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.