Category Archives: US

Local communities vs vampire squids– will rule of law win?

From Matt Taibbi’s 20 July blog post in Rolling Stone, with reference to Rep Brad Miller’s July 11 article in American Banker. Miller’s article provides more heft, Taibbi adds poetry and context.

The fundamental idea is for local communities to use eminent domain to seize underwater or foreclosed properties at current market value, and then sell them back to the residents at that value.

Wall Street’s power in Washington may be as useless in defeating a proposal in San Bernardino County as strategic nuclear weapons are in fighting an insurgency. No wonder Wall Street is panicked.

concludes Miller.

The US is losing its urban forests to concrete and cement.

Tree and impervious cover change in U.S. cities, by David J. Nowak and Eric J. Greenfield. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening Volume 11, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 21–30

The authors use before and after aerial photography to track land use/tree cover in 20 US cities, and find an alarming decline

Paired aerial photographs were interpreted to assess recent changes in tree, impervious and other cover types in 20 U.S. cities as well as urban land within the conterminous United States. National results indicate that tree cover in urban areas of the United States is on the decline at a rate of about 7900 ha/yr or 4.0 million trees per year. Tree cover in 17 of the 20 analyzed cities had statistically significant declines in tree cover, while 16 cities had statistically significant increases in impervious cover. Only one city (Syracuse, NY) had a statistically significant increase in tree cover. City tree cover was reduced, on average, by about 0.27 percent/yr, while impervious surfaces increased at an average rate of about 0.31 percent/yr. As tree cover provides a simple means to assess the magnitude of the overall urban forest resource, monitoring of tree cover changes is important to understand how tree cover and various environmental benefits derived from the trees may be changing.

Fixing broken government — Philip K. Howard at the Long Now

Philip K. Howard has been active in public affairs his entire adult life and has advised national political leaders on legal and regulatory reform for fifteen years. Philip writes periodically for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times

Philip K. Howard gives his diagnosis and prescription for fixing government in the US at the Long Now.

People feel powerless in the face of government. The reason is simple: they are.

It isn’t just citizens. Govnt employees are equally shackled. We as a nation have become strangled in a dense and growing jungle of regulatory constraints.

The root is that we have changed the nature of law. Instead of laying down timeless general principles it now specifies exactly what actions are or are not allowed. Individual discretion has been removed from the system. Worse, the laws don’t sunset, they just continue to pile up on top of each other. Simple example: OSHA regs specify that a hammer used in a business must meet certain standards which may make sense for a construction site, but not for a guy in an office who puts up a picture once a year (and got fined for not having the right kind of hammer).

The solution is not the end of regulation. Regulation is needed to manage our increasingly complex society. Government is necessary to safeguard the common good, especially in an increasingly interdependent yet anonymous society.

The needed change is to once again allow human judgment to determine appropriate action.

The proposed change is threefold, which each change requiring the sacrifice of a sacred cow.

  1. Spring cleaning of the law, or at a minimum any law with budgetary implications. Force legislators to review all existing law, removing that which no longer makes sense, and revising that which does according to principles 2 and 3, below.
  2. Simplification. Law must be comprehensible to laypersons, not just specialists. The purpose of law is to set goals and objectives, not to specify exact procedures. For example, a workplace safety law could require just that equipment be appropriate to the job and in concordance with industry norms.
  3. Accountability. The counterpart to relying on human judgment is to make the person who makes the call accountable. If they consistently make bad judgment, they loose their job. If they make really bad judgments, they go to jail.

This is difficult. Special interests will fight to keep regulations complex and written as they are. Accountability requires trust, and neither political party is willing to extend this to the other.

But such changes have happened before. The progressive era saw the end of laizer faire capitalism as people realized that business left to itself quickly becomes exploitative (child labor, etc). The New Deal saw the creation of a safety net because our farmers were starving due to forces well outside of their control. The rights movement resulted in sweeping changes to society.

Normally these movements run for a long time, building up momentum, but with little “outward” signs of progress. Then, when they are ripe, they spring up “overnight” with incredible force. The change happens quickly.

He also notes that major legal reforms, such as he proposes, are universally followed by massive increases in economic growth.

One place to start would be reforming public schools. Give power to the principles and teachers to do what they think is best in a given situation.

Let’s get this country working again!

The US, my beloved country, has so much positive, so much to hope for, so much to give.

In a sense, I am glad we are loosing it now. Glad, because this can wake us up. It can remind us that greatness cannot be taken for granted, but must be continually earned. We need another FDR.

Elliot Gerson, The American Secretary for the Rhodes Trust


A summary of Elliot Gerson’s article in the Atlantic.

When Americans travel abroad, they are often surprised at how well other countries do the things we used to think America does best…

When it comes to student performance in mathematics, we are now 25th among the 34 advanced economies, and behind many developing countries as well. In college attendance, we are now 12th in college graduation rate. In health, we are 37th in infant mortality and equally low in life expectancy. In environmental performance, we are 61st. In the percentage of people below the poverty line, we are 21st. Even when it comes to the “pursuit of happiness,” enshrined in our Declaration of Independence as one of the noble goals of government, our citizens are only the 15th most satisfied with their lives.

According to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 17 percent of Americans believe our national government possesses the consent of the governed.

One of the strongest indications of American democratic dysfunction is pervasive and expanding poverty. It is not just its existence in the richest country on earth that is shameful, but its utter absence from political discourse… America is moving toward the kind of bifurcated society we used to deride in banana republics–rich getting richer in gated communities, while the poor grow poorer, barely seen in segregated urban ghettos and hidden rural decay.

Over 20 million Americans live in extreme poverty. One in 50 Americans’ only income is food stamps. Add the poor and the near-poor–that is under $44K for a family of four–and you have more than 100 million people.

Gardenbrain — @EricPLiu and @NickHanauer in the NYT

“WE are prisoners of the metaphors we use, even when they are wildly misleading.”


Nick Hanauer

An economy is not a machine; it is a garden. Fruitful if well tended, overrun by noxious weeds if not.

Markets are not perfectly efficient but can be effective if well managed. Where Machinebrain posits that it’s every man for himself, Gardenbrain recognizes that we’re all better off when we’re all better off.

The new analogy changes the way we see regulation, taxes, government spending, etc.

See also this interview at NCOC.

Mutual responsibility, a willingness to put to the long term over the short term, and an ethic of contribution before consumption: these are some of the foundational values of great citizenship.

And buy the book.

The Gardens of Democracy, now in print

FDR’s 1936 speech before the Democratic National Convention — definition of greatness

Here, my friends, are the thoughts of a great man.

That very word freedom, in itself and of necessity, suggests freedom from some restraining power. In 1776 we sought freedom from the tyranny of a political autocracy – from the eighteenth-century royalists who held special privileges from the crown. It was to perpetuate their privilege that they governed without the consent of the governed; that they denied the right of free assembly and free speech; that they restricted the worship of God; that they put the average man’s property and the average man’s life in pawn to the mercenaries of dynastic power; that they regimented the people.

And so it was to win freedom from the tyranny of political autocracy that the American Revolution was fought. That victory gave the business of governing into the hands of the average man, who won the right with his neighbors to make and order his own destiny through his own government. Political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

Since that struggle, however, man’s inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered the lives of our people. The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution – all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to remain free.

For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital – all undreamed of by the Fathers – the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.

There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small-businessmen and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.

The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor – these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family, the capital of the small-businessmen, the investments set aside for old age – other people’s money – these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in.

Source is here

The middle class homeless

Clipped from the Rolling Stone article http://www.rollingstone.com/entry/view/id/28768/

When floodwaters cover our homes, we expect that FEMA workers with emergency checks and blankets will find us. There is no moral or substantive difference between a hundred-year flood and the near-destruction of the global financial system by speculators immune from consequence. But if you and your spouse both lose your jobs and assets because of an unprecedented economic cataclysm having nothing to do with you, you quickly discover that your society expects you and your children to live malnourished on the streets indefinitely. That kind of truth, says Nancy Kapp, “really screws with people’s heads.”

America’s declining trust in institutions/ Chris Hayes why meritocracy is just a myth

From Joshua Holland’s alternet interview with Chris Hayes on his new book:

One of the toxic aspects of our politics is that the gap between the American Dream and the reality is something people feel viscerally.

Photo by the amazing Sarah Shatz

The data is really clear — when you look across the landscape, American trust in pillar institutions, like the financial sector, big business, media, science and academia, and even religion are at or near all-time lows.

They’re at all-time lows even compared to when this polling was initiated in the 1970s, in the wake of Watergate… The irony is that the polling was initiated in the 1970s, and what was then viewed as the nadir of public trust in institutions turns out to have been the high watermark…

The project of the book started with trying to get to the bottom of why this was the case… the argument in the book that I assert is if you take a step back and look at the record of the last 10 years in American life — what I call in the book the “fail decade” — it is a cascade of incompetence and corruption.

You start with the Bush v Gore decision where a slim majority on the court hands the election over to the favored candidate even though he doesn’t win the popular vote, and even though the legal logic is tortured. Then there’s the failure of the largest security apparatus in the history of human civilization, the American security state, when it couldn’t stop 19 men with box cutters. Then you go to Iraq and the fallout there. You go to the botched Katrina rescue. Then you go to a financial crisis. Running through there you have Enron, Major League Baseball’s steroids issue, the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. So there’s a long-winded answer to the question you set up, which is we are less trusting of our institutions because they appear less trustworthy. They’ve had a very poor record of institutional performance over the last decade.

The 2012 Connecticut Primary Project

The CPP website is an organizing link to bring the Conneticut legislature into line with the clear and obvious will of the people on the topic of marijuana legalization.

According to the most recent Gallup poll 50% of Americans now support the legalization of marijuana –nearly double the level of support from 2000. Moreover, support for legalization has risen among all major voting groups, with increasing numbers of Democrats, Republicans, independents, liberals, and conservatives now calling for an end to marijuana prohibition.

Since as far back as 2002, polls of Connecticut voters have shown support for medical marijuana in excess of 70%, yet to this day marijuana remains illegal in our state, even for the terminally ill. In 2011, despite majority support in every single voter group, Connecticut’s marijuana decriminalization bill was nearly blocked by the Senate.

Opponents of reform have not suffered any consequences for their votes.

Time to change that.

matial law in the US??

Prison Planet documents use of drones in US airspace

An Air Force memo authorizes the use of AF drones to spy on US citizens inside the US.

Found some hyperbole on Fox News. But how much is he exaggerating?

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/06/07/where-is-outrage/

The federal government is deploying military personnel inside the United States and publicly acknowledges that it is deploying them “to collect information about U.S. persons.”

If the military personnel see something of interest from a drone, they may apply to a military judge or “military commander” for permission to conduct a physical search of the private property that intrigues them. And, any “incidentally acquired information” can be retained or turned over to local law enforcement. What’s next? Prosecutions before military tribunals in the U.S.?

Remember when Terminator was considered science fiction? Now it seems like a how-to manual.