This blog gets an average of 468 unique readers per month, over 2734 total hits per month and up to now 32,809 total hits per year.
So RAD knows that the readership of this blog is not merely friends of RAD but a wide variety of folks including journalists, policy wonks and possibly even a state legislator or two.
In that regard, let me make some observations on the lessons we should have learned from the tragic events at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia this week.
The gist of these "lessons" is that if we all stand pat and do nothing - we can expect other horrific events like this and more pictures as the one of parents and their VT daughter (left).
Lesson One: Gun Control
The political pundits on NPR and PBS agree that despite the events of this week nothing significant will happen in regards to gun control.
If conventional wisdom is right then nothing constructive will come out of this tragedy and the "horror" will happen again.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has such a powerful grip on legislators that any attempt to reform gun laws at the federal or state level will be met by the power of the NRA and those millions of Americans who own guns.
In a nation awash in 240 million guns - that's a lot of political fire power (the dark pun is intended). A minority of gun owners trump the majority who want some form of gun control?
RAD has a rhetorical question for NRA members and the millions of virtual but non-dues paying members of the NRA. Who pulled the trigger in Blacksburg this week?
Answer - a very troubled college student with serious mental health issues, right? Wrong. He didn't do it alone! Others were complicit in this crime as his enablers.
One would have thought in light of the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK decades ago - strong gun control laws would be in place at the federal and state level.
Such laws should include a waiting period, criminal and mental health background checks and other controls on what weapons of mass destruction can be purchased in person or online.
Why shouldn't gun owners be required to take a test on the use of guns, something like a driving exam with periodic updates, just like we car and truck drivers must do?
But don't expect it to happen, the marketplace is too ubiquitous. If one googles 'guns' - you get 92,000,000 hits - many of them ads which help you purchase the weapon of your choice.
Now for those on the 'right' for whom the love of the 2nd amendment is close to the heart - your political heroes have also been victims of gun violence from Wallace to Ford to Reagan.
Gun violence doesn't respect ideology or party. So what's YOUR problem?
So you gun owners out there, NRA members or not, you also pulled the triggers of those guns used in this horrendous act by being enablers of mayhem and violence.
Spare me your misguided interpretations of the 2nd amendment. We do not live in colonial America on the edge of the frontier which required a citizen's "well regulated militia."
We have police and sheriff departments at the city and county level, state police at the state level and a national guard along with the FBI to protect us from the 'bad' guys.
You gun packing patriots out there are hiding behind an historically dated interpretation of the Constitution to justify your claim to the unfettered right to bear arms.
But you and RAD both know that with the power of the NRA and its virtual supporters, nothing will be done - despite the killing field of Virginia Tech.
Admit the obvious - YOU prefer your right to pack a gun over the right of your family to be protected from such heinous events.
Just for the record, gun violence is most likely to involve family and friends, not stranger to stranger violence. In that sense Blacksburg is an atypical example of gun violence.
Lesson Two: Politics
But wait a minute, we're in the front end of the '08 presidential campaign. Won't gun control be at the top of the issues list along with the other events involving weapons of mass destruction - the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan?
The answer from the informed DC pundit class is that none of the candidates on either side want to risk losing the voters in Middle America who apparently go to bed every night with their guns!
RAD lived in Minnesota for 5 years and saw the thousands of hunters in the Midwest on the interstate in the fall totting their deer trophies back from the kill in the woods.
The same goes for Pennsylvania where RAD lived for 5 years and of course my home state of Oregon, where hunting is a 'manly' blood sport too.
RAD gets it - you can't fight city hall - in this case the NRA and its allies and hope to win elections! So the need to 'win' trumps good public policy and the desire of 70% of Americans who support gun control.
So much for profiles in courage. But one hopes the media types will ask the question in the debates anyway to see who squirms the most - Hillary, Barack or John E; Rudy, Mitt or John M.
Lesson Three: Community Mental Health
The other issue which needs to be addressed is the lack of a community based mental health system which can identify troubled folks on campus and in communities and get them the help they need.
The promise of community mental health is a joke, a left over of the failed promises of the '60s which disappeared in the smoke and mirrors of the Vietnam War.
So the victims of Blacksburg were also the unintended consequence of failed public policy going back to another misguided American war and the billions spent abroad instead of at home. Sounds familiar.
In Blacksburg there were many missed opportunities to help the young man who committed these unspeakable crimes - but the system failed.
It's about time the psychiatric and legal community came to the fore and began educating the American public as to why troubled folks are allowed to slip through the cracks of our creaking criminal justice and mental health systems.
For example, why are county jails now the default system for housing street people, many of whom suffer from chronic mental illness, addictions and/or alcoholism?
Under current laws at the state and federal level - the privacy rights of the troubled person trumps getting them necessary help before they become a danger to themselves or the public.
We have the irony that the Bush administration can spy on millions of Americans in the name of national security, but parents and teachers can do little to intervene on the behalf those they know are at risk.
You want homeland security - start here not with spying on Americans by the NSA, FBI and CIA.
We have models of effective political movements where parents, teachers, lawyers and medical professionals have come together to craft laws which bring serious medical issues out of the closet and into the sunlight.
The best example is the movement that began in the 1960s to help those with disabilities be integrated into education's mainstream according to guidelines of "appropriate" instruction and IEPs.
We need a movement of this type if the tragic events of Blacksburg are not to be repeated? How many Blacksburgs, Columbines, Springfields do we need to get it?
But nothing will happen until the professionals get out of their offices and clinics and start going public in the media and before state and federal law makers? Such a discussion should begin in Virginia, but why not Oregon too?
Former Governor Barbara Roberts said it years ago - because of Measure 5's passage and the progressive disinvestment in human services - "people will die." Barbara was right, as Kip Kinkle proved and sadly Blacksburg proved this week.
How long must the learning curve be?
The right to privacy and personal freedom should not mean one has an unfettered right to abuse yourself and put at risk those around you. This debases the Founder's concept of freedom.
As a college professor RAD could the grades and transcripts of his advisees online, but as a professor-parent one has no access to such information of one's college aged children without their permission.
A parent is expected to help pay for college tuition - but the report card only goes to the son or daughter. This is absurd. But when it involves more weighty matters like at Blacksburg, it's morally obscene.
It's about time we put an end to this Kafkaesque legalistic mess. If we don't do it now - then expect more Columbines and more Blacksburgs...
Lesson Four: Now what are YOU going to do?
This blog gets an average of 468 unique readers per month, over 2734 total hits per month and up to now 32,809 total hits per year.
According to my Canadian Connection (WM) - a voracious reader (BA in English from Whitman) - sent me the following note from a book he's been reading - Killing Custer (1994) by a Native American author. Apparently the Indian Agent at Standing Rock, the reservation Sitting Bull was placed on when Sitting Bull returned to the US from Canada,
".. continually underestimated the power of tribalism, the fealty of families and bands and societies, although he [the Indian Agent] fought against it constantly." Apocryphal words of warning - from Little Big Horn to Baghdad. From one George to another George - be careful from whom you take advice.
One cannot listen to today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales without coming to the conclusion that he must resign. When Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) and Jeff Sessions (R, Alabama) sound incredulous about the attorney general's less than artful answers to their questions, you know the clock is running out on Gonzales.
Forget the "tough" questions from Senators Leahy, Specter et al. Who needs political enemies when you are that stupid? To borrow a phrase from Tricky Dick Nixon, Alberto Gonzales seems to be a "prat boy" for George W. Bush and Karl Rove. Gonzales is not alone - that bleating heart Senator Orin Hatch (R. Utah) who manages to consistently cry GOP crocodile tears in his whiney voice also seems to love the "step and fetch it" role too.
Editor's Note: Here's a longish article on the fault lines in globalization passed onto me via The Nation by my Canadian Connection (WM). It's by Pulitzer winning columnist William Greider, The Establishment Rethinks Globalization.
The basic theme of the article is that our global trading system has created serious imbalances between the US and its partners, especially in Asia, largely because, unlike Europe and Japan, the USA doesn't have a national industrial policy which looks to the long term effects of so-called "free trade."
In the so-called marketplace, as philosopher John Rawls has argued, the presumed veil of ignorance in liberal democratic/market based political economies is largely a myth, what Plato termed a noble lie. The players within this system are playing with a stacked deck which favors some and disfavors others.
To rebalance this deck of cards requires governmental intervention on the home front as well as changes in the laws abroad which increase the bargaining power of workers in places like China and India to raise their wages and improve their working conditions.
Along with this must also come environmental laws which address global warming and the asymmetry of industrial development which is pushing more and more workers off the land and into the cities, much as happened in the early decades of England as it industrialized in the 18th century.
"Free traders" from Bill "Slice Willie" Clinton to Newt "The Masher" Gingrich offered us a vision in the '90s of a global economic village which would raise all boats. Well this hasn't happened, Free trade in fact is sinking the life boats of the middle class and forcing the US working class into the ranks of the working poor.
For example, the same folks who are pro-free trade are the same ones support high stakes testing such as NCLB on the false premise that such an educational scheme will help train a workforce prepared for the rigors of the 21st century. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In an economy where Wal Mart is the largest retail corporation the lesson of free trade is lowered wages, non-union jobs and no health insurance. That's the brave new world of free trade in America. It's also a world that offers many a college grad a hourly wage of less than $14 dollars per hour - which will keep one from every owning a home.
In other words "free trade" isn't so free when one considers its social, economic and environmental costs at home and abroad. At home we lose jobs, in China they see lung choking pollution. As the environmentalists and economists used to note in the '70 - there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Free trade promises not the American Dream, but the American nightmare. And as the capitalist class, which has no national interests, roves the world looking for cheap labor markets workers in the developed economies will be sacrificed on the alter of globalism. So what's happening in the USA will eventually happen in Japan and Europe!
The church of global free trade, which rules American politics with infallible pretensions, may have finally met its Martin Luther. An unlikely dissenter has come forward with a revised understanding of globalization that argues for thorough reformation. This man knows the global trading system from the inside because he is a respected veteran of multinational business. His ideas contain an explosive message: that what established authorities teach Americans about global trade is simply wrong--disastrously wrong for the United States.
The experience still haunts him. He decided, in retirement, that he would dig deeper into the contradictions. Now president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, he knew something was missing in the "pure trade theory" taught by economists. If free trade is a win-win proposition, Gomory asked himself, then why did America keep losing?
He did not nail his "theses" to the door of the Harvard economics department. Instead, he wrote a slender book--Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests--in collaboration with respected economist William Baumol, former president of the American Economic Association. Published seven years ago, the book languished in academic obscurity and until recently was ignored by Washington policy circles.
Now Gomory is attempting to re-educate the politicians in Congress. He has gained greater visibility lately because he has been joined by a group of similarly concerned corporate executives called the Horizon Project. Its leader, Leo Hindery, former CEO of the largest US cable company and a player in Democratic politics, shares Gomory's foreboding about the destructive impact of globalization on American prosperity. Huge losses are ahead--10 million jobs or more--and Hindery fears time is running out on reform.
Gomory's critique has great political potential because it provides what the opponents of corporate-led globalization have generally lacked: a comprehensive intellectual platform for arguing that the US approach to globalization must be transformed to defend the national interest. Still, it will take politicians of courage to embrace his ideas and act on them. Gomory's political solutions are as heretical as his economic analysis.
"It was an unforgettable transformation," Gomory remembers. "And it was pretty frightening.
China and India, he observes, are now doing this on a large scale. Microsoft and Google opened rival research centers in Beijing. Intel announced a new, $2.5 billion semiconductor plant that will make it one of China's largest foreign investors. China's industrial transformation is no longer about making shirts and shoes, as some free-trade cheerleaders still seem to believe. It is about capturing the most advanced processes and products.
The Gomory-Baumol book describes this as "a divergence of interests" between multinational firms and their home country. "This overseas investment decision may then prove to be very good for that multinational firm," they write. "But there remains the question: Is the decision good for its own country?" In many cases, yes. If the firm is locating low-skilled industrial production in a very poor country, Americans get cheaper goods, trade expands for both sides and the result is "mutual gain."
But the trading partners enter a "zone of conflict" if the poor nation develops greater capabilities and assumes the production of more advanced goods. Then, the authors explain, "the newly developing partner becomes harmful to the more industrialized country." The firm's self-interested success "can constitute an actual loss of national income for the company's home country."
The Gomory-Baumol book explains the dynamics with charts and equations for economists to study. For the rest of us, it is easier to follow Gomory's personal explanation of changing fortunes among trading nations. "What made America much wealthier than the Asian nations in the first place?" Gomory asks. "We invested alongside our workers. Our workers dug ditches with backhoes. The workers in underdeveloped countries dug ditches with shovels. We had great big plants with a few people in them, which is the same thing. We knew how, through technology and investment, to make our workers highly productive. It wasn't that they went to better schools, then or now, and I don't know how much schooling it takes to run a backhoe.
As this shift of productive assets progresses, the downward pressure on US wages will thus continue and intensify. Free-trade believers insist US workers can defend themselves by getting better educated, but Gomory suggests these believers simply don't understand the economics. "Better education can only help," he explains. "The question is where do you put your technology and knowledge and investment? These other countries understand that. They have understood the following divergence: What countries want and what companies want are different."
I ask Gomory what he would say to those who believe this is a just outcome: Americans become less rich, others in the world become less poor. That might be "a reasonable personal choice," he agrees. "But that isn't what the people in this country are being told. No one has said to us: 'You're probably a little too rich and these other folks are a little too poor. Why don't we even it out?' Instead, what we usually hear is: 'It's going to be good for everyone. In the long run we're going to get richer with globalization.'"
"Our objective," Baumol told a policy conference last summer, "is to show how outsourcing can indeed reduce the share of benefits of trade, not only for those who lose their jobs and suffer a direct reduction in wages but can wind up making the average American worse off than he or she would have been."
Some nations, in other words, do indeed become "losers." Gomory fears the United States is now one of them--starting to go downhill. When he and Baumol wrote their book, they figured US trade relations with China and India produced "mutual gain" for both ends. The United States got cheaper goods, China and India got jobs and a start at industrialization. But the rapid improvements in those two nations during the past decade, Gomory thinks, are putting the United States in the bind where their gain becomes our loss.
The persistent offshoring of domestic production is leading to a perverse consequence: The United States finds itself paying more for imports. The production that originally moved offshore to get low-wage labor and cheaper goods is now claiming a larger and larger share of national income, as the growing trade deficits literally subtract from US domestic growth. "All the stuff you were already importing from them becomes more expensive," Gomory explains. "That's why you can start going downhill--because you pay more for what you were previously getting." Put another way, one hour of US work no longer buys as many hours of Chinese work as it once did. China can suppress its domestic wages to keep selling more of its stuff, but that does not alter the fundamental imbalance in productive strength.
Americans can choose to blame China or disloyal multinationals, but the problem is grounded in US politics. The solution can be found only in Washington. China and other developing nations are pursuing national self-interest and doing what the system allows. In a way, so are the US multinationals. "I want to stress it's a system problem," Gomory says. "The directors are doing the job they're sworn to do. It's a system that says the companies have to have a sole focus on maximizing profit."
Second, government must impose national policy direction on the behavior of US multinationals, directly influencing their investment decisions. Gomory thinks this can be done most effectively through the tax code. A reformed corporate income tax would penalize those firms that keep moving high-wage jobs and value-added production offshore while rewarding those that are investing in redeveloping the home country's economy.
Neither of Gomory's fundamental policy reforms--balancing trade or imposing discipline on US multinationals--can work without the other. Both have to be done more or less at once. If the government taxed US multinational behavior without also capping imports, the firms would just head out the door. "That won't work," Gomory explains, "because you will say to the companies, 'This is how we're going to measure you.' And the corporations will say, 'Oh, no, you're not. I'm going overseas. I'm going to make my product over there and I'll send it back into the United States.'
But if you insist on balanced trade, then the amount that's shipped in has to equal the amount that's shipped out by companies. If no companies do that, then nothing can be shipped in either. If you balance trade, you are going to develop internal companies that work the way you want." Public investment in new technologies and industries, I would add, may not achieve much either, if there is no guarantee that! the companies will locate their new production in the United States.
In recent months Gomory and Leo Hindery of the Horizon Project have been calling on Congress with these big ideas and getting respectful audiences. The two met with some thirty Democratic senators and Congressional staffers from both parties. Senator Byron Dorgan, with co-sponsors like Sherrod Brown, Russell Feingold and even Hillary Clinton, has introduced several bills to confront the trade deficits.
Hindery's group is advocating Congressional action to arrange a "national summit" on trade, where all these questions can be thrashed out. The political system has never really had an honest, open debate on globalization in the past thirty years. The dogmatic church of free trade--"free trade good, no trade bad"--wouldn't allow it. As more politicians grasp the meaning of Gomory's analysis, they should start demanding equal time for the heretics.
"So in my utopian dream, we decide what we want from the corporations and that's how they make a profit--by doing those things. Failing that, I would settle for the general realization of this divergence and let people argue it out."
By Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist, Congress should return public records to the public
Imagine for a moment that President Hillary Clinton's first act upon taking office is an executive order giving her husband, the former president, unlimited power to keep records of his presidency secret for an indeterminate length of time.
Hold the phones! Alert the right-wing blogosphere! Holy Rush O'Reilly! Abuse of power!
But wait, wait, it has already been done — in 2001 by President George W. Bush!
Not only did he give his dad, the former president, the power to withhold his presidential records, he expanded the power to former vice presidents, of which dad was also one. So Prez Hillary need not act to protect Bubba's secrets — Dubya has already done the job.
Which provides reasons why Congress would do the American public, and historians, journalists and researchers in particular, a big favor by passing legislation that returns public records to the public. Congress is looking for almost anything that can get past Republican roadblocks in the Senate and a Bush veto, and this could be the vehicle.
A measure repealing the Bush order passed the House 333-93, and appears to have strong bipartisan (veto-proof?) support in the Senate.
Few administrations have been as secretive and hostile to public access to public documents as the Bush administration. Although the White House has no compunction to leaking top-secret information when it fits its agenda (viz. Scooter Libby and Karl Rove), it has consistently withheld information previously open to the public.
Bush's 2001 order (EO 13233) is described by the American Historical Association (AHA) as "(giving) not only current and former presidents, but also vice presidents and a former president's family and other designees the authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely."
This would protect not only President George H.W. Bush but also his key staffers, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney, upon becoming a former veep, could extend the ban to his papers in the second Bush administration. Based on Cheney's approach to secrecy thus far, you can bet historians will wait a long time to learn the membership of his energy task force.
History is important, and it is written in stages. Today, we can start with Web logging — blogs — which are instantaneous, often based on rumor; a second stage is newspapers and broadcast, "the first draft of history"; followed by long magazine pieces and books written by journalists without access to archives; and finally, books by historians poring through mountains of archival files, tapes, notes. We need all these steps.
I was reminded of how capricious it is to allow public officials to dictate their own rules, as I read Haynes Johnson's new biography of Sen. Joe McCarthy, "The Age of Anxiety."
Fifty years after McCarthy's death, many records of his senatorial inquisitions have finally been declassified. Yet, many of the most valuable records, covering his Senate office and financial and legal records, are under lock and key until the death of his daughter — who was an infant when McCarthy died. Now about 50, she refuses access to the papers. The House bill will deal only with presidential records, however.
Approval of the House-passed bill would revert to the practice before Bush's 2001 order. Former presidents would have 12 years to complete turnover of records, with procedures to protect sensitive national-security records.
Also part of the House legislative package is a second bill described by the AHA as "(reaffirming) the presumption that records should be released to the public if disclosure is allowable under the law and the agency cannot reasonably foresee harm from such a disclosure."
Since the Nixon era, rules for disclosing federal information have been designed to benefit the public. In 2001, the Bush Justice Department reversed the priority, making it much easier to deny access; some agencies have stalled requests for years.
"Instead of viewing the public as the customer or as part of the team," Meredith Fuchs of the nongovernmental National Security Archives told Congress, "the handling of Freedom of Information programs at some agencies suggests that the public is considered the enemy and any effort to obstruct or interfere with the meddlesome public will be tolerated."
The House, by a 308-117 margin, passed a bill reverting to pre-2001 policies.
Senators have before them both House-passed bills, plus one forcing disclosure of donations to presidential libraries, and the entire package will force the president to defend some very bad policy and possibly lose a veto override in Congress.
Historians and the public in general will benefit from a more open presidency, whether the president is in office or retirement.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages.
Editor's Note: FM is right on here and good for the Democratic House. Let's hope the Senate matches them in voting to free such papers on a timely basis. But denizens of the DC beltway know the city runs by "leaks" and "you said, he said" stories. It took the illegal release of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg to the NYTimes to get the truth out about the war in Vietnam. Then it took "Woodstein" at the Washington Post with the help of Deep Throat to uncover Watergate. Where is the Ellsberg or Deep Throat of this generation? Inquiring minds need to know!