Tuesday, December 26

What is the Progressive Agenda?

A visit to the Progressive Congressional Caucus Website is the best place I've seen to get a sense of what the Progressive agenda is (or as they, 63 members of the House put it, the "Progressive promise"). I'm truncated it slightly below and added my comments in parentheses.

Universal access to affordable, high quality healthcare for all (Check)
Preserve Social Security (Check)
Building more Affordable housing (Check)
Re-building America’s schools and physical infrastructure (Check)
Cleaning up our environment (Check)
Improving homeland security (Hmmm, I'll have to get back to you, after you define how you mean to do it)
Indexing the minimum wage (Check)

Sunset expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and bring remaining provisions into line with the U. S. Constitution (Check)
Protect the personal privacy of all Americans from unbridled police powers and unchecked government intrusion (Check)
Reform our electoral processes (Check)
Fight corporate consolidation of the media and ensure opportunity for all voices to be heard (Check)
Ensure enforcement of all legal rights in the workplace (Check)
Eliminate all forms of discrimination based upon color, race, religion, gender, creed, disability, or sexual orientation (Check)

Honor and help our overburdened international public servants – both military and civilian (Bernie and Co., I need a translation--what do you mean)
Bring U. S. troops home from Iraq as soon as possible (Check)
Rebuild U.S. alliances around the world, restore international respect for American power and influence, and reaffirm our nation’s constructive engagement in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations (Check)
Enhance international cooperation to reduce the threats posed by nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction (Check)
Increase efforts to combat hunger and the scourge of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases (Check)
Encourage debt relief for poor countries and support efforts to reach the UN’s Millennium Goals for Developing Countries (Check)

Free ourselves and our economy from dependence upon imported oil and shift to growing reliance upon renewable energy supplies and technologies, creating at least three million new jobs, cleansing our environment, and enhancing our nation’s security (Check)
Promote environmental justice in affirmation that all people have an inherent right to a healthy environment, clean air, and clean water wherever we live, work, and relax (Check)
Change incentives in federal tax, procurement, and appropriation policies to:
- Speed commercialization of solar, biomass, and wind power generation, while encouraging state and local policy innovation to link clean energy and job creation (Check)
- Convert domestic assembly lines to manufacture highly efficient vehicles, enhance global competitiveness of U.S. auto industry, and expand consumer choice (Check)
- Increase investment in construction of “green buildings” and more energy-efficient homes and workplaces (Check)

War Is Over, If You Want It

It troubles me that the President and Congress are continuing the Iraq Shuffle. The Democrats are saying to change the course and are sending mixed messages to the president if he decides to send more troops and the President is making overatures to increase troop strength in Baghdad. However, this isn't what most Americans were voting for when they voted last month. They wanted the war to end. For the many families of soldiers, the return of their sons and daughters would be the best New Year's gift imaginable and the right thing to do.

Based on what is now known as fact, our government was wrong to invade Iraq and each day we continue the occupation of Iraq, we make the region that much more unstable. Since 2003, we have seen instability in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon which is directly a reponse to our presence. Whether we like to admit it or not, our policies have been directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and complicit in the deaths of thousands more in the region.

For the sake of learning from our mistakes and the opportunity for Iraq to self-govern, it is time to return our troops home and replace them with Arab League or UN peacekeepers. War is never a solution in itself, but, if waged, should be a means to bring peace. This strategy has failed miserably in Iraq.

If the government will not act in a reasonable manner on our behalf, it will necessitate us to speak to power on the streets, as well as the halls of Congress--war is over, if you want it.

Wednesday, December 20

No Shortage of Misery

The holiday season serves to remind us of the importance our friends and family, our well-being and relative comfort in the world. However, it also serves to remind us to serve those whose circumstances are much more dire, whether around the corner from us or half way around the world. I want to take a moment to reflect on some tragic situations here and abroad and encourage all of us to reflect on these words by 1950's British Parliment member, Henry Usborne: "the price of peace is justice," not dollars or power as most Americans seem to think."

1) Homelessness . Over a five-year period, about 2–3 percent of the U.S. population (5–8 million people) will experience at least one night of homelessness. Single men constitute about sixty percent of the homeless population, families constitute about one third of all homeless and are the fastest-growing group of homeless. Although about seventy percent of the homeless live in central cities, rural homelessness is a hidden problem. The rural homeless are more likely to be families that are homeless for shorter periods of time, often as a result of domestic violence (Singleton et al.*). One of the hardest groups to reach, however, is the one fourth of homeless who have been homeless for at least five years (Burt*).

2) War. Our war on terror in Iraq has resulted in (According to the DOD) 2950 of our soldiers killed and 22, 401 wounded. At least 50,998 Iraqi citizens have been killed. Across the globe, an additional 353 US soldiers have died and 1072 more injured. In Darfur, Sudan, more than 200,000 people have died. In Palestine and Israel, 4,398 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis have been killed since September 29, 2000.

3) Hunger. 852 million people across the world are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago. Every day, more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes--one child every five seconds. 13.5 million households in the United States (11.9% of all households) were food insecure in 2004, of which 4.4 million (3.9% of all U.S. households) had experienced hunger at some point in that year. The food insecure households contained an estimated 38 million people, of whom almost 14 million were children. The existence of large numbers of people without secure access to adequate nutritious food represents a serious national concern.

4) Global warming. 2005 was hottest year on record(tied with 1998), according to NASA. 100 billion dollars of damage were caused by hurricanes hitting the U.S. coast in 2005 alone, according to the National Climatic Data Center. 400,000 Square miles of Arctic sea ice that have melted in the last 30 years (roughly the size of Texas), threatening polar bear habitats and further accelerating global warming worldwide, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. 15 to 37% of plant and animal species could be wiped out by 2050 due to global warming. The United States is the #1 global warming polluter compared to other large nations.

5) AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. 30 million people in Africa have HIV - this is 70% of global infections. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are currently 4.1 million people with AIDS who are in immediate need of life-saving anti-retroviral drugs. 15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom). Every day in Africa, 6,500 people die and another 9,500 contract the HIV virus - 1,400 of whom are newborn babies infected during childbirth or by their mothers' milk. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds. Someone in the world is newly infected with tuberculosis bacilli every second.

6) Access to clean water supplies. Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%. 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

I know that these problems can not be solved at once, but do require us to be constant gardeners. We must encourage our elected leaders to be strategic in what they do, but we also need to raise hell for those who are already living there.

Monday, December 18

Immigration Cogitation

I'm not sure what could or should be done about our immigration policy, but I can tell you this much, it's root causes are a combi-nation of macroeconomics (what sometimes is referred to the politics of greed) and a lack of morals and ethics. This on the part of many business owners and corporations, in conjunction with the consumer's (i.e., your and my) belief that the pursuit of cheap goods has no repercussions.

Take the recent raid at the Swift plants. Those arrested were here to do jobs that many Americans find unpalatable and that American business owners are willing to bend the rules to hire those who are willing (sort of a don't ask/don't tell policy leading to a coalition of the willing). Corporations risk little even go to the trouble of recruiting workers in Mexico and Central America using "proxies".

Couple this with people who get bent out of shape, hoist the flag, and rail about American jobs being taken away, who are being hypocritical. They are hypocrites because they willingly reap the benefits of the low-cost labor from their local retail stores. They are hypocrites because they use the mantra of free-enterprise except when it burns their proverbial bacon--Free-enterprise requires using the lowest cost labor you can get, to sell for the highest profit you can get--basic economics adds that the consumer looks for the cheapest price they can get--well guess who makes it possible?

Immigrant workers are productive, they put up with working conditions that the vast majority of American's wouldn't touch with someone else's ten-foot pole. Some 2 million immigrant workers now earn less than the minimum wage, and millions more work without the occupational safety, workers’ compensation, overtime pay and other protections that legal status offers. They put themselves at risk, why? Because the benefit outweighs the risk--things at home are not so rosy--and just like us, many just want to get ahead and take care of their loved ones.

Then, let's talk about economic justice. If we really wanted to do something about "immigration problems", American business interests would, for example, set up food processing plants paying American wages in Mexico and Central America. If the goal were really to stem the tide of immigrants, it would serve business interests to do this--except for another hypocrisy, the illusion that business people actually care about what happens in the U.S. to American workers. So, if you are a corporation, you outsource with the right hand and hire illegal workers with you left.

As a corporation, you serve the bottomline. And the bottomline is a cruel mistress. She doesn't care how you serve her, only that you do constantly. And while the vast majority of Americans aren't invested in the Big Casino (i.e., the Stock Market), those running our corporations and "investors" are. Corporations will do what is in their interests, not, de facto, the citizens of the US. Said differently, they have the rights of person without the obligation of playing nice with others.

Do you wonder what would happen if we opened the borders? My guess is that true "competitive forces" would be in play--but who do you suppose would come out ahead?

Wednesday, December 13

Human Rights Past and Present

Last sunday, December 10th was International Human Rights Day. This Friday is the 215th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Take time out to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and refresh your memory about the Bill of Rights. Then ask yourself two questions:

Are we living up to the promise of these documents?

One very interesting thing I learned about the Bill of Rights is that James Madison who was largely responsible for the Constitution being ratified, did not believe that a bill of rights was necessary. But, because the states demanded it, his reasoning changed. Perhaps there is a modern day lesson in that for us.

In Iowa, our state motto is "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain", this is not a small sentiment. I often think about the balancing act between my progressive values and our civil liberties. To lay the groundwork for a just society while still allowing people to choose their own course is tricky business. I think this is where populism comes in, if the people want a free, just society, we need to work to make it happen.

Wednesday, December 6

The 2% Dis-Solution

A frame to think about the US's influence in the greater scheme of things. Among Americans, wealth is distributed about as unequally as it is around the globe. The NY Times said the study below cited data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which found that the richest 1 percent of Americans held 32 percent of the nation’s wealth in 2001. (This excludes the billionaires in the Forbes list, who control roughly another 2 percent of the nation’s wealth.)- Gark

From the Toronto Star

Richest 2% of adults hold more than half of global household wealth, data reveals
Dec. 6, 2006. 07:51

There's fierce debate about whether the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. But a pioneering study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research leaves no doubt the tiny fraction of the planet's population who are living in affluence own more than half of its wealth.

"The richest 2 per cent of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth," says a study released yesterday by the Helsinki-based institute, a division of the United Nations University. "And the richest 1 per cent alone owned 40 per cent of global assets in the year 2000."

Some 37 million people worldwide have reached the top rung of the ladder, owning $500,000 (U.S.) in assets, after debts have been deducted.

"What's special about this project is that it puts personal assets into a global perspective," says University of Western Ontario economist James Davies, one of the authors. "It looks at the role of household assets and debts in relation to growth, and for the first time shows what the global distribution of assets looks like."

The study outlines the economic comfort — and discomfort — zone of people and countries by defining wealth as net worth: "the value of physical and financial assets less debts." And it says, "in this respect, wealth represents the ownership of capital."

Although the world's income gap has been amply confirmed, the gap in wealth is even more dramatic. "Half the world has net worth per adult below $2,200," Davies says.


Monday, December 4

Individual Responsibility

A certain "Conservative Blogger" likes to point out the "hypocrisy of liberals" and his latest blogging is about personal responsibility. His supposition is that it is not up to businesses to pony up for the needs of those individuals who are in need of social service, that in fact, government impedes personal responsibility. He believes that the accumulation of wealth is good and what a person chooses to do with that wealth is their call--that is what capitalism is about, after all.

Let me state that I whole-heartedly agree with people being personal responsible, but I don't live in a black and white world. I know that while we are trying to form a "more perfect" union, there are going to be differences of opinions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is particularly true since "all men are created equal". We know that a "benevolent" government is a relatively new phenomenon, but it was brought about by extraordinary events--namely, capitalism on a global level failing during the Great Depression.

Had it not been for the successes of the New Deal, it is unlikely that the democracy we enjoy would have endured. Still, without a sense of history, it is easy to say "my way or the highway". As a Progressive, I see that the government makes all kinds of decisions about our taxes. Just as the blogger is sure that government is picking his pocket to help the slackers of society, I am sure it is bankrupting our future generations through warfare, corporate welfare, and a system of taxation that is generally not fair. It is the tensions of demands on government that make for divisiveness.

Will Rogers once said, "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one is doing anything about it." Government doesn't have that problem, as it is constantly ebbing and flowing as the left and right wrestle for power. As a Progressive, I'd like to see the government do less for those who don't need government to help and more for those who do. It has to, you see, because society is not infallible, people don't always do what is right or just and, frankly, sometimes we all need help. I don't think there is anything beneficial of taking up the "greed is good" mantle, as long as there is human suffering that we can do something about.

Government serves that role because it is a more efficient way to take care of big problems faster and more fairly than we as individuals can do by ourselves. I appreciate my individual responsibilities and one of them, to me, is to help others. When I can't, it is good to know we have government to step in.

Just like the rest of life, government is messy, it is not perfect, it overreaches, it under-performs, and it disappoints at times. But ask yourself, where would we be without the results it has produced? If the marketplace was left to its own devices, would we have clean air and water, protections for workers, education for our young? Would we have a social safety net?

This is why capitalism has to be moderated by government. As imperfect as government can be, the free market is much more so.

Heroines of the Progressive Movement

I want to mention that women have played an important role in the development of progressive ideas. Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Emma Goldman, Barbara Lee, Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm, and Mother Jones, are just a few that come to mind. I often hear people say that the US is not ready for a woman president, but it is well past time--do you feel me, Barbara Boxer and Kathleen Sebelius?

As in all things presidential, it is about the person with the right ideas and the ability to communicate those ideas. Many people have forgotten about Shirley Chisholm's
run for the presidency in 1972 and won and received 152 delegate votes. I often wonder what would have happened had "Unbossed and Unbought" Shirley Chisholm had won the nomination. It would have been quite a different story--perhaps for Nixon too.

The packaging of Hillary Clinton is clearly underway-- its just a matter of time before the announcement is made. I may be one of the few who think that she is not the "light and the way"--and frankly I'd be insulted, if I were her by those who whisper we would get "two Clinton's for the price of one" if she chooses to run in 2008. Regardless, who can argue that she is not qualified?

Friday, December 1

Paul Wellstone

Many Progressives hold the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone up as an example of a true Progressive. I don't disagree. Below are a couple of Wellstone-isms from "The Conscience of a Liberal " which should be required reading.

"Disproportionate among the ranks of nonvoters are "minorities" and blue-collar and low-income citizens. It is the Democrats' natural constituency, if we are willing to speak to the concerns and circumstances of their lives and include them. If you don't say anything important to them and hardly ever show up in the community, people don't vote. Why should they?

Somehow, too many Democrats have failed to make a key distinction. It is true, as the conventional wisdom goes, that if you speak only about the poor, you lose. This is fairly obvious. But to say you should not focus only on the poor doesn't mean you should never deal with issues of poverty. The same holds for issues of race and gender. The Democratic Party, which is supposed to be the party of the people, has far too often been silent about these issues. To do the right thing and to win, they must be put back on the table."

Wellstone was a Populist as well as a Progressive Democrat. He fueled his campaigns on people power. I'm glad to be in a district with a similarly-minded, newly elected Congressman, David Loebsack.

Thursday, November 30

Moral Poverty

In the home of the free and the land of the brave, we have people who are without homes, some by choice, but most because "the system" has failed. Systems like family systems, health systems, human service systems, in other words, the social safety net has sprung a huge leak.

I was surprised to learn while watching 20/20 the other night, that charitable giving of time and money is not necessarily a strong suit of liberals. It appears that studies show that poorer persons who are religious tend to give a higher percentage of their earnings than those who are middle-class or higher. According to Arthur C. Brooks a professor at Syracuse University, who has just published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism ", "strong families, church attendance, earned income (as opposed to state-subsidized income), and the belief that individuals, not government, offer the best solution to social ills-all of these factors determine how likely one is to give." Brooks as states that "approximately three-quarters of Americans give their time and money to various charities, churches, and causes; the other quarter of the population does not. "

A couple of statistics he provides:

Conservative households in America donate 30% more money to charity each year than liberal households.

If liberals gave blood like conservatives do, the blood supply in the U.S. would jump by about 45%.

If these and other suppositions of Brooks are true, the left as a group, progressives in particular, are engaging in the worst type of pandering, using the plight of the poor to create a base of power. I'm looking forward to reading his book to unravel how he arrives at his conclusions. In the mean time, I am going to evaluate my own behaviors.

This is a good time to take stock of what is really important--people taking care of people.

Wednesday, November 29

Winning the Hearts and Minds

In 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson in describing the conflict in Vietnam to the Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. declared "So we must be ready to fight in Viet-Nam, but the ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there. By helping to bring them hope and electricity you are also striking a very important blow for the cause of freedom throughout the world."On a separate occasion, he is also quoted as saying “If you got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

It seems like no matter how much times change, certain beliefs continue unabated. The United States government since the time of Harry Truman, has seen its role to "Americanize" the rest of the world. Whether it is by "bringing democracy" as our current president is fond of saying or via economic globalization, the goals are to promote, by any means necessary, the "American Way."

I am glad to have been born in the US, but I do not believe that it is to anyone's advantage to have another country tell them what to do--except when large numbers of human lives are in the balance--e.g., the genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, etc., which I believe, have moral imperatives attached.

When our nation's founders put together our Constitution and said "in order to form a more perfect union," I believe they understood that our democracy was not and, most likely, would never be perfect. I believe they felt that if the words they used in creating our Constitution meant anything, they would have to recognize that it was a great experiment.

As with any experiment, the variables have to be controlled, otherwise the experiment has unintended consequences. In our case, how much government we have, and how much power it wields are variables. Another variable is the influence that "special interests" have on how government works. Finally, the wild card of a democracy is the will of the people. As we saw in Vietnam, government power and corporate interests walked hand-in-hand to fight a war that was of little national interest. As we also saw, it was the will of the people that ultimately turned the tide and moved our government toward ending it.

We are at that same crossroads in Iraq. We the people need to express our will to end this war. We need to assist in rebuilding that country with humilty, and we need to work productively with nations in the region. This is not a "war to end all wars", it is a war that has economic interests at heart.

The only hearts and minds we need to worry about are our own. I think what we need to question is who or what has got us by the balls. I conclude, as Walt Kelly's cartoon Pogo once said "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Tuesday, November 28

The Pursuit of Happiness

The old adage is "money can't buy happiness"--but can it buy a longer life expectancy? The CIA World Factbook and I take a look.

GDP = Gross Domestic Product (or oversimplifiying: average income)

United States = 3.58 x the average GDP – per capita ($41,600, 2005 est. CIA World Factbook)
- 48th highest life expectancy rate (77.85)

Canada = 2.92 x the average GDP – per capita ($39,200, 2005 est. CIA World Factbook)
- 12th highest life expectancy rate (80.2)

Mexico = .86 x the average GDP – per capita ($10,000, 2005 est. CIA World Factbook)
- 76th highest life expectancy rate (75.6)

Iraq = .15 x the average GDP – per capita ($1,800, 2005 est. CIA World Factbook)
- 145th highest life expectancy rate (69.01)

N. Korea = .15 x the average GDP – per capita ($1,700, 2005 est. CIA World Factbook)
- 120th highest life expectancy rate (71.65)

Afghanistan = .07 x the average GDP – per capita ($800, 2005 est. CIA World Factbook)
- 214th highest life expectancy rate (43.34).

You draw your own conclusions.

Monday, November 27

Know Your (Bill of) Rights

In Iowa, our state motto is "Our Liberties We Prize, and Our Rights We will Maintain." What courageous words-- it makes me proud to call Iowa my home.

On December 15, 1791, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution were approved. These ten amendments (that we call the Bill of Rights) are worthy of our constant appreciation and vigilance, whether we personally agree with them in their entirety (or question their intended meaning and how they are interpreted). These laws have made it possible to largely live in a free country and for the rights of people to become more inclusive over time.

Having said this, it doesn't mean always live up to the promise of America--ask those in the GLBT community, people living in poverty, women, and minorities. Moreover, in times of perceived danger, the first reaction is often to curb liberties, ostensibly to protect us from those who would do harm. Reasonable people understand that governments tend to be paternalistic, even republican democracies such as ours. Still, it should always concern us that the same government we rely on to protect us, often over-reaches and errs in ways that challenges our basic freedoms.

It was those experiences that caused our Founders to create the Bill of Rights. It was the understanding that when people seek freedom, that their government should support the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Our Founders reasoned correctly that the guiding principles of our Constitution should strike the balance between that which protects us and that which keeps us free.

In my community, we have petitioned the City Council to declare December 15th, 2006 "Bill of Rights Day". The City has agreed to issue a proclamation on 12/12/06 to that affect. Given recent challenges to civil rights and liberties, it is pleasing to see local government receptive to the idea of something that is greater than it and greater than all of us--a set of rules that help us to be decent human beings.

Regardless of political stripe, we can agree that these ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, are important to us all. It really is up to each of us to know our rights and to say "stop" when we see them being abridged. To that end, take a minute and remind yourself what your rights are:

The Bill of Rights

The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States; all or any of which articles, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution, namely:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Wednesday, November 22


I am thankful for this past election cycle because it gives the nation a chance to regroup and reprioritize. I am thankful to the crop of candidates that ran for office and for those who succeeded of the progressive stripe--62 of whom are in the Congressional Progressive caucus.

We need to focus our attentions on smart security--and taking care of people by:

> Reducing global warming, reducing urban outgrowth, and lessening our energy use footprint
> Increasing family security including equal rights to the GLBT community, creative solutions to increase affordable housing stock for low income people, universal healthcare, improved care for our elders.
> Improving educational opportunities focusing math and science literacy along with reading and language fluency.
> A mandatory one year national service for 18 to 24 year olds to provide necessary activities to serve constituencies in fields like education, healthcare, child/eldercare, and the environment.
> Attaching requirements for fair (liveable) wages, energy efficient building design, and efficient use of resources to industries when economic development tax dollars are involved.

Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 21

Skinny on the Mini(mum Wage)

6 States during the mid-term elections passed minimum wage laws. As expected, conservatives have painted increasing the minimum wage as "bad for business." But is it? Here are some facts:

A minimum wage increase would raise the wages of millions of workers.
An estimated 14.9 million workers (11% of the workforce) would receive an increase in their hourly wage rate if the minimum wage were raised from $5.15 to $7.25 by 2008. Of these workers, 6.6 million workers (5% of the workforce) currently earn less than $7.25 and would be directly affected by an increase. The additional 8.3 million workers (6% of the workforce) earning slightly above the minimum would also be likely to benefit from an increase due to “spillover effects”.

Minimum wage increases benefit working families.
The earnings of minimum wage workers are crucial to their families' well-being. Evidence from an analysis of the 1996-97 minimum wage increase shows that the average minimum wage worker brings home more than half (54%) of his or her family's weekly earnings.
An estimated 1,395,000 single parents with children under 18 would benefit from a minimum wage increase to $7.25 by 2008. Single parents would benefit disproportionately from an increase — single parents are 9% of workers affected by an increase, but they make up only 7% of the overall workforce. Approximately 3.9 million parents with children under 18 would benefit.

Adults make up the largest share of workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase: 80% of workers whose wages would be raised by a minimum wage increase to $7.25 by 2008 are adults (age 20 or older).

Over half (54%) of workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase work full time and another third (30%) work between 20 and 34 hours per week.
Minimum wage increases benefit disadvantaged workers.

Women are the largest group of beneficiaries from a minimum wage increase: 59% of workers who would benefit from an increase to $7.25 by 2008 are women. An estimated 14% of working women would benefit directly from that increase in the minimum wage.

A disproportionate share of minorities would benefit from a minimum wage increase. African Americans represent 11% of the total workforce, but are 16% of workers affected by an increase. Similarly, 14% of the total workforce is Hispanic, but Hispanics are 19% of workers affected by an increase.

The benefits of the increase disproportionately help those working households at the bottom of the income scale. Although households in the bottom 20% received only 5% of national income, 38% of the benefits of a minimum wage increase to $7.25 would go to these workers. The majority of the benefits of an increase would go to families with working adults in the bottom 40% of the income distribution.

Among families with children and a low-wage worker affected by a minimum wage increase to $7.25, the affected worker contributes, on average, over half (59%) of the family's earnings. Forty-six percent of such workers actually contribute 100% of their family's earnings.
Relatively large shares of the workforce (up to 19.1%) in some Southern and Mid-Western states would benefit from an increase to $7.25.

A minimum wage increase would help reverse the trend of declining real wages for low-wage workers.
Since September 1997, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has deteriorated by 20%. After adjusting for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955.
Wage inequality has been increasing, in part, because of the declining real value of the minimum wage. Today, the minimum wage is 31% of the average hourly wage of American workers, the lowest level since the end of World War II.

A minimum wage increase is part of a broad strategy to end poverty.
As welfare reform forces more poor families to rely on their earnings from low-paying jobs, a minimum wage increase is likely to have a greater impact on reducing poverty.
A recent study of a 1999 state minimum wage increase in Oregon found that as many as one-half of the welfare recipients entering the workforce in 1998 were likely to have received a raise due to the increase. After the increase, the real hourly starting wages for former welfare recipients rose to $7.23.

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) combined with the minimum wage helps to reduce poverty, but the EITC is not a replacement for a minimum wage increase. For example, in 1997, a single mother of two children working 40 hours per week year-round at the minimum wage would have earned $9,893 (after Social Security and Medicare taxes) and would have been eligible for the maximum EITC of $3,656, which would have put her family income at $13,549, a mere 5% above the 1997 poverty threshold of $12,931 for a family of three. But because the minimum wage has not kept up with increases in the cost of living since 1997, the same family is now below the poverty line. In 2005, a single mother with two children would have combined earnings and EITC of $14,177, or 11% below the 2005 poverty threshold of $15,735 for a family of three.

The minimum wage raises the wages of low-income workers in general, not just those below the official poverty line. Many families move in and out of poverty, and near-poor families are also beneficiaries of minimum wage increases.

The inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage is 30% lower in 2006 than it was in 1979.
The effect of the last minimum wage increase in 1996-97 has been completely eroded by inflation.

$5.15 today is the equivalent of only $3.95 in 1995 — lower than the $4.25 minimum wage level before the 1996-97 increase.

There is no evidence of job loss from the last minimum wage increase.
A 1998 EPI study failed to find any systematic, significant job loss associated with the 1996-97 minimum wage increase. In fact, following the most recent increase in the minimum wage in 1996-97, the low-wage labor market performed better than it had in decades (e.g., lower unemployment rates, increased average hourly wages, increased family income, decreased poverty rates).

Studies of the 1990-91 federal minimum wage increase, as well as studies by David Card and Alan Krueger of several state minimum wage increases, also found no measurable negative impact on employment.

New economic models that look specifically at low-wage labor markets help explain why there is little evidence of job loss associated with minimum wage increases. These models recognize that employers may be able to absorb some of the costs of a wage increase through higher productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, decreased absenteeism, and increased worker morale.

A recent Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) study of state minimum wages found no evidence of negative employment effects on small businesses.

Alternatives for Black Friday

The Friday after Thanksgiving is referred as "Black Friday". According to a recent poll from Consumer Reports, an estimated 63 million Americans will hit the stores to engage in the formal start of the holiday shopping season. Consider the following: think about ways you can reduce your impact on Global Warming, stand up against unfair labor practices, reduce unneeded impacts to your local landfill, and still have a good time!

Here's six suggestions to start you up:

1) Buy nothing. The biggest impact that can be made on Black Friday is to ignore it. Spend the day with your family, friends, pets, volunteering, or having a good time with yourself (reading a good book).
2) If you are going to shop: walk, bike, or bus to where you want to shop--bring friends or family and your own shopping bags. You may not be able to take advantage of all the "bargains", but you'll likely save a bunch of money, have fun, and feel good about yourself.
3) Consider purchasing resale items, regifting, or making your own gifts.
4) Buy merchandise from the Internet sparingly (think of the amount of transportation of one item)--although downloading music, books, or software can actually leave a much smaller footprint.
5) Shop locally with hometown merchants or stores that pay fair wages.
6) Pay attention to not only what you buy, but how it is packaged. The best gift is one that can a) be totally consumed (i.e., 0% waste). b) can be totally recycled (100% recyclable).

Monday, November 20

Next Issue: Affordable Housing

The housing bubble has burst. According to Harvard University "Across the nation, government cutbacks on construction, maintenance, and subsidies for low-income housing, combined with the booming economy's overheated real-estate market, have created what many experts are calling an affordable housing crisis. They predict that the problem is likely to get worse because of a widening income gap and a shrinking stock of low-income units." There is little doubt that those in need of affordable housing (Housing is generally considered "affordable" when its cost does not exceed 30 percent of the median family income in a given area.) were left out of the mix in the early With the median price of housing hovering in the $200,000 range, there are a significant number of lower income families (earning less than 50% of the median annual income) that have housing insecurity.

Why does housing matter so much. Stable family situations are recognized as one factor of student success in school housing stability, particularly in the early grades. Stable housing and is tied to lower domestic abuse rates, more community involvement, and lower crime rates.

Add to this the social justice aspect of persons having a basic need met. Affordable housing should not be a privilege, but a civil liberty, just as adequate food and clothing are necessary to sustain life. All persons should have access to safe, clean housing. The question is, how do we accomplish the goal?

One possibility is to take away the incentives to own rental housing, unless for the specific purpose of providing to housing to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it. In college towns it is a widely accepted practice to purchase real estate for investment purposes. The effect is to push up the rents for housing by relying on a captive audience who can afford a higher rent than the local lower income person can.

Another is to work with public/private partnerships to build housing that is affordable and can be financed creatively to allow those who are "high risk" to have a home and the informed responsibility to keep it.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 16

The Progressive Agenda

So what Should the "Progressive Agenda" be? Many conservatives insist that Democrats and other Progressives don't have a plan--this is a defect to them and frankly, to many in the murky middle. To be fair, being the "other brand" does not make a compelling reason for people to "buy" Progressivism. so lets give them some meat.

Add your favorite goals, then we'll work back to how to accomplish them (aka "meat"). I'll start:

1) Making a more peaceful world
- limit our nuclear arsenal and update non-nuclear arms treaties
- work within the international community to limit other nations from becoming nuclear
- support the efforts of the UN
- use our foreign aid to raise the standard of living for those living in poverty around the world and at home
- work to promote fair trade over free trade within the WTO
- Forgive debts of the poorest 10% of nations.
- Unilaterally withdraw fromIraq and join a multinational UN run peacekkeeping coalition
- Engage in multinational negotiations with North Korea and Iran.

Popular Progressive- Putting People First


I am Gark, and no, it is not my name. However, because I want to be honest in what I say, I choose to be "undercover" as I describe the murkiness of Progressive ideals.

Mainly, I wanted to create a blog that is open to disagreement, even within the friendly confines of "progressives"--because I don't think we all agree what that means.

I believe "Progressive" is making conscious choices that improve the lives of people and considers both the intended consequences (and the unintended consequences) of decisions that affect us now and our children down the road. I define these choices in terms of social, economic, and personal. Specifically I define progressive issues around sustainable policy, that is fair to those affected by it, and results in fiscal and moral/ethical responsible outcomes.

For example, global climate change (aka global warming) is an issue that requires a progressive approach because the results of global warming are likely to be devastating by all measures, economic, social, and personal, and the solutions are likely to have significant consequences to the American Way of Life (AWOL).

Solutions will be complex and will require sacrificing other important goals--e.g., a mass consumption based economy.

A progressive response could to be to join in with other nations approving a carbon dioxide emissions standard (ala the Kyoto accord). It would be to invest in alternative (clean, safe, lower carbon dioxide producing) energy production, improved mass transit, incenting consumers to either convert existing cars to biofuels, adopting higher CAFE standards for fuel economy, and so on. In addition to invest into our educational system to encourage science and math literacy and encouragement for all students to pursue careers in science, math, and engineering fields.

Progressive Politics has a ways to go to become "mainstream", but it will only happen if we can present our ideas and plans to people in ways they can understand. In other words, we have to make our case AND learn what the needs are of people that are not being met in today's political environment.

Since this is my blog, I will attempt to make my case.

This is what I think is wrong about how political parties work.

1) People are not valued for what they can contribute to political discourse, but for what they CONTRIBUTE $.
2) Political parties do not reach out to constituencies that REALLY need political clout (e.g., the poor)
3.) Political parties build leadership through attrition--Darwinian "survival of the fittest" mentality.
4.) Political parties do not know how to "play nice"--that is make your point versus the opposition, but don't go to the lowest common denominator to do it.
5.) They mostly work by instilling fear about the alternatives.
6.) Political parties do not generally match people to their talents effectively.

Next, what should the Progressive agenda be?