Vince Gray’s election on Tuesday night as mayor of Washington, DC, was met with a curiously nonchalant response among city residents. No one seemed much inclined to celebrate. A city that is famously buttoned-up and all business, all the time, was precisely that. The prior mayor, Adrian Fenty, was widely seen as a temperamental prima donna, but this election was less a vote about specific District issues as it was a referendum on his leadership. The results, a decided victory for Gray, were a backlash among many towards Fenty’s perceived stance in favor of more affluent parts of town, particularly those in the Northwest quadrant of the District. This is far from an uncommon phenomenon.
Sep 03 2010
Whether we’re even conscious of it, we need and desire a means of discernment. We seek a measuring stick with which to compare our own individual perspectives with something close to objectivity. We desire something firm and deeply grounded when the world around us is always changing. Increasingly, Americans view science as the final and ultimate say. To qualify my remarks, I don’t caustically dismiss scientific progress out of hand in favor of religious belief. I do know that science is never static, and that it is a field which is constantly evolving as surely as are all living beings. To place complete, unwavering faith in science is to overlook the continual process of human discovery.
Jul 09 2010
Must Read Eric Alterman article about our kabuki democracy — and what to do about it.
Face it, the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against us. Sure, presidents can pretty easily pass tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful corporations. They can start whatever wars they wish and wiretap whomever they want without warrants. They can order the torture of terrorist suspects, lie about it and see that their intelligence services destroy the evidence. But what they cannot do, even with supermajorities in both houses of Congress behind them, is pass the kind of transformative progressive legislation that Barack Obama promised in his 2008 presidential campaign. Here’s why.
As for the “Here’s why” and how to fix things part, one should go read the whole article at The Nation, and go below the fold for more.
May 07 2010
One must be careful when invoking comparative politics. If politics is indeed local, nothing could be a greater challenge than making sweeping generalities between different countries without understanding the full context. Having said this, I have followed the recent UK General Election campaign with much attention and interest over the course of the past few weeks. Those who follow politics to any degree often look for emerging trends which might promise some early clue to predict the future. Much of what enraged and inspired Britons to turn out in relatively large numbers (provided they were able to vote at all), are the very same issues driving an anti-incumbent maelstrom, the results of which on our shores we will not fully understand until early November.
Apr 19 2010
Coins minted by the United States have change dramatically in design, size, denominations, and alloy since the birth of the Republic. Whilst the basic units of dollars, cents, and mills has not changed, the relative value of these units is quite different than in 1794, when the first US coin was minted.
The most significant change, other than appearance, in US coins is that over the centuries, our coins have gone from being items of intrinsic value (gold, silver, and copper mainly) to becoming tokens. This has been the general worldwide trend for coinage. One reason is that there is simply not enough gold and silver to go around for coinage any more.
Mar 20 2010
Ordinarily I’ve avoided referencing pop culture in my posts, but forgive me again for doing so once more. I’ve been inspired to write on this topic based on watching this past Thursday’s 30 Rock episode. Its main idea implies that this naggingly persistent Great Recession was largely a result of those in big business who went for the easy, predictable sell and in so doing completely eliminated the idea of risk. In the episode, a fictional company that has recently bought NBC’s parent company, General Election, has devised a scheme to generate an endless supply of guaranteed income–namely, hundreds of channels of pay-per-view internet pornography. The revelation doesn’t sit well with Jack Donaghy, the Alec Baldwin character, a top ranking executive who is used to committing brainpower and elbow grease to creating innovations that sell, regardless of whether they are environmentally friendly, exploitative, gimmicky, or completely useless. As he puts it, the new company has made his entire skill set obsolete and reduced making money to a robotic perpetual motion machine.
Many pertinent issues are raised in the episode. Among the most notable is the suggestion as to whether or not consumerism and consumer capitalism ought to be viewed as some sort of necessary evil. Jack Donaghy is frequently an unsympathetic character on the show, but he does represent the very American idea that buckets of money can be made for those clever and resourceful enough to come up with a product or concept the public will clamor for, regardless of how stupid, pointless, or wasteful it might be. This has indeed been the criticism many of us on the Left have made over the years when we contemplate our obsession with the acquisition of possessions to no real positive end. When played off the idea that even necessary evil has been corrupted by an unimaginative scheme which promises guaranteed rates of return and no possible margin for error, the larger question is whether our current economic downturn was, in part, caused by risk-averse thinking. Have we exchanged necessary evil for unnecessary evil?
Instead of taking a chance and risking gaining either great wealth or a setback, it appears that some have ventured to circumvent the old ways. Though I am certainly no fan of the capitalist system, it is my understanding that, based on its rules, anyone and everyone is given the opportunity to try their hand at making money. Some efforts succeed and some efforts fail, certainly, but that’s just the nature of it. Many have made fortunes and lost them outright and many have achieved much in the way of capital through the process of trial, error, and dogged determination. But when that enterprising spirit and simultaneous revelation that one achieves when realizing that life itself is a series of ups and downs—when that become obscured by a desire to take the easy way out—then we all are simultaneously inhuman and poorer in the end.
Whether or not we believed that the American Dream was a dream deferred or a bad dream in the first place, it is interesting to ponder whether it has been royally short-circuited. To be sure, there were certain economic theorists and historians who had long proposed that something like this was an inevitability. Those in particular who espoused the theory of late capitalism would seem to be validated by the episode’s premise. We who have long spoken out against the injustices and inequalities of the existing system have nonetheless learned to live with it, and the idea that a brand new enemy may have taken the place of the old is certainly worth contemplating. Still, predicting the ultimate demise of capitalism is a bit like setting a date for the end of the world, if not the Second Coming. As it is written, brothers and sisters, you don’t need anyone to write to you about times and dates. For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Mar 14 2010
LaFeminista’s most recent diary over at DailyKos.com points to the presence of cults in America, of which Scientology is one. You look at those videos, and wonder why people would believe and say and do such stuff, and then you’re reminded of the cultists who run the Texas Board of Education… but, really, there’s one big cult, into which all of the other cults feed — the Cult of Money. This diary will examine said cult through Chapter 4 of Marx’s Capital and then suggest deprogramming measures.
(crossposted at Orange)
Feb 04 2010
As proposed while still a candidate, President Obama’s version of bipartisanship envisioned a kind of Utopian ideal where reaching across the aisle would be a frequent gesture, not just an occasional product of odd bedfellows. My own interpretation of the concept is not nearly so pie-in-the-sky as much as it is practical in theory. Of course, I never expect to see it implemented because legislators hardly ever do anything practical these days, in theory or not. My modest proposal would seek to level the playing field between parties, particularly on a state-by-state basis, since even though running up the score might be satisfying to some, everyone at heart loves a close game. True party parity would certainly strike fear into the lovers of the status quo and the current office holders themselves, but the past several months have proven to me that many of the current batch of bumbling idiots are long past their shelf life and need to be thrown out altogether.
Though a handful of so-called purple states exist in this country, most states give primary allegiance to either one party or the other. As we know, the South is usually reliably GOP by default and the Northeast usually Democratic. I recognize that due to recent electoral decisions we know that this is not always the case, but taking into account the whole picture, this statement is largely accurate. The battles we fight with each other these days are partially a result of how we have dug in, trench warfare style, facing across an literally invisible, but still nonetheless highly perceptible partition. Purple states are certainly more prevalent now than at any other time before in our history, but their development is relatively slow and since government is indebted most strongly to historical precedent, particular when one observes the tortured and convoluted congressional and state districting schemes, the blue state/red state divide is still very much with us. Indeed, I cannot for the life of me envision a point where it will give way to something else altogether, though I would certainly rejoice if it were.
When any region or state calcifies around a particular party allegiance, competition for available seats is minimal and new blood rarely gets the chance to serve the people. In both red and blue states, running for elective office often requires one to wait for an existing Representative or Senator to die, whether they be in the State legislature or the U.S. Congress. While I of course recognize that my allegiance to the Democratic party is paramount in my affections, I also know that true democracy rarely makes any headway with de facto lifetime appointments of any legislative body. That sort of arrangement is for something else altogether and if we are to preserve the checks and balances of our Founders, we would be wise to start here. The bipartisanship I strive for would be something close to equality between each state party in representation, redistricting, and in funds. Even putting one of these proposals into effect would make a difference. To be sure, I don’t deceive myself. This would face stiff opposition from all sides and even if it were seriously considered, likely not much would come of it. Still, we need to at least contemplate resolutions like this, even if they may not be workable in reality because they are the only way we’re going to be able to begin to get the system to work for us, not against us from here on out.
One of the many ironies is that one would think that Republicans would embrace this plan, since it falls in line with their pro-private sector, pro-capitalist ideal. In a pure, unadulterated capitalist system, competition and innovation is essential to the success of the market and the economy. What’s good for the goose must surely be good for the gander. Surely the GOP couldn’t find much objectionable in this, my most modest proposal. Even so, many entrenched GOP movers and shakers would counter this suggestion by substituting term limits instead. To me, however, term limits would be a poor substitute and be far from effective, which is why I have always opposed them outright. If one never changes the political landscape of a state or a region, all term limits would really do is hand the baton off to another person of the same stripes and ideological identification. In that case it would merely be the latest example of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
If we really could manage something close to legislative and party parity, then it would be much easier to hold the feet of politicians to the fire. Certainly they would have to worry more about losing their seat and undeniably they would need to pay closer attention to constituent needs, but I don’t think either of those outcomes are a bad thing. As it stands now, we have a still-majority, veteran Democratic caucus in the Senate who seem quite content to place its own needs and priorities above those of the average American citizen. If every Representative or Senator, regardless of party, recognized that unless Congress or any state legislative body produced clear cut legislative success that they were likely to no longer have a seat, then I daresay we probably would see some real reforms for a change. If members of both parties had to fear being booted out on not just or or two but every election cycle, we wouldn’t see a constant tit-for-tat between Republicans and Democrats, nor any of these exasperating back and forth power swaps whereby the party in power obtains majority status purely by capitalizing on the mistakes of the opposite party, not by actually doing anything to win control based on merit. A drawback in this system would be that it would be easier for competent elected representatives to be swept out based on the irrational demands of an angry electorate, one much like the Tea Party members prevalent now, but much of life is some combination of luck and chance and why should politics be any different?
If we are a massively diverse plurality society of differing and competing points of view, I see more, not less gridlock and more demoralizing legislative defeats in our future. Arguably a lack of across-the-board equality in so many different areas is responsible for everything from crime to bigotry. We have underscored and articulated the problem time and time again and have gotten no further to really going after the real causes. Doing so would require unselfishness and sacrifice, of course, two qualities that are always in short supply. But what I do know is that we can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve always done and expect a different result. I do believe in the power of reform, but I do also recognize how change often is a product of desperation and last-ditch-effort; I don’t want things to get that bad before we really act. I’m not sure how much more dysfunctional our government needs to get before we adopt new strategies that will return power to the hands of an informed citizenry. The system failed us, certainly, but we are supposed to be the ones whose active hand in the proceedings puts us and everyone back on course. How we do it is not nearly as important as when we do it. I hope that day is soon.
Feb 04 2010
copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
She is an eloquent speaker, an expressive author. Elizabeth Edwards is effervescent, effusive, and has an excellent mind. She understands profound policy issues as easily as she prepares a sandwich. Her memoir appeared on The New York Times bestseller list. Few think of Elizabeth Edwards as every woman. Other daughters of Eve might say Edwards is exceptional; surely, she is not as I am. Yet, life experiences might have taught Elizabeth Edwards otherwise. Just as other ladies, she is brilliant, beautiful, and not nearly equal to a man.
Jan 06 2010
copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Another year has come and gone. Everywhere she goes she hears people speak of New Years resolutions. They all say this time will be different. I will decide to do as I had not done previously or at least had not done well. Countless commit to a life of calorie counting. Others merely muse that they will exercise more. Drugs, drinking, there are also discussions of these concerns. People are confident. This year I will deliver myself from what I think evil. A few philosophize as to their personal career path. Change is the objective. A greater goal is thought to be golden. As Author Mary Anne Radmacher reflected and now millions whisper as their mantra, “Live with intention . . . Choose with no regret. . . . Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” Therein lies the problem.
Jan 02 2010
Now here’s a subject I don’t see hardly anywhere in the blogosphere: education politics. Given that education politics is a matter of students, teachers, and parents in communities of lower-class children versus the political class, the educational corporations, and its Veal Pen, though, it’s no wonder. But if “progressives” really wish to have some degree of autonomy from the business interests, and to be “with the people” on this one, they’d better pay attention to educational politics. The most important struggle, as I will discuss below, will be that of empowering lower-class parents by improving their socioeconomic status, rather than by testing their kids and blaming their teachers.
(Crossposted at Orange)
Dec 21 2009
A few weeks back, I wrote about my trials, travails, and tribulations achieving food stamps. I am pleased to report that due to my own persistence and the fantastic support of an advocacy agency, I was granted an EBT card. Earlier today I trudged through areas of town which have not seen much in the way of a plow or a shovel. I literally did have to walk a half a mile uphill in the snow both ways to arrive at the proper place, though I’ll save that lecture for another time. Since I have joined the ranks of the unemployed, I’ve had to swallow quite a bit of pride, which isn’t always a bad thing, all told. The complications that went into obtaining food stamps were easily explained, once I met with the proper person, and with resolution I have no further griping to share on that matter.
A well-designed website imploring those wishing to apply for food stamps to submit their claim by mail, after, of course, entering pertinent information and printing out several pages of a lengthy form sounds attractive enough. However, I learned that while the mechanism may exist, budget shortfalls prevented the DC government from being able to hire the workers needed to process internet-based claims. It would not be much of a stretch to deem this situation an glaring example of an unfunded mandate. Reform cannot proceed without the allocation of funds and while we often are curtly dismissive of throwing money at a problem, granting low income citizens the ability to feed themselves somehow doesn’t seem to be on par with all of these anti-underclass talking points that find their way into the mouths of Republicans and Republican politicians.
If one considers Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, then food falls right down there at the bottom of the pyramid. Without the literal requirements for human survival, it’s tough to be a Welfare Queen or milker of the system. According to Maslow, it’s only after our base needs for survival are met that anyone could ever even entertain the notion to willfully freeload.
With their physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual’s safety needs take precedence and dominate behavior. These needs have to do with people’s yearning for a predictable, orderly world in which injustice and inconsistency are under control, the familiar frequent and the unfamiliar rare. In the world of work, these safety needs manifest themselves in such things as a preference for job security, grievance procedures for protecting the individual from unilateral authority, savings accounts, insurance policies, and the like.
But until one has the security of knowing he or she will be fed on a daily basis without having to worry about potential financial famine, safety is not a concern.
As for my own situation, my packet of information sat on a desk for over a month, unprocessed. Because a meeting with a claims associate regarding whether or not food stamps will be granted or denied must, by rule, be granted and scheduled within 30 days, once I was approved I was given a month and one week’s worth of groceries I should have received earlier had everything proceeded in a timely fashion. Though I received only $200 a month in food stamps, which is approximately half of what my grocery bill is for the same period, I am not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. In all fairness to the DC Food Stamp program, it has won awards for how promptly and effectively it processes claims and while my situation is uncommon, it is hardly unusual when one considers the food stamp programs in other states. In a fairer society, I would have had my entire food budget subsidized, saving me from having to rob Peter to pay Paul as so many of us have to do these days, but perhaps someday we will learn that though we have a tremendous amount of financial resources in this country to go round, even in times of recession, we spread them around unequally and in so doing shortchange the least among us.
Part of the problem is the stigma and the misinformation that still persists regarding accepting government aid of any kind, food stamps being merely one example. One would think that welfare cheats salivate at the very idea of eating from the public trough, if you’d believe the stereotype. DC Hunger Solutions, the advocacy agency who so kindly went to bat for me and got my situation resolved, corrects many of the myths and stigmas surrounding food stamps.
Only 83% of eligible District residents, and 36% of eligible low-income working families, receive food stamps. Every $1 of food stamps spent in the community generates $1.85 in local economic activity. D.C. would gain millions in federal funds by signing up eligible households – funds that would stimulate the local economy. People who work sometimes assume they are not eligible for food stamps, or that time-off from work is required to apply. This is not true. A family of 3 with a minimum wage earner could be eligible for over $3,000 annually in benefits, and working families can complete phone interviews rather than go to the food stamp office in-person.
The true impact of the Economic Stimulus Package has become a political football of sorts, in part because what it promised could not be easily measured or highlighted in concrete detail. If, however, we shifted at least some of the focus towards fully funding both the programs that provide food to the poor and the monies necessary to provide more assistance, then these would be highly visible symbols of what good government is capable of if it puts its mind to it and does not get distracted with superficial squabbling or red tape disasters. When close to two dollars worth of gain comes as a result of every one dollar spent, one cannot overlook the overall benefit. We often believe that reform of any sort ought to be an awe inspiring and highly complicated matter, when sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.