Friday, October 16, 2009

Democratic Education- or, Rescuing Public Education, And While We Are at it, Private Ryan? Yes, and Everybody Else. By Art Pearl

If public schooling is to be rescued from the clutches of an ever more aggrandizing, ever more unscrupulous, ever more insistent, ever more unAmerican global capitalism, the alternative must be clear and precise. Such an education must be perceived to be desirable and feasible by a goodly number - ultimately a majority. And by desirable meaning that students want to be part of it. It also must be sufficiently robust able to withstand the inevitable distortions by cacophonous loudmouths hired by Australia’s most famous refugee, Rupert Murdoch. O’Reilly and Beck as well as Limbaugh, et al who serve no other purpose other than to dumb down what passes for debate and thereby undermine democratic institutions.

Democracy? Ah democracy. If democracy is the solution, it’s a slam dunk. Everybody loves democracy. Even more than they love Raymond.

Yessss. Except there is no agreement to its meaning. Lots of folks embrace current corporate deform of education because they think it promotes democracy. After all, didn’t mediocre education devastate democracy? And didn’t patriots courageously take on unions and kindergarten teachers using only standards and accountability (code words for control and obstacles) as weapons to make our education great again and thus save democracy? Or they will, once unions and kindergarten teachers stop sabotaging the system. People have to understand, kindergarten teachers are like the heads of the Hydra, lop off one and two take its place.

If not already convinced that the US is now and forever and in every which way embracing democracy, remember, we invaded Iraq so it too could enjoy democracy. And it has been a party ever since.

Complicating matters just a little, while blissfully heralding the virtues of freedom and democracy, George Bush was busily undermining both at home, AND abroad. And sadly Obama seems to be doing much the same.

T. S. ELiot had it right, (some would say extremely right), but nonetheless true:

When a term has become so universally sanctified, as 'democracy' now is, I begin to wonder whether it means anything, in meaning too many things. (The Ideal of a Christian Society)

So if democracy is to have meaning and replace corporate education, it first must be ‘desanctified. Democracy in one sense is the triumph of reason. Reason provides a foundation but is insufficient as definition. In a continuum of theories the democracy we propose is strong. According to Benjamin Barber:

Strong democracy [formally defined] as politics in the participatory mode where conflict is resolved in the absence of an independent ground through a participatory process of ongoing, proximate self-legislation and the creation of a political community capable of transforming dependent, private individuals into free citizens and partial and private interests into public goods. (Strong Democracy)

Say what? No independent ground means that neither God nor science makes policy, and it is up to ordinary people to work together to solve unavoidable problems and thereby create a public good. What also must be understood if that doesn’t happen - problems go unsolved - and bad gets worse and worse gets terrible. Like global warming or health care, public education or war.

Our notion of democracy is also deliberative; meaning that it is distinguished by diverse opinions engaging in meaningful and penetrating interactions in an effort to arrive at a negotiated consensus. If consensus is not possible, and it rarely is, at the very least the contending parties gain the benefit of mutual understanding. For a deliberative democracy to work there must be: diversity of opinion, a place for deliberation, and sufficient time for ideas to be worked out. There must also be some negotiated ground rules – a willingness to listen, disagreeing without being disagreeable. Most important of all is the development of an understanding that arguments and differences are not settled by noise or preponderance of opinion, but by logic and evidence. For a deliberative democracy to work the electorate has to know how to deliberate. And that is precisely what a democratic education makes possible and what corporate education by its insistence on monopolizing time for test taking vigorously opposes.

. . . to learn genuine discussion should be considered an essential part of our education. Every child must be trained to meet the clash of difference -- difference of opinion, difference of interest -- which life brings.

Mary Parker Follett. The New State: Group Organization the Solution of popular Government 1923. (1998 ed) p. 365

Demonstrating the electorate’s inability to deliberate has been the recent Congressional town halls supposedly addressing health care. In place of deliberation was spouting of disinformation, bullying and a total absence of regard for opposing opinion. It matters little if the audience was infiltrated by paid disrupters from the health industry or merely a random group of disgruntled citizens, whoever they were they were not prepared for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship. Not helping were radio and television polluters of the airways that fed the frenzy. However, in truth, the Limbaughs, etc. are irrelevant. Those town halls are what education sowed. The town halls are the logical consequence of an undemocratic education.

Boiled down to its essentials, a democracy puts control of all aspects of society in the hands of an informed electorate. It requires that a serious effort be made for all eligible to vote are equally informed and equaled empowered.

Impossible! Of course, but then democracy is like infinity in mathematics, not to be reached but to be approached, ever nearer. Democracy is also the vision used to determine whether progress is being made. When as now, movement is ever farther away, we need not only to take notice but to take action. Restoring movement toward democracy begins with meeting the requirements of equal and informed. That of course brings us to education.

A democratic education accomplishes two things, Students learn about democracy by experiencing it in classrooms. And they learn how to be responsible citizens by practicing citizenship.

A necessary foundation for deliberation is an understanding of democracy. It is permissible in a democracy for persons to oppose it and actually use democratic processes to terminate it. Plato didn’t like democracy and he certainly tried to make a solid case against it. What is impermissible is to destroy democracy without ever knowing what it is. And that is what currently is happening.

Democratic education engages students in deep and penetrating conversations, has them: conduct meaningful research, discover rather than being told and utilize rather than store learning. Such an education has students work cooperatively in projects designed to produce some form of community development – a public good. Such an education encourages every student to become an independent thinker while at the same time helps the student understand that change in a democratic society requires collective action. Such an education has its goal not only a rich understanding of the complicated multifaceted rapidly changing world that the students live in, but also, the intellectual wherewithal to be effective agents of change. Such an education, the diametrical opposite of the corporate education designed to produce docility, empowers students, all students. And knowing math is vital if one is to not only understand the world but also be prepared to be a significant player in shaping its future. One learns that kind of math (and science, and language proficiency, and history and philosophy, and the arts, and how to make responsible personal decisions) while engaged in research, discussion, analysis and debates, to propose solutions to pressing problems.

National and state standards must be rejected for such an education. And while local control is no panacea, there is a much better chance to build a democracy from bottom up than from top down. As anyone who has spent time in classrooms knows the single most important agent of education is the teacher. If ever a truly positive educational reform is to be achieved, it will occur when responsibility is located in the classroom teacher. That is where education takes place. And there is where true reform begins. Teaching under current reform is compromised and constipated, restricted by prescriptive curriculums. Simply put, those intent on a corporate control of education took a system in desperate need of change and made it much much worse by closeting teaching.

But teaching if it is to be effective has to be guided by vision. Some aspects of that vision are simple. Good teaching instills in students the love of learning. If we accomplished just that, things would be looking up. Instilling the love of learning may not by itself embrace democracy, but it is hardly likely to destroy it. And instilling the love of learning is a fundamental principle of a democratic classroom. But we get ahead of ourselves.

Democracy is informed by seven fundamental principles. I present these as teaser. as a preview of coming attractions.

1. An environment that enables all to grow to fullest potential, an

2. Legitimate authority – consent of the governed.

3. Inclusion- all equally protected and equally empowered

4. Equal access and capacity to use knowledge on which all important decisions are based

5. Development of the skills necessary to participate in collective decision-making

6. The inalienable rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and

7. Equality

Any serious discussion of democracy brings in all of the above. All in differing degrees can be incorporated in classrooms or in any association or agency. If we understand these principles we can move the never-ending, never quite completed democratic project forward. If not, well it was nice knowing you.

Where to begin? Begin as I began by trying to alter the learning environment. There are two possible explanations why students fail in school. The first is lumped under a broad umbrella called the “deficit thinking.” Or to put it bluntly, it is the kid’s fault, his genes, or his single mama, his neighborhood or culture.

The other explanation places the onus on the school, a student fails when insufficiently encouraged to succeed. A student fails when placed in a hostile learning environment. That means students go to different classrooms together. One student in that class is encouraged to learn, while another student in the same classroom is discouraged from learning.

At the time I was engaged in analyzing learning environments. Arguments were raging about deficit thinking. Deficit thinking is deciding in advance that some students will not succeed because of factors outside the classroom. The argument was not about whether deficit thinking existed but what was the important deficit. The prevailing opinion had been genetics, that is, success in school was largely inherited and that a greater percentage of white folks inherited a smart gene (intelligence was considered by most to be a “g” for general factor) than black folks or brown folks. One guy got knighted for insisting that more of the upper classes inherited a smart gene than did the working classes. Honest, I am not making this up.

... the wide inequality in personal income is largely, though not entirely, an indirect effect of the wide inequality in innate intelligence. (The data) do not support the view (still held by many educational and social reformers) that the apparent inequality in intelligence of children and adults is in the main an indirect consequence of inequality in economic conditions

Sir Cyril Burt, Ability and income.1943

One problem with the data was that Burt made up at least some of it, that is how most studying the scandal surrounding him have concluded. The idea of an inherited intelligence did not sit well with some liberals and they came up with another explanation - accumulated environmental deficit. Students didn’t fail because they inherited the dumb gene they were dumb because of the lack of intellectual stimulation during early formative years. That became the basis for Head Start and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Still others blamed an anti-intellectual culture, Ruby Paine is making big bucks selling her spin on that.

Virtually no one was saying maybe some students were failing because the learning environment was insufficiently encouraging. I flashed on three features of a learning environment that could lead to differential academic performance:

Competence – Encouraging students to believe that they could successfully master the school work

Belonging - Students welcomed into the classroom and made to feel each had an important role to play; and

Usefulness – Students find immediate use to what they have learned, or visualize many ways in which what they have learned has utility.

In a few, not very well controlled experiments finding ways for students to feel competent, useful and have a sense of belonging seemingly had remarkable results. Hundreds of low income, African American and Latino students got degrees at the University of Oregon in programs that were based on providing these kinds of encouragements. As these concepts were infused into the classroom, additional concepts were added to the first “CBU’s”, the ideas of comfort, security and meaningfulness. How many students today suffer extreme discomfort everyday they approach their classes? How many students are terrified as they trudge in fear toward the insecurity of the classrooms, hallways and playgrounds of our schools? And once in the classroom are fearful of expressing themselves? And after being subjected to a brutal round of tests, finding nothing to connect to real life situations?

Real life is about work and a career, it is about making serious, sensible, decisions in personal life, and sometimes life or death decisions in one’s political life, real life is music, social relationships, knowing a wide variety of people from a wide variety of cultures and life-styles, and real life is about making intelligent decisions about how to save the earth.

The “what” of education should be directed toward learning how to make intelligent decisions in the most basic arenas of our lives – war, economics, governance, race, ethnicity and gender, and ecology. Corporate education does not want anyone to make intelligent decisions in these matters, Only a democratic education that probes and searches collectively for solutions to overcome war, violence, discrimination, poverty and ecologic destruction can begin to move us toward real and positive change.

Next Blog Learning about the world of Work in a Democratic class.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What the so-call ed Education Reform is all about

The goal of No Child Left behind and all the so-called allied state education reform is to bring all of public education under corporate control. This is not a conspiracy. It is clear, straight-forward and unabashed. Every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama has endorsed it. President Obama heralds "We must ensure that our students will be able to compete in the global economy" almost every time he talks about education. All such endeavors to undermine democracy begins by scaring the shit out of us 

This one began with a corporate created presidency- the now exalted Ronald Reagan. Reagan, as you may remember appointed a commission - The Commission on Educational Excellence - and that Commission issued a report, A Nation at Risk, That report, in its second paragraph evoked terrifying images associated with McCarthyism.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.                       

Overblown, pompous, ridiculous, But this is America and stupidity sells. Especially if pitched here, there and everywhere.

David Berlinger and Bruce Biddle, two highly regarded scholars, responded with the careful and measured The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools. (1994). They acknowledged weaknesses and needs to improve in US public school, but in the main they attacked the report for its sloppy research and over the top criticisms and thus missed the point completely. What has to be understood is that the entire premise is pure unadulterated bullshit.

What is fraudulent is the notion that US workers compete with Japanese, Chinese, Finnish or any designated others someplace or somehow in that misty and mysterious global economy. There, they are supposed to square off as George W Bush's challenged his father, "mano a mano." Such competition has never ever existed. Nor is it likely to. What such palpable nonsense does is deflect attention away from the real problems in the economy (and also in education). It is not "mediocre educational performance that caused the 30 year depression of wages through a never ending loss of decent jobs replaced with an even larger number of poverty jobs –minimum wage with no opportunity for upward advancement – creating the illusion the economy was doing just fine. What Democrat doesn't proudly exalt over the 22 million jobs created during the Clinton administration, either omitting or not knowing that more than half of those jobs were "lousy" jobs and were plunging the country along the path leading to its collapse.

Today, when hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost every month, one company, Walmart, currently employing well over 1 percent of everyone who works in the United States has a work force that is growing while almost all other firms and public agencies are going in the opposite direction. However, it should be noted that very, very few people can raise a family from what they earn at Walmart. It is the Walmarts (MacDonalds, Holiday Inns, et al.) phenomenon that brought about this recession/depression. We collapsed because more and more families unable to live on what they made were forced to rely on an ever accelerating debt, When the housing market came tumbling down Jack, Jill and a lot of other folks were no longer able to refinance to go further in debt to buy what they did and didn’t need. That meant stores couldn't sell and the spiral characteristic of a depression began. Pretty simple. Far too complicated for the likes of Ann Coulter. But then, what isn’t.

Back to the corporate takeover of education which is really an integral part of the corporate takeover of the entire political economy. The goal of those in control is to concentrate wealth in ever fewer hands at the expense of everyone else. What had to be denied and not given any opportunity to gain credibility was the idea that such concentration of wealth in so few had negative consequences for the many. That concentrating wealth in so few is toxic - toxic for the environment, toxic for the economy, toxic for politics, toxic for a democracy - had to be kept from the public. It was not that the emperor had no clothes. He had plenty as well as jewelry, and automobiles and yachts, and lots of houses and all kinds of whatevers. The more than amply clothed emperor was poisoning the well, but that could not be told, And if attempted, a plethora of loud mouth buffoons spewed the airways with ignorance and bigotry to overwhelm truth. The very same people who could say, in response to a puny effort to limit wages of CEOs receiving government bailout money that "$500,000 is not much money" also could say in actions louder than words 'a livable wage for all striving to meet adult responsibility is far too much.' What they don't want to have said is that it is impossible to concentrate so much money in so few hands without destroying the viability of the economy. This is even more powerfully true if the economy and the environment are to be reconciled.

What this has to do with education should be quite clear. The last thing in the world the corporate dominated economic and political process could tolerate would be an independent public school in which students would be encouraged to learn how the world really works. However, to say out "Mama don't allow no thinking done in here (public schools)" would generate a huge outcry and who knows what else, Keep in mind that Gallop after Gallop poll revealed that a great majority of parents were satisfied with the education their children received and there are a lot of those parents. Fifty million children go to public schools everyday. Imagine what would happen if these 50 million (and their parents) understood democracy, economics and the principles of organizing. That could not be permitted to happen. Indicators of that possibility surfaced in the 1960s. The civil rights movement energized students. Martin Luther King Jr. was moving to extend his movement in the direction of peace and the elimination of poverty. There was threat, vague and not yet fully organized or even conceptualized, but a threat nonetheless. No better way to nip it in the bud and recapture the initiative than to find a way to takeover a school system that was generally well accepted and for a great many actually appreciated.

To do that it was necessary to connect to some deep seated fear. What better way than to scream to the heavens that our teachers had conspired against us. Dark forces had taken over school systems. Big bad unions were in control and were undermining competence. What could be more frightening than raising the specter that the people in control of our schools to whom we entrusted our most precious resource, our children, were stealthily undermining America. When we were not watching they had managed to replace our wonderful school system with a “mediocre” one, so terrible that as a consequence, our economy, that which sustains our good life is being destroyed. The Attack of the Treasonous Teachers was worse even than the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Much worse, our whole future was endangered. By God. this “mediocre” education is “an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” implying that everyone else is arming and we are ‘naked before our, if not enemies, certainly our competitors.’ Good cold war talk. Always works. The attack on education was not based on any real threat from abroad or anywhere else. But one had to be concocted if schools were to be brought under corporate control. The same kind of corporate control now established over media and to a very large extent over the political process.

To provide a basis for concern there needed to be a focus and mathematics (and to a slightly less extent science) provided that focus. Mathematics became the hysterical element in this advertised reform, more accurately, the hostile right-wing deform of education – that is what I called it in its infancy when I was on the Santa Cruz School Board. That is what is was in the 1980s and that is what it is today as it has gathered more and more momentum and given enthusiastic support from those who should know better. It was not “The British are coming.” But ”Our kids don’t know algebra!” “Our kids don’t know algebra!”

Why math? For one thing it is easier to measure mathematic competence than say English. Hell, would you believe some countries don’t even speak English (And we should certainly do something about that). Science has problems. A lot of anti-science sentiment percolates among political allies. No one was against algebra. It wasn’t like evolution or even global warming. God was okay with it. Liberty University teaches it. And we would hardly want to begin to probe into social studies, particularly if we are truly interested in preparing docile workers rather than informed and engaged citizens. In the 1960s when students started to get engaged in citizenship they had to be shot down. This is a lot less messy.

So it came down to math. WE ARE LOSING IN MATH. Year after year students in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, even Finland, especially Finland, beat up US students in math. It was implied that just about everybody of importance is humiliating us. Do you realize what that means? Before long all of those countries will be lording it over us, just because we don’t know our algebra.

That does seem serious. We are losing in algebra. We are losing in an algebra that 90 percent of us will never use at work or anywhere else. Such an indignity is something we really need to get worked up about. I mean lets get real here. If we don’t take a stand here it won’t be too long until countries like Japan and Cuba will beat us in the “American Past Time” - baseball. They do? Just goes to show you. However, if math is that important how come we don’t making passing algebra a requirement for holding public office? Or for making a comment on Fox news? Already I like the idea better.

How bad is it really? Just where do we stand in the world? To find out we go to TIMSS  which stands for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study  and it,  “provides data about trends in mathematics and science achievement over time.” So lets look at how our 8th graders did in 2007 in math, more than 50% of which was devoted to algebra and geometry.

At the eighth grade, the average U.S. mathematics score was higher than those of students in 37 of the 47 other countries, lower than those in 5 countries (all of them located in Asia) and not measurably different than those in 5 countries.

Well that certainly proves we are in big trouble.. The five countries whupping us were Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. No China because China doesn’t do TIMSS. The ones not much different from us were Hungary, England, Russia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. We were well ahead of Australia, Sweden, Norway and Israel. Finland apparently sat this one out. And before getting all excited and concluding this pretty good showing demonstrates the benefits of the deform movement. Sorry to disappoint. In 1995, although a bit lower we were pretty much in the same position. Beaten by the usual suspects - the Asians - and holding our own with everyone else. Hungary, Sweden and the Czech republic were superior in 1995 but all dropped significantly since then. Must be all those “mediocre” teachers we sent over on exchange programs.

We are losing in Math to the same kind of kids that are beating us here. Check out the scores of Japanese youth whose ancestors immigrated here and compare them with those that stayed at home and see what you get. Same with Chinese except as previously mentioned China doesn’t let its students do TIMSS. However, Taiwan, Hong Kong (which is now part of China) and Singapore (which is essentially a Chinese City) do. When comparing the students there and their relatives here we find they beat us with their education there and with our education here. So our education is only “mediocre” for some of our students. Go figure

Does that mean our students do not need math? Of course not! But the math they don’t need is the math that is crammed down their throats with no emphasis on utility and organized for a work world in which fewer than 10 percent will ever use. They don’t need an externally developed proscriptive curriculum imposed on teachers and students. They don’t need the math presented as a series of topics with insufficient time for any cognitive consolidation. They don’t need exponential function one week, permutations and combinations the next, measures of central tendency the next, quadratic equations the week after. After which come the tests and the suffering the consequences. This is called, by those expert in deception, “Standards”and “Accountability.” Do as demanded or be denied graduation or access to the credential society. And as more and more students failed, the answer was to add more courses, rather than examine why it is that students were rejecting the math they were being taught.

The mathematics scare is a big con game - the excuse to put public schools into a straitjacket. The real purpose is control from afar by reducing teachers to robots and shriveling the intellect of students. Stripped of its deceptive rhetoric the intent of a corporate controlled education is to produce docile, unthinking workers by denying students the true benefits of an education that would focus on cognitive development and on a rich and nuanced understanding of how the world works. A world, regardless of math courses passed and SAT test scores, the vast majority merely by reaching 18, will assume responsibility for its stewardship. In fact, what those students know and probably, more appropriately what they don’t know will determine whether we as a species survive. Unless, of course you believe that a corporate controlled government is capable of solving species threatening problems and producing a sustainable society with, to coin a phrase, ‘liberty and justice for all.’ If you do, there is a bridge I would like to sell you. Oh, you already bought it.

Let's be clear here, control over public schools have always been politically contested. Usually the economically dominant did the controlling, but not always  and not the same in different places or at different times. Nor was the goal - docility - so narrowly defined. As previously noted the 1960s  provided a glimpse of what could happen when the economically dominant were seriously challenged. What makes the current situation different is that there is no serious opposition to corporate control and it is now centralized,  eliminating any possible local challenges. The circle is closing and tightening, The logical consequence of corporate control over education is total elimination of any manifestation of democracy. Hopefully something to think about before it is too late.

Enough of this bleakness. The next blog deals a much more pleasant possibility - democratic education.  





Monday, November 24, 2008

Saving the economy By Art Pearl

This economic mess has been a long time coming.

Reagan as good as any place to begin. Shortly before Ronald Reagan was elected president the economy slipped into a deep recession. In1982 unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent (In 1979 the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent). The Reagan solution was “supply side economics.” George Bush called it “voodoo economics.” Supply side economics according to one of its gurus. Arthur Laffer. would, for every 1% reduction in taxes produce 1% increase in tax revenues, (although in 2008 on the Daily Show Laffer insisted he never said such a thing). Amazing the number of stupid things people say that later they claim they never said. Whatever called, it was, in truth, the same ole’ aggregate consumer economics. What made it different was that the underpinning for consumer demand did not come from wages and savings but from an ever increasing debt.

One of the most telling points Reagan made while campaigning for the presidency was the increase in national debt during Jimmy Carter’s term of presidency. As Reagan put it, as only Reagan could and as I remember it, went something very close to ‘it took 200 years for national debt to get to a half a billion dollars and only four years for President Carter to double that.’ That was hyperbole. The debt rose when Carter was president, but only by 50%. Reagan then famously pledged that his government would be like everyone’s family, live within its means. Ironically he was right, it turned out to be like everyone's family- buried in debt.. During the eight years of his presidency the national debt nearly tripled (from 930 billion to 2.684 trillion). Skyrocketing national debt brings a range of complicated problems but it doesn’t explain the economic collapse. Private debt brought down the economy.

Private debt took off during the Reagan presidency. Consumer debt (credit cars, auto loans. etc) more than tripled during the 1980s and mortgage debt grew by over 50 %. As housing prices continued to rise, more and more of the consumer demand was met by continual refinancing of mortgages. By 2006 consumer debt had increased 8 fold over what it was in 1980 and mortgage debt had grown from $1.6 trillion to $10.2 trillion. Once housing prices ceased to inflate, the economy collapsed and all the humpty dumpties of this administration (and all their king’s men) could not put it back together again.

Economist tend to agree this is the worst crisis in years. Some go back to 1981-82, some to 1930. Compounding the losses of employment in the private sector, already well over a million jobs in 2008 alone, is the impending crisis in local and state governments that will result in massive layoffs, reduced workweeks and other reductions that will result in limiting consumer capacity. Recent Nobel laureate Paul Krugman believes unemployment will not reach the 1982 level (which he lists as 10.5% unemployment). An interesting conclusion, but where is the buying power to stop the slide? What will stop the downward spiral? Auto sales? Home sales? Computer sales? Cell phones? Toys? Come on, deal with reality. Krugman does call for a large and creative stimulus package, but I don’t think what he calls for is large enough. Nothing but a massive governmental intrusion into the economy will do it. And it can’t be any kind of governmental stimulus. It has to be a well designed and carefully targeted stimulus package. It also will require targeted cutbacks in governmental spending.

The way out the economic mess is not a reincarnation of Keynesian economics. Keynes' 1934 General Theory was for a different time. His is an infinite earth economics that sees the solution to all economic problems as the management of growth. During downturns economic activity is stimulated by lowering interest and taxes and increasing government employment. During overheated inflationary times do the opposite. Now the solution is far more complicated and part of it has deal with environmental conditions that have been caused by unbridled economic activity. Part of the solution is reduction of consumer demand.

The solution requires governmental investments in livable wage jobs that are at the same time environmentally sound. The situation faced by the incoming president is more difficult than what Roosevelt faced in t933, we do not have the luxury of creating jobs at the expense of the environment, we now need to create jobs that not only are compatible with a sustainable environment they must actually serve to repair the environment.

A Teacher Supplement Act is an absolute necessity. Mike Davis says the first steps must be saving core public employment, bailing out distressed local and state governments with special emphasis on schools and hospitals. That would be inadequate. Restoring what we have assumes what we had was working and that is not the case in either education or healthcare. Block grants of perhaps $20 billion would restore cuts to schools. The package must go beyond what currently exists. A Teacher Supplement Act would cost about the same as the hopelessly ridiculous No Child Left Behind perversion that apparently president elect Obama is considering reauthorizing in some supposedly improved form. There is no improved form of an education bill that attempts to control what occurs in local classrooms from a perch in Washington DC. What is desperately needed is help at the classroom level. A Teacher Supplement Act would reduce every classroom to no more than 15 students per person in a teaching position. The persons in a teaching position would come from a program modeled after one initiated in the 1960s based on a book that Frank Riessman and I wrote (New Careers for the Poor). In such a program persons would advance to a credential teacher position through a 4 step ladder, the initial rung of which would be open to all and would require no prior education, training, knowledge or experience. Advancement up the ladder would be based on job experience and successful completion of classes offered by an authorized teacher education program. Such a program would accomplish many things including:
1) Improved schooling
2) Level the playing field – crowded classroom tend to be in poverty areas
3).Relieve the extreme underrepresentation of teachers of color. – currently less than 20% of teachers are African American, Hispanic or Native American whereas 40% of students come from those populations.
4) Reduce poverty and bring more economic vitality to impoverished communities. In the 1960s programs person from poverty communities that advanced up the ladder to teaching positions tended to remain in poverty communites. Something not the case with the traditionally credentialed.

To reduce classroom sizes to no more than 15 students would require an appropriation of $30 billion. About 500,000 full benefit livable wage jobs with potential for upward mobility would be created with such a sum. That appropriation would pay for four regional teacher education programs that would develop curriculum for each rung of the ladder as well as finance independent evaluation of the impact such a program would have on student achievement. A smaller program enacted in the196os, the Career Opportunity Program, brought 15,000, all poor almost all minority, into teaching and the limited evaluation indicated that they were at least as effective as the traditionally credentialed.

The same holds for hospitals. Restoring what we have is obviously insufficient. Again something in the order of $20 billion dollars would keep existing hospitals staffed and functional. An additional $30 billion could create 1000 community clinics staffed with fully credentialed medical doctors and nurse aided by 300,000 paraprofessionals in career ladders that make possible the upward mobility of those currently locked into poverty. Those community clinics would be a step toward universal health coverage.

Ten billion dollars should be appropriated for 200,000 community organizers to make cities more livable and safer.

Saving the economy means exiting the global economy. The global economy was never a good idea. It was a scam designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And it certainly succeeded doing that. Now we pay for that success with a collapsed economy. The ever dependency on debt was partially caused by the continued reduction in the buying power of wages as more and more good jobs, particularly traditional good jobs that did not require extensive higher education, disappeared. Does that mean US auto manufacturers should be rewarded for stupidity? No. But auto workers should not be punished because their bosses refused to sell what US consumers needed. General Motors built a very serviceable electric car and refused to sell it. In 1942, while working for the Curry Company in Yosemite my job each day began with unplugging an electric Ford Model A converted into a very small truck that I drove all around Yosemite Valley delivering camp goods and I ended the day by plugging in the truck for a recharge. In the three months I worked at the job, the truck never ran out of its charge. It was not that US auto makers were unable to make environmentally sound vehicles, they didn’t want to. And thus they opened the door for the Japanese, Europeans and Koreans. The US auto makers in collusion with Big Oil chose to concentrate on gas guzzlers and now they are broke. Losing money never stopped “the Big Three” from providing obscene packages to a range of executives. In fact it appears that the dumber they were the more they got paid.

The US government should loan money to US auto manufactures but with certain conditions- severe cutbacks in executive salaries and perks and a retooling for environmentally sound vehicles. The labor contracts may need minor adjustments, the differences between what workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler make is not materially different than what Toyota provides its workers. The provision of health care and retirement benefits merely reflect the failure of the US to provide universal healthcare and old age security. But that is not the only jobs that should remain or return to the United States. All those things that once were made in the USA should again be made in the USA. The global economy was never sustainable economically or environmentally. The idea that something should be made in China and shipped to be bought, used and consumed in the United States made little sense. The energy costs in time would far outweigh the profitability of cheap labor. The quicker we are out of such an arrangement the better. If it means return to protectionism, so be it. According to Ha-Joon Chang “the US is the true home of protectionism. Between the 1830s and the 1940s, against superior European competition, the US developed its industries behind literally the highest tariff wall in the world” (Economist Forum, November 14, 2008). He recommends “Providing protectionism to facilitate structural changes, and not just to protect existing jobs, would require a much closer coordination between trade policy and those policies to upgrade American industries, such as R&D support and worker training” (ibid). I think we need to do more than that. We need also to undo the damage caused by the global economy and return to the US all the manufacturing that left solely because of the opportunity to take advantage of starvation wages. How this would be done would require both tax benefits and penalties. But such a return is vital for the long term well being of the US economy.

There is every indication that the new administration proposes some kind of government investment in green jobs. That needs to be done and probably faster than is currently contemplated. Building windmills and solar systems and batteries for electric vehicles should be made here not merely imported, stured or assembled. The government should invest heavily in research and development of alternative energy. One area of investment ought to be urban agricultuire. Food needs to be grown close to where it is eaten and encouragement in that direction will require government incentives.

Rebuilding and repairing the infrastructure is already planned and is vital. As is upgrading of rail transportation. The United States cannot afford to lag behind other nations in the development of high speed, energy efficient trains. Local public transit also requires modernization.

The job creation of all of these efforts would have to in the order of 5 to 7 million jobs, (about twice what Obama appears to have projected). That calculates to a reduction in the unemployment rate ofin the order of 3,3% to 4.7% percent. That in itself would not return the nation to prosperity. However the multiplying effect (the jobs created by the buying power of the created jobs) should be sufficient to right the economy.

If I am correct and that nothing short of massive governmental stimulus will right the economy, the cost of such stimulis would be in excess of a trillion dollars. Where would such a massive sum come from. The outgoing administration with its depraved indifference to human suffering limited its activities to protecting “its base.” It helped only established wealth and the economy was allowed to continue to descend0. As a consequence the national debt incurred for only this year will be in excess of a trillion dollars. That massive debt did not stop unemployment from growing.

Borrowing an additional trillion dollars will have both long and short term negative effects. Currently the interest on the debt is one of the four big ticket items in the federal budget. As we invest in righting the economy increasing the debt will be unavoidable but debt increase has to be coupled with some severe cutbacks in federal spending.

The Reagan mentality of spend lots, tax little only causes grief. The tax breaks the Bush administration gave “his base,” the super rich, must be rescinded. We have ample evidence of how well that worked. Marginal tax rates for those with incomes over a million should go back to where they when Eisenhower was president.

Getting out of the empire business has to be a high priority. Empires have always been nasty way of doing things. There was a time it worked for the Romans and for the British. That was then. Now empires are even nastier and no longer bring booty e.g., slaves for the Romans and spices and other goodies for the British. That means ending our intrusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also means, for starters, closing 350 of the more than 700 bases in 130 countries. Leaving Iraq is not a choice, it is an urgent necessity. We had no business being there in the first place. We no longer can afford to be there. The money wasted there is urgently needed here. Vacating Iraq saves us more than money. It restores badly needed credibility. It makes possible stabilization of the region. All we managed to do while in Iraq was to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people who meant us no harm, generate ill will all over the world, and further the ambitions of Iran whose influence in Iraq grew the longer we were there. Our presence in Afghanistan is no more tenable. Again we got there on a fake issue, harboring al Qaeda. If we wanted to get those who harbored terrorists we should have bombed Saudi Arabia and Florida. Using the cover of NATO didn’t help, the United States supplied half the troops. NATO designed as an alliance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War is far removed from Afghanistan. None of Afghan’s neighbors are participating in the effort to cleanse the area of terrorists. No Pakistan. No Iran (obviously but maybe only because we have bought into the “axis of evil” that Bush used to justify either stupidity or worse). No India, No China and No Russia, Terrorism is a global concern. Russia and India have been victimized by terrorists. If there was anything that could bring about a world consensus it would be opposition to terrorism. Logically the umbrella for opposition is the United Nations, and if there is to be success, the United Nations will have to play a prominent role. Ironically, it was United States leadership that brought the United Nations into existence and it has been the United States almost ever since that has been undermining it. The United States has to again reverse course and help the United Nations regain effectiveness. Simply put, all of the world must be involved in overcoming terrorism or we will be victimized intermittently by it. Increasing our military involvement in Afghanistan is something that president elect Obama had better rethink. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are places where we sap energy, lives and resources while matters of critical importance founder at home.

And we have to end the “drug war.” The United States now imprisons more people than any nation in the world, a very large percentage because of drug offenses. The drug war ruins lives and wastes money. Controlled legalization is a much wiser way to go. Every penny wasted in the drug war will come at the expense of economic revival.

Obama’s‘Yes We Can’ will include most of the above or he will be a one term president. His economic team, having proclaimed this to be the the greates economic crisis in 70 years needs to propose a remedy proportionate to the problem. It will take more than they propose.

Even before he assumed office Rush Limbaugh labeled the downturn “Obama’s recession.” If as president he is unsuccessful in turning things around, it will become, not what the deranged claim, but, in an acceptable political sense, his recession/depression. Like it or not the economic condition is his to fix or he takes the blame. He got elected because the incumbent was, in this instance correctly, blamed for the economic collapse. If the economy is not substantially repaired in the next four years President Obama may not have broken it, he, nonetheless, will own it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lincoln and Obama

Before television or radio or even the phonograph there were songs. Songs were hot in politics. There was a song for every political position. Songs enlivened political campaigns and up until very recently promoted presidential candidates. Songs enabled people to invest in, participate and actually enjoy political campaigns. Although it was not necessarily true that the candidate with the best songs won the election.

In 1860 many songs were created to be sung at rallies for Abraham Lincoln and for his rival Stephen Douglas. For whatever it is worth more songs were sung for Lincoln than were sung for Douglas. Consider one such song:

Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness
Out of the wilderness, out of the wilderness,
Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness
Down to Illinois

Oh, aint I glad I joined the Republicans,
Joined the Republicans, joined the Republicans,
Ain’t I glad I joined the Republicans,
Down in Illinois

To get you into the spirit of the thing know that it was sung to the tune of the ‘Old Grey Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be’. Sung in its original version could fairly represent this year’s Republican candidate. In fact with McCain, he ain’t what he used to be two weeks ago. At least one colleague and friend in the senate has commented that in his current manifestation he is no longer recognizable.

This election has instead of songs, produced a spate of nasty TV spots that do neither candidate much credit, This campaign has substituted attacks on credibility for music making

One of the attacks on Obama has been that he is long on words and short on experience.

Some offer up a Jack Kennedy comparison. There is some similarity. Both, as they approached the presidency, were/are young, Kennedy was 43, Obama would be 47. In experience. Kennedy had 14 years of elected official government experience, (US congressman 6 years, US senator 8) before ascending to the presidency, Obama, 12 years as an elected official (8 years in the Illinois state legislation and four as a US senator). (Franklin Roosevelt had 2 years as a New York state senator and four years as governor before becoming president, but he had also been undersecretary of the Navy and an unsuccessful candidate for vice-president).

Far more intriguing is sizing Obama wirth Abraham Lincoln the last person from Illinois who made it to the white house. Not only are their experiences similar, they share some of the same character traits.

Lincoln served eight years in the lower house of the Illinois Legislature. Obama served eight years in the upper house of the Illinois Legislature.

Lincoln served two years in the United States House of Representatives. Obama is finishing his fourth years in the United States Senate.

Both men started out as community organizers. Lincoln’s experiences in New Salem as a river pilot, store clerk, soldier, postmaster, small businessman, legal clerk, and politician was meant to keep an economically struggling town afloat (try that for size, Sarah Palin). His work was similar to that of Obama’s on Chicago’s south side.

Both men studied the law. Although Lincoln never had the benefits of formal education, he held education in the highest regard, and used his self-education as a means to become one of the most successful attorneys in Illinois. Like Obama, Lincoln preferred public office to private practice, in spite of the greater wealth private practice would bring.

Both men emerged from the ranks in the rough and tumble of Illinois politics, a vibrant political culture that lies at the cross ways of the prairie and the urban frontier.

Both men ran for federal office and lost—Lincoln for the Senate, and Obama for the House.

Both men ran on the critical questions of the day—for Lincoln, war and race (slavery), for Obama, war and race (combating prejudice with his presence)

Both men were or would be young when elected president—Obama 47, Lincoln 51. Contrast that with John McCain who at 72 would be the oldest person elected to a first term as president. The average age of a first time elected president is 55.

Beyond the experiences shared by the two men, strikingly similar parallels between their characters are evident.

Neither man was afraid of taking on a popular war and criticizing pre-emptive war-making by chief executives. Lincoln wrote that such a doctrine would put “our President where kings have stood.” Any similarity to the current Republican Party and the one that Lincoln established is way beyond comprehension let alone coincidence. Today’s Republicans would do well to heed Lincoln on the role of government,

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all in their separate and individual capacities. . From this it appears that if all men were just, there still would be some, though not so much, need for government
                  Lincoln on Democracy (July 1, 1854) The Collected Works of 
     Abraham Lincoln, (ed) Roy B.  Basler, Vol. 2, p 220 .

In both Obama and Lincoln one finds what is so scarce today - common sense

Common sense does not stand in the way of ambition. Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon described the sixteenth president’s ambition as ‘the little engine that knows no rest.’ The same could be said of Obama’s audacity in running for president when his reputation caught fire and catapulted him onto the national stage, debating the war with his opponents, much as Lincoln had debated slavery with Stephen Douglas a century and a half before him.

Both Lincoln and Obama show a cautious deliberation in decision making, often to the frustration of their supporters. The snail’s pace approach Lincoln employed was calculated, and bought time in the building of compromise and consensus with his opponents. With Lincoln it was expressed in his response to Frederick Douglass criticism for limited progress toward slave emancipation:

I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.

Whether Obama will be able to achieve as much through careful deliberation remains to be seen.

Finally, both men show the deepest respect for and understanding of constitutional law, and consider the principle of equality in the American republic to be of paramount importance.

Now let’s see if can find some parallels to Sarah Palin. How about Mae West?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What about This Lipstick Thing? By Art Pearl

Sarah Palin brought the house down, no great accomplishment at the Republican Convention, when she answered her question, “What was the difference between a soccer mom and a pit bull? by quipping “Lipstick.”

She made a few other house downing quips, the most telling and revealing of broad and deep ignorance skewered Obama for his community service. The widespread laughter revealed that neither she nor her audience had a clue what community service entails. How could they, considering who was there.

The selection of Palin to be John McCain’s running mate seemed to many as hasty and not carefully considered.

It was hardly that.

McCain, trying desperately to distance himself from Bush and Chaney is doing what every Republican seeker of this year’s presidency has aspired to do - cover himself with the mantle of Ronald Reagan.

McCain, like Reagan, is ushering in a “New Morning.” The McCain pitch is a reprise of a distant past, the coziness of small town America, a recreation of a

"Bygone place of close knit families and neighbors, It might be a small town like Bedford Falls. In Frank Capra’s film It’s a Wonderful Life (1942)" (Sean Wilentz, The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008, pp.134-35)\

And where could one find a smaller, more family and neighborly town than Wasilla, Alaska, population of around 5,000 during the years Sarah Palin was its mayor. Overlook she did all she could to turn it into a mall dominated place similar to where the rest of us live.

That there is nothing real in Sarah Palin shouldn’t surprise. There was little real in Ronald Reagan and that didn’t stop people from voting for him and buying into his mythology.

Reagan rode the

"Legend of the rugged competitive individual, willing to brave fortune in chancy ventures, his eye fixed on the horizon." (ibid, p. 135)

McCain replacing the horse with a plane, is no less the brave hero (with more to base it on). It is that combination of hero and against all odds, small towner. that is intended to capture the Reagan Democrats. Lured are the rural, the blue collar and all others who find it difficult to vote for a person of color.

Palin was not on the ticket to snare the disgruntled Hillary supporters. Those 27 would probably have voted for McCain if Guliani was on the ticket.

When Reagan was running he kept referring back to his role as a Notre Dame footballer, George Gipp, whose early death coach Knute Rockne called on to motivate his team. His “win one for the Gipper” Reagan used to great advantage in his political campaign for the presidency

Palin shines besides the plodding Romney and the ineffable Guliani and McCain hopes she will be able to “win one for the quipper.”

What about the issues?

Issues? Are you mad? Who cares about issues? Where was Reagan on the issues?

Now wait a minute, were things quite as bad then as they are now? No, not quite. But things were bad. Iran held our hostages. A recession was well on the way. The Soviet Union was still in existence. Latin America was restive, inappreciative of all President Monroe and those that have followed him had done for it. Immigrants were coming into the US without asking permission (Reagan granted a lot of them amnesty). We had some of the same stuff, but it wasn’t quite as bad.

And take into consideration that we are dumber now. Remember, Fox News didn’t come into existence until 1996.

We are undeniably dumb. We did after-all, re-elect George Bush by a larger margin than the first time (if indeed he was elected the first time). And he was no longer running on his mythology. He was running on a record that included a war based on lies, a ridiculous economic plan (McCain has the same plan) and an unwillingness to look at what was happening to the environment. The McCain people reason that what worked for Bush in 2004 will also work for them in 2008, especially if they can get away with the canard that there is no similarity between their candidate and Bush.

A lot of silly stuff mucks up the waters. People wonder if Palin can mother and govern at the same time? A ridiculous question. She will get all the help she needs doing both. People wonder whether either Obama or Palin are qualified? Another ridiculous question. Abraham Lincoln, The first Republican to make it to the presidency, served eight years in the Illinois legislature, (the same as Obama) , and two years in US House of Representatives(that is less time than Obama has been in the senate), before leaving Congress because of his unpopularity for opposing what he considered to be President Polk’s unconstitutional Mexican-American War. Oh, boy, what chance do you think he would have in today’s Republican party? Lincoln had slightly less time as an elected official than Obama and about the same as Pulin. So what? Neither his lack of qualifications nor how he would currently be viewed by dominant Republicans really matter. Historians have judged Lincoln to be our greatest president.

What should concern voters and who knows, perhaps things will get bad enough to get folks attention, is how the contestants will govern.

That is pretty easy to answer.

McCain and Palin will favor the rich in tax policy.

McCain and Palin will rest their hopes on the economy riding out the storm. Hooveresque? Not nearly as smart as Hoover.

McCain and Palin will cut programs for the poor, for children and for the aged.

McCain and Palin have no plans to rescue the environment.

And most importantly of all:

McCain and Palin favor war over diplomacy. McCain wants to win the Iraq war. No one apparently has told him the war was won over 5 years ago. Now he wants to win the occupation. Some one has to tell him no one wins an occupation.

But where he is all for war, he seems to be in far more contact with reality than his running mate.

She, in a speech before the Alaska National Guard about to leave for Iraq, (her son was a member of the Guard), said that Iraq was involved in the 9-11 bombings. Here she finds only the incumbent Vice-President agreeing with her.

The similarity with Chaney ends not end there. In her executive style she resembles the sitting vice-president. She is truculent, harbors grudges and has little patience with those who disagree with her. Both like to hunt. Palin shoots bigger game and manages not to shoot her hunting partners.

Which brings us back to lipstick.

After her contrast of soccer moms and pit bulls attention was turned to lipstick on a pig. It became for a brief time a big deal. Sometimes in the not too distant past McCain found occasion to draw public attention to it. Obama used it to lampoon McCain’s advocacy of change resulting in Republicans accusing Obama of calling Palin a pig. All of this is utter nonsense, trying to make something out of nothing.

Not nonsense, however, is contrasting Sarah Palin and Dick Chaney?

The difference, of course, is


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why Biggest Is Not Necessarily the Best

The United States has the biggest, the most technically advanced and the most expensive military this world has ever kinown. That much military may be far more than we need to adequately defend against any real or imagined threats, that much military may not only not protect us, it may actually threaten our security.

This is how we stack up

Rest of the World $500 billion 2004 est.
United States       $623 billion FY08 budget
China                   $ 65.0 billion 2004
Russia                  $ 50.0 billion
France                 $ 45.0 billion 2005
United Kingdom      $ 42.8 billion 2005 est.
Japan                   $ 41.75 billion 2007
Germany              $ 35.1 billion 2003
Italy                     $ 28.2 billion 2003
South Korea         $ 21.1 billion 2003 est.
Source: Global other sources differ in detail but not in substance. All agree US spends at least 8 times more than any other country spends

There are at least four good reasons why having the biggest and most advanced military may not be good for the United States and may even threaten our national security.
  1. Expensive. Six hundred plus billion dollars is a lot of money. If an inch was a dollar that  military budget will take you to the moon and back 20 times when the moon is at its apogee.   While we gild this lily far more than would be necessary to repel any conceivable enemy, real and pressing needs are neglected. The excess military budget, that which is left over after adequately preparing for national defense, could pay for universal health care, could repair the infrastructure, could fast track repairs to the environment and could end dependency on fossil fuels – the genuine threats to national security. When will the public wake up and will any politician question whether the military we have is much more than we need and far more than we can afford?
  2. Feel the need to use it. Excited by its new technology - its mother of all bombs, its pilotless drones, its bombers equipped for surgical strikes, its fancy helicopters, its spanking new tanks and armored vehicles, its body armor and its other good stuff - a military will find an excuse to use it. It could no more be stopped than a little kid with a Christmas wrapped gift could be stopped from finding out what was inside.                                                                                                                                                                                        So, of course, we found an excuse to use it. We were careful, we picked a nation that could not put up much of a fight. We knew this because we tested it a decade before. We wanted the world to know how far we - the mightiest nation ever, the king of the hill, the top of the heap, the envy of all - had surpassed Alexander, Napoleon, and other lesser lights by ‘shocking and awing’ the hell out of Iraq.                                                                     One small problem. What do you do after the shock and awe? The shock was fine. But what do you do for an encore? And the awe was something else. We had hoped the awe was so impressive that all would applaud and throw flowers. It wasn’t that kind of awe. The awe that came with the accidental killing of a bunch of mothers and  kids was, “Awe shucks, we didn’t mean to do that, we apologize for the collateral damage.”  Not a very gratifying awe.                                                                                                       Now with as many as a million of Iraqis killed, another two million in exile and yet another 2 million displaced within the country maybe showing off the most powerful military the world has ever known might not be such a hot idea. That military is not quite as awesome as it once was with so many of the troops suffering from anxiety, depression and stress.
  3. Reduces national security. Once getting others to fear us means also getting others to distrust us and even begin to undermine us. Our use of military has lost us friends. The Spanish government that supported us fell to one that opposed us. Tony Blair a comrade in arms was forced to resign and his Labour Party once seemingly invincible now faces likely defeat. And the most loyal of all, John Howard not only found his Liberal (that is Australian for conservative) government going down but he, almost unprecedented, lost his seat in Parliament. Those who supported our venture in Iraq, “The Coalition of the Willing,” found it dangerous to their political health.                                                              But that is not all. We not only lost friends, we frightened those who could be our rivals. China, in particular, had not been much interested in building up its military, having enough available to deal with any likely threat, announced it was about to add some shock and awe to its military. I don’t know why, they could do all the damage they desired with lead in toys or poisons in food, or by not absorbing the debt that is needed to maintain our bloated military.                                                                                                  With a revitalized arms race on the horizon, Condilessa Rice was sent to be her school marm self as Secretary of State and chastise the Chinese for increasing their military investment. She was her usual unconvincing self (if she can’t persuade her own state department staff how does she expect to persuade those that don’t work for her). We shouldn’t be surprised that China has decided to emulate us. As will Russia, thereby upping the risk and making the world and us far less secure.                                                And then there is precedent. Once we decide to unilaterally attack and invade a country that did not threaten us, we are hardly in a position to criticize other nations that do the same. That is exactly what Russia did when it invaded Georgia, except Russia had a bit more justification. It was coming to the rescue of a small slice of Georgia, Ossetia, that did not want to be part of Georgia. Because Georgia is our ally, our friend, our puppet, and its president (all right, dictator), a neocon educated in the US whose military was equipped and trained by us and by Israel, it is right and proper that our president, George W. Bush, came to its defense and told Russia to butt out because the world does not look fondly on big nations that beat up on little ones.                                                     And he is certainly right about that.                                               He might have been more effective if he said, “Hey, Russia, you don’t want to happen to you what has happened to us and have the whole world hate you and have your president reduced to a laughing stock everywhere, do you?”                                     Now Russia didn’t invade until Georgia used its superior military to beat up on little Ossetia. Ossetia wants to secede. Georgia says it can’t and we support the Georgians.  However if secession is wrong, how can there be a Georgia because it seceded from Russia when the Soviet Union imploded.                                              The point is we lost all moral authority when we decided to unilaterally invade a little country and when we did that we made the world a far more dangerous and insecure place.
  4. A massive military weakens alternatives and reduces diplomacy to irrelevance. A massive military that looks for every opportunity to show it off what it has leaves little room for negotiation and the development of wide ranging support for an integrated opposition to terrorism or any other threat to peace or tranquility. Our over-reliance on the military brings a comic book essence to international relations. As long as we have Superman on our side who needs diplomacy? We sow what we reaped, an absence of depth, superficial analysis of alternatives, and an unwillingness to engage in serious negotiations. It is “damn the torpedo,tornados, tomatoes." (Don’t tell me you have forgotten The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? Ever bit as a clear and present danger as was the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq). It is,"Full speed ahead." With no idea of where we are heading. When we possess the greatest war machine ever why waste time thinking about direction? We can't afford to sit around thinking while the bad guys are running around evil doing. OK, so we don’t know who the bad guys are, so we don’t have any idea of what we are doing and what we hope to accomplish. So what? What really matters is that we are two hours ahead of schedule and the surge is working.

How big a defense budget do we need? Far less than half of what we now spend. But more importantly than hazarding a guess on what the defense budget should look like, what is truly needed is a full, wide and open discussion on the role of the United States in the world. In fact there is nothing that would do more for our national security than reestablishing the rule of law and reasserting a respect for democratic principles.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why Can’t China be Just Like Us

Professor Higgins, sexist as he was, wondered, “Why can’t a women be like a man?” I, great patriot as I am, wonder “Why can’t China be like us.” I fervently believe that the whole world would be very much happier if every country was exactly like the United States of America. Just think how wonderful it would be if everywhere you went it would be just like not leaving home. Imagine a McDonalds there, a Starbucks here (that is one still open for business) a Wal-Mart right around the corner, nothing could be cozier. China does have McDonalds and other good stuff, but that doesn’t make China like us, no siree. You see, with the Olympics just about to commence the Chinese government has issued an order to all foreign owned hotels (private enterprises) that they are to install monitoring devices and spy on their guests or face “severe consequences.” This has got Sam Brownback up in arms. And he would like Congress and the President to do something about it.

This is pretty damn serious. If we don’t put a stop to this, who knows what the Chinese will do next? Maybe even decide to whip up on a little county. But before getting hysterical let’s get historical to calm us down a bit. Olympic games, you know, have been around for some time. Not always happily.

The Olympics started way back, seven hundred years BC to be fairly precise. For folks that have difficulty getting a handle on how far back that is, it was before “I Love Lucy, before television, even. Hard as it is to believe, once there were sports without television. That is like hotdogs without beer. Hannity without Colmes. Haeckel without Jeckel. Olympics without TV? Impossible, who paid for them?

Try to wrap your head around this. These were Olympics without sponsors or steroids. In those early Olympics, a bunch of naked guys ran around, jumped, threw, wrestled. hugged and otherwise cavorted. When the Romans took over The Olympics fell out of favor and when the Romans became Christian, the Olympics were banned as a pagan festival. A bunch of naked men cavorting and doing it all for Zeus, just didn’t sit well with the Christians of the time. Probably wouldn’t sit well with some Christians now, Sam Brownback probably being one of them

Centuries passed. Ages darkened and then lightened up. Wars, famines, more wars, droughts, and more wars, epidemics, still more wars, came and went. One thing that hadn’t yet made a reentrance was the Olympics. There was some piddling around in the 19th century but nothing major. Then an archeological dig unearthed the stadium where the Greeks cavorted and a French Baron, Pierre de Coubertin, hit upon this great idea, bring back the Olympics. Actually he was trying to figure out why the French lost the last war, but he also thought maybe if athletes from all over world competed the good fellowship generated would create such an aura of good feeling no one would want to go to war, anymore. I didn’t say he was smart, only that he was French.

And so the modern Olympic games were reinstituted in 1896 where they first happened, Athens. Athletes from anywhere from 12 to 14 nations competed. It wasn’t that people couldn’t count then, or that 12 in Greek is 14 in some other language, there was some question of what was a nation and whether people competed or not. Be that as it may, crowds flocked to a new fancy stadium and the modern Olympics inaugural was hailed as a huge success. So much so that from thence forward every four years in different countries athletes from all over assembled to compete in Olympic games that were supposed to substitute for war, except of course in those years when war got in thee way, 1916, 1940 and 1944..

At first the games were for the athletes but over time the emphasis was on the nation. The nation whose athletes won the most medals demonstrated their superiority. This certainly was the heart of the matter in 1936, when the games were to be hosted by Adolph Hitler in Berlin. Hitler was hot for the Olympics because he knew that the results would demonstrate the superiority of the master race. There was some talk of boycotting because by that time Hitler was already making life miserable for Jews and others, He was also getting ready for war. The head of the US Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage would have none of this boycotting talk. To make sure Germans would dominate the medal count, Hitler added 13 new events in Jew baiting. Avery Brundage helped design those events. That never happened. Although at each Olympics more events were added. It wasn’t until 1928 that women were able to compete in track and field, the center piece of the original Olympics. There was no competition in Jew baiting in the 1936 Olympics, although there was anti-Semitism everywhere. Avery Brundage made Hitler feel better by withdrawing the two Jewish runners from the 400 meter relay team. What goes around comes around (and that certainly is true for the 10,000 meters) Hitler awarded Brundage the contract to build the German embassy in the United States. Germany did win by far the most medals in the 1936 Olympics (89, the US was second with 56, Italy third with 22). It would have been glorious occasion for the fatherland were it not for the African Americans, Jesse Owens most notably, that performed so spectacularly. And considering what Joe Louis did to Max Schmeling the following year, that Hitler decided to launch World War II is difficult to comprehend.

After World War II the competition grew even more intense as the US and the USSR competed for world domination. With the USSR out of the picture. At least temporarily, China emerges as the challenger to US dominance.

And that brings us back to Sam Brownback. Sam, for those with good memories, was one of several who sought the Republican nomination for the presidency. Sam, like all of us believed anyone could be president. He didn’t read the fine print. Anybody can be president if he or she can come up with the entry fee of upwards of fifty million dollars. Sam couldn’t so he went back to his day job, United States Senator from Kansas.

Sam isn’t the only one upset at China and its sponsorship of the Olympics. Amnesty International is irked as well with the Chinese disrespect for human rights breaking the promise made when they were awarded the games. I ask again, why can’t China be like Us?

Except, Amnesty International accuses the US of disrespect for human rights in what goes on in Guantánamo and other extraordinarily renditioned places. Couple that with Sam Brownback’s vote in 2007 for the Protect America Act which allows the US to tap into international communications without warrants and 2008 for the reformed FISA allowing the government to do the same for folks at home. It turns out that, why can’t China be just like us, is the wrong question.

We should be asking, how can we stop being just like China?