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?