December 05, 2009

The carriage held but just ourselves

OK, I admit it. I have a thing for Emily Dickinson. In her lifetime, she was like a volcanic eruption that nobody saw. And, at the risk of being a downer, I think some of her best poems were about mortality.

If life is what happens when we're making other plans, that is probably even more true about death. Here's one of my favorites:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labour, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

December 04, 2009

Award ceremony

It is not the usual practice of this blog to issue awards, mostly because nobody cares what I think, but I'm making an exception in this case. The first official Goat Rope Rock On With Your Bad Self Award--the highest award I have to bestow--goes to WV Senator Robert C. Byrd for having the guts to speak some truth to the WV coal industry about climate change, mountaintop removal and the industry's bullying tactics.

Here's what he has to say.

Byrd deserves particular commendation for not caving in to the latest hissy fit by the WV Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber's latest stunt consists of urging Congress to torpedo health care reform unless and until that body bows down and worships the coal industry as its lord and master and supreme deity.

There are several problems with this approach, but I'll mention only two. First, the Chamber would have opposed meaningful health care reform anyway, even if there were no coal controversies. Second, exactly who died and left the most backward parts of WV's coal industry in charge of the United States of America?

I'm sorry if this offends anyone--and I know this may be a shock to some people--but that sector of the coal industry does not own the hearts, souls,and other bodily and spiritual parts of everyone in West Virginia, much less of the United States as a whole (even though it seems to for some folks).

The thing that I admire most about Senator Byrd is that he improves with age--may we all be so lucky. In the past, I believed that Byrd's greatest moment was his courageous opposition to the Bush administration's unnecessary war in Iraq and its assaults on the US constitution. I don't want to take anything away from that but I now believe that his greatest moment may be the one where he speaks truth to power much closer to home, which is always a much riskier proposition.

Thank you, Senator Byrd!

UNFINISHED BUSINESS. From the New Yorker, here's a look at the history of health care reform efforts in the US.

THE COST OF NOT REFORMING health care is too high, according to Krugman's latest.

BRIGHT SIDED AGAIN. Here's an interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on the perils of unrealistic positive thinking and its effects on the US economy.


"IMPROVING" THE BIBLE. Here's more on the "Conservative Bible Project." (Suggestion: it might be easier if these guys just took out all the stuff about Jesus and the prophets.)


December 03, 2009

Red light, green light

Victor Hugo in days before Disney and Broadway.

Victor Hugo once said, "Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come."

John Kingdon, author of Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, wrote that Hugo's phrase "captures a fundamental reality about an irresistible movement that sweeps over our politics and our society, pushing aside everything that might stand in its path." His 1984 book examines just how this happens in the context of American politics and it seems to me to hold up pretty well today. And while he focused on changes at the federal level, his theories hold up pretty well at the state level as well.

Anyone who has ever tried to influence policy at either level knows that sometimes you get a green light and sometimes (usually more often in my case) the light is red and can stay that way for a long time. In his analysis, which I'm going to be looking at over the next few days, there are three streams that flow their merry way but sometimes can link up. When that happens, major changes can occur.

The big three are the political, policy and problem streams. The political is the most visible and is mostly influenced by elections, the perceived national mood, and the ambitions of major elected officials. The policy stream is less visible and is inhabited by staffers, advocacy and interest groups, and policy wonks such as myself. The problem stream consists of events and opportunities that rise to national attention and seem to demand action.

In his view, when the major political players become aware of a a major problem or opportunity for which an already worked out policy solution might apply, things can happen. The first stream sets the agenda while the second works out possible alternatives that might address the problem.

More on this to come.

SPEAKING OF PROBLEMS AND ALTERNATIVES, President Obama's jobs summit starts today. One solution used with success in Minnesota might be worth a look.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, the Economic Policy Institute has proposed its solution to unemployment crisis here.

ETHICAL CAPITALISM. Here's how one economist's vision of policy alternatives found an audience.

HEALTH CARE. Versions of health care reform in both the US House and Senate contain major expansions of Medicaid eligibility, which would extend coverage to millions of Americans. Here's a look at how this would benefit West Virginia.

ACTION ITEM. If you are in the Charleston area this evening and want to publicly oppose military escalation in Afghanistan, WV Patriots for Peace is sponsoring a vigil from 5:15pm - 6:15pm at Brawley Walkway (across from Chili's on Court St).

CHANGING THEIR TUNE. Blue whales are singing differently than they used to.


December 02, 2009

Hanging day

John Brown keeps showing up on this blog from time to time, but today he's here for a reason. This date marks the 150th anniversary of his execution in Charles Town, back when it was still part of Virginia.

Brown was a real Captain Ahab whose white whale was slavery. His monomania, to use a favorite 19th century term for an abnormal fixity of purpose, matched that of Melville's character. And unlike the captain of the Pequod whose quarry escaped, Brown was ultimately if posthumously successful.

As he was leaving the jail for his execution, he handed this message on a to an attendant:

I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.

It is also said that as he sat on what would be his coffin on the wagon ride to the gallows he looked around at the scenery, saying "This is a beautiful country. I never had the pleasure of seeing it before."

NOT GOOD. This item from The New England Journal of Medicine looks at the consequences of failure to pass health care reform.

CHAMBER OF WHATEVER. WVU-Tech professor and Gazette columnist John David takes the WV Chamber of Commerce to task for urging senators to hold health care legislation hostage over coal mining regulation.

GETTING WARMER. This Reuters article looks at WV's role in making or breaking climate change legislation in the US Senate.

LONELINESS CAN BE BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH and it might be contagious.

HOW'S YOUR INNER CHIMP? Bill Moyers talks with primate researcher Jane Goodall here.

OLD EUROPE. Here's a look at a lost civilization that thrived in the Balkans around 5,000 years ago.

ACTION ITEM. If you are in the Charleston area Thursday and want to publicly oppose military escalation in Afghanistan, WV Patriots for Peace is sponsoring a vigil from 5:15pm - 6:15pm at Brawley Walkway (across from Chili's on Court St).


December 01, 2009

100 years in the making


When it comes to public policy, it seems that windows of opportunity for action sometimes open--and sometimes they close. And if the boat is missed, it may not come back for a very long time.

Health care reform is a case in point. We now have one of those rare openings to significantly expand access to health care in this country. If we don't get it done soon, we may have to wait for years or decades to try to do this again...or maybe it will never happen.

The idea of providing some kind of system of universal care goes back in mainstream US politics to Republican president Theodore Roosevelt around 100 years ago. It was a plank on his 1912 bid for the presidency on the Progressive ticket.

It was part of his distant cousin Franklin's unfinished New Deal agenda from the 1930s. President Truman made a serious but unsuccessful push for it in the late 1940s, after which it lay dormant for decades.

The 1960s saw a significant expansion of health care with the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, which provided coverage for the elderly, the poor, and low income people with disabilities, although comprehensive reform remained elusive.

Another push for universal care began in the early 1970s and peaked briefly during the Carter administration before fading away again. It wasn’t until the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 that the issue again emerged, only to be torpedoed in 1994. Since then progress has been incremental at best, the most notable example being the creation and reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The chance for reform has been nearly a century in the making--here's hoping we don't blow it this time.

THE BALANCING ACT between debt and recovery is discussed here.

MARKET FUNDAMENTALISM. Here's another whack at one of my favorite targets.

ANOTHER LOW RANKING. El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia doesn't usually do too well on state rankings for most topics. Here's the latest low grade.

GOOD-NATURED. Humans may have an innate urge to help, according to some researchers.