Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hidden Agendas

The Baby Bomb with no BOOM.

If people are looking for parallels between what is happening in Wisconsin, soon coming to a state near you, and what is happening on the Arab street, they would be better served to look back 50 years, to the start of the Kennedy presidency. Then as now, the factor driving national events was demography, though that was not the official rationale for program development. Here's a quick official history from the History.com web site:
This Day In History
Mar 1, 1961:
Kennedy establishes Peace Corps

Newly elected President John F. Kennedy issues an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. It proved to be one of the most innovative and highly publicized Cold War programs set up by the United States.
During the course of his campaign for the presidency in 1960, Kennedy floated the idea that a new "army" should be created by the United States. This force would be made up of civilians who would volunteer their time and skills to travel to underdeveloped nations to assist them in any way they could.
To fulfill this plan, Kennedy issued an executive order on March 1, 1961 establishing the Peace Corps as a trial program. Kennedy sent a message to Congress asking for its support and made clear the significance of underdeveloped nations to the United States. The people of these nations were "struggling for economic and social progress." "Our own freedom," Kennedy continued, "and the future of freedom around the world, depend, in a very real sense, on their ability to build growing and independent nations where men can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, ignorance, and poverty." Many in Congress, and the U.S. public, were skeptical about the program's costs and the effectiveness of American aid to what were perceived to be "backward" nations, but Kennedy's warning about the dangers in the underdeveloped world could not be ignored. Revolutions were breaking out around the globe and many of these conflicts—such as in Laos, the Congo, and elsewhere—were in danger of becoming Cold War battlefields. Several months later, Congress voted to make the Corps permanent.
During the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of Americans—especially young people—flocked to serve in dozens of nations, particularly in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Working side by side with the people of these nations, Peace Corps volunteers helped build sewer and water systems; constructed and taught in schools; assisted in developing new crops and agricultural methods to increase productivity; and participated in numerous other projects. Volunteers often faced privation and sometimes danger, and they were not always welcomed by foreign people suspicious of American motives. Overall, however, the program was judged a success in terms of helping to "win the hearts and minds" of people in the underdeveloped world. The program continues to function, and thousands of Americans each year are drawn to the humanitarian mission and sense of adventure that characterizes the Peace Corps.
A good synopsis of the official story, recently revisited in the eulogies for Sargent Shriver.

The truth of the matter is more complex. President Kennedy was shaken by his visits to Appalachia during the campaign. Poverty was becoming more visible and disheartening. The President and many others read Michael Harrington's, The Other America. Foundations were starting to fund programs to get at the problems, and the President's Committee of Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime had begun antipoverty initiatives.

Excerpts from an Oral History of the origins of the war on poverty are here.

But to appreciate the relevancy of then to now, I want to add to the context of what comes next. The War On Poverty, now so commonly maligned, was conceived of as a stabilizing force. You have to appreciate the fact that the civil rights movement was gaining a head of steam. Now here's the kicker. What the members of the Committee on JD told the President, was the prospect that millions of young Americans (the first time the baby boomers are perceived of as a problem) had been highly educated and there were few jobs for them. They projected an alliance of black and white youths coming together to channel their frustration in a revolutionary uprising. Sound familiar? The problem then became how to forge programs that might defuse this potential and the Peace Corp was the first of many. Job Corp, Vista, Head Start, Legal Aid, the list goes on, all were developed within this context. The primary objective might have been to bring solutions to the stated problem but always there was what developers of those programs referred to as "the hidden agenda". The Peace Corp was really an elite corp of highly educated persons that had to pass tests before they could join. The genius of the corp was that persons joined and accepted meager pay for the honor and self respect that came from doing good. As programs continued to come on stream there were intentional designs to employ persons from the "target" populations to staff them. When evaluations were conducted that questioned the
the effectiveness of any of these programs in achieving their stated objectives, the off the record analysis would include how many persons were employed in the service of the program. So a jobs program was itself a jobs program.

Here is Martin Wolf in the Financial Times seeing the Arab revolt in similar terms. He appreciates the underemployment of these young people as being the driver of current events.

My perspective is that there are never going to be enough "jobs" here or abroad to satisfy the wants of the unemployed. If we scaled up production of BMWs, to satisfy those so-called wants, the consequences would be to choke the world. At exactly the same moment anyone can see there is no shortage of work to be done. The cries for dignity and recognition coming from the Arab street are not going to be satisfied by low wage jobs or make work. What might have a chance of creating a sustainable future for these people is a work corp, whose mission is not the stabilization of horrific regimes, rather the alleviation of the meanness of the physical conditions that surround them. They might have an agenda that included land reform, water development, distributed health care, or social security for the aged. The indigenous workers would prioritize their societal needs, and could organize the corps to relieve them. Critical to any such development would be the world valuing this work in much the same way the Peace Corp is valued. Rather than trying to prop up the failed economics of labor intensity, the world needs to evolve a value system that places the good works of people before the crassness of material extraction and exploitation.

There was more than one "hidden agenda" in those heady days. The other great unsaid. That which drives most of the Republican push back against unions, the poor, and democrats in general, was the fact that those of us in community action "knew" that the overthrow of oligarchs was also on our agenda. The racist, the dispassionate, the exploiters, were all on the hit list of social activists who appreciated that moms who gathered in large numbers to enroll their children in Head Start for example, might also appreciate those numbers when election day rolled around. And so it was that in the vacuum left after white flight, the vast majority of cities in America were re-governed by Democrats, often of color. The persistence of their re-elections was attributable to the votes of the civil servants beholden to them for their jobs. So when Republicans fight job creation, or when John Boehner states that he doesn't care if federal jobs are lost as a result of his budget reforms, or Governors attempt to union bust, that is code for their not wanting voters added to the block that opposes them. The recruitment of middle class workers in their army of opposition is just madness. There is just too much evidence that the so-called tea-parties are being had. A recent addition to that observation comes from the hallowed business rag of the right. Forbes has a story here on the Koch brother s involvement in the Wisconsin battle.

It is still to be seen who will co-opt the change agents in the middle east. The true oligarchs have not left the oil fields, nor the armies that protect them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

People's Protest

The following is an excerpt from a story that appeared in The Nation:
How to Build a Progressive Tea Party, by Johann Hari

Imagine a parallel universe where the Great Crash of 2008 was followed by a Tea Party of a very different kind. Enraged citizens gather in every city, week after week—to demand the government finally regulate the behavior of corporations and the superrich, and force them to start paying taxes. The protesters shut down the shops and offices of the companies that have most aggressively ripped off the country. The swelling movement is made up of everyone from teenagers to pensioners. They surround branches of the banks that caused this crash and force them to close, with banners saying, You Caused This Crisis. Now YOU Pay.
Instead of the fake populism of the Tea Party, there is a movement based on real populism. It shows that there is an alternative to making the poor and the middle class pay for a crisis caused by the rich. It shifts the national conversation. Instead of letting the government cut our services and increase our taxes, the people demand that it cut the endless and lavish aid for the rich and make them pay the massive sums they dodge in taxes.
This may sound like a fantasy—but it has all happened. The name of this parallel universe is Britain. As recently as this past fall, people here were asking the same questions liberal Americans have been glumly contemplating: Why is everyone being so passive? Why are we letting ourselves be ripped off? Why are people staying in their homes watching their flat-screens while our politicians strip away services so they can fatten the superrich even more?
And then twelve ordinary citizens—a nurse, a firefighter, a student, a TV researcher and others—met in a pub in London one night and realized they were asking the wrong questions. “We had spent all this energy asking why it wasn’t happening,” says Tom Philips, a 23-year-old nurse who was there that night, “and then we suddenly said, That’s what everybody else is saying too. Why don’t we just do it? Why don’t we just start? If we do it, maybe everybody will stop asking why it isn’t happening and join in. It’s a bit like that Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. We thought, If you build it, they will come.”
The story continues here.
An organization was created called UK Uncut. They maintains a web presence here.

UK Uncut from Fat Rat Films on Vimeo.

The following is a slide show concerning the tax shelter practices of some US corporations.
Slide Show: 8 Corporations That Owe You Money

If you're still not convinced read the report of the US Government Accountability Office re off shore tax avoidance.
Gather some friends, pick a tax dodger and get on the street!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Side Dish

The rule in our house has been; Don't eat in restaurants food that you can prepare better at home. This rule used to be limited to steak joints, spaghetti mills, and salad bars. Who could have imagined that the rule could be extended to restaurants that serve dry cereal, PB and J, and now the latest in the single dish restaurants, soon to be on a corner near you. They come with names that are a variation of "Mac something", the name for any one of hundreds of new mac and cheese outlets. It would be too easy to ID the latest hot spot in NYC, so for some scope consider CHEESE-OLOGY in St.Lo. This store has franchise potential written all over it. I am sure they serve great mac and cheese, and the variations sound wonderful, but when I'm in St Louis, I'm going to be suckin ribs.

When Carrie and I found that we could read in bed from the light transmitted from our young bodies, alit with the afterglow of Kraft's original mac and cheese (in those days 4 boxes for a buck) we hauled out the Fannie Farmer and have been making variations ever since.

Our mac and cheese is baked, topped with bread crumbs, does not contain an egg, uses up cheese ends, employs meaty sized short cuts of pasta, and the preferred cheese is a yellow cheddar. Within this simple recipe there are some fabulous lessons that can be widely applied. First of all we build our dish on a béchamel, froggy for white sauce. The keys to white sauce are universal principles that can be widely applied: One tablespoon of flour will thicken one cup of liquid. A roux(roo) the combination of fat and flour that is the first step in the creation of the sauce, does not have to be brown to be flavorful. The way to avoid burning a roux is to saute some veggie bits in a pan, say onion, and sprinkle the flour on top, stir for a minute, and then add liquid, The liquid need not be hot, but you do want to whisk until creamy (if using a non-stick pot, use a plastic whisk). Simmer for 5 minutes or so to "cook" the flour. Add a handful of grated cheese, stir again. Add slightly undercooked macaroni, stir and pour out into greased casserole. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until a peek reveals a bubbly dish you can't wait to eat. The above is devoid of specifics because they are so variable. I start with two TBLs of butter and two TBLs of flour over a 1/4 cup minced onion. You can use olive oil, bacon fat, schmaltz, your lipid of choice. Given I have two TBLs of flour I add two cups of milk. I could use stock, cream, half and half, or heavy cream, or any combination. Keep the proportions constant. Cook at a simmer, stir until thickened. Add 1/2 pound cooked pasta. There are as many variations for toppings or stir throughs as you can imagine. The menus of the restaurants are inspirational and nothing you can't do yourself. Ben's Chili Bowl in DC (Obama's fav) used to have a chili mac/cheese that you could order with extra grease. It is a miracle we are still alive.

There has been a game changer in this house. Thailand companies make fried and dried garlic, shallot, or red onion flakes. They come in 4 oz to 2 pound containers in Asian markets. I buy 8 oz jars for 3 bucks at my local supermarket. This is not garlic powder, nor is it a substitute for fresh . These products have a distinctive flavor that adds depth to many recipes. I sprinkle it on veg, stir it in scrambled eggs, use in salad, each variety has hundreds of uses, and I add it to my mac and cheese.

While we are on the subject of comfort food. The other morning, stirring in bed, anticipating Carrie's awakening, I knew I was in for another bowl of oatmeal. Her instincts were confirmed. Oatmeal has just been voted the healthiest breakfast one could eat. If I smother it in enough syrup, and raisins, and cinnamon, I can manage to get over the gluish feeling I have in my mouth. I was not looking forward to breakfast. And then the epiphany; why not savory?
We have settled on old fashioned rolled oats which we buy in the bulk bins in our local market. Two cups of salted water set to boil. Pour in one cup oats. Reduce heat. Cook for no more then ten minutes. Now Carrie adds milk to get the consistency she wants. It was then I jumped in with a handful of crumbled bacon, a heap of fried/dried shallots, a slather of olive oil, a crack of pepper, and topped it with a soft cooked egg. I look forward to my next bowl and another variation. Mark Bittman likes soy and scallions in his oatmeal.

Side dish:
What the hell does it mean to "win the future". We are so caught up in this competitive madness that we have lost the ability to distinguish between a football game, a foot race, and a national, what? We win the war? Is that what the masters of the universe are prepping us for. US v China in the race to what exactly? What does losing look like, smoldering embers? We breed that mentality in the schools. We grade students. We fail students. We grade them on curves. They are taught to compete. If we truly wanted them to learn we would inculcate them with curriculum until they got it. They would all win. We would have to figure out another way to determine who got into Harvard, and who went to jail. That would piss off aspiring parents who want their kids to win. And what does losing look like? What does it mean to be deemed a failure at 13? No one believes grading is a benign method to determine how they are progressing and not meant to be competitive. Save us all a lot of trouble and just kill the losers off. Or, teachers, and I know you are out there, refuse to grade them. Not by yourself, though that would be wonderful. In the faculty lounge today, agree among yourselves to just stop. That's something you can do. Stop grading kids!