According to a report using 2000 census data, these are the top ten US metropolitan areas with households that do not own a car:

New York City - 42 percent
Jersey City - 30 percent
Waterbury, Connecticut - 16 percent
New Orleans - 14 percent
Philadelphia - 13 percent
Newark - 12 percent
San Francisco - 12 percent
Chicago - 11 percent
Los Angeles - 11 percent


Finally, some good news

Progressives have taken quite a beating in the Obama cabinet announcements. Free marketeers Summers or Geithner are the options at Treasury, militarists Clinton and Kerry are top candidates for the State Department, and Commerce nearly went to Penny Pritzker, whose main qualifications were that she inherited a lot of money and was effective at convincing a lot of rich people to donate to Obama.

Fortunately, Pritzker has taken herself out of consideration after it became clear that her involvement in a collapsed bank deeply implicated in the subprime lending market might lead to bad publicity. (Update: a good article on the Pritzker family's long history of shady business dealings. It turns out they were pioneers in the use of foreign tax shelters to avoid paying their share of the tax burden - a practice, incidentally, that was a key early factor in driving the financialization of the economy because it forced the US to deregulate its banking system so rich people's capital wouldn't all go overseas.) And we might also escape Clinton because her husband's financial dealings have been so questionable. But it's cold comfort when you have to hope for self-sabotage to avoid neoliberal/corporate/imperialist nominees from an ostensibly liberal president-elect.

On another key appointment, I'm still not sure if we finally have an ally or not. Tom Daschle will be the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, and he will also be given the lead role in crafting a health reform proposal. Daschle co-wrote a book on reforming healthcare, which I haven't seen yet, but if the National Review is right, he supports
mandates on individuals and businesses to buy or offer coverage; new government-run insurance options for the under-65 population; a national governmental agency offering anyone who wants it to sign up for insurance outside of work; large new subsidy programs; and much more government involvement in determining what is and is not effective medical care.
If this is true, and if Daschle can use his experience as a former Senate leader to push reform thru Congress, then we have our first reason for optimism.

The reason I had to resort to quoting National Review is that all the other accounts focus on Daschle's plan to create a Federal Health Board, which would regulate the entire health industry and, like the Federal Reserve Board, be insulated from political pressure. While such a body could no doubt bring some order out of the absurdly complex mix of inefficient private insurers and the restricted and fragmented public insurers, it's not at all clear that creating an unaccountable body to do this is the right way to go. I will try to get ahold of Daschle's book and figure out the details. In the meantime, the best indication that Daschle might be our friend is his incredible glasses.

If the Daschle appointment is our only (ambiguous) ray of light coming from the emerging Obama administration, there is one development we can celebrate without reserve: Henry Waxman has usurped John Dingell's position as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Dingell is an old (really old - he first joined Congress in 1955) friend of the auto industry, and has been a maddening obstacle for years to finally taking action on the climate crisis. The Democratic caucus voted 137 to 122 to bypass the seniority system and hand control to Waxman, who should help advance legislation to fight global warming. But the big question remains - will the government act forcefully enough to avert disaster, or will new laws be too little too late? We'll have to wait for more concrete signals from the Obama administration, but in the meantime we can make our demands clear on the Global Day of Action on Climate, December 6 (in Chicago at Millenium Park, 11am).


How to solve the automakers crisis

Nationalize the car companies, implement parecon relations of production, and convert the factories to produce something useful, like railcars. Then arrest the executives and put them on trial for subverting democracy and destroying the environment. This is a completely serious proposal. Let it not be said that the left has no alternatives, only that our lawmakers are too ideologically restricted and hypocritical to consider them.


"Keep your enemies close" and all, but isn't it going too far to put the people responsible for the financial crisis in charge of the economy?

Here's a funny story:

In 1997, a woman named Brooksley Born, who was head of a financial regulatory body called the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, proposed federal regulation of derivatives. If the proposal had been accepted, it would have significantly limited the current financial chaos.

But the people in charge of financial regulation - Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers - didn't like the idea. They told Born that even talking about regulation could damage the markets, and in meetings they harshly criticized her. According to one of Born's subordinates, "Greenspan told Brooksley that she essentially didn’t know what she was doing and she’d cause a financial crisis. Brooksley was this woman who was not playing tennis with these guys and not having lunch with these guys. There was a little bit of the feeling that this woman was not of Wall Street." (In this context it might be useful to remember that Summers, at least, has stated that women are biologically inferior to men in science and engineering. Since he wasn't addressing high finance, we don't know whether he would extend this judgment to the markets.)

But Born refused to back down, so Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers got Congress to freeze her commission's regulatory authority for six months. Later, Congress permanently withdrew derivatives from the purview of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Bill Clinton signed the bill into law. Born resigned her post.

In the years since, Summers became president of Harvard, where he alienated pretty much the entire faculty with his authoritarian style and theories about women's biological capabilities. Rubin took a job as "consigliere" at Citigroup, where he makes $10-15 million a year for offering advice like his 2006 gem on the need to increase risk and add exposure to housing market. Citigroup has taken heavy losses. Born is now retired.

Among Born, Rubin, and Summers, can you guess which two are Obama's top economic advisers and possible Secretaries of Treasury? I'll give you a hint - it's not the woman.


This is disturbing

Knee-jerk support for Obama among people who are ostensibly progressive is already well under way. This post on Daily Kos is a love letter to Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of the Obama family, co-leader of transition planning, and now "White House senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison". With only a couple exceptions out of over 400, the commenters agree that Jarrett is an "amazing" "talented" "impressive" "remarkable" woman. Also, "She has a dignity and grace that few people possess."

Jarrett is a creature of the Chicago political and economic elite. She rose to prominence as an important official under Daley, she moves easily among the city's corporate leaders, and even tho she is Robert Taylor's granddaughter, she has taken a leading role in destroying Chicago's public housing. The only good news is that Jarrett might do less damage as a liaison within the bureaucracy than she would have as head of HUD or Illinois Senator.

But make no mistake - Jarrett is an enemy of the progressive agenda, as are most of the other people being suggested for positions within the administration. Summers at Treasury and Clinton as Secretary of State? I didn't think Obama would be terribly good, but I had no idea he could be that bad. Progressives need to get over their Obama crush asap if we're going to provide an effective check on Obama's very centrist impulses.


The number of animals killed to make one chicken breast just keeps going up

It turns out that meat production is not only a major source of greenhouse gases and severe air and water pollution, it is also undermining marine ecosystems. From a New York Times editorial:
Per capita meat consumption more than doubled over the past half-century as the global economy expanded. It is expected to double again by 2050. Which raises the question, what does all that meat eat before it becomes meat?

Increasingly the answer is very small fish harvested from the ocean and ground into meal and pressed into oil. According to a new report by scientists from the University of British Columbia and financed by the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, 37 percent by weight of all the fish taken from the ocean is forage fish: small fish like sardines and menhaden. Nearly half of that is fed to farmed fish; most of the rest is fed to pigs and poultry.

The problem is that forage fish are the feedstock of marine mammals and birds and larger species of fish. In other words, farmed fish, pigs and poultry — and the humans who eat them — are competing for food directly with aquatic species that depend on those forage fish for their existence.
It's very positive that The New York Times editorial page is devoting space to issues like this, and what's even better was their concluding remark: "The real answers are support for sustainable agriculture in the developing world and encouraging healthy, less meat-based eating habits as a true sign of affluence everywhere." This is the first time I've seen a mainstream source call for less meat-eating, and coming from the same writers who made one of the most pathetic cop-outs I've seen on the meat issue less than two years ago, it has to be regarded as progress.


Obama's Senate seat

Speculation on who will replace Obama in the Senate begins (pictures of some of those under consideration). The state's 100 percent perfect constitution - which voters protected by a huge margin rather than calling a new Constitutional Convention - does not give the voters the choice of who that will be. So our endearingly-crazy-if-he-weren't-so-spectacularly-corrupt governor Rod Blagojevich will make the decision.

Names mentioned in the Tribune account include Blagojevich himself, Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, my House representative Jesse Jackson Jr, other representatives Luis Gutierrez, Danny Davis, and Jan Schakowsky, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and Tammy Duckworth, a disabled Iraq war vet who lost her 2006 run for a seat in the House.

It would be a disaster if Blagojevich chose himself, especially since he's liable to be indicted before too long. Jarrett is a former official from the Harold Washington and Daley administrations, closely connected to Chicago's corporate elite, and played a key role in destroying the city's public housing. Another discouraging example of the kind of people Obama chooses to surround himself with.

Gutierrez has recently become mired in his own corruption scandal. I don't know his politics too well, but I've never heard anything that impressed me much. I don't know Danny Davis at all, but with the exception of a bizarre 문선명/Mun Seonmyeong (Sun Myung Moon) connection, his Wikipedia page makes his politics sound pretty good.

I'm not that familiar with the politics of Madigan, Hynes, Giannoulias, or Duckworth, but my impression is that they're all lousy centrists. So that leaves Schakowsky and Jackson, who are both among the most progressive members of the House and would both be wonderful friends to the left in the Senate - and would represent a big improvement over Obama in the Senate. I don't really know how we can influence the outcome of this über-insider decision, but we have to hope that it's one of those two.

Incidentally, unless Jackson, Davis, Jarrett, or (God forbid) Emil Jones is chosen for the seat, the Senate will once again have zero black members. Proof enough by itself that the election of Obama has not fixed America's deep racial problems.


The tasks at hand

I'm just back from Grant Park, where the energy and enthusiasm were remarkable. Biking back thru the South Side, the celebration is still going. I've been skeptical of Obama from the beginning, but the Obama campaign - partly thru its own determination to campaign on a mass basis but mostly because of events beyond its control - has mobilized a degree of popular participation unprecedented for at least a generation.

The extent of this phenomenon, combined with the neoliberal economy's self-inflicted wounds, give progressives their best opening in forty years. But our obstacles are huge: we confront a reluctance among many progressives to make a clear analysis of where our problems come from, as well as Obama's own centrism and the widespread naive faith in Obama which may convince many that their continued participation is unnecessary. Consider the kind of names that Obama has floated for important positions in his administration - Paul Volcker, pioneer of neoliberalism; Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, Clinton's unrepentant champions of free capital flows; Robert Gates, who recently argued that any decrease in the military budget (now over half of world military spending) would be a historic mistake; and the Dark Prince himself, Rahm Emanuel.

And those are just the problems on "our" side. American racism, xenophobia, and fundamentalism have not been vanquished, and now that a figure like McCain is no longer restraining them, the Republicans will soon enough return to demagoguery.

The two most important priorities are now 1) channeling the remarkable energy invested in the Obama campaign into true grassroots activism, and 2) getting serious about turning the economic crisis to our advantage. Translating campaign participation into everyday participation in a progressive transformation of society from the ground up is the best way to build our power, and the only way to create the kind of society we want. And we absolutely have to start hammering away at neoliberal ideology, which has discredited itself even as the left largely remains silent. We need to fill that ideological void and offer alternatives more progressive than what we'll get from the likes of Volcker and Rubin. We can enjoy this partial victory for a moment, but complacency would be disastrous.


Five essential issues the candidates have avoided

Every four years the United States carries out one of the greatest exercises in mass political participation in the world, yet every presidential election is defined by the issues the candidates choose to debate rather than the most important issues the country faces. The issues raised this year are the most urgent in several decades of presidential contests, but after three debates in which the same questions were recycled again and again, it should be no surprise that hugely important issues are still off the table. No matter who wins in November, these issues must be brought into the national debate.

Medicare for all
The United States is unique among rich countries: it does not provide health insurance to all its people - one out of every six Americans does not have coverage. Since almost 50 million people can't afford to see a doctor, you might think the US spends less on health care than other rich countries that cover everyone. But in fact American per capita health care expenses are *two times higher* than even the second-highest spender - and three times higher than other countries with universal coverage.

That means we're getting a horrible deal on health care - other countries insure everyone, spend far less money doing so, and their people are at least as healthy as Americans. The reason is that those countries' governments provide health care. In America private insurers do it, spending huge amounts of money to reduplicate each other's bureaucracy (which is mainly used to find ways to *deny* care), to pay their executives millions of dollars, and to buy advertising.

The US already has a highly efficient government health insurance program that provides care at a much lower cost than private insurers - but only the elderly are eligible for Medicare. If we extended Medicare to all Americans, our health costs would plummet and we could guarantee the right of every American to health care. Unfortunately, private insurers also spend your health care dollars on lobbying and political attack ads, which is why even those politicians who understand the right way to solve our health care crisis are afraid to support it. Only when the American people start demanding the only efficient and fair solution - Medicare for everyone - will politicians start listening.

The failed drug war
Americans have a strange relationship with recreational drugs. The two that are by far the most socially destructive - alcohol and tobacco - are legal and widely available. Meanwhile, one drug - marijuana - that unlike alcohol and tobacco is not addictive, not associated with violence, and carries less risk of chronic disease, remains illegal. Other truly dangerous drugs like heroin and methamphetamines are driven underground, where they cannot be regulated. Instead the business is controlled by violent gangs that battle each other and the police to control the market - leading to exactly the same kind of unnecessary violence that accompanied the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. And finally, we treat those who suffer from addiction as criminals, offering them jail rather than treatment. Does anyone seriously believe that addiction is a choice, which can be pummeled out of the victim by prison?

Dangerous drugs should be legal but strictly controlled, and treatment programs should finally be fully funded. This would not only eliminate the violence involved with drugs, and it would not only begin treating drug abusers as human beings with a devastating medical problem. It would also radically reduce the amount of taxpayer money spent to fight drugs - now mostly wasted on controlling prohibition-caused violence and imprisoning nonviolent offenders - and redirect it in more effective ways.

But as we reform our drug laws we must also take steps to address the underlying social problems that make illegal drugs so socially destructive for certain communities. Right now, even though drug use is evenly spread across cities and suburbs, whites and blacks, the drug war is targeted mainly at poor urban blacks. For decades, the economy and social fabric of these communities was devastated by a toxic combination of deindustrialization, capital flight, and racist neglect. Now we imprison huge numbers of these young men for their involvement in what is often the only viable source of jobs in their community, and they then return to their neighborhoods with even bleaker prospects for a job or stable lives. The answer is not to get tougher on people with few other choices - we must target the real problem, which is economic collapse and inadequate public investment.

The global climate crisis and the rising price of oil (halted only temporarily by the world recession) are closely related to sprawl. The endless extension of roads and highways to serve endlessly expanding suburbs and their ever-larger houses and lawns requires an endless increase in the use of energy and resources to heat and cool those houses, to build the infrastructure to serve them, and to propel the cars whose commute distances and times are, unsurprisingly, also endlessly increasing. The longer we stay on this path, the worse global warming, air pollution, traffic congestion, and global oil shortages will become.

For the last 50 years, the government has subsidized and even mandated sprawl by building highways, using zoning regulations to discourage dense, mixed-use development, and constantly intervening in the Middle East to keep the price of oil low. Americans are now demanding more options - neighborhoods that are walkable and bike-friendly, with good access to public transit and retail and jobs close by.

But to make this kind of development cost-effective, and to fight our destructive addiction to oil, the price of gas can never again collapse to the artificially low levels of the 1980s and '90s. And that's why the candidates won't talk about this issue - the only way to address climate change, to meaningfully reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and to convince developers to invest in compact development rather than sprawl is to keep the price of gas high. A price floor of at least $4 should be established and gradually increased, so that if the price of oil drops the cost of gasoline will still reflect the social damage done by driving. Some of the revenues from this tax should be spent to help those who can least afford the transition, and the rest of it should go toward expanding public transit and Amtrak, which have both suffered from decades of underinvestment, and to research on alternative energy sources. The transition to a more sustainable lifestyle will be painful, but not as painful as if we once again wait complacently for the next oil shock.

The devastating impact of animal agriculture
Over the last 50 years the livestock industry has quietly experienced a revolutionary transformation, from the family farm to the factory farm. Now most animals are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where as many animals are crammed together in as small a space as possible to maximize the profits of huge agribusinesses.

It goes without saying that these conditions are horribly cruel to the animals, who have almost no space to move around or engage in any of their natural behaviors. The cramped conditions also lead to aggression among the animals, so the livestock corporations cut off the chickens' beaks to prevent them from killing each other, and cut off the pigs' tails to keep the pig in the cage behind from chewing it off.

But the problems extend far beyond ethical bankruptcy. CAFOs are breeding grounds for disease, which leads the corporations to shoot the animals full of antibiotics, which make their way into our food and increase the risk that antibiotic-resistant diseases could emerge and devastate the food supply. Huge amounts of animal waste are concentrated in one spot, making responsible disposal impossible - so agribusiness dumps it into our rivers and streams, destroying their ecosystems. This runoff can then infect our vegetable supply, and was the source of recent deadly outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella in lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes.

On top of these dangers, the intense consumption of meat presents its own problems. The livestock industry is responsible for 1/5 of the world's human-induced greenhouse gases - a total greater than cars and planes combined. Meat is horribly energy inefficient, requiring that many times more grain be fed to animals to produce the same amount of protein and calories than a plant-based diet. And meat-eating is aggravating a growing global food crisis by diverting grain to the production of meat rather than to feeding the hungry.

Yet the government heavily subsidizes the production of meat by sending millions of dollars to agribusiness corn and soy interests that grow most of their crops to supply CAFOs. For decades government has stood idly by as factory farms swallowed up the country's family farmers and devastated the rural environment. It's time to start thinking about regulating these unethical threats to public health out of existence, and transitioning to a less meat-heavy diet.

Class war
The only class war in America has nothing to do with Barack Obama's very modest proposal to increase taxes on the incredibly super-rich. Over the last 30 years, the productivity of American workers has increased more than 70 percent, yet workers' real wages have not increased at all, and the lowest-paid have actually taken a big pay cut. What that means is that corporations are making more money, but they aren't giving any of it to their workers (corporate profits now occupy a larger share of the economy than at any time since the 1960s). Corporate executives and shareholders have seized all the gains for themselves. That's class war.

The reason that productivity and wages rose in tandem during the 1950s and '60s is that labor unions were strong, and made sure that workers got some share of the pie. But the severe recession of the early '80s and a brutal assault on organized labor by the Reagan administration crippled the unions. Free trade deals and the increasing share of low-skill nonunionized service jobs in the economy has kept workers weak ever since.

At the same time, the tax rates on the very rich have been continuously lowered, especially on the investment income that they don't actually work for (capital gains taxes). Many corporate executives now pay a lower effective tax rate than their secretaries. The theory was that these people knew how best to invest that money - a theory that produced reckless speculation and has given us the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Maybe it's time to let working people spend more of the money from the wealth they produce rather than letting rich folks wreck the economy with it.

Rebalancing the tax code to reward work rather than unearned income is a good way to start, and so is raising the minimum wage to a true living wage and indexing it to inflation. We must also remove some of the barriers to organizing unions that businesses have thrown up over the years - passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which was blocked only by a Senate minority this term - should be a high priority.

But beyond legislation, we need to start rethinking some ideas that have been taken for granted for too long. The market does not magically distribute income to those who work hardest or most deserve it, it distributes income to those with power. Over the last 30 years a large majority of the population has acquiesced in their stagnating incomes as the power of well-positioned executives, investors, and managers soared and they took more and more of society's wealth. Now that we see what they've done to economy with all that money and power, it's about time we took some of it back.