Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

wallaceAmerican Dreamer: A Life of Henry A Wallace –  John C Culver, John Hyde

It’s fascinating to wonder what the world might have been like had Henry Wallace become president of the United States.

No Cold War perhaps, no arms race with the Russians, no domino theories to defend against global Communism, no Korean War nor Bay of Pigs debacles, no need to engage in the disastrous Vietnam War. No segregation. There’d certainly be no need for a wall between the US and Mexico.

Wallace was undone in a shameful night of chicanery at the 1944 Democratic Convention which opened the door for Harry Truman to get the VP ticket and, ultimately, the keys to the White House.

Until then, Wallace’s progressive ideas had saved US agriculture from the boom-and-bust of unfettered market forces and his wider philosophies helped shape FDR’s New Deal.

Fully two years before WW2 was won, while serving as Roosevelt’s vice-president, Wallace was thinking deeply about the peace.

How would the US switch from a military economy while maintaining full employment, how would it raise standards of education and improve health care, what kind of world would be built in the aftermath and what role should America play?

In 1941, Time magazine publisher Henry Luce envisioned a post-war “American century” in which the US could “exert…the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”

Wallace responded with his “century of the common man” speech in which colonialism would end and there would be neither military nor economic imperialism.

By 1944 he was prophetically warning against the dangers of American Fascism, writing in the New York Times:

“The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity… They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

Widening an existing rift in the Democratic Party, the pejoratively dubbed ‘Dreamer’ was becoming a problem and the conservative, pro-business wing wanted him out.

They persuaded FDR, unwell and still consumed by the war, to ignore progressive advisers and to allow Truman to go up against Wallace as the VP candidate. And even though Wallace won the first ballot he didn’t have enough votes to secure the nomination.

From there, the party machinery went to work, deals were done, Wallace was crushed and when FDR died in April, 1945, the little-known, little-regarded senator from Missouri took the helm.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

image1Matthew Desmond deep dives into the lives of some of the most wretched people in America and produces findings that are an affront to any civilized society, let alone the world’s richest

Tracking eight families through Milwaukee’s dumpiest neighborhoods we get a first-hand account of the misery and the grinding poverty of their existence.

The reasons why they are there and why they can’t break out are mired in complexity but their prospects are unremittingly grim. Nationwide, according to Desmond, there are millions more like them.

Lack of affordable housing with subsequent evictions, exploitation and ghettoization is the core problem and one Desmond believes should be at the top of America’s domestic policy agenda.

He makes a good case: Not having a roof over your head clearly perpetuates the cycle of suffering and hopelessness.

Had the book given more detailed attention to possible solutions I’d have given it five stars. As it is, there are a scant few pages in the epilogue vaguely outlining a universal housing voucher system and the need for greater legal help for tenants taken to court by landlords.

For anything to really change however, a massive shift in societal attitudes (to this largely black underclass)  is required and that’s a tall order. Still, it’s a start.

There’s a dark side to all technology if it’s truly powerful and there are legion examples of how it can be used for good or for ill depending on how it is deployed.

A new mobile application called the Patriotapp “deputizes your iPhone or iPad” and is either a responsible citizen’s tool to aiding agencies of law and enforcement or a step towards a Stasi-like society of informers; it depends on your perspective.

The app was built by Florida software and services company Citizen Concepts to empower people “to create safer, cleaner, and more efficient communities by leveraging social networking and mobile technology.”

It shows the National Security Threat Level and has integrated points of contact to federal agencies like the FBI, including its Most Wanted list, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Government Accountability Office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Icons lead to templates where you can report suspicious activity, crime, government waste – even a pandemic.

The app explicitly aims to encourage “active citizen participation in the War on Terror and in protecting their families and surrounding communities”.

The company states: “This app was founded on the belief that citizens can provide the most sophisticated and broad network of eyes and ears necessary to prevent terrorism, crime, environmental negligence, or other malicious behaviour.”

Crimestoppers on steroids? The march of Big Brother? An elaborate spoof? You tell me.

The Sunlight Foundation recently picked up a $10,000 Knight Batten Award for its real-time coverage of February’s US health care summit.

Much of it mirrors the kind of Live Event coverage that is routinely used on the BBC News website, but I was especially taken by the addition of visualisations to aid understanding of the debates.

One example they used shows links between health care lobbyists and Senator Charles Grassley, one of the summit speakers. You can see at a glance that several are former members of his staff.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s interesting to note.

Channel 4 has also been exploring these kind of relationship connections with Who Knows Who spider maps.

It’s easy to see how televised coverage of House of Commons debates might benefit from instantly available supplementary information delivered to second screens like  smartphones or tablets as MPs stand up to speak.

On-screen Astons showing an MP’s name could trigger a second screen template showing a bio of his or her parliamentary career, what their interests are, what committees they sit on, their voting record, key speeches they have made, what their business interests are, who sponsors them,  even what expenses they have claimed.

Characterizing the depth and strength of relationships needs more work and is a matter for careful appraisal, but much of that kind of information is already available within newsrooms, especially amongst political and business staff.

On the basis of six degrees of separation almost everybody can be connected to anybody and that carries with it  the potential for mischief and misrepresentation.

As ever it’s a matter of sound editorial judgment.