Why Did Hillary Clinton Win Massachusetts?

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

I think we all remember the 2008 Democratic primaries, that exciting and epic battle. In many ways the campaign caused more excitement than the general election, whose result was never really in doubt (especially after the financial crisis).

Both candidates drew upon distinctly different coalitions. In an influential article, Ronald Brownstein analyzes the difference this way:


Since the 1960s, Democratic nominating contests regularly have come down to a struggle between a candidate who draws support primarily from upscale, economically comfortable voters liberal on social and foreign policy issues, and a rival who relies mostly on downscale, financially strained voters drawn to populist economics and somewhat more conservative views on cultural and national security issues.

President Barack Obama assembled a coalition from the former, these “wine-track” Democrats. When most Americans think of liberals, they think of wine-track Democrats. Mr. Obama, then, was the liberal candidate; Mrs. Clinton the “beer-track,” working-class representative.

So candidate won the most liberal place in America?

The answer below (or, alternatively, in the title).

In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the state of Massachusetts (you may have realized this by reading the title of this post). The result wasn’t even close; Mrs. Clinton’s margin was 15.37%, as the modified NYT image below indicates.

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These results are most strange. Barack Obama supposedly built a coalition upon liberal Democrats – yet he lost Massachusetts, the very image of liberalism. He then proceeded to win the nomination.

Several elements explain this result. Firstly, the state Massachusetts does not contain as many wine-track Democrats as most Americans tend to think. Rather, it includes a number of working-class, beer-track Democrats. These voters support Democrats based upon economic issues (which is not to say they are socially conservative). The state holds a strong union presence along with a high percentage of Catholics, numbering almost half the population. While in many places Catholics no longer vote Democratic, in Massachusetts they still are loyal to the party. According to exit polls, Catholics (45% of voters) went for Clinton by a 2-1 margin, while union households (27% of voters) supported Clinton 60-35.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s overwhelming victory remains surprising. Taking working-class support for Clinton into account, one still would expect Obama to do relatively well.

Remember, however, that this is Hillary Clinton we are talking about. Hillary Clinton, the champion of women’s rights. Hillary Clinton, the powerful and polarizing First Lady conservatives absolutely hated. Though the memory has dimmed, Hillary Clinton once stood at the forefront of “wine-track” liberalism. In February 5th, 2008 many liberal Democrats still remembered Hillary the feminist. Only later did Hillary the working-class fighter emerge.

Moreover, at that time Barack Obama continued to be a relative unknown, a bolt of lightning who had come out of nowhere. Hillary Clinton, therefore, made substantial inroads into Obama’s coalition, just as Obama took away a central pillar of working-class Democrats (blacks). Exit polls indicated that 62% of women supported Clinton (36% supported Obama); progressive white women probably went for her even more strongly. Throughout the primaries, Jews and gays (both deeply liberal groups) tended to support Clinton.

I am not terribly satisfied with this analysis; it does not seem to fully explain how the most liberal state in the union supported the more conservative candidate. The result perplexes me even today.

Nor did Massachusetts constitute an anomaly; Clinton did well in other liberal areas. She and Obama, for instance essentially tied the San Francisco Bay Area:

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Reasonable explanations behind this result also exist. Working-class Latinos gave Clinton strong support; thus her large margins in heavily Latino San Jose and Fresno. Moreover, upper-class Asians – a major Bay Area constituency – supported her 3-1.

Yet the fact remains that, out of the two most liberal regions in the nation, Hillary Clinton won a landslide in one and tied another (if one adds together the Bay Area’s nine metropolitan counties, Obama actually wins by 1.2%). All this against an opponent whose base lay amongst liberal Democrats. It is all very puzzling.

Ignorance Can Be Bliss

I recently heard Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, speak on the importance of transparency in the Obama Administration. Eisen stressed Executive order 13490, Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel, which was signed upon President Obama’s installation and advocating ethical commitments such as disclosure and transparency by those serving in the Administration. Then I began to wonder, does the average citizen pay close attention to this bill? To the clear visibility of our federal government? If you were to ask people, I guarantee they would say yes, but what sort of issues do they pay attention to? How about you? Would you be more likely to know who has visited the White House and why or the recently released report that Obama has quit smoking

These efforts by the administration reflect the visibility in the decision making processes to the American people, gaining their trust. Corporate governance such as this protects the rights of citizens, and with the Administration’s transparency, it also fosters cooperation and trust between the government and citizens. But, these ethical standards are enforced mostly haphazardly in other parts of government, such as state government. Take for instance Governor David Paterson’s top aide/ ex-driver, David Johnson. Johnson went from driver to top aide and confidant to Paterson: to many he would seem highly important and trusted. But with recent publicized violent allegations against Johnson, shouldn’t this be a warning sign for states to also be ethical with their hires?

This isn’t the latest scandal in state politics, just another one for the count. As discussions today all revolved around health care, I can again turn to America’s trust with the government, for the state and federal governments to represent their choices and have their rights protected. These rights originate from the ethical people who create them. Why not make sure they’re ethical to begin with? Does the government have our best interests at hand? 

Wave of “Creative Destruction” Swamping U.S. Schools

Last month, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan claimed that the “best thing that ever happened” to public schools in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. (To be fair, here’s the quote in context.) Although two days later Duncan apologized for his remarks, what he said – when he was thinking in his self-described “really honest” mode rather than perhaps a less than honest mode – actually reveals an essential aspect of the destructive school reform policies being carried out by the Obama administration.

Across the country, literally, from Rhode Island to California, Minnesota to Louisiana, federal policies are being used as leverage to shutter hundreds of public schools, eliminate teachers, disrupt the lives of families who are least able to cope with upheaval, and relegate many kids to gangs and street violence. When public schools deemed to be “under-performing” based on federally mandated standardized tests are not closed outright, they are being put on the auction block for take-over by the highest corporate bidders. The wave of closings and privatization washing over American schools is being labeled as a “turnaround” approach to reshape public education into something that will better serve children and youth.

According to Duncan, the intent is to turnaround approximately 5,000 schools, which is about 5 percent of US public schools. But the narrow scope of the turnaround approach has catastrophic effects on the schools that get targeted. Of the three “turnaround models” proposed by Duncan, only the third and final option doesn’t include firing the school faculty or leadership. Because at least half of the targeted schools are in big cities, and many others are in suburbs and medium-sized towns, where schools have higher than average student populations, the numbers of students and families affected by these policies are potentially in the many tens even hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, kids only get one shot at an education. And any approach that puts their schoolyears at risk will have lifelong negative effects.

With all that’s potentially at stake, you would think that a school reform strategy that is as far-reaching as Duncan’s turnaround approach would be backed up with some solid research and a track record of success. Alas, such is not the case.

What’s really at the core of Duncan’s school improvement philosophy is a radical agenda calling for overhauling school systems by using “scorched-earth tactics” espoused by conservatives and business leaders. Among the most-favored of these tactics is a belief in the power of “creative destruction” as a chief means to improving schools. Touted as a “built-in feature of ongoing renewal and revival”, school closings are being hailed by the rightwing as a sure-fire way to “provide focus” to educators through the fear of losing their jobs.

Although unstated in policy documents and discussions, the principle of creative destruction is reflected in the many exhortations of Arne Duncan and other supposed school reformers. For instance, during a Duncan-endorsed school turnaround effort in New York City, superintendent and Duncan acolyte Joe Klein brought business leaders, such as former General Electric CEO Jack Welch to lecture school officials on the merits of creative destruction. In an article in Business Week, a school official helping to lead the turnaround effort, Carmen Farina, describes how strongly she was influenced by the ideas being espoused by Welch and others. “One thing that really struck me,” she commented, “you can’t allow an organization to grow complacent. When you find those kinds of organizations, you have to tear them apart and create chaos. That chaos creates a sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency will ultimately bring about improvement.” Farina was subsequently given a job higher up the ranks of school leadership in the district.

The idea that schools need to be run like businesses and occasionally “torn apart” in the cauldron of competition, is not new nor is it peculiar to Duncan and his cohorts. But Duncan has made the principle of creative destruction through school closings his “signature move”. So it’s important to understand why this is such a disastrous policy.

To begin with, as education historian Diane Ravitch has repeatedly pointed out in her blog posts at Education Week, “there is no research basis” for most of what Duncan is proposing. “What is extraordinary about these regulations,” she writes, “is that they have no credible basis in research. They just happen to be the programs and approaches favored by the people in power.”

Ravitch, no paragon of liberalism herself, points to the work of education researcher Paul Barton who contends that school closings “may be doing more harm that good.” First, “given the way failing schools are identified, there is no reason to believe that they are doing worse than some schools that are passing the test.” Also, there isn’t a strong correlation between school performance and test scores. And measures of change aren’t consistent across schools because some schools may be on the top in one measure and may be at the bottom on another. Ravitch also points to the work of economist Helen Ladd who urges that self-anointed school reformers “move beyond this misplaced emphasis on test scores” in evaluating school performance.

Not only is there no research evidence that the strategy of closing schools based on test scores actually improves academic achievement, the actual cases of where school closures were used as a means to achieve reform don’t provide a very positive track record for this approach.

It’s no coincidence that the devastation of post-Katrina New Orleans that Duncan opined about last month was also the point of inception for using widespread school closings as an essential approach to school reform. After all, Paul Vallas, the superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans, was Duncan’s former boss in the Chicago school system. But whether school closings actually led to school improvement is impossible to determine because comparing the school performance before the storm to today “isn’t possible”. Schools have been so massively reconfigured and there are fewer students. Instead, a far better case study of what school closing actually produces is in Duncan’s hometown of Chicago.

Previous to becoming Secretary of Education, Duncan was head of public schools in Chicago where he closed 75 schools. And throughout his first year of service in the Obama administration he has championed his Chicago strategy nationwide. But research following up the effects of school closings in Chicago has found that Duncan’s strategy “had no significant impact on performance for most students”. The vast majority of the students affected by school closings were sent to schools that were low performing, just like those they left behind. Forty percent of the students were enrolled in schools that were on academic probation, 42 percent were enrolled in schools with test scores in the lowest quartile in the city, and just 6 percent ended up in schools that out-performed the schools where the students came from.

In addition to having dismal academic results, Duncan’s school closings led to considerable social and economic problems for the families affected. Working-class families, many living in poverty, were thrown into disruption. Closings “led to a surge in violence” as reassignments sent students across gang lines and heightened long running disputes between neighborhood teens. And as students found themselves in chaotic, alienating surroundings the number of school expulsions soared to unprecedented heights.

Despite the dismal results of the Chicago school closings, the creative destruction of schools is now rolling out across the entire nation. In New York, just prior to Duncan’s Katrina remark, “the New York City Department of Education pushed through a decision to close 19 high schools.” At the prospect of winning the competitive grants being promoted by Duncan’s Race to the Top funds, school and civic leaders are decreeing disruptive school turnarounds in districts around the country. “Minnesota expects to remake 34 schools by the time students return next fall. Philadelphia plans on transforming dozens in the coming years, and New Haven, Conn., has targeted some of its schools as well.” Teacher unions are being coerced to accept these changes or face mass firings as they were in Rhode Island.

In Los Angeles, the creative destruction of public schools took another form. Last month, city leadership, instead of closing schools, enacted a “new school choice policy, which will open up the management of dozens of the district’s existing and yet-to-open campuses to outside operators, as well as district insiders.” Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines posted the list of “prospective bidders” for the first 36 schools shortly after the decision.

What’s also extraordinary about the creative destruction of our nation’s public schools is that it is taking place with virtually no input from the public. As Diana Ravitch writes, “Under normal circumstances, the Department of Education would need congressional hearings and authorization to launch a program so sweeping and so sharply defined. Instead, they are using the ‘stimulus’ money to impose their preferences, with no hearings and no congressional authorization.” In both New Orleans and Chicago, the sweeping edicts that closed schools and made teachers jobless were enacted without participation of the communities affected. And reforms carried out in New York and Los Angeles were overwhelmingly top-down driven decisions.

There are signs that teachers unions are fighting back, at least in Los Angeles and Rhode Island. But what’s most disturbing is the lack of questioning and scrutiny that characterizes the media’s coverage of the creative destruction of our schools. The dubiousness of this policy seems apparent on its face. As educator Deborah Lynch points out “do we close police stations in high-crime areas and fire the police officers? No, we provide the best support and resources possible — and that is what should have been provided to our struggling schools.”

Furthermore, there is a total lack of recognition of the alternatives to creative destruction that could actually have research-based evidence that they help struggling schools. In Duncan’s own city of Chicago, a recent report provided “a counter-narrative” to business driven school reform with “a new book based on 15 years of data on public elementary schools.” The study indentifies “five tried-and-true ingredients that work, in combination with one another, to spur success in urban:”

“1. Strong leadership, in the sense that principals are “strategic, focused on instruction, and inclusive of others in their work”;

2. A welcoming attitude toward parents, and formation of connections with the community;

3. Development of professional capacity, which refers to the quality of the teaching staff, teachers’ belief that schools can change, and participation in good professional development and collaborative work;

4. A learning climate that is safe, welcoming, stimulating, and nurturing to all students; and

5. Strong instructional guidance and materials.”

It’s past time for the progressive-minded community to speak out more vociferously about this travesty. The stakes are enormous. Perhaps a huge portion of an entire generation of children will experience lifelong negative effects of being denied the optimum education. And America’s public schools – a cornerstone of our democracy – stands on the brink of falling into the hands of rapacious profiteers who care only about getting their greedy hands on the 5.6%, and generally recession-proof, of GDFP that the school market represents. Outspoken education bloggers — Diane Ravitch, Susan Ohanian, and others – are doing all they can to get the word out about the growing calamity. But their profile is minimal and confined mostly to the “choir” or educators who are already aware and informed of what is transpiring. Just as progressives have helped shape the debate on health care reform and climate change, we have to engage in the pushback with a counter narrative that opposes this administration’s dangerous policies and calls for a more compassionate and reasoned approach to school reform.

Republicans Dropping Like Flies

With Florida congressman John Linder announcing his retirement, the Congressional retirements needs to be updated:

United States Senate:

Democrats Retiring: 5                                                                                     Republicans Retiring: 6

United States House of Representatives:

Democrats Retiring: 15                                                                           Republicans Retiring: 19

Now it seems the proclamation that Democrats are scared of their election prospects doesn't make much sense. If anything, the Republicans are as well, if not more. The reality is that the American people are sick and tired of Congress, especially when the party of “no” continues to exist. Expect to see more retirements as we get closer to November.

Eco-Costs of doing “business as usual” top $2 trillion–change is imperative says coming UN report

I was always annoyed by those who talked about Obama as a transformational leader.  One reason was that I was keenly aware of some basic transformations we badly need to make in order to have a livable future for all–none of which he seemed to really have a handle on.  This diary is about one huge example of this.


By now, everyone knows about global warming.  Many also know that it’s not “just” an environmental problem–if left unchecked it will have ruinous economic consequences as well. But that’s not the only global environmental problem we face that also involves enormous economic costs that most people are unaware of.

Thursday before last, the UK Guardian ran a story about a forthcoming UN report on the environmental costs of doing business the old-fashioned way, “World’s top firms cause $2.2tn [trillion] of environmental damage, report estimates”.  The story’s subhead read: “Report for the UN into the activities of the world’s 3,000 biggest companies estimates one-third of profits would be lost if firms were forced to pay for use, loss and damage of environment.”  And the story itself began thus:

The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world’s biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.

The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils.

Later this year, another huge UN study – dubbed the “Stern for nature” after the influential report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern – will attempt to put a price on such global environmental damage, and suggest ways to prevent it. The report, led by economist Pavan Sukhdev, is likely to argue for abolition of billions of dollars of subsidies to harmful industries like agriculture, energy and transport, tougher regulations and more taxes on companies that cause the damage.

The report is the final stage of an ongoing process that’s been under way for several years, as you can see at the UN’s webpage for the project:

THE ECONOMICS OF ECOSYSTEMS AND BIODIVERSITY

Human well-being is dependent upon “ecosystem services” provided by nature for free, such as water and air purification, fisheries, timber and nutrient cycling. These are predominantly public goods with no markets and no prices, so their loss often is not detected by our current economic incentive system and can thus continue unabated. A variety of pressures resulting from population growth, changing diets, urbanisation, climate change and many other factors is causing biodiversity to decline, and ecosystems are continuously being degraded. The world’s poor are most at risk from the continuing loss of biodiversity, as they are the ones that are most reliant on the ecosystem services that are being degraded.

At the meeting of the environment ministers of the G8 countries and the five major newly industrialising countries that took place in Potsdam in March 2007, the German government proposed a study on ‘The economic significance of the global loss of biological diversity’ as part of the so-called ‘Potsdam Initiative‘ for biodiversity.

The following wording was agreed at Potsdam: ‘In a global study we will initiate the process of analysing the global economic benefit of biological diversity, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the failure to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation.’

This proposal was endorsed by G8+5 leaders at the Heiligendamm Summit on 6-8 June 2007.

An interim report was produced in 2008, after which, the site explains:

The second, more substantial, phase of the study is structured around one background report and several reports targeted towards specific categories of decision makers who are also potential users of evaluation tools for biodiversity and ecosystem services:
  • D0 Report on the Ecological and Economic Foundations
  • D1 Report for Policy Makers
  • D2 Report for Local Administrators
  • D3 Report for Businesses
  • D4 Report for Citizens.

These reports will be compiled in a phased approach and published consecutively between autumn 2009 and autumn 2010. The final results will be presented at CBD COP-10 in 2010.

The DI report was released in mid-November.  I’ll have more to say about it below.

As indicated by the Guardian headline, a great deal of business profit comes directly from exploiting the unpriced goods of nature, services such as clean, breathable air that business has simply taken for granted, but that ordinary people cannot.  I’ve been writing about this issue in a very concrete way at the Port of Los Angeles for several years now, primarily by focusing on the externalized health and mortality costs being inflicted on primarily low-income and/or minority communities-otherwise known as “EJ [environmental justice] communities.”

For Earth Day three years ago, I wrote a feature I republished at MyDD, “Behind Green Eyes: Four Concepts That Can Change How You See The Environment”.  These were: community-centered environmentalism, externalized costs, the precautionary principle, and ecosystem services.  All four relate to the subject of the UN project and its forthcoming final report, but the last two are particularly salient. Instead of the environment being something “out there,” community-centered environmentalism sees the environment as an integral component in everything we do.

The Precautionary Principle states that if an action or policy could cause significant or irreversible public harm, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. It is not enough to say, “We don’t know of any health effects,” as happened for decades with smoking, asbestos, or diesel pollution.  Regarding externalized costs, I wrote, in part:

Although it’s a long-standing economic concept, elaborated in detail by British economist Arthur Pigou almost 100 years ago, economic measurements of externalized costs have been hard to make until quite recently.

Locally, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has played a leading role in developing cost models including health, premature death, agricultural productivity, traffic congestion, visibility, and corrosion.

“With each new air quality plan–we update about every 3 years–we do a socio-economic analysis,” AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood explained.  “As more and more medical research is done, we continue to get a more accurate picture the monetary health benefits from cleaning up the smog.”

The most recent analysis was just days away from being released when Atwood spoke to Random Lengths, but he provided a ballpark picture.

“Total benefits including health and other benefits exceed $20 billion a year, total. Costs on average each year will be $2.35 billion,” Atwood said.

The benefits are reductions in negative externalities, but the ports [are] only part of AQMD’s responsibility, and significant externalized costs will still remain.

“The state has told us that by 2020, polluting activity from California’s ports operations and associated freight transport will have a health impact of approximately $200 billion,” Annette Kondo, spokesperson for the Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) pointed out. “That’s a huge health bill that hurts the pocketbooks of all Californians,” Kondo continued, adding the following breakdown of annual statistics from the California Air Resources Board:

  • 2,400 premature deaths
  • 2,830 additional hospital admissions
  • 360,000 sick days for workers
  • And, 1.1 million missed school days for children in California.

If these costs were included in the price of doing business, it would play havoc with existing business models. Costs of imported goods would skyrocket.  But fortunately, as Atwood’s figures remind us, the costs of reducing pollution are much cheaper than costs incurred by producing it.

This is the problem seen on a local scale–already quite massive, but relatively easy to grasp conceptually.  It’s not hard to get people to start seeing things this way.  The effort just has to be made to start educating them.  

And regarding ecosystem services, I wrote:

Finally, the ecosystem services perspective looks at natural systems in terms of the services they provide for human society.  Because we have never had to pay for such services, we tend to take them for granted–that is, until they are gone, when they can be very expensive, or even impossible to replace.

These include provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling.

The UN-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, with 1,300 expert contributors from 95 countries concluded that 15 of 24 ecosystem services studied “are being degraded or used unsustainably, including fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water purification, and the regulation of regional and local climate, natural hazards, and pests.”

From this perspective, the unpaid health costs from port pollution are typical of economic costs incurred by the destruction of ecosystem services (in this case, the provision of healthy air to breath).  The loss of thousands of acres of wetlands in the harbor also helped destroy the provisioning of rich fisheries which formerly employed thousands of harbor area workers.  

The UN’s effort is to look at the entire world the way that I described in terms of our local problem of port pollution.  The press release for the D1 report released in mid-November that I mentioned above described a set of “key recommendations for policymakers to consider.”  Here are the first five of them:

1: Invest in ecological infrastructure: This can provide cost-effective opportunities to increase resilience to climate change, reduce risk from natural hazards, improve food and water security, and contribute to poverty alleviation. Up-front investments in maintenance and conservation are almost always cheaper than trying to restore damaged ecosystems, and the social benefits that flow from restoration can be several times higher than the costs. Preliminary TEEB estimates suggest that the potential rates of return can reach 40 percent for mangrove and woodlands/shrublands, 50 percent for tropical forests and 79 percent for grasslands when the multiple ecosystems services are taken into account.

2: Reward benefits through payments and markets: Payments for ecosystem services (PES schemes) from local (e.g. water provisioning) to global (the REDD-Plus proposal for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, as well as from afforestation, reforestation, and effective conservation).

3: Reform environmentally harmful subsidies: Reforming subsidies that are inefficient, outdated or harmful makes double sense during a time of economic and ecological crisis.  

4: Address losses through regulation and pricing: The cost of losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services should be tackled through regulatory frameworks that establish environmental standards and liability regimes. Designing a robust instrumental and market framework to confront resource users with these costs is a key priority for policy makers.

5: Recognise that protected areas are a cornerstone of conservation policies and provide multiple benefits: The global PA network covers around 13.9 percent of the Earth’s land surface, 5.9 percent of territorial seas, and only 0.5 percent of the high seas: nearly a sixth of the world’s population depend on protected areas for a significant percentage of their livelihoods. Investing US$45 billion in protected areas could secure vital nature-based services worth some US$5 trillion a year, including the sequestration of carbon, the protection and enhancement of water resources and protection against flooding (Balmford et al. 2002). There are also employment incentives, for example, in Bolivia protected-area tourism generates over 20,000 jobs, indirectly supporting over 100,000 people (Pabon-Zamora et al. 2009)

The second five recommendations were more specific, under the umbrella of a particular need for urgency:

The TEEB study shows that benefits of reform are multiple. It also reinforces the growing evidence that there are a number of urgent strategic ecosystem priorities that require policy shifts to address them:

6: Halt deforestation and forest degradation should be an integral part of climate change mitigation and adaptation focused on ‘green carbon’. It has the added benefit of preserving the huge range of services and goods forests provide to local people and the wider community;

7: Protect tropical coral reefs – and the associated livelihoods of half a billion people – through major efforts to avoid global temperature rise;

8: Save and restore global fisheries, which are currently under threat of collapse from over fishing;

9: Recognise the deep link between ecosystem degradation and the persistence of rural poverty and align policies across sectors with key Millennium Development Goals.

10: Agree to a forest carbon deal at Copenhagen.

I just can’t help but think how different our political situation today would be, if only Obama really had been a transformational leader, and if he’d only had some kind of magical machine that would have allowed him to know what the UN was up to.  There is no doubt whatsoever that Obama has extraordinary gifts that could have been used to bring the above-described issues to public awareness, and pressed home the need to begin thinking and acting within a new conceptual framework.

Obama had the capacity to make all the above intelligable and compelling to people.  Instead, he has wasted all our time in a fruitless search for crumbs from President Snowe, President Lieberman, President Grassley, President Nelson, President Graham.

What an enormous waste!  What a terrible, tragic, enormous waste!

Jon Stewart: Saving the Health Care Debate

If the healthcare summit taught us anything it's the following:

 

  • We're still a long way from healthcare, despite the campaign promises and (some) productive debate
  • Don't expect the media to say anything meaningful. The two favorites were likening it to “political theatre,” and asking, “If this were the winter Olympic games, how would you score this?”

 

It never ceases to amaze me how Jon Stewart continues to be one of the most analytical, and even “bipartisan-curious,” newscasters on TV. Watch here:

Wasting our future

I’m not a huge fan of NPR’s Planet Money, as some here may recall.  But Wednesday before last, driving home from work (I work almost exclusively at home), I happened to hear a segment that interested me, less from what it said than from what suggested to me.  (And then the next day this was reinforced by a story I’ll talk about in my next diary–a story about a forthcoming UN report on massive environmental costs.) The subject was a contemporary efficiency expert, and with typical Planet Money lack of context, nothing at all was said about the long history industrial efficiency studies and practices, from the robotic authoritarianism of Turnerism Taylorism to the strikingly different bottom-up quality-centered philosophy of Edwards Deming, who was scathingly critical of efforts to over-control, the counter-productivity of which he demonstrated via fairly elementary, but elegantly deployed mathematics.

So, into this historical and conceptual void, floated the Planet Money story, “Do You Waste Time Walking To The Printer?”  It’s been over a week, and I didn’t exactly recall this initial set-up, but it’s a perfect foil:

Are you one of those people who pour the cream into the mug before the coffee, so you won’t have to stir it? Or maybe you alphabetize your spice rack so you can find the nutmeg easily. If so, there’s a job you might be good at: efficiency expert.

Now, I think it’s perfectly logical to alphabetize your spice rack-though there could also be other more efficient ways to organize it-particularly if a few spots are easiest to reach, and a few spices get used a lot more than most of the others.  But pouring cream into the mug before the coffee, so you don’t have to stir it?  Well, I drink my coffee black, but decades ago, when I did put cream and such into it, I would never have thought of having to stir it.  Stirring in cream and honey or whatever was a pleasure, something I enjoyed-and in fact, still miss a bit.  So that was the first discordant note the story struck.  Efficiency, sure, but for what purpose?

The story proceeded:

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Matt LeBlanc works for a global shipping company, but he’s kind of a special ops guy. His company will drop him into one their locations. A typical mission: Find a way to save us a half million dollars. You’ve got four weeks. Recently he got sent to Mexico. The company’s MP3-player delivery operation – that could be more efficient.

Mr. MATT LEBLANC (Efficiency Expert): So, you know, I’m standing in the warehouse and I have to spend a lot of time just standing in warehouses looking weird, staring at people moving boxes. And I see the truck back up, and they open the door, and they have to take all these boxes out, and then they move them, pick them up and they put the box in one part.

KESTENBAUM: So Matt times everything, makes some diagrams, plugs some numbers into equations and he finds a much quicker way to do things. The workers, it turns out, are moving the boxes way more than they need to. Matt finds a way to cut the labor in half – in half.

Okay, that made sense.  But this:

Mr. LEBLANC: We also move a lot of printers. Like, if you, I mean, I’m sure you guys have printers in your office, right?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah.

Mr. LEBLANC: Have you ever thought about why that printer is there and if it makes sense for it to be there?

KESTENBAUM: Over the course of a career, you might walk miles back and forth -in your office.

Mr. LEBLANC: This is the stuff that I have to think about. I have to just go, listen, I can save you almost 2,000 hours’ worth of labor hours. If you take that printer from where it is over there and move it across the, you know, the room, you will save that many hours. And people never believe me, but you can show it with all sorts of different calculations.

Not so much.  People in offices tend not to get enough exercise.  And it’s not just something you can fix by going to the gym.  You need to get up, move around, increase your circulation on a much more frequent basis than that if you’re going to be at your best. I thought about the cream in the coffee again.You might “save” a lot of hours worth of labor, but people might not be as productive as they would have been with a little bit longer short exercise breaks.  Sometimes, efficiency can undercut effectiveness.

Even more interesting though, was what came in between those two bits that struck me so differently:

KESTENBAUM: …. Now, in a perfect economy, Matt’s job should not exist. Companies would’ve figured out the best way to do things. Competition should force that to happen. But Matt LeBlanc says there’s actually a lot of slack out there.

Mr. LEBLANC: We actually call it waste. There are eight types of waste that we talk about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEBLANC: The acronym is Tim T. Wood. It’s transportation, inventory, motion, talent, waiting, over production, over processing and defects.

Two things.  First: That bit about the “perfect economy” is Planet Money’s mindless market ideology talking, and why I almost always switch the dial on those rare occasions when I stumble across them. Because, of course, there is no mechanism to do what  Kestenbaum imagines-nor should there be, necessarily.  Most of human history has been spent adjusting work to human rhythms, human needs, not the other way around.  And those who are most creative, most productive of what is distinctly human work best in states of flow, where those inner rhythms prevail-a state of working that once was common to almost all who labored. It’s only natural that workplaces should conform to the rhythms of people who work in them, as much as possible.  It’s only natural that market pressures should be kept at bay, in part to preserve the psychic well-being of the workers who make the market possible in the first place.  That doesn’t mean things can’t be more efficient.  But it does mean that there’s no reason to expect efficiency to be magically automatic, and it also means that true efficiency may be more of an art than a science, more sympathetic and attuned to workers needs and desires than Planet Money’s expert appeared to be.

Second, the talk about “eight types of waste”–“Tim T. Wood… transportation, inventory, motion, talent, waiting, over production, over processing and defects” really caught my attention. I Googled it when I got home, and interestingly enough, the first thing that popped up for me was from the EPA, “Types of Waste Targeted by Lean Methods” and it read:

Lean methods typically target eight types of waste. Each of these wastes has a potential environmental impact, shown below. It is interesting to note that the “wastes” typically targeted by environmental management agencies, such as non-product output and raw material wastes, are not explicitly included in the list of manufacturing wastes that lean practitioners routinely target.

interesting to note.”  I’ll say!  More on that shortly.  But first, just for clarification, here’s what was listed next as types of waste:


Types of Waste Targeted by Lean Methods

Waste Type Manufacturing Sector Wastes Service Sector Wastes
Defects Scrap, rework, replacement production, inspection Order entry, design, or engineering errors
Waiting Stock-outs, lot processing delays, equipment downtime, capacity bottlenecks System downtime, response time, approvals
Overproduction Manufacturing items for which there are no orders Printing paperwork, purchasing items before they are needed; processing paperwork before the next person is ready for it
Transportation Transporting work-in-process (WIP) long distances, trucking to and from an off-site storage facility Multiple sites outside of walking distance, Off-site training
Inventory Excess raw material, WIP, or finished goods Office supplies, sales literature, and reports
Complexity More parts, process steps, or time than necessary to meet customer needs Re-entry of data, extra copies, excessive reporting, etc.
Unused creativity Lost time, ideas, skills, improvements, and suggestions from employees Limited tools or authority available to employees to carry-out basic tasks

Even before I Googled and found the EPA site I had been thinking about the environment, because I’m almost obsessively aware of how much businesses-particularly large corporations–achieve their efficiencies by externalizing costs, which means pushing them out into the environment, either the physical or the human environment, or both.  In fact, you could think of the examples I gave above in just those same terms–“efficiencies” being pushed on workers that might or might not make them happier, more comfortable, and ultimately even more effective at doing their jobs.

And this is what I thought of next: what we really need are efficiency experts-sensitive to the sorts of issues I raised-to work not inside of corporations, but in the world at large, helping us to better organize our rapidly-changing world in ways that minimize the effort needed to make things run as well as possible.  And some of the most important things that need redesigning by folks like this are the  ways that powerful corporations make life much more difficult-sometimes even deadly-for the rest of us.

Engineers know the problem well.  They call it “subsystem optimization”–making one part of a machine, or piece of software or whatever work as well as it possibly can, only to discover (or worse yet, not realize!) that in doing so the performance of the whole is made to suffer. We see the same thing in sports all the time-great players who aren’t great team players.  And of course, we see the same sort of thing in our own work lives, too.  It’s not hard to see in the economy, either, once you start thinking about it.  There are companies, product lines, entire technologies that are outmoded, inefficient, over-polluting, you name it, and yet they survive because they’ve shaped the environment around them to make it conform to them, and make it impossible-or at best, very difficult, for new and better ways to establish themselves.

America’s health care, energy and financial sectors are full of this sort of thing, and if President Obama were half the techno-wonk he believes himself to be, he’d have known that, and acted accordingly from Day One.

Someone’s going to Hell for this

“Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness”

    — Ninth Commandment

I could never figure out why rightwing Christians like to lie so much.  But this is ridiculous (from Digby):

These people will stop at nothing:
    For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions. But, staff members said, they found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences.

    So in 2009, the group took money that it normally used for advertising a pregnancy hot line and hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator.

    Ms. Davis traveled to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.

    The idea resonated, said Nancy Smith, the executive director.[…]

    A new documentary, written and directed by Mark Crutcher, a white abortion opponent in Denton, Tex., meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations.

Lovely.

Of course, to grasp the full depths of the evil involved here, it helps to recall that the religious right got its start fighting to preserve segregation, and they were initially indifferent to abortion, as I discussed in my diary “Shadow Elites And Religion–Part 1”,.  So my blood was particularly boiling  when I read about this.  But I’ve also been working on this welfare reform myth series, and one of the things I’ve been doing is poking around at various statistics, including birth rates.  So it helps to know some basic facts.  (All figures are from the CDC’s “National Vital Statistics Reports” Vol 56, #15, April 14, 2008.) The statistics make it clear that no one is imposing abortions on black women.  They may have more abortions, but this is a matter of their choice.  No one is controlling them against their wishes.  First note that black women as a whole actually have more babies than they want–snd by a larger percentage than any other women:

Black women have far higher pregnancy rates than whites, especially as teens:

which is part of what contributes to them having higher abortion rates–but as the first chart shows, even with higher abortion rates, they have a larger percentage of children in excess of what they optimally want.

Digby also notes:

It would be nice if these same people didn’t also demagogue against “welfare queens” and simultaneously condemn them for having too many children, but that would require an intellectual consistency of which they are incapable.

And, sure enough, even though black teen pregnancy rates are coming down, they are still well above double that of non-Hispanic whites:

Digby also goes on to report [emphasis added for what comes next]:

And they really need to get their talking points straight because, as Mike Stark documents, some of their people are making major errors with this one:
    In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say “How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can’t believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible.” And we’re right, we’re right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America’s soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted.  Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery. And I think, What does it take to get us to wake up?

I really hope that some of the leaders in the black religious community step up here. This is sickening.

Of course, it’s a lie that half of black pregnancies end in abortion, much less that  “half of all black children” are aborted.  Among unmarried blacks–but only among them–there are as many abortions as live births, but both these figures are less than half, because there are also fetal loses, as there are for all groups.  What’s more, this same ratio was seen for white unmarried women as recently as 1994 (second chart):



Among married black women, the abortion rate is far lower than the live birth rate, although it is significantly higher than for white women.  But once again, it is their choice, and they choose to have a larger surplus of babies than they had planned on than any other group, as the shown by the first chart in this diary.  Here are the married women’s rate compared:



Let this serve to remind one and all once again that it’s easy to tell when the “Christian” right is violating the Ninth Commandment: it happens anytime their lips are moving.

The One About Book Club: The 48 Laws Of Power: Laws 7 and 8

Hi all. Welcome back to The One About….’s special weekend feature, The One About Book Club. For those of you who are new readers to The One About…., let me recap for you. On the weekends I write in depth about a book that I feel is of significance to Progressives, looking at one or more chapters per post. For the complete introduction to the project you can go here.  My pick to inaugurate this project is The 48 Laws Of Power. So far I’ve offered an introduction and overview of the book, and written about Chapters(or in keeping with the tone of the book Laws) 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6. So I bet you can guess what comes next.  

LAW SEVEN: Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit

Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Now so far I, taking a fairly pragmatic view have made suggestions for ways that Progressives could, one might even say should, be using the prior laws of power. This law however is one that I must strongly caution we must avoid being seen using at All Costs!

Progressivism should be, and more importantly must be seen to be, a populist movement, and a largely egalitarian one. While no one expects every single person who might play a minor role to receive some huge acknowledgment, there is a general expectation that credit will be given where it is due. It is by eschewing and being seen to eschew this law and it’s adherents that we can better establish our core identity and values. Hogging the spotlight, hoarding the power, that’s what “They” do. Sharing the glory, empowering everyone, that’s what “We” do.

REVERSAL OF THE LAW:

For Progressives the thing we have to watch out for are Fame Whores. People who wish to be famous, and have no real investment in our cause. Such people when they are found out should be kept as much out of the limelight, and as far away from power as possible and they should quickly move on to the next venue to fame.

LAW EIGHT: Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary

When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack. You hold the cards.

This law is a hard one, practically speaking for Progressives to follow right now. We have precious little real power so it is difficult to be attractive enough to have others come to us. However we would be well advised to get to work on changing that. One very simple step is to stop whining about not being included. I heard this repeated over the last couple of days with some Progressives complaining about there not being any advocates for Single Payer speaking at the recent Health Care Summit. Such whining makes us look weak and is not attractive. Rather the official Progressive position should be one disdaining the Summit as just another example of the Right and Left arms of The Corporatocracy getting together to foul the atmosphere with hot air in hopes of fooling the people that they are actually doing something. It should be the same for anything we are not allowed to take part in. In the meantime we absolutely must continue to get organized, and we should be forming PAC’s that are large enough and strong enough to suggest that we could deliver a sizable block of votes. Then the first time that Democrat leaders or the President call upon us to meet with them, we should politely decline. Then on the second invite we should graciously but grudgingly accept.

Now of course the above is merely an example. Politics is a dynamic situation and we need to always be on the look out for how best to act and react in any given situation. The important thing is that we must be seen Not running to the beck and call of non Progressives in power simply because they’ve snapped their fingers.

REVERSAL OF THE LAW:

Basically we must be sensitive to the situation and our position at any given moment. Once we have managed to get some unity and some effective PAC’s formed we will be in a better position to make people come to us. Until then we should be careful not to over play things. Again the recent summit is a great example. Since we were not invited we should be seen to disdain the event, but had we been invited, we should have gone.

Alright gadies and lentlemen, that’s it for today’s installment. Check back tomorrow when I’ll be looking at Laws 9 and 10. Until then….

Keep The Faith My Brothers And Sisters!

(This article originally appeared at The One About…)

Hi! I’m Miss Mt. Whitney & God wants you dead because you eat endless shrimp!

I haven’t been to Mt. Whitney in decades, and since it’s not a city or a town, there’s no mayor to disown me, so I’m Miss Mt. Whitney just because I say so.

I just want you to know that I have lots of friends who go to Red Lobster.  They eat lobster and shrimp, and they’re all going to Hell.  The Bible is very black and white about it, even though they are my friends, so you know, sorry about that.  Because the Bible says that seafood should have fins and scales.  In Leviticus it says, “all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:  They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.”

And that’s the word of God, you know.  And he knows more about seafood than you or I do.  So all my friends are going to Hell. But it could be worse.  They could be going to Mt. Whitney.

There’s not a lot of seafood there.

Am I Miss California, yet?