Sunday, September 26, 2010

NBC News' Education Nation Conversation


Drop standardized tests as the fundamental benchmark of teaching/teacher effectiveness - for many of the reasons commonly given, PLUS, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, because of the fact that they capture FAR TOO LITTLE of what learning actually does occur in and by students and, therefore, FAR TOO LITTLE of what must be known and considered.

Remember this symbol: "L-". It tells what we need to keep in mind and to follow and faithfully adhere to - if we are to reach right conclusions about teacher quality and reward. (And, by the way, remember that teachers are NOT motivated by money.)
"L-" means "longitudinal" and "-" means "subtract". If we're really serious, we must measure ALL the learning that occurs and then subtract Point A in time from a later Point B in time. This difference - considering ALL things taught and learned - should then be compared and analyzed to reveal the best vs. worst results year-over-year, year-after-year. This should be (and can be) done over the long haul and on a "ceteris paribus", i.e., "all-things-considered", basis. All that, plus, of course, teacher self-evaluations and competent on-the-scene managerial observation and reviews by Principals, are pertinent as well. (I close below with an observation - often unstated - that relates here, too.)


Use researchers and teachers' assistants - not the teachers to record and keep track of ALL the learnings (qualitative and quantitative) that occur. This is far more inclusive than "standards" now focused on too exclusively. Besides, doing this well will bring along performance against "standards" even more strongly. (NOTE: This is a call for FAR more clerical support. Teachers' time as teachers is way too valuable to waste on such data-intensive record-keeping.)

Simply stated, the focus of measurement must be on PROGRESS made per student, not on LEVEL. Class levels (say, 3rd grade) tests done regularly by standards-based systems are - by definition - measuring the status, i.e., the LEVEL, of DIFFERENT student bodies each year. That makes the comparisons and the conclusions commonly reached and publicly reported - as an indicator of teacher quality - deeply flawed - I mean seriously, inherently and incurably flawed. Data (qualitative AND quantitative) must be recorded, reported and tracked BY student to reach any valid conclusions on teacher effectiveness. That's "longitudinal" and it's indispensable - and it's broader based than merely relying on numerical test scores (standardized or otherwise).

A related but often unspoken observation: Principals are in the indisputably BEST position to evaluate teachers, so are they failing in that responsibility? By virtue of this TV program being on the air, the answer must be: "Apparently so." So, why is that? To what degree, then, and in what ways, are bad principals the underlying - if unspoken - problem? What to do about that?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

It Doesn't Matter if a Politician or Officeholder is a "Liar"

What's the worst thing anyone can say about a politician or public official?  It's not that he/she is a fraud, a crook, or, the most toxic: a liar. In fact, these are almost totally useless, to the point that, when I hear them, I'm tempted to say: "Who cares?"

The trouble with these appellations is that they go to motivations, a real danger zone for public debate. And they commit the "argumentum ad hominem" fallacy, opening the unwary accuser to easy counter-point. They also continue the diversion from the issue at hand.

But shouldn't we be concerned about a public figure's veracity and trustworthiness? Sure, but instead of making personal accusations, prove him/her wrong - enough times on enough issues, especially those of public focus and concern - and you've effectively disabled that person as a persuasive voice.

Well then, what IS the very worst thing we can say about a politician or officeholder? Simply this: "You are wrong."

Demonstrate error - either of fact or in reasoning process - and you've done far more to extinguish a pol's statements than any amount of accusation can do. Nor are the two methods needed in conjunction - the bad one detracts from the good one. Focus on the good one and leave it at that.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

How to Thrive as a School Principal

OK, if you're an elementary school principal, or teacher, in Chicago (perhaps anywhere in Illinois, for that matter), not to worry about job security, because here's how it really works :
  1. Set yourself up at a public school in a neighborhood that's going through gentrification.
  2. Make sure a stream of "yuppies" and other trendy young parents - with their well-equipped children ("well equipped" in terms of learning aids, encouragement and constant stimulation at home) is coming into the neighborhood gradually, but steadily year over year - gentrification, turned loose.
  3. Before the above pattern sets in, be sure to get your existing student body (the lower it's performance, the better) fully tested according to the current state procedures, to establish a vital (and easy-to-beat) baseline LEVEL of your student body. (LEVEL refers to this key statistic: % of students scoring at or above the age-based state standard.)
  4. Let just enough children from these new trendy families into your school each year, as you cleverly and oh, so coincidentally, "encourage" an outward trickle of existing students - being certain that these include a few of your lowest-scoring students (not too many, just a few, here and there, gradually over time). But be clear on this - these outward-bound students are NOT your worst students, these are simply the ones at the lowest LEVEL, just as the newer inbound students you bring in are at higher LEVELS.)
Then, Presto, you can come in to the "office" at 10:05 every morning and leave at 2:35 if you want - and never sweat losing your school or your job.  You can go ahead and run your school as your own little patronage fiefdom (as some Chicago principals do) - it won't matter.  Go ahead, fill your faculty with your friends and enforce personal loyalty above all else.  Not to worry, with this plan in place, nothing can stop you.  Your school's performance on Illinois' standardized test scores will naturally - and virtually automatically - grow each year, with absolutely no regard to what your teachers are doing and what you do.

Why, with any luck, you'll receive accolades and be heralded as the new model of a great principal.  But even failing that, minimally, you'll not need to worry about being on the next school closing list. You'll have smooth sailing as you sit back and watch your LEVEL-based (not PROGRESS- or GROWTH-based) standardized scores grow steadily year over year and year after year, leading you to easy stardom.  Enjoy the ride!
Dear reader, if you don't think this is happening, have a look at the headlines about CPS (Chicago Public Schools) these days.  But if you want to know how to beat this "game", write back to me here - but I won't promise you that there's no math involved; there is, along with one big word you must learn.  Hope to hear from you.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Time for a Simple, Structural Reform of our Presidential Elections

No real change can be expected in our national election procedures until we address a structural fact of life - this is a confederation of 50 states, it is not a centrally-powerful unified nation. Our elections - even our election for the only two positions with national domain - President and Vice President of the US - are managed under the power and domain of local governments at the county, city and even precinct levels. Jimmy Carter would be - in fact, he is - aghast.
 
The only solution that will really matter is a structural one - to decree that the election for President/Vice President be held on a separate day during which no other election or voting event can occur. That way, it can be run in a unified way under one set of rules and accountable to one authority, ideally a non-partisan authority with real power and independence.
 
In one fell swoop, the silliness would end. Because the rules would be consistent across the country - same hours of voting and the same voting method, etc., no local or state officials would be able to jimmy or hijack the results by monkeying with the rules. No funny stuff like butterfly ballots in some precincts or battles over a voter's polling place. Just a simple, clean result. We need only a procedure to prevent any person from voting twice and it's done.
 
IMAGINE - no locally-derived rules and widely varying procedures for how we elect our President and Vice President of the United States. No more coat tails either - just a clear, simple up and down vote for the biggest offices in the land.
 
Are you with me? 
Remember, when the problem is structural, only a structural solution will work. So, let's start a movement to hold these races - our only nation wide elections where we all participate together - on its own day: a National President's Election Day. 
 

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Solving the 50 State Bottleneck

Earlier I wrote about the impossible bottle neck of 50 states in the US funneling down to one federal level government organ and the awful inefficiencies that that alone may have created.
 
Given some assent on that point, here's the solution: Require each state to form an alliance with one or more neighboring states over some fixed time period by forming a governing entity/mechanism that will have and execute domain over these matters:
- transportation
- natural resources (water, minerals, land, etc.)
- environmental matters
- what else?
 
As a result, with respect to these matters - which do not observe political borders between states - we will get these important benefits
-- more comprehensive decision-making
-- better, more comprehensive planning
-- more competent management due to project and program coordination on a more complete scale
-- more efficient execution due to slimmer overhead in relation to # of projects and people "on the ground"
 
Conditions:
Must Be Revenue Neutral - reallocate revenues and tax sourcing, no net increase allowed
Must Be Bureaucracy Neutral - reallocate employee head count, no net increase allowed 
 
NOTE: Somehow, and if possible, this would need to be done within the framework of the Constitution so someone needs to consult constitutional lawyers for the attendant rat's nest of issues and complications. Hey, all I ask is that this is a theoretically good and sound idea. As to practical doability, I know: "Forget it."  But I'll never let that stop me.
 

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day Remembrance for One of My Senators

Dear Senator Durbin:

 

You failed us. You and former Senator Graham of Florida, and others on the Intelligence Committees in Congress, of both parties, failed us miserably.

 

I suppose that, as elected officials, you are not free to "resign in protest" when something egregiously wrong is done by our government - you wanted to serve and you were elected to do so. So, what you are left with is civil disobedience, which carries with it an implicit willingness to accept and endure any legal consequences of honor-bound actions.

 

Yes, I know, you and Senator Graham tried to sneak the truth out years ago before and during the stupidity that is Bush's war in Iraq - but you were way too coy and subtle. It was a time for clear talk, not secret codes whispered in the dark, or mumbled under your breath.

 

So, instead of telling us what we needed to know, you let many of our young sons and daughters die and tens of thousands more become demented, demoralized or dismembered, rather than sacrifice your job, your electability or your freedom. Heck, I've walked away from well-paying jobs for far less reason than you had.

 

As a result, you (and I mean "you" in the plural form, i.e., for you and all the others who failed us) are not in jail because you did not spill what you knew when you should have, when it would have mattered. (Oh, for a Martin Luther King, a Nelson Mandella, when we need one.) So, on your hands, too, there is the blood of many Americans, not to mention Iraqis and others now dead and dying.

 

Oh, and one more thing, PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND to this message - I have little interest in hearing from a staff member of yours, nor is there, now, any point in us hearing you. Unless you can turn back the clock and calendar, there is no longer any reason for us, the people, to hear much at all from you (in the plural sense).

 

 

Monday, April 23, 2007

USA Ranks Below World's Leaders for Having a Clean Public Sector

More on Where US Ranks Worldwide
 
From an article in The Christian Science Monitor (4/23/07) citing this source, Transparency International/RICH CLABAUGH – STAFF, comes the news that our country ranks only 20th in a list of nations for transparency against corruption in its public sector. My question is: "Where are we headed and how fast are we getting there?"
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Will - And The Money - Of The People: A New Idea That Has NO CHANCE!

Here's a quick and simple campaign finance reform - Require that any contributions to a candidate MUST designate THAT CANDIDATE and THAT ONE CAMPAIGN as the ONLY permissible beneficiary of that money. The donor would indicate on, and at the donation, for whom it was intended and for which one campaign it is to be used.
 
Candidates could raise as much as they want in this manner, without limit, but any excess funds (after all expenses and debts are extinguished) could NOT be used in any other campaign, even a later one by the same candidate. Maybe, by rule, any excess that did remain would need to be donated within a specific time period, e.g., 3-4 months after the campaign ends, to some well known charitable concern(s), perhaps from an approved list.
 
This would prevent the most popular (or controversial) candidates amassing huge war chests and then acting as sugar-daddies to other candidates in their party, or perhaps using the funds themselves to finance an early start on their next campaign, e.g., a run at their party's Presidential nomination. In fact, it would eliminate the rationale for raising excessive funds in the first place, certainly something "devoutly to be wished".
 
Because donors would not see their $$ used at a different time and place - to say nothing of it being used for a different politician - than they'd originally intended, this reform would reflect the "will of the people" much better. And think of the many positive ripple effects. First of all, in some races, probably much less fund raising would be needed because so much less could be used. Second, what would occur would be distributed much more broadly, i.e., far less concentrated in terms of who controls that money. And, it would be much more targeted based on the "will of the people", or at least on the will of the donors. Of course, funds donated to a political party could not be limited as to the candidate who benefits, but at least the campaign season could be limited to the current one, so there'd be no carry-overs allowed into a later years' campaign.
 
In as much as money is free speech, as the Supreme Court has told us, this form of free speech would suddenly be a far more accurate reflection of the public will. But, alas, many ideas (at least, many of mine) are both good and, realistically speaking, thoroughly hopeless of enactment. This is just one more.
 
 

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mark Foley, Congressional Pages and Revisiting a Silly NonIssue

Some months ago I wrote about a silly non-issue - the fact that our Senators and Congressmen sometimes miss recording their votes on issues because they're not physically present on Capitol Hill. I raised the point that, in the year 2006, that's about the silliest thing there is.
 
Give me a break - if you need to vote but are not there at the moment, just fax it in, e-mail it, Blackberry it, for God's sake, "beam it up" to the Hill. Heck, if I can pay my bills every month via the Internet - and not end up in debtor's prison - surely Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or another of our super rich wizz kids, or their progeny, can figure out a simple, modern way that our august legislators can transmit their Yeas and Nays electronically, from anywhere on earth, without fraud or failure, to the hallowed halls of Congress. Missing votes because of absence is truly a phony issue and avoiding a vote by conveniently being out of town is nothing more than a fake maneuver!
 
But now, because of the Mark Foley scandal, are you telling me we have Capitol Hill Pages who still act as messengers and couriers doing errands and physically running messages throughout the building? No wonder one of our Representatives, Illinois' Ray LaHood, has raised the idea of suspending the Page Program to re-evaluate whether it is anachronistic and way out of date in 2006 and, if it's still needed, whether it should be modified in some way to be more contemporary.
 
Makes sense to me. For sending information back and forth, what's the matter with the telephone, the fax machine or e-mail, to say nothing of IM - Instant Messaging? They're all faster and e-mail is a precisely documented and confirmable way for our senators/representatives to communicate with each other. Online conversations are captured exactly as written with an exact time/date stamp.
 
So, maybe LaHood is right, and if we do automate their communications to the 21st century, then we could finally put a welcome end to the nonsense defense they like to throw up at us when they happen to be (ever so strategically) absent from the floor of the House or Senate at crucial moments for key votes.
 
 

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Iraq is Bush's Personal War, No One Else's

One misconception about our miserably-managed Iraq War is the notion that this war is identified with, and somehow "owned" by, the Republicans more than it is by Democrats. Yes it certainly appears that way, and is treated as such, by common observers and commentators. But the truth is that it's neither party's war, nor in any real sense is it America's war. The Afghanistan war, yes it was; the Iraq war, no.
 
I contend that no other even remotely electable Republican on the national stage, both then and now, if put in President Bush's position back in 2002/2003 would have made the decision he made to attack Iraq. Think about it - all things considered, who else would have said "Go"?
 
- Not Geo. Bush senior - we know that pretty much for a fact, due to how he pulled out of Iraq in his time. And I think we can all agree, nor would his sidekick, Dan Quayle (woefully unfit as he was for the "heartbeat" post of VP), have invaded Iraq, for lack of the requisite fortitude, if nothing else.
 
- Not Senator McCain, no matter how fiercely hawkish he sounds now. Indeed, his natural hawkishness, and first-hand knowledge of real war, would have stood him in good stead re: Afghanistan. From that worthy effort, he never would have "cut and run" as Bush did the first chance he got, to take up our now purposeless, and seemingly endless, venture in Iraq.
 
- Not former Senator Graham of Texas, being such an advocate of limited governmental powers, not Chuck Hagel, Orin Hatch, Arlen Specter nor Richard Lugar, not Colin Powell and not Condi Rice, nor would any other Republican national leader you can name (not even Jeb Bush) have gone forward into Iraq militarily. (OK, Cheney I'm not sure about, but I said "electable" national figure. On his own, Cheney would have lost severely and been seen as a national joke in the process.) Of course, it goes without saying, that no Democrat would have.
 
Nope, I contend that, due to two intensely personal reasons, George Bush junior was uniquely vulnerable to the neocon's campaign to attack Iraq:
1)  Junior's well-documented and long-standing troubled relationship with his father
2)  Saddam Hussein's unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the elder Bush
 
These factors were not solely responsible for George's jr's fateful decision, but they were the difference makers, they pushed him over the fence. Absent these factors, as would be the case for anyone else on earth, whether a Republican, Democrat, Independent or none of the above, we would never have engaged in the Iraq war.
 
Without resorting to complicated psycho-babble, suffice it to say that, on balance and in the end, our President took us to war for his own personal reasons. How does that grab you?
 
This is even worse than many other politicians' wars we've been sucked into in the name of patriotism (that "last refuge" of scoundrels). This conflagration, I contend, is, on balance, one-man's war, almost a personal vendetta, foisted upon as a by-product of the adversarial political machinery of government we live under.
 
If my hypothesis is correct (now that's a book project someone should take on), then Iraq is truly NOT the Republicans' war any more than anyone else's war, but the Grand Old Party continues to harpoon itself as long as it makes lame excuses for the war. History will take Bush down for this, but the GOP is taking such a selfish and short term focus that it's apparently more than willing to go down the historical tubes with him.
 

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bill Schneider Falls into All-Too-Popular Habit of Mindless Commentary

Did you see where the pollster, Bill Schneider, who generally does such a good job bringing, and interpreting for us, the latest poll data, committed that same conventional wisdom faux pas over the weekend when he closed his oral report by saying (I paraphrase slightly): "...but no one has offered a plan for Iraq." 
 
This is lazy commentating that just grabs hold of some convenient (but woefully wrong) conventional wisdom instead of doing some homework to get it right. As most of us know, that statement is simply flat wrong on its face, since there are many examples of politicians, experts and commentators who have done just that - think Brzezinski, Senators Murtha, Kerry,  and I bet Sen. Hagel, Rep. Slaughter, etc. But most ironic of all is the fact that on that very day I happened upon a current (March 2006) edition of Reader's Digest and guess what the cover story was about?
 
It featured interviews with Senators Biden and McCain in which each gave his recipe for what to do next in Iraq. Like their plans or hate them, there they are in print, for all to see across the USA. What is Reader's Digests circulation these days?
 
As the late Senator Moynihan famously reminded us:  we're entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. So, old Bill, I think you need to stick to your polling facts, where you have the hard numbers right in front of you.
 
I am fighting this little item because it contributes to public cynicism, which might be OK if and when it's based on truth, but in this instance it is clearly not. Besides, I'm just damn sick and tired of commentators who take the easy way out by falling back on old, standby slogans instead of doing some original work on an issue, not to mention giving it some original thought.
 
 

Friday, March 10, 2006

Health Care and Private Enterprise

Have you ever donated money to the effort to boost research on household refrigerators? How about donating to the cause of developing new products in the frozen food category? ...or for the building trades, for better wheelbarrows, roller coasters or bicycles?
 
If you're saying "That would be silly!", I ask you if you'd also say it's silly to donate to the Heart Association, to Cancer research, for epilepsy, diabetes, lung or breast cancer, AIDs, leukemia, muscular distrophy, etc., etc.?
 
What's the difference between these two groups of "causes"?
Why don't we give to the first, but we consider, and many of us actually do, donate to the latter, sometimes rather generously?
 
I submit it's because the former is not perceived to need extra money, while every one of the causes in the latter group is believed in need, often sorely so. Also, because many of us are touched in our personal lives by real cases, many very sad and tragic indeed. We perceive that causes like those in the second group don't get enough $$ otherwise, so more voluntary giving is needed, which we widely applaud.
 
But wait, if you think that USA health care should be (and should remain) a private enterprise matter, not a publicly funded endeavor, what gives with all these medical "causes" knocking on my door all the time asking for money??
 
Why don't they have enough through our private enterprise health care system -- we don't see the refrigerator makers asking us for donations, do we?
 
Try to explain this glaring inconsistency to me, please!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Downing Street Memo Won't Die on the Vine - Will It?

David Spero said it exactly right in The Desert Sun today:

According to the memo, Bush created an elaborate plot to invade Iraq as early as 2002. Therefore, all that talk about aluminum tubes, portable biological labs and weapons of mass destruction was nothing more than verbal theatrics. Bush's endlessly reiterated phrase that war was to be used 'only as a last resort' was deceptive, as were the threats to Saddam to 'turn over' weapons of mass destruction. Feeding concocted 'evidence' to an angry, gullible America, Bush utilized the unstable political climate after Sept. 11 to drive America into war.

...This massive scandal will not go away. The president's apparently soiled hands are dyed with the blood of more than 1,700 American soldiers and 100,000 Iraqi citizens. The potential crimes of George Bush reduce Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton's misdeeds into subjects for a comedy act.

But this is no time for laughter.

America's credibility, its conscience and soul, stand at a crossroad. George Bush should be thoroughly investigated by a congressional committee or independent counsel. And, if these allegations hold true, Bush should be impeached and then imprisoned for war crimes against humanity.
This Downing Street Memo, and other revelations, should gives us pause as we reflect on the meaning of our duty to our country. This war in Iraq is taking patriotism too far by deliberately abusing and exploiting it mercilessly.

We the people need not feel responsible for some weakling President (elected or not) who can't control his emotions. He has let his obviously troubled relationship with his father cause him to blindly and willfully take us to war. Knowing he could bring enough of the gullible, the fearful and the weak along with him (and knowing HOW to do that), he engaged in a thoroughly deceitful campaign that succeeded just enough to ensure us falling into this "no-win" situation in which we now find ourselves. Make no mistake, he waged this foolish war more for reasons of his own personal failings as much as any issues of national security or global significance.

Those of our leaders who participated in and supported this campaign, and those who continue to support them, are the villains here. So now we have ourselves in another quagmire, just as we've known them in the past. Don't be surprised when, soon, we start seeing pictures of Iraq in the dictionary entry for 'quagmire', right along side the aging, dusty images of Vietnam that have lived in that entry these many years.

The headline above links you to Spero's article in The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, CA.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

How Does the USA Stack Up Worldwide?

In no particular order, here are some interesting data on how the US stacks up vs. other countries on basic measures of economics, education, health care, poverty and one measure each of press freedom and popular entertainment. Sources are given to enable you to judge veracity and check data for yourself. I identified the first 10 in March, 2005, then added two Updates, in June 2005, as #11, 12.

1) Nordic Countries Lead the Way in the World Economic Forum's 2004 Competitiveness Rankings -- 13 October 2004 - Geneva Switzerland (www.weforum.org)

"Finland remains the most competitive economy in the world and tops the rankings for the second consecutive year in The Global Competitiveness Report 2004-2005, released today by the World Economic Forum. The United States is in second position, followed by Sweden, Taiwan, Denmark and Norway, consecutively." Half of the top 10 are Nordic countries: Finland (1), Sweden (3), Denmark (5), Norway (6) and Iceland (10). The rankings are drawn from the results of the Executive Opinion Survey, a comprehensive survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, which this year polled over 8,700 business leaders in 104 economies worldwide."

2) In 2004, the USA ranked #1 by far in GNP with $10.98 trillion and China was #2 at $6.449 trillion, followed by Japan ($3.567) and India ($3.022). But the USA was #2 that year in GDP Per Capita, with $37,800, far behind Luxembourg's $55,100. Following closely behind the USA in GNP/capita were Norway: $37,700, Bermuda: $36,000, Cayman Islands: $35,000, San Marino: $34,600, Switzerland: $32,800, Denmark: $31,200, Iceland: $30,900 and, rounding out the top ten, was Austria at $30,000." Source: 2004 CIA World Factbook

3) "China is today the world's sixth most productive economy (the USA and Japan being first and second) and our third largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico. According to CIA statisticians in their Factbook 2003, China is actually already the second-largest economy on Earth measured on a purchasing power parity basis - that is, in terms of what China actually produces rather than prices and exchange rates. The CIA calculates the United States' gross domestic product (GDP) - the total value of all goods and services produced within a country - for 2003 as $10.4 trillion and China's $5.7 trillion. This gives China's 1.3 billion people a per capita GDP of $5,000."

"The case National Intelligence Council forecasts that China's GDP will equal Britain's in 2005, Germany's in 2009, Japanese in 2017, and the U.S.'s in 2042. But Shahid Javed Burki, former vice president of the World Bank's China Department and a former finance minister of Pakistan, predicts that by 2025 China will probably have a GDP of $25 trillion in terms of purchasing power parity and will have become the world's largest economy followed by the United States at $20 trillion and India at about $13 trillion - and Burki's analysis is based on a conservative prediction of a 6% Chinese growth rate sustained over the next two decades."
Source: Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, 3/15/2005

4) As reported by CNN (4/9/2003), the US ranks somewhere from 4th to 12th in reading skills of 4th graders, according to a study by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of 2001. Rankings of the 35 countries surveyed showed: 1. Sweden, 2. Netherlands, 3. England, 4 through 12. (though they're listed in order, these nine are statistically tied, according to the CNN article): Bulgaria, Latvia, Canada, Lithuania, Hungary, USA, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic). These are followed by: 13. New Zealand, 14. Scotland, 15. Singapore, 16. Russian Federation.

5) "The United States spends a higher percentage of its Gross Domestic Income (GDP) on health care than any other nation, and the result, as translated into indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality, are mediocre compared to other rich countries. Yet costs here are continuing to rise rapidly.

"...A recent study found that health costs often spell economic disaster for American families. Half of all bankruptcies in this country result from medical bills. ...many of the people bankrupted by monster medical charges had health insurance coverage. (BOLD added for emphasis)

"The study, published in this month's Health Affairs, estimates two million people annually, including 700,000 dependent children, are affected by medical bankruptcies. ...said Dr. David Himmelstein of the Harvard Medical School, the lead researcher: ...those bankrupted by the high cost of medical care were 'average Americans who happened to get sick.' Indeed, 75.7 percent of them were insured at the onset of illness. The reality of American health care according to the study is that 'even middle-class insured families often fall prey to financial catastrophe when sick.'
Source: "In High Gear, The GOP Class War", by Max J. Castro, Progreso Weekly, 17-23 February 2005 Edition

6) "Healthy Life Expectancy. Health attainment, level and distribution in all Member States. Estimates for 1997 and 1998 by the World Health Organization. Disability adjusted life expectancy at birth:
1 - Japan (74.5)
2 - Australia
3 - France
4 - Sweden
5 - Spain
6 - Italy
7 - Greece
8 - Switzerland
9 - Monaco
10 - Andorra
11 - San Marino
12 - Canada
13 - Netherlands
14 - United Kingdom
15 - Norway
---
24 - United States (70.0)

See above list in full at: http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthy_life_table2.html

"US was ranked #72 on "Level of Health" (snuggled between Argentina-71 and Bhutan-73) and #37 (between Costa Rica-36 and Slovenia-38) on "Overall Health System Performance", according to the World Health Organization. See:
http://www.photius.com/rankings/world_health_performance_ranks.html

7) "The United States is the wealthiest, mightiest country in all of human history, and yet it has a higher proportion of poor or, worse, hungry citizens than almost every other industrialized nation. ...The Luxembourg Income Study, which has been tracking household incomes of twenty-five countries for more than twenty years, recently compared nations' relative poverty rates. 'Relative' poverty is defined as a household making less than 50 percent of the national median income. In Finland, Norway, and Sweden, poverty rates range between 5.4 percent and 6.5 percent. Of our two neighbors, Canada and Mexico, the United States' poverty rate is much closer to Mexico, 22.1 percent. The U.S. poverty rate is 17 percent, according to the Luxembourg study, only 1.8 percent lower than Russia's."
Source: What We've Lost, Graydon Carter, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2004, page 118.

8) "The US child poverty rate is the highest in the developed world, 50 percent higher than the next country"
Source: page 199 of Gary Hart's Restoration of the Republic (2002). He cited this original source: A. Huffington, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2000.

9) "And, in 2002, the US ranked 17th in Press Freedom, with index values of 4 and 75, according to Reporters Without Borders. Their index (low values are better) was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about the whole range of press freedom violations (such as murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media). The final list includes 139 countries."
See list at: http://photius.com/rankings/press_freedom_index.html

10) Move over Hollywood, India is now #1 in production of movies.
Source: TV Show (Letterman, Feb. 2005) and magazines featuring the actress dubbed "Most Beautiful Woman in the World".

NEW ITEM: 06/05/2005
11) In a massive worldwide poll done by Skytrax, a London-based consultancy, people from 94 countries rated the world's airlines on several criteria. The survey spanned a year's time and tallied more than 12 million responses. See overall results below. In one category: Best Low Cost airline, Jet Blue, of the US, rated best worldwide. When confined by region, i.e., limited to North American airlines, the results show that US airlines ranked #2: Jet Blue and #3: Continental, after #1: Air Canada.
GLOBALLY BEST OVERALL:
1. Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong
2. Qantas Airways, Australia
3. Emirates, Dubai
4. Singapore Airlines, Singapore
5. British Airways, United Kingdom
6. Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia
7. Thai Airways, Thailand
8. Qatar Airways, Qatar
9. Asiana Airlines, South Korea
10. ANA All Nippon Airways, Japan

Source: "Annual survey of millions of passengers ranks the planet's best airlines.", June 4, 2005: 2:21 PM EDT, By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer
CNN Money (http://money.cnn.com/2005/06/02/pf/goodlife/best_airlines/index.htm)

NEW ITEM: 06/08/2005
12) Here's one where we're #1: Prevalence of mental illness in the population. "One-quarter of all Americans met the criteria for having a mental illness within the past year, and fully a quarter of those had a 'serious' disorder that significantly disrupted their ability to function day to day, according to the largest and most detailed survey of the nation's mental health, published yesterday.

Although parallel studies in 27 other countries are not yet complete, the new numbers suggest that the United States is poised to rank No. 1 globally for mental illness, researchers said.

'We lead the world in a lot of good things, but we're also leaders in this one particular domain that we'd rather not be,' said Ronald Kessler, the Harvard professor of health care policy who led the effort, called the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.

The exhaustive government-sponsored effort, based on in-depth interviews with more than 9,000 randomly selected Americans, finds that the prevalence of U.S. mental illness has remained roughly flat in the past decade - a possible glimmer of hope given that previous decades had suggested the rates were gradually rising."

Source: Study: "US Leads in Mental Illness, Lags in Treatment", by Rick Weiss, The Washington Post, Tuesday 07 June 2005. See original article at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/06/AR2005060601651_pf.html

Friday, February 18, 2005

50 States Is Too Many

For better or worse, we are not one simple unified country and we never have been. By our very name, United States of America, we are well labeled: a consortium, or federation, of states. We started as 13 - a manageable number, I suppose - but 50? Come on!

50 states and one federal government - it makes one odd looking funnel, doesn't it? More like a disastrously planned highway merger. Ha-Ha! Actually, maybe that's the correct metaphor ...could that explain the many messes and malfunctions that we endure as a so-called nation?

We're not a unified people in the sense that we have so many structures that allow so much variation and give us so much multilayered "local" autonomy -- could that really be it? Too much division of power? ...Too many checks and balances?

Gary Hart, author of "Restoration of the Republic", wouldn't agree for a minute. But can't we see plenty of excess diversity across levels and layers of government (some would call it chaos) in many areas of our civic life: Voting procedures and the electoral college (which, by the way, vastly facilities cheating); gun control legislation; marriage laws; funding, curricula and the variable quality of public education; all manner of tax structures and liabilities at multiple levels; inconsistent maintenance of police and criminal justice records, of social science information management, processing and analysis; allocation of homeland security funds; pork-barrel funding of public programs (oops, I mean, bringing home the bacon); welfare, child care and job training programs; corrections facilities and criminal penalties and practices (e.g., capital punishment); etc., etc., etc. You can no doubt add many more examples where "variety" runs rampant.

Whether this is wise or dumb (it might be great for experimentation purposes, but is that how we're using it?), one thing is certain: If you want uniform programs rationalized on a nationwide basis, the USA is NOT the place to find it.

So, if you're like me, given this structure, you're wondering how we stack up worldwide on various measures, vs. other countries??

A later blog posting will look at how the USA ranks on some quantity and quality of life indicators. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Freedom Of The Press - To Do Just As It's Told

That's the kind of freedom of the press we have, thanks to our duty-bound and ultra cooperative broadcast media. Today's daily Nightline program note from Gerry Holmes & The Nightline Staff caught my angry and outraged eye, to wit:

You may or may not remember the haunting pictures released last April of rows of caskets lined up in the back of a C-5 cargo plane that had landed at Dover Air Force base. It was the first time Americans had seen the very real images that tell the story of the toll of war. The Pentagon was not happy that the photos were released. They were taken by Air Force photographers and posted onto a Web site after a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act. A few months later, Democrats in the Senate introduced a bill to allow the photography of the caskets coming home, but Republicans defeated the bill and kept line with the President's wishes not to show the caskets.

So, when six members of the Louisiana National Guard were killed in a single incident in Iraq last week, the local Guard decided at the request of the soldiers' families to follow that example and buck the system by giving news photographers access to the military burials.
Since when does freedom of the press mean that the press sits on its hands and waits to do its job until it gets permission from the all-knowing government? What the hell is going on here?? I don't know what this is, but it's certainly NOT a free press! I don't care what the government says is or isn't allowed...we're supposed to have a "free" press. To me, nothing says SELL OUT clearer than this, even clearer than the cute practice of using so-called embedded reporters (or, should I say: "in bed with" reporters?).

What do I want? I expect nothing less than some enterprising reporter and photographer to sneak in, if they have to, and inform us what the hell is going on...EXACTLY what is going on, unfiltered, unscreened, uncensored. And I expect their management to support them physically, financially and every other way, all the way. I guess I should wake up and forget that quaint, old fashioned notion entirely. On this issue, you'll find our national press in the dictionary under: SOLD OUT.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Beware the Reformers

Here in Illinois we just had a rare experience - first hand witness to a campaign with Alan Keyes in it. Talk about cynicism let loose, this was the classic case, and it exposed the irony of how it's such fun to ridicule the entire public sector, to be cynical about government, to decry the corrosive effect of money on our political system, etc., etc., while NEVER thinking about the consequences of all that unmitigated cynicism - what it leads to and the subtle, pernicious damage it does to the body politic.

One result that cynicism NEVER leads to is the one thing we need most: clear, fruitful and constructive thinking about how to accomplish our goals and get things done. Sadly, cynicism fights against these qualities rather than facilitating them. And, cynicism can be so easily exploited. For us in Illinois, Alan Keyes is just the most recent, though, in his case, a harmless example.

More forbidding examples abound around one of our culture's "worship words" - REFORM: Social Security "reform", tax "reform", government "reform", health care "reform", tort "reform", campaign finance "reform", intelligence "reform", etc., etc. Whenever we hear this word we should duck. Beware the man behind the curtain, the devil lurking in the details.

In the hands of an unscrupulous politician, the word can be deadly. By merely tacking it onto an issue or any number of government functions or departments, such a politician can grab the attention of the press and the admiration of a cynical public. But make no mistake, many are being taken in by this clever sophistry, which, I contend, is no accident.

Here's my test: What are your answers to these questions:

1. How many working people believe their social security benefit payments will NOT be there when they're ready to retire?

2. How many believe our politicians are little more than handmaidens to "big money" or "big oil", big business, or to the trail lawyers, the "special interests", the polluters, the think tanks, the military, etc., etc.?

3. How many believe our public school are uniformly of poor quality and that they're deteriorating even further?

4. How many are convinced we spend too much on foreign aid and not enough on defense, even though they haven't the foggiest notion of what the actual amounts are?

5. How many think our national elections are basically the result of intensely negative campaigns that demoralize voters, and that this explains what they say is a trend of declining voter turnout for President since the 1970's?

BTW: On two of these, #1 and #5, the factual picture is:
A) There's no historical evidence that Social Security benefits will NOT be there for everyone who's entitled to them -- it always has been so far.
B) Voter turnout for President has NOT been declining. Recent research has discovered and tracked a more appropriate base for this calculation, called the Voting ELIGIBLE (not the Voting AGE) Population. By its measure, voter turnout for President has held fairly stable, not declined, since 1972. (Thanks to a NPR report and interview with the researcher involved, for this valuable news.)

Nevertheless, for all of these supposed maladies, and many more, "reforms" have been proposed that usually take the form of major changes in programs, policies and, more fundamentally, in our beliefs about society and ourselves. Sometimes these modifications promise huge improvements in the program (if not its abolishment), all predicated on an invisible hand working its magic once the heavy burden of public administration is loosened. Mantras of 'free choice', of 'individual' or 'private ownership' echo in the chambers of Congress and reverberate across the land, as the vital remedy that will release pent up energies and bundles of waiting resources. But, alas, reform, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. One man's reform is another man's emasculation or dismantling.

So, how are we to tell the difference?

I submit that the key factors to check out are:
- If the problem is real, does this "reform" solve the problem?
- What is the philosophy behind this reform proposal and what are its objectives?
- Who will it benefit and who will be hurt by it, vs. the status quo?
- Who offers the reform, have they conjured it to gain support for a hidden agenda?
- What is the overall public policy goal that we should evaluate it against?

ONLY after careful analysis of the above can we say whether a proposed "reform" is a good or bad idea. Welfare reform was, for some who espoused it, merely an excuse to cut spending and, they hoped, lower their own taxes. To his credit, former Wisconsin Governor, Tommy Thompson, a leader in welfare reform, foresaw the need for interim increases in public spending to fund additional day care and job training programs to enable the reform to take hold and have good effects in the long run.

The lessons?
1) It's critical to keep "reform" from falling into the wrong hands.
2) When it does fall in the wrong hands, we must be ever more vigilant to check how this worship word is used in our temples of government.

For some "Straight Dope" on Social Security's real situation - that debunks some prevalent myths now in circulation just click my title: "Beware the Reformers" (above or below), or go to this URL: http://money.cnn.com/2005/01/13/retirement/straight_dope/index.htm
to access a CNN/Money Magazine series on the subject, and good for them!

Friday, December 31, 2004

Another Reason Our Progressive Federal Income Tax Is Right And Just

War has always been a past time, a plaything really, of the rich and wealthy; engaged in to protect or expand their estates, which nowadays are their enterprises and empires. From medieval times to today, it's generally been peasants and paupers who man the armies that protect the assets, estates and property of the rich and wealthy. When did you ever hear of peasants or laborers raising a standing army of their own, or staffing it with members of the rich/wealthy class?

So, in our time, it makes sense for the federal government to be the repository for funds needed to raise a standing army (navy, air force, marine corps, etc.), because that's the government level funded by a progressive income tax. Those who consistently pay the highest marginal tax rates are either already rich/wealthy or they'll be that way soon enough. Since they have the most assets and property to protect from harm and invasion, it seems only fair and natural that they should be taxed disproportionately at the federal level, as they are today (at least nominally). Well, how about that - this aspect of our multi-level government taxing structure actually makes some sense.

As for which lives are put at risk for this protection service, well, that's another matter entirely, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

What Presidential Leadership is Not

Leadership is NOT walking the country into a real messy situation that boxes us into a corner WITH NO GOOD OPTIONS for what to do next. Whether it's the tragic mess in Iraq or our huge and growing deficits, it makes one ask: "Hey, whose idea was this anyway?" or "What ever happened to the idea of keeping our powder dry and our options open?"

Then, when our so-called leader does choose an option from the lousy alternatives available, are we supposed to cheer patriotically and wave banners because a relatively less awful option was selected, when we NEVER should have found ourselves in the sorry mess in the first place?

Don't look to me for any cheering under these pathetic circumstances. It's called RESPONSIBILITY and ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES - something we need to be reminded of before they become totally lost concepts in our political history.

One ironic aspect of our election result is that the goons who got us into this mess are now stuck with the consequences. They've earned the miserable duty of getting us out of this mess -- but can they, or will they dig us in even deeper?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Want a War? Come Up With the People and Money

A simple declaration: It should somehow be made IMPOSSIBLE for a President to engage the country in an elective war (e.g., Iraq I or II, Bosnia/Kosovo, Haiti, etc., but not necessarily war with Japan after Pearl Harbor, nor with Afghanistan after 9/11) without simultaneously doing two things:

1) Instituting a fair draft to ensure that the threat to life and limb is widely shared and that the people are appropriately involved and engaged (that'll get their attention).

2) Establishing a special, direct funding source exclusively for the war, to ensure that it is paid for (to avoid robbing ourselves of other priorities without our avowed consent).

As it is now, wars are too freely waged with our standing armed forces. Then, once the war is underway, if it becomes necessary to extract more soldiers and money than expected at first, the people's other priorities are set aside, willy-nilly, with precious little citizen representation at the table. Whatever flag waving and parades are necessary can be arranged. All this under the rubric of national emergency: "We're at war, pal - cough up!".

Actually, my real reason for this proposal is to get the people's attention. A good whack on the head (or across the face) is what's needed sometimes (heck, probably all the time). Only by requiring definite actions by the government to provide adequate sourcing for personnel and funds, at least coincident with but preferably before, waging war, will we be sure we have the people's attention. Besides, it's just the responsible way to manage.

Will Rogers used to joke that we shouldn't be able to have a war until we've paid for the last one. I've always liked that sentiment, so let's credit old Will for the genesis of my proposal. Only this is meant as NO JOKE -- I'm deadly serious, as is this topic.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Politicians: Scumbags or Revered Leaders?

Some people are perennially upset by politicians, call them "no good corrupt scumbags", and rail against them endlessly because they seize our hard-earned money in taxes. BUT these same people stand sturdily behind the same, now suddenly revered national leaders, blindly saluting the "scumbags" whenever they call for our sons and daughters to fight and die in their bloody wars. Wars like George W's Iraq II that was engaged far more as one President's personal vendetta, for his advisers' career ambitions and for some Congressional politicians' own aggrandizement, than it was for any real security reasons. (See my earlier blog on WMD published Dec. 8, 2004: "Catching Sloganeering Gets Ink, Costs Lives").

How is it that these people are often the same ones who want us to see politicians as selfish, corrupt scumbags because they “play games with our money”, but NOT when they play games with our lives?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Silly Nonissue - Congressional Attendance

This seals it. USA Today reported (see USATODAY.com - Electronic payments surpass paper checks - Posted 12/6/2004 3:17 PM, Updated 12/7/2004 8:13 AM) that "The number of electronic payment transactions last year totaled 44.5 billion — exceeding the number of checks paid, 36.7 billion — according to Federal Reserve studies released Monday."

What does that have to do with absenteeism from Congress by our Senators and Representatives?

Come on, with 44.5 billion electronic transactions zipping around the Internet in a year, the sheer silliness of whether a US Senator was physically present to cast a vote on an issue is revealed for all to see. What a phony issue!

If we Americans can (and I certainly do) trust the "e-ether" to send our precious, hard-earned $$ to pay our bills every month, and keep ourselves out of debtors' prison, surely a workable means can be found to let lawmakers cast their votes safely and securely and, if necessary, from a distance.

Then, being physically absent from the floor of Congress would be irrelevant to casting a vote. And, much more important, our elected officials could no longer escape showing us how they voted on any issue.

You tell me: How hide-bound is our beloved Congress for not implementing something like an e-vote process long, long ago?

The Death Penalty Is UnAmerican

Advocates on all sides of the capital punishment debate often get caught up in endless arguments about how to make administration of the death penalty fair and flawless in application. A “moral certainty", to use former Illinois Governor Ryan’s phrase - so that we can feel OK about having it on the books.

This pointless debate misses a crucial point. In their genius, our founding fathers established our government with checks and balances and separation of powers because they knew that we are imperfect and that, inevitably, we will make mistakes. They set up our government so that its decisions and actions are virtually never absolutely final, permanent nor irreversible. Not only do we have three branches of national government, we also have state and local governments and most states also have two houses in their Legislative branch, not just one. U.S. Senators serve with staggered terms and many powers are allocated to state and local governments, which themselves are manifestations of the same system of checks and balances/separation of powers.

If I don't like a proposed law or other government action, I can work to change it legislatively, make it a political issue in an upcoming election, or push to have the act declared unlawful or unconstitutional. I can appeal a judicial decision I don’t agree with, impeach a judge, or a President, work hard to help vote an elected official out of office, or support a challenger into that office. In addition, all elected officials have finite terms of office, with limited powers. Even a Supreme Court justice, who serves “for life”, sits as one member on a panel of nine. And, as we have seen, membership even on this highest court can become a political issue, providing a potent reason to vote for, or against, a Presidential candidate or political party.

And on it goes. One can add countless examples. Our system is set up this way because, as a collection of imperfect beings, we will NEVER be fully free of error. That old political warhorse, Larry O'Brien, captured this essential point in the title of his 1974 book: No Final Victories. Our founders knew that the answer is not to insist that our systems work flawlessly (always a good goal to work toward), for the simple reason that they never will. Instead, our founders wisely built IMPERMANENCE and REVERSIBILITY into the system to allow for ERROR CORRECTION and RECOVERY.

Now here's the kicker: Because our government structure works so hard to facilitate disaster checking and error rectification, we are compelled to view the death penalty, by virtue of its unique and deadly permanence, as fundamentally UnAmerican. I know some states have elaborate review checkpoints and appeals built into their capital punishment system, which can last for years. And, yes, these provide a sort of check and balance, but the reasoning behind them only reinforces my point that the PERMANENT IRREVERSIBILITY of capital punishment makes it inherently UnAmerican.

No matter what safeguards we think we’ve built in, so long as the death penalty is with us, we will execute some innocent people at some unknown, but non-zero rate. This follows as surely as night follows day. And, it’s clear as a bell that our founders knew this in their bones. Why else would they have made ALL our government processes (as specified above) so IMPERMANENT and ultimately REVERSIBLE?

The inescapable conclusion: Americans who embrace the death penalty simply don't understand our basic form of government; or, if they do, they don’t agree with it.

Awash In Ignorance and Proud of It

This is not a total perspective on what happened in the election last Nov. 2 – far from it. Instead, it’s simply my contribution of some examples of how our intermediators do a lot of the little things badly, day after day after day.
(BTW: By “intermediators” I mean reporters, analysts, commentators, etc., anyone who operated on the air waves or in the press covering the campaign, holding forth on the candidates and the election. I particularly single out those who are supposed to give us, the voters, a clear view of the candidates to help us make more informed choices when we vote.)

What follows are just a few representative examples of the many, many times these intermediators did the little things badly.

1) On the subject of what his economic plans are, one intermediator (a national print reporter or analyst) actually wrote this about one of the two presidential candidates: ”… the campaign has provided no details”. This, even though in less than two minutes at that candidate’s web site, I found lots of details (LOTS OF DETAILS!), not only on that overall subject (economics), but on each of several component elements within that broad subject. There were enough details to make a grown man cry – if anything there were too many details!

This is NOT intended as a partisan complaint -- I have little doubt that the same may have been true of the other candidate and his web site, so prevalent did I find such sloppy and careless statements in my perusal of campaign coverage.

2) On the day before the election I heard another intermediator on the radio actually say that the issue of health care and rising health care costs had hardly been addressed in the campaign. “Virtually ignored” was, I think, what he said, or something to that effect. When I’d calmed down, I asked myself, how could an intermediator of any stripe make such a sweepingly wrong and ridiculous statement?

This issue happens to be the one that polls throughout the campaign had shown perhaps the clearest separation in voters’ preferences between Bush and Kerry. Had the issue actually occupied so minimal a place in the campaign, no such separation in public opinion would have existed.

3) At least I no longer have to listen to what I call the “Lou Dobbs routine” where he would say “Both candidates have not…”, or “Neither candidate has…”, and then proceed to treat both candidates as peas in a pod (a rotten pod, at that). Lou had so accustomed himself to this routine that he used it even when the candidates had outlined drastically different perspectives on an issue.

For example, what in the world does it mean to say (as Lou often did): “Neither candidate has addressed the issue of Social Security insolvency…” when one said, basically, the following (paraphrased): “Social Security actually is solvent until some specified year in the future (e.g., 2045), so what we’ll do is watch it closely and, when necessary, we’ll convene another joint effort to make needed adjustments, as was done in a bipartisan manner in the 1980’s"; while the other candidate proposed an alternative long term private (or, to avoid that loaded buzzword: an individual) investment plan that would use (divert) a portion of the income stream that’s used to make concurrent payments to retirees, without saying how those removed funds will be replaced or replenished?

Now, how on earth does it serve the voters to treat these two very different responses in the same vein, disparaging them both as if they are equally depraved? Talk about an opportunity lost to inform the voting public. Would it be too much to ask that Lou try to make a dispassionate analysis of these two perspectives, rather than sarcastically disparage them both?

4) Lesson learned: Stay away from most media comparisons of the candidates on issues. Here’s why it’s best to avoid them - because many intermediators are apparently too lazy or too uninformed to do a fair and adequate job summarizing substantive policy programs or proposals. Much of what passes for journalistic coverage of serious national issues these days is better described as pathetic palaver. Here's what we get: Short, simplistic bullet point summaries of issue positions, carefully constructed to appear fair from a visual perspective, but void of insights about the whys and wherefores behind the proposals. This is actually worse than doing nothing at all. What really scares me is that these intermediaries may be incapable of providing real insight into the whys and wherefores, so they just do what they're capable of -- superficial treatment of a serious issue.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Catchy Sloganeering Gets Ink, Costs Lives

During the run up to the War in Iraq, did the oft-heard phrase “weapons of mass destruction” ever strike you as propaganda, or sophistic sloganeering; like the catchy tag line in an overexposed advertising campaign?

Talk about over exposed, that phrase eventually became a mindless mantra, a solemn chant, a “collective cognitive imperative” that spawned a false consciousness in the body politic, dutifully midwifed by a doting press. But the fatal damage had already been done, as many prominent press personages nursed this grotesque offspring to full term, treating it as if it had earned legitimacy in the language. Thus, the Rubicon was crossed; the rest is tragic history (or, for the war’s stubborn advocates, perhaps I should say, the rest is a glorious history, a proud advance in the march for freedom).

Can it really be this simple?
“Yes.”
How?
“Just look back at the original conception and the language foreplay that preceded it. What we really have to ask ourselves is whether this impregnation was deliberate; was it the willful action of mutually consenting ‘adults’, or linguistic rape? Was the willing portion of the press that partnered this action a clueless collaborator, or a willful fornicator (a government agent, if you will), sowing its seed by deliberate design in the womb of a na├»ve but receptive host, the mainstream press?”

Who can say?

But I’ll say this much, the phrase never rang true with me, but maybe I’ve been toiling in the marketing vineyards too long. Anyone who has covered the business beat for any period of time would have known better. They’ve learned how to recognize a shallow, flimsy, “marcomm” slogan – made of whole cloth – when they see one. “Weapons of Mass Destruction”: Notice its vivid imagery, its pregnancy of meaning, its phonetic and syllabic resonance. All the earmarks are there. Can that be coincidental?

No, it was no accident, these telltale qualities are the result of deliberate phraseology – “1984” anyone?