Saturday, March 31, 2007

U.S. Child Well-Being Report Says We're Not Doing Well

This woman walks into a butcher shop and asks to see a whole chicken. The butcher hands her one and the woman proceeds to inspect it up, down, sideways, and every which way. She even sniffs it. She hands it back and says no thanks.

The butcher responds: "Madam, could you pass a test like that?"

UNICEF had such a test that the US didn't pass. In fact, we flunked terribly. We came in 20th out of 21.

UNICEF reviewed various tests and performed surveys within the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and compiled a report entitled ‘Children’s Welfare in Rich Countries.’

According to the report, there are six indicators of well-being for children: health and safety; education; economic well-being; family and social relationships; conduct and risk; and the child’s own perception of well-being in addition to traditional measures or mortality rates, poverty levels, school achievement and health and immunization statistics.

The US scored poorly in every category:
  • Health and safety = 21st out of 21
  • Educational well-being = 12th
  • Family and peer relationships = 20th
  • Behavior and risks = 20th
  • Material well-being = 17th
The UK and the US are in the bottom third of the rankings for five of the six dimensions reviewed.
The true measure of a nation’s standing is
how well it attends to its children – their
health and safety, their material security,
their education and socialization, and
their sense of being loved, valued, and
included in the families and societies into
which they are born.
We've been sidetracked for too long from providing meaningful services and support to Americans in general and our children in particular. It's time to repair the infrastructure that has made America a great country. This isn't family values nonsense; it's necessary for our future well-being. Each measure on UNICEF's scale needs our attention and investment.

Download the full report.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fear Mongering Is A Provocation

Deliberate action or speech that makes someone fearful or angry, such as the recent (and regular) gems by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, perpetuates fear, most often existential fear.

There are numerous psychological studies establishing the power of fear:
  • Groups of strangers could persuade people to believe statements that were obviously false.
  • People were often willing to obey authority figures even when doing so violated their personal beliefs.
  • Ordinary citizens could continually shock an innocent man, even up to near-lethal levels, if commanded to do so by someone acting as an authority.
  • Cognitive dissonance often causes illogical and nonsensical mental constraints.
  • Heightened patriotic urge, for example right after 9/11, was an attempt to counterbalance the scary thought of ones own mortality brought on by those attacks.
  • When people are reminded of their own deaths, they become more conservative, more family oriented, more security-minded and more patriotic.
  • Fear of death provokes a need to feel connected to others, to have a clear sense of identity, to know how one fits into the world, and to feel one has free will.
  • People have different versions of God, thus they have different versions of evil.
In each of us there's a tug of war between our primitive instinct to survive at all costs and a brain that is not only conscious of its own existence but also is aware that our lives are finite -- our existential plight.

Social psychologists, philosophers -- and recently existential and terror management psychologists -- know and have proven these facts. Intuitively we all know them to be true. But very few of us ever leap beyond our own discomfort to figure out how to make use of this information -- to manipulate others based on knowledge of these principles.

Karl Rove and Lee Atwater are a examples of political operatives that have waged fear campaigns taking advantage of these psychological axioms. They have carefully crafted campaigns that create a longing for a protector/authority figure [in the form of their candidate(s)]. Even though in my book those tactics are blatantly immoral and unethical, they have repeatedly used them with great success.

With less knowledge but equal effect are bullies like Chavez, Ahmadinejad and Bush who wage similar campaigns through the airwaves of our daily news instilling fear and repugnance in all who read or hear the news. These are crippled people but unfortunately in powerful places. In Bush's case, he's both an addict (albeit reformed) and an effeminate man who masquerades as a macho man by bravado. The result is his stubborn belligerence to reality and his inability to act as a President should: pragmatically resolving the hard-to-resolve problems affecting America and Americans. Who knows why the other two play the game, but game it is and play it they do with you and I in the way of their friendly fire.

Ahmadinejad is playing that game today (provocation, bullying gestures in the press), expressing his anger at the US's denial of some of his UN visas by capturing and holding for trial 15 British sailors. Some of the incidental consequences are that oil prices are skyrocketing, British Prime Minister Blair is thwarted from using normal diplomacy, the British public are going ballistic, and we're all worried that Bush or Israel will do something quick and terrible that will blow up the situation even further.

[PS: You may wonder why Howard Dean is included in my rogues gallery above. I like the guy and what he's doing for the Democratic Party. But calling Reps "brain dead" and saying that "a lot of them never made an honest living in their lives" is equally provoking. His words define opponents as beyond the reach of reason which is no different than the polemics of extreme religious thought and the bullying back and forth of Ahmadinejad, Bush and Chavez.]

Friday, March 23, 2007

A More Socially Conscious Electorate

There's been a steady measurable trend since the early '90s that is directly antithetical to the policies of the Bush administration.

In a just-released study by the Pew Charitable Trust about trends in political values and core attitudes the numbers show that the electorate is gradually getting fed up with socially conservative ideology and religious intensity.

The numbers are quite clear:
  • Government should care for those who can't care for themselves - up 12% to 69%
  • Government should help the needy even if it means greater debt - up 13% to 54%
  • Old fashioned values about family and marriage - down 8% to 76%
  • School boards should have the right to fire homosexual teachers - down 11% to 28%
  • Prayer is an important part of my daily life - down 7% to 45%
  • I never doubt the existence of God - down 11% to 61%
  • People believe that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer - up 8% to 73%
The new survey still shows deep rifts in partisan views on core subjects like national security, social values, personal finances and the role of government as well as increasingly negativity about America and being American:
  • Americans feel increasingly estranged from their government. Barely a third (34%) agree with the statement, "most elected officials care what people like me think," nearly matching the 20-year low of 33% recorded in 1994 and a 10-point drop since 2002.
  • The public is losing confidence in itself. A dwindling majority (57%) say they have a good deal of confidence in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions. Similarly, the proportion who agrees that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in the past five years.
  • Young people continue to hold a more favorable view of government than do other Americans. At the same time, young adults express the least interest in voting and other forms of political participation.
The Pew Research Center concludes:
Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway.
I am heartened by this information. It correlates to my intuition, observations and other resources. And it bodes well for Democrats in the next election unless we shoot ourselves in the foot like we've done so many times before.

We all have the right to hope (so long as we are active in the pursuit of our goals).

Monday, March 19, 2007

We're All The Same

In the movie "Letters from Iwo Jima" there's a scene where a Japanese soldier translates aloud a letter from an American soldier's mother and everyone in the movie (and in the audience) could see that it was the same as letters they had received from their mothers and loved ones... because we're all the same.

That lesson is NOT taught in schools or from the pulpits of our lives. In fact, the opposite is being taught. Our parents tell us to watch out for those people; our churches say that their religion is the only true avenue to a fulfilling life; our government says that it's form of cracy is the only one for the world to emulate. Worse, we're taught that everyone that doesn't agree is an infidel, barbarian, third world ignorant or a heathen.

Hillary Clinton says that we have a basic bargain with our government that it will provide a structure for us so that we can build a good life. And that our founding fathers set up a representational form government to do just that.

Presently that government is failing because it has politicized every aspect of government and that is not in the public interest. Hence the need for real change.

Barack Obama said on one of the Sunday talk shows that: of the larger problems in this administration is that it is politicizing issues that should be guided by competence, practicality, common sense. That's part of what I think the American people really want to see changed in the next president.
Obama suggests that we need to change politics and it's rhetoric so that the lessons come from us, from the grassroots upwards, from an engaged citizenship discussing the issues of our day so that we can all be part of the solution.

I wholeheartedly agree and like the way Obama speaks what's on my mind. I wish him well.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Engaging rather than interrupting; reasoning rather than rabble-rousing

It seems like the pendulum of political discourse is swinging back to reality instead of sarcastic, provocative entertainment.
  • When Ann Coulter said what she did about John Edwards, the backlash was swift and across the board non-partisan. Republicans, Democrats, gays, straights, they all reacted similarly suggesting that Coulter wasn't just out of line, but instead making a desperate attempt for self promotion at the expense of Edwards.

  • When the Attorney General fired the eight Federal attornies and it became apparent that they were all political firings - that there was nothing negative on any of their records (in fact, quite the opposite) - the press, the attorneys themselves, and the public all reacted quickly with dismay that Gonzalez could be so petty and robotically following the whims of President Bush and that the lies coming out daily from Rove's office, Gonzales', and the White House were so blatant that it's become painfully clear that there's total disorganization at the top of our government.

  • Valerie Plame-Wilson made the clearest statement of how she and her husband were misused for purely vindictive political purposes while public sentiment suggests that Libby (who was found guilty for the leak that harmed Plame-Wilson) was the Vice President's fall guy and should get pardoned.

  • NBC News recently reported that 73% of Americans say they are following the Presidential election process closely - "an astounding figure in a country in which it's a big deal if more than half the electorate votes. Everywhere there's talk that this may be the most momentous race in our lifetime, that it's clear that the country is teetering on the cusp of something good, bad or cataclysmic" says Anna Quindlen in a Newsweek editorial.
Finally the blinders are off and we're all seeing what has been happening and the harm that's been done: that the bias has been so unfriendly and unwavering, that there's a backlash wanting silence (or at least the toning down of the rhetoric), that issues have gone wanting, and that partisan politics - particularly President Bush's brand of politics - has abandoned the will and wishes of the bill-paying electorate.

Quoting again from Anna Quindlen: "If, as many suspect, this is either a moment for the United States to prevail or to implode, a radio program, a column, or a TV talk show really matters. It's a valuable piece of public real estate that should be earned every day, by engaging rather than interrupting, by reasoning rather than rabble rousing. Maybe even by doing the really unthinkable in the civic auditorium and trying to move the conversation in fruitful directions."

I fervently hope that this is the case!