report on the conditions in Haiti was followed immediately by a story about a lawsuit being brought by New York Public school students against the NYPD, alleging abuse by officers as they carried out what is now a standard use of police in public schools. According to the report: "School safety used to be handled by the city's school system, but in 1998 it was transferred over to the police department. There are now more than 5,000 unarmed safety agents assigned to the city's 1,500 schools, plus another 200 police officers. And metal detectors are routinely deployed in high schools."

As someone who served on a school council in Chicago in the wake of the Columbine shootings, I can testify from experience how difficult it has become to insist that the demands of some other principle, say, education, supersede those of security, when the guys with the guns are insisting they know best.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How Low Can He Go?: David Brooks on Haiti

David Brooks's Friday column on the Haiti earthquake counts as his most reprehensible in recent memory, if not ever. On the strength of apparently having read one book and an essay on Haiti he feels licensed to charge millions of Haitian parents with systematically neglecting and then abusing their children. As bad is this is, the particulars are less important than what drives this sort of analysis—if one can call it that--which is Brooks’s commitment to a culturalist line that runs through all of his commentary and is itself is driven by a fundamental belief that poverty and economic inequality are never the causes of social ills but merely symptoms of deep-seated cultural or behavioral problems.

Despite all of his handwringing and reflective posturing, the bottom line for him is always the bottom line: Any proposal or policy that involves (or that could even open the door to) transferring wealth from those who have squirreled away an obscenely disproportionate amount of the world’s resources and goods to the world’s impoverished will receive strict scrutiny from Brooks and found wanting in one way or another. To give you an idea of the current state of affairs, the editor of the Left Business Observer reports that the Goldman Sachs bonus pool is approximately $20b while Haiti’s annual GDP is approximately $7b.

Of course, what burns me up is less Brooks himself than the “pass” he gets from many liberal types on the basis of having a Times column and being a regular on public television when his substantive politics are Fox News fare, minus the obvious demagoguery around issues like abortion, etc, and leavened by the fact that he’s got a reading list that overlaps with many of us in the educated classes. I could go on and on about what this says about the center of gravity of what purports to be progressive political discourse at the moment, but I’ll spare you that for now.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thoughts for the Season

So I woke up this morning thinking about "The Homeless," which is only natural in weather like this, I suppose.

The emergence of "homelessness" as an identity category reveals the repugnance of the neoliberal version of social activism at its bluntest. "Homelessness" was invented as a social status—the equivalent of an estate--over the 1980s with the collusion of government agencies, academics, foundations and advocate/activists. The Grand Compromise, fitting the terms of "activism" under emerging neoliberalism, was to accept recognition of the "homeless" as a population with special needs for social services—shelters and reform of shelter administration, treatment for addiction, mental disorders, emergency housing, pro forma job counseling etc. Everything, that is, except a stable, secure, and decent place to live, which would require limitation of the juggernaut of urban redevelopment and bolstering social wage protection. The "activist" justification for this compromise was a combination of rationality and immediacy of need. The larger and deeper sources of homelessness are too big to tackle and certainly not in a way that can address people's immediate needs. So, the question became, what can we do to make people's lives better that takes as given that they have no place to live? (Social scientists, of course, particularly those cavorting between Hyde Park and Evanston, played a substantial role in providing a legitimizing "it's not so simple as providing housing for people" discourse in all the predictable variants. I recall getting the dinner guest tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright—or maybe Frank Lloyd Wright's student-designed home of a colleague who was then writing his explanation of why it's more complicated than that—really just a fanciful taxonomy of types of homelessness based on a dearth of direct experience that would have shamed Richard Hakluyt—and his proposal to bring back tiger cage housing as a more humane modification of the hazardous shelters) And here we are. Homelessness grows unnoticed; a social service apparatus—largely privatized—has grown, with its own political economy, around minimally ameliorating its effects, or appearing to do so, and young people—the ones who are to lead us to a better world that coincidentally looks suspiciously like nothing more than a superficially more rationally administered version of this one—imagine that ladling soup at the church kitchen or picking up people to take to cooling or warming centers, getting to know and be enriched by their personal stories, getting a mother and her three kids into an SRO motel, etc is fighting for social justice and, of course, a good way to soak up Life and boost the extracurrics on the Harvard Law application.

And then there are the more serious activists, the ones who have ideas about prefiguration and embodying alternatives. I've been involved in three public housing displacement fights, in Chicago, Stamford CT and New Orleans post-Katrina. The first was led by an activist tenants association that had official recognition as a representative body in the CHA system, even though the latter's public rhetoric, along with the City's, kept insisting that the body that it recognized as the official representative of Cabrini-Green tenants represented no one other than themselves. Because of the scale and power of entrenched interests on the other side, including Allison Davis's Habitat development company to which Valerie Jarrett had connections and Obama more indirect ones, from the outset it was clear that the only hope was to negotiate the best possible terms of surrender. We were able to get what we got partly because the Canadian bank that was the central financier was getting skittish about the project, and Daley and the CHA didn't want to go to trial, and even that settlement was sold out after the fact in implementation. The Stamford campaign was led by a coalition of unions, a quirky concatenation of circumstances that worked in our favor: a multi-union, wall-to-wall organizing campaign going on in the city, the fact that the lead organizer of the campaign was politically very savvy and had a history as a housing activist, and the fact that because housing costs in Stamford are so high, many unionized public sector workers lived in public housing. An additional quirk was that the Fortune 500 firms located in Stamford couldn't give less of a shit about the downtown revitalization interests that were driving the hastily put together HOPE VI project, or at least gave much less of a shit about it than they did about having their low-wage maintenance and clerical workforce nearby and not having to depend on their training in from Bridgeport nearly a half-hour away and subject to the vagaries of Metro North system delays. So it was possible to mobilize some support among them. The campaign won, partly through undercutting developers' and the housing authority's purchase of the black ministers by mobilizing clear-headed and active dissent in their congregations against them and exposing, or threatening to, the corrupt deals they were trying to make. This in turn enabled us to turn up the heat on the blacks on the city council. We also were able to get the Columbia Urban Technologies Action Project (run by an ex- though all too repentant Maoist) to do a structural assessment of the projects in the housing authority's sights, defeat the claim that the buildings were unsound and propose renovations like wiring the entire building for the internet, creation of on-site job development and day care centers, etc. The developers backed down. The outcome of the New Orleans case is well known. The only support for tenants, who themselves of course were largely dispersed, were the small clusters of left activists with no institutional capacity or ability to do anything except disrupt momentarily. That's all there was to do, and people did it admirably. Sometimes it's true that the only action available is bearing witness with the knowledge that there is only the slimmest imaginable hope that that action might spark a prairie fire. In the vast majority of instances they don't; I suspect they never do in the absence of a cadre force capable of fanning the sparks, even though we all have some romantic affinity for the heroic spontaneist narrative. (I've been struck lately, by the way, at how much what calls itself the left likes to bond around offhanded disparagement of Lenin and Leninist parties.) In fact, like propaganda of the deed under fascism, that's a political mode that speaks more of desperation and the reality of defeat than demonstration of power or capacity. It can be principled and is sometimes all we can do, but especially in a society like this it doesn't put us in position to fight for, or for that matter against, anything.


ht alr

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Massive Defense Spending Leads to Job Loss"

Dean Baker explains:
There is a major national ad campaign, funded by the oil industry and other usual suspects, to convince the public that measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and slow global warming will result in massive job loss. This ad campaign warns of slower growth and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, possibly even millions of jobs, if some variation of the current proposals being debated by Congress get passed into law.
For some reason, no one has chosen to highlight the job loss associated with higher defense spending. In fact, the job loss attributable to defense spending has probably never been mentioned in a single news story in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, or any other major media outlet. It is difficult to find a good explanation for this omission.
thanks to alr for the link

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sad News

The words aren't flowing today so I'll paraphrase someone who was intimately acquainted with loss:

Edward Kennedy "need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him...pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world..."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Illegitimate Concerns

From Campbell Brown to Jon Stewart to Barack Obama himself, the recent recipe for dealing with the crazies and operatives who’ve dominated the coverage of the health care debate appears to be as follows: Separate the fear mongering about death panels and such nonsense from the “legitimate” concerns about cost, being able to keep one’s current insurance, etc. Then, having sorted one from the other, dismiss the first and address the latter.

I suspect this will work, if by “work” one means helping pave the way to getting some version of a bill passed when Congress returns to session.

But we shouldn’t forget that at the end of the day, the only legitimate concern in the health care debate is this: Will anyone who needs to see a physician or receive a medical procedure be able to get treatment at a nearby health care facility without worrying about how to pay for it?

If the answer is “No”—and it looks like that’s what it will be—then illegitimate concerns will have once again carried the day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

BO's Health Care Reform: Settling for Less

When the makers of the animated film The Incredibles wanted a visceral symbol for our society’s moral turpitude they knew exactly what to do: depict an insurance company executive--single-minded in the pursuit of profit and lacking even the slightest glimmer of sympathy for his fellow humans. The message was so clear that a four-year-old could get it: the only way that insurers make money is by denying claims and coverage to those who need help.

So why is it that on an issue that everybody “gets” immediately, do the big corporate players, including the insurance industry, have the upper hand? Well, as even Frank Rich has now come to see, it’s because those on whom so many counted to smite the mighty, have instead been brokering deals:
As Congressional Quarterly reported last week, industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million in the first six months of 2009 alone to the 18 House members of both parties supervising health care reform, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer among them.
Add to that the fact that, as OpenSecrets.org has reported, candidate Obama was by far the greatest beneficiary of contributions from the health care sector and the hash being made of health care reform was a foregone conclusion.

To be sure, as many have pointed out, the obnoxious opposition to health care that has torpedoed many townhall meetings was largely manufactured by corporate lobbyists. Even so, the real problem was with the townhalls themselves, which were little more than Administration efforts to palm off the mystery meat in the various congressional health insurance reform bills as the high quality stuff of truly democratic health care. It’s hard to imagine shouting down the wingnuts and paid corporate operatives with chants that amount to “We want Spam!” Yet as even Rich acknowledges in observing that some form of health care reform is likely to pass, Spam is what we’re going to get.

When an Obama-enabler like Rich allows himself to voice a “fear . . . that Obama might be just another corporatist, punking voters much as the Republicans do when they claim to be all for the common guy,” it is tempting to believe that a moment of Liberal /Left-reckoning regarding Obama might be at hand. But two other columns from the Times indicate otherwise.

First, Paul Krugman’s “Averting the Worst” column on Obama’s flawed effort to fix the economy illustrates how difficult it is for Obama’s liberal critics to avoid being boxed in to muttering the mush-mouthed mantra of what Obama support has always been: a plaintive wail that the other guys would have been worse.

Then there’s Barbara Ehrenreich’s indignant account of what amounts to a legislative and policy war against the poor being carried out by states and municipalities across the country. After cataloging the despicable ways that poor people in this country are treated, Ehrenreich’s column concludes:
Maybe we can’t afford the measures that would begin to alleviate America’s growing poverty — affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation and so forth. I would argue otherwise, but for now I’d be content with a consensus that, if we can’t afford to truly help the poor, neither can we afford to go on tormenting them.
I have no doubt that Ehrenreich truly believes that we could “afford the measures that would begin to alleviate America’s growing poverty”—but what the hell does this really mean? Let’s roll back poverty rates to what they were two years ago? Whoop-dee-frickin'-doo! But that’s not even where the piece ultimately comes down. Despite the fact that her guy is now in office, Ehrenreich would be content, for the moment, with treating the poor a little better.

What ever else this is, it’s unmistakably a way of telling the guy in charge just how little you’d settle for. And to extend Rich’s somewhat homophobic metaphor, if you tell the big guy on the block that he can punk you for a quarter, don’t be surprised if he pays you only a dime, or perhaps nothing at all, because he probably thinks, when all is said and done, that’s what you wanted in the first place.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Malamute Blogging

Finally warm enough to take him to the lake and let him play in the water. I can't believe I just wrote that on the last day of July in Chicago. What happened to summer?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Them That's Got Shall Get...

If you were wondering how wealth, income, and power have been, and still are, distributed in the USA than have a look-see at an article by Professor G. William Domhoff, available at the Sociology Dept. at UC Santa Cruz. I've excerpted some of the more upsetting paragraphs, tables, and figures below.

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2004, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.3% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.3%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers).

Besides illustrating the significance of home ownership as a measure of wealth, the graph also shows how much worse Black and Latino households are faring overall, whether we are talking about income or net worth. In 2004, the average white household had 10 times as much total wealth as the average African-American household, and 21 times as much as the average Latino household. If we exclude home equity from the calculations and consider only financial wealth, the ratios are more startling: 120:1 and 360:1, respectively. Extrapolating from these figures, we see that 69% of white families' wealth is in the form of their principal residence; for Blacks and Hispanics, the figures are 97% and 98%, respectively.

Here are some dramatic facts that sum up how the wealth distribution became even more concentrated between 1983 and 2004, in good part due to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the defeat of labor unions: Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s (Wolff, 2007).

It's even more revealing to compare the actual rates of increase of the salaries of CEOs and ordinary workers; from 1990 to 2005, CEOs' pay increased almost 300% (adjusted for inflation), while production workers gained a scant 4.3%. The purchasing power of the federal minimum wage actually declined by 9.3%, when inflation is taken into account. These startling results are illustrated in Figure 7.

ht to alr

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Watching The Fog of War for the second time around, I couldn't help but wonder: is this watery-eyed man in Rumsfield's future? Twenty, or so years, down the road will he subject himself to hours of interviews on his many errors in the Iraq war?

As of today confirmed deaths in the Iraq War stand at just over 4,300, a far cry from the over 25,000 who died during McNamara's seven-year term as Secretary of Defense. This isn't to say that fewer deaths should lay more lightly on Rumsfield's conscience, but rather that, as much as we make easy comparisons between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, those of us who are for the first time grappling with a war with significant casualties have no concept of the ultimate blood cost of a protracted, and ultimately futile, conflict.

The Fog of War, and McNamara himself, frustrates our need for a complete mea culpa. In so many ways he remained to the end a Washington bureaucrat, rationalizing at the same time he chided those who rationalized war, and, at times, flatly refusing to address the issue of his own guilt. However, throughout the documentary he numbers the dead, numbers them and draws comparisons to the populations of American cities. For a cracker-jack statistician the way he recalls those numbers speaks of a mind who never stops seeing the loss of life, never stops wondering how many had to die.

McNamara strikes me as someone who desperately wanted forgiveness and yet was enough of a realist not to ask for it. Yet, he spent his years following his time attacking poverty, the nuclear arms race, and, ultimately, the culture of war itself. It's difficult to know how to weigh the actions of his later years with those of his sojourn at the Pentagon; for at the end of the day how do you weigh a few good works against the thousands of lives either lost or irrevocably damaged by your actions?

Atonement works great in theology but it is pretty much impossible in real life. Asking regular human beings to have enough grace to forgive on that scale is too much. So I don't want to make excuses nor suggest that in attempting to atone for his crimes McNamara deserves a break. At the same time in measuring him against others of his ilk--his contemporary Henry Kissinger for one and those who followed, Cheney and Rumsfield-- McNamara's dedication to atoning for his crimes raises him above those others merely in the recognition of having done egregious wrongs. That recognition seems such a small thing yet is so rare amongst those who recklessly drive us into deadly and morally compromising situations. In our time we are faced either with silence (Colin Powell) or a flat denial of any wrongdoing. Cheney's callousness is so despicable as to suggest a certain joy in the chaos he creates. It shouldn't be so much to ask for those in power to recognize that their actions have consequences. It shouldn't, but it is.

McNamara offered himself up as a cautionary tale in 2003, the same year we invaded Iraq, possibly in the vain hope that the mess we're in could be avoided. I think that all by itself, while many might say it is 40 years too late, is worthy of our consideration if not our absolution.

Friday, July 03, 2009