Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Did you know that the USA does not have the world’s highest living standard?! Norway, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Sweden and the USA, in that order, had the highest incomes per head. On income per hours worked, the USA comes 8th, after Luxemburg, Norway, France, Ireland, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands.

This book offers a concise blast of iconoclastic, eye-opening economic truth-telling; essential reading to understand where free market thinking falls short.

Just take a look at the titles of some chapters, and you’ll know if this book is for you:

(1)There is no such thing as a free market
(2) Companies should NOT be run in the interest of their owners
(3) Most people in rich countries are paid more than they should be
(4) The washing machine has changed the world more than the Internet has
(5) The U.S. does not have the highest living standard in the world
(6) Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer
(7) People in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries
(8) More education in itself is not going to make a country richer
(9) What is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the United States
(10) We are not smart enough to leave things to the market


“Chang, befitting his position as an economics professor at Cambridge University, is engagingly thoughtful and opinionated at a much lower decibel level. ‘The “truths” peddled by free-market ideologues are based on lazy assumptions and blinkered visions,’ he charges.”Time  Magazine

“Chang presents an enlightening précis of modern economic thought—and all the places it’s gone wrong, urging us to act in order to completely rebuild the world economy: ‘This will [make] some readers uncomfortable…[;] it is time to get uncomfortable.’”—Publishers Weekly

“Myth-busting and nicely-written collection of essays”—Independent (UK)

“Shaking Economics 101 assumptions to the core … Eminently accessible, with a clearly liberal (or at least anticonservative) bent, but with surprises along the way—for one, the thought that markets need to become less rather than more efficient.”Kirkus Reviews

“For anyone who wants to understand capitalism not as economists or politicians have pictured it but as it actually operates, this book will be invaluable.”—John Gray, Observer (UK)

“A lively, accessible and provocative book.”Sunday Times (UK)

“For 40 years, I have worked as a journalist and trained thousands of other journalists from my former perches as a University of Missouri Journalism School professor and as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors. I have written newspaper articles, magazine features and entire books with heavy doses of economics policy and business behavior. I wish the book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism had been available when I was a rookie; I would have been more alert to the hands-off-business catechism by which Americans are relentlessly indoctrinated.”—Steven Weinberg, Remapping Debate

“I doubt there is one book, written in response to the current economic crisis, that is as fun or easy to read as Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell you About Capitalism.”—AlterNet Executive Editor Don Hazen


Aug. 10, 2010, 12:45 a.m. EDT

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) — “How my G.O.P. destroyed the U.S. economy.” Yes, that is exactly what David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, “Four Deformations of the Apocalypse.”

Get it? Not “destroying.” The GOP has already “destroyed” the U.S. economy, setting up an “American Apocalypse.”

Yes, Stockman is equally damning of the Democrats’ Keynesian policies. But what this indictment by a party insider — someone so close to the development of the Reaganomics ideology — says about America, helps all of us better understand how America’s toxic partisan-politics “holy war” is destroying not just the economy and capitalism, but the America dream. And unless this war stops soon, both parties will succeed in their collective death wish.

But why focus on Stockman’s message? It’s already lost in the 24/7 news cycle. Why? We need some introspection. Ask yourself: How did the great nation of America lose its moral compass and drift so far off course, to where our very survival is threatened?

We’ve arrived at a historic turning point as a nation that no longer needs outside enemies to destroy us, we are committing suicide. Democracy. Capitalism. The American dream. All dying. Why? Because of the economic decisions of the GOP the past 40 years, says this leading Reagan Republican.

Please listen with an open mind, no matter your party affiliation: This makes for a powerful history lesson, because it exposes how both parties are responsible for destroying the U.S. economy. Listen closely:

Reagan Republican: the GOP should file for bankruptcy

Stockman rushes into the ring swinging like a boxer: “If there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt … will soon reach $18 trillion.” It screams “out for austerity and sacrifice.” But instead, the GOP insists “that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.”

In the past 40 years Republican ideology has gone from solid principles to hype and slogans. Stockman says: “Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses too.”

No more. Today there’s a “new catechism” that’s “little more than money printing and deficit finance, vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes” making a mockery of GOP ideals. Worse, it has resulted in “serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy.” Yes, GOP ideals backfired, crippling our economy.

Stockman’s indictment warns that the Republican party’s “new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one:”

Stage 1. Nixon irresponsible, dumps gold, U.S starts spending binge

Richard Nixon’s gold policies get Stockman’s first assault, for defaulting “on American obligations under the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement to balance our accounts with the world.” So for the past 40 years, America’s been living “beyond our means as a nation” on “borrowed prosperity on an epic scale … an outcome that Milton Friedman said could never happen when, in 1971, he persuaded President Nixon to unleash on the world paper dollars no longer redeemable in gold or other fixed monetary reserves.”

Remember Friedman: “Just let the free market set currency exchange rates, he said, and trade deficits will self-correct.” Friedman was wrong by trillions. And unfortunately “once relieved of the discipline of defending a fixed value for their currencies, politicians the world over were free to cheapen their money and disregard their neighbors.”

And without discipline America was also encouraging “global monetary chaos as foreign central banks run their own printing presses at ever faster speeds to sop up the tidal wave of dollars coming from the Federal Reserve.” Yes, the road to the coming apocalypse began with a Republican president listening to a misguided Nobel economist’s advice.

Stage 2. Crushing debts from domestic excesses, war mongering

Stockman says “the second unhappy change in the American economy has been the extraordinary growth of our public debt. In 1970 it was just 40% of gross domestic product, or about $425 billion. When it reaches $18 trillion, it will be 40 times greater than in 1970.” Who’s to blame? Not big-spending Dems, says Stockman, but “from the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.”

Back “in 1981, traditional Republicans supported tax cuts,” but Stockman makes clear, they had to be “matched by spending cuts, to offset the way inflation was pushing many taxpayers into higher brackets and to spur investment. The Reagan administration’s hastily prepared fiscal blueprint, however, was no match for the primordial forces — the welfare state and the warfare state — that drive the federal spending machine.”

OK, stop a minute. As you absorb Stockman’s indictment of how his Republican party has “destroyed the U.S. economy,” you’re probably asking yourself why anyone should believe a traitor to the Reagan legacy. I believe party affiliation is irrelevant here. This is a crucial subject that must be explored because it further exposes a dangerous historical trend where politics is so partisan it’s having huge negative consequences.

Yes, the GOP does have a welfare-warfare state: Stockman says “the neocons were pushing the military budget skyward. And the Republicans on Capitol Hill who were supposed to cut spending, exempted from the knife most of the domestic budget — entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects. But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.”

When Fed chief Paul Volcker “crushed inflation” in the ’80s we got a “solid economic rebound.” But then “the new tax-cutters not only claimed victory for their supply-side strategy but hooked Republicans for good on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts.” By 2009, they “reduced federal revenues to 15% of gross domestic product,” lowest since the 1940s. Still today they’re irrationally demanding an extension of those “unaffordable Bush tax cuts [that] would amount to a bankruptcy filing.”

Recently Bush made matters far worse by “rarely vetoing a budget bill and engaging in two unfinanced foreign military adventures.” Bush also gave in “on domestic spending cuts, signing into law $420 billion in nondefense appropriations, a 65% percent gain from the $260 billion he had inherited eight years earlier. Republicans thus joined the Democrats in a shameless embrace of a free-lunch fiscal policy.” Takes two to tango.

Stage 3. Wall Street’s deadly ‘vast, unproductive expansion’

Stockman continues pounding away: “The third ominous change in the American economy has been the vast, unproductive expansion of our financial sector.” He warns that “Republicans have been oblivious to the grave danger of flooding financial markets with freely printed money and, at the same time, removing traditional restrictions on leverage and speculation.” Wrong, not oblivious. Self-interested Republican loyalists like Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner knew exactly what they were doing.

They wanted the economy, markets and the government to be under the absolute control of Wall Street’s too-greedy-to-fail banks. They conned Congress and the Fed into bailing out an estimated $23.7 trillion debt. Worse, they have since destroyed meaningful financial reforms. So Wall Street is now back to business as usual blowing another bigger bubble/bust cycle that will culminate in the coming “American Apocalypse.”

Stockman refers to Wall Street’s surviving banks as “wards of the state.” Wrong, the opposite is true. Wall Street now controls Washington, and its “unproductive” trading is “extracting billions from the economy with a lot of pointless speculation in stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives.” Wall Street banks like Goldman were virtually bankrupt, would have never survived without government-guaranteed deposits and “virtually free money from the Fed’s discount window to cover their bad bets.”

Stage 4. New American Revolution class-warfare coming soon

Finally, thanks to Republican policies that let us “live beyond our means for decades by borrowing heavily from abroad, we have steadily sent jobs and production offshore,” while at home “high-value jobs in goods production … trade, transportation, information technology and the professions shrunk by 12% to 68 million from 77 million.”

As the apocalypse draws near, Stockman sees a class-rebellion, a new revolution, a war against greed and the wealthy. Soon. The trigger will be the growing gap between economic classes: No wonder “that during the last bubble (from 2002 to 2006) the top 1% of Americans — paid mainly from the Wall Street casino — received two-thirds of the gain in national income, while the bottom 90% — mainly dependent on Main Street’s shrinking economy — got only 12%. This growing wealth gap is not the market’s fault. It’s the decaying fruit of bad economic policy.”

Get it? The decaying fruit of the GOP’s bad economic policies is destroying our economy.

Warning: this black swan won’t be pretty, will shock, soon

His bottom line: “The day of national reckoning has arrived. We will not have a conventional business recovery now, but rather a long hangover of debt liquidation and downsizing … it’s a pity that the modern Republican party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach — balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline — is needed more than ever.”

Wrong: There are far bigger things to “pity.”

First, that most Americans, 300 million, are helpless, will do nothing, sit in the bleachers passively watching this deadly partisan game like it’s just another TV reality show.

Second, that, unfortunately, politicians are so deep-in-the-pockets of the Wall Street conspiracy that controls Washington they are helpless and blind.

And third, there’s a depressing sense that Stockman will be dismissed as a traitor, his message lost in the 24/7 news cycle … until the final apocalyptic event, an unpredictable black swan triggers another, bigger global meltdown, followed by a long Great Depression II and a historic class war.

So be prepared, it will hit soon, when you least expect.


By Bonnie Rochman Friday, October 1, 2010
When a Rutgers University freshman allegedly streamed video on the Internet of his roommate’s homosexual encounter in their dorm room, leading the roommate to leap to his death from the George Washington Bridge, it highlighted the strange new technocratic world kids — and all of us, for that matter — inhabit.

Was it just an unfortunate case of kids just being kids, unaware of the consequences the video prank might have? Or was it full-blown cyberbullying, with an insidious helping of homophobia? Or, perhaps, in our unregulated Wild West of a World Wide Web, the two are inextricably intertwined. (More on ‘It Gets Better': Wisdom From Grown-Up Gays and Lesbians to Bullied Kids)

Even bullying experts are undecided, with many calling the humiliation that 18-year-old Tyler Clementi endured outright sexual harassment and others going back and forth on whether Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Ravi’s friend, Molly Wei, had malicious intentions. Ravi and Wei — whose room Ravi was in when he flipped on the hidden webcam — are being charged with invasion of privacy. As the investigation progresses, it will surprise no one if the charges escalate.

Maybe we are where we are because we’ve had no teachers. No one has instructed us how to use the Internet. We’ve learned on our own, pointing and clicking, blogging and tweeting. There are no rules of the cyber-road. In a lawless Facebook-Twitter-chat-room culture with scant etiquette and 24/7 saturation, it can be hard to know where to draw the line. In February, the National Cyber Security Alliance released a report that found that U.S. schoolchildren aren’t being adequately prepared to navigate the Internet responsibly. With even toddlers getting handy with a mouse, what’s clear is that cyberbullying education has got to start with the Dora the Explorer set if it’s going to sink in.

“Our dorms are a microcosm of society,” says Marlene Snyder, the U.S. development director for the Olweus bullying prevention program, which the American Academy of Pediatrics cited last year when it called upon schools to implement comprehensive anti-bullying programs. “We have become a very uncivil place to live. This technology certainly puts a weapon in the hands of people who have not been prepared for it.”

Even though more than 6,000 U.S. schools use the Olweus anti-bullying programs, Snyder estimates that only half have gotten around to incorporating the curriculum’s cyberbullying aspect. The program includes cyberbullying programs for students in elementary through high school and explores the ethical use of Internet technology. (More on New Study: Gay Parents = Great Kids)

Internet culture, with its avatars and screen names, can cultivate a sense of anonymity that allows people — especially teens who lack the biological ability to consistently predict the consequences of their actions —to act in ways they wouldn’t face to face. “The basic rules, standards, guidelines and values that govern how we interact with each other all should apply to how we interact with each other using technology,” says Nancy Willard, director of the Eugene, Ore.–based Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, which provides research and professional development to educators. “The problem is people forget that. Because it is possible to easily videotape someone in a compromising situation and show it to others, people think it’s right.”

On, a poster assumed to be Clementi shared his frustration over the surreptitious video in a thread entitled “college roommate spying.” “I guess what he was doing was… I feel like it was ‘look at what a fag my roommate is’ … and the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy as the scandal whereas i mean come on…he was SPYING ON ME….do they see nothing wrong with this?”

The writer added he was reluctant to complain about his roommate “then end up with nothing happening except him getting pissed at me….” Later, he posted that he’d reported the incident, which less than half of bullied students typically do.

This spring, the Youth Voice Project at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College released data from the first known major study to inquire about students’ perceptions of what works when dealing with bullying. Just 42% of participants said they reported bullying to an adult at school; of that group, only 34% of the time did the situation improve.

Researchers at Iowa State University narrowed the parameters even further, finding that one of every two non-heterosexual youths are regular victims of cyberbullying. Yet they often feel paralyzed, according to the study in May’s International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, with more than half indicating their parents were powerless to stop the victimization and 57% doubting a school official could help them. “They feared that there might be more retribution by ‘tattling,'” said Warren Blumenfeld, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction and the study’s lead author; he was bullied as a teen for being gay. (More on Profiling Student Cheaters: Are They Psychopaths?)

“We’ve always focused on Internet safety — don’t give your name, your address, your phone number,” says Snyder. “We’ve been real good about that but we have missed the cruelty part.” In Clementi’s case, the general online cruelty took on an added anti-gay note. “This is a case of discrimination based on someone’s sexual preference,” says Nancy Mullin, director of Raleigh, N.C.–based Bullying Prevention Solutions, which consults with schools, parents and community groups. “His roommate used cybertechnology to engage in sexual harassment.”

The Internet, in this case, was just a conduit — and that presents a new challenge. “Cyberbullying is kind of in its infancy at this point,” says Mullin. “Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that kids’ ability to use the technology pretty much outstrips the adults who have responsibility for monitoring and teaching them about it.”

Shortly before Clementi jumped, a website that could have offered inspiration if not outright help was launched. Healthland wrote recently about the “It Gets Better” project on YouTube, which solicits testimonials from gay adults about how life improves post–high school. The channel has proved exceptionally popular, with more than half a million views since it began Sept. 15. Unfortunately, its premise didn’t ring true for Clementi.

“There’s a saying that we’ve now changed to read, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can kill,'” says Blumenfeld of Iowa State.

So, apparently, can webcams.

By Laura Sessions Stepp

A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.

Authorized by Congress in 1997, the study followed 2000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities — two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community, in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education.

By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners.

“There’s not a lot of good news here for people who pin their hopes on abstinence-only education,” said Sarah Brown, executive director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a privately funded organization that monitors sex education programs. “This is the first study with a solid, experimental design, the first with adequate numbers and long-term follow-up, the first to measure behavior and not just intent. On every measure, the effectiveness of the programs was flat.”

The report’s release comes as questions are being raised in several quarters about abstinence programs. A bill introduced in Congress, sponsored by both Republican and Democratic members, would allocate money for sex education that teaches abstinence and contraception. In addition, eight states that used to receive funding for abstinence programs have decided to stop doing so, two of them very recently. Federal abstinence funds come up for congressional renewal this summer under the Title V grant.

The federal government spends $176 million a year on abstinence-only education, and millions more are spent every year in state and local matching grants. Harry Wilson, a top official in the Department of Health and Human Services, said yesterday that the administration has no intention of changing funding priorities in light of the results.

“This study isn’t rigorous enough to show whether or not [abstinence-only] education works,” Wilson said.

Some federal money, in addition to state and local dollars, supports comprehensive sex education, he said. What is spent on abstinence “is not that much money when it comes to offering an alternative to the other message.” He said modifications in the program are already being considered, including a focus on low-income neighborhoods and extending instruction into high school.

The study did not address the impact of a student’s family income on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs.

The results came as a bit of surprise even to Christopher Trenholm, who supervised the project at Mathematica Policy Research Inc. An early analysis by his organization showed some attitude shifts toward delaying sex among students in the abstinence programs, but those differences disappeared as students got older. One thing they also learned, Trenholm said, was that kids receiving abstinence instruction did not use condoms less often than other kids, a possibility that critics occasionally raise. They also showed slightly better knowledge about the prevention of sexually transmitted disease.

Kids in both groups were knowledgeable about the risks of having sex without using a condom or other form of protection. Knowing that did not mean they put on a condom every time, however. Condom use was not high in either group; of those who had sex, almost half said they used condoms only “sometimes” or “never.”

Brown said Mathematica’s results underscore what other, smaller studies have shown: “The most effective programs are those that say abstinence is the best choice but birth control and protection are also worth knowing about.”

An official at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States agreed.

“Comprehensive education means teaching about abstinence and a myriad of other topics,” said spokeswoman Martha Kempner. Among them, she said: “contraception, critical thinking, one’s own values and the values of your family and your religious community.

“Abstinence-only was an experiment and it failed.”


By Lion Calandra – Fri Sep 17, 11:01 am ET

Philadelphia – Today, more than the Fourth of July, honors America’s independence.

On this day, 223 years ago, the U.S. Constitution was born, giving Americans the freedoms that they hold dear, the freedoms that men and women have died to defend.

And yet, despite its brevity (slightly more than 7,500 words, compared to the roughly 77,000 words of the first Harry Potter book) very few Americans know about the document that is the cornerstone of their way of life.

According to a recent survey by the National Constitution Center of 600 students, 58 percent know that Bill Gates is the father of Microsoft, but only 2 percent know that James Madison is the father of the Constitution. About 64 percent of respondents know that “The Clubâ€

Other studies have also shown that most Americans know very little about the Constitution. In a public opinion poll conducted for the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, nearly half the respondents believed that the Constitution contains Karl Marx’s phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

American ignoranceI witnessed this lack of understanding recently when I was standing in line at a movie house behind a woman who objected to the theater’s policy of searching purses and backpacks. She indignantly told a theater employee that her purse could not be inspected, citing the Fourth Amendment’s protection against illegal searches.

She did not know that, in general, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to private businesses  only to governments. The movie theater has a right to require a bag search; she has the right to take her business elsewhere.

Her mistake is forgivable when you consider that even President Obama cannot get it right. During his first State of the Union address, Mr. Obama said, “…we find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we’re all created equal.”

Those words are good ones, and they are in the Declaration of Independence.

Misquoted by politiciansHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a press release last year, saying, “On the shared responsibility requirement in the House health insurance reform bill, which operates like auto insurance in most states, individuals must either purchase coverage (and non-exempt employers must purchase coverage for their workers) – or pay a modest penalty for not doing so. The bill uses the tax code to provide a strong incentive for Americans to have insurance coverage and not pass their emergency health costs onto other Americans – but it allows them a way to pay their way out of that obligation. There is no constitutional problem with these provisions.”

Well, much of that is up to debate.

Sen. Roland Burris (D) of Illinois, Obamas appointed replacement to the U.S. Senate, said regarding the issue:  What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.

Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has said the Constitution’s “good and welfare clause” gives Congress the authority to require individuals to buy health insurance as mandated in the health care bill.

There is no “good and welfare clauseâ€

Maybe he means the general welfare clause (Article 1, Section 8), which states:  The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.

Both parties guilty before we lay blame, it should be noted that invalidating the Constitution is a bipartisan pastime.

During his speech last year before the Conservative Political Action Conference, talk show host Rush Limbaugh said, “We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.”

Again, that’s the Declaration of Independence.

On a recent episode of the Sunday talk show “The McLaughlin Group,” conservative pundit Patrick J. Buchanan, quoting the preamble, said, “for ourselves and our progeny.”

It’s “posterity.”

There is no good reason for the Constitution to be misquoted. Its genius is its simplicity. In slightly more than 7,500 words, it lays out the framework for the greatest way of life and most just legal system in the world. And its 39 courageous signers, in their wisdom, handed the nation’s ordinary citizens tremendous power. But never absolute power.

The Constitution is smart enough to not trust the president, either Democrat or Republican. It eschews dictatorship, laying out a tripartite government. It safeguards justice. The Constitution pioneered the do-over, allowing for amendments dictated by the will of us, the people.

If not for the First Amendment, you might not be reading this essay. And every champagne toast should begin with a nod to the 21st Amendment. I’m grateful for the 19th Amendment, which came too late but arrived just in time, giving me the right to vote.

So, today, on the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, the preamble is printed here, for those young enough to need a refresher:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Lion Calandra is a Jennings Fellow with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.


By Andy Birkey 9/10/10 6:29 AM

A lawsuit against the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy — which bars openly gay men and women from serving in the military — was ruled unconstitutional by a judge in Riverside, Calif., Thursday evening. The suit, brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, argued that the policy violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the judge agreed, ordering a permanent injunction against the policy. The Department of Justice has seven days to appeal the ruling.

In a 28-page decision (pdf), U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips wrote:

The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act infringes the fundamental rights of United States servicemembers in many ways, some described above. The Act denies homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces the right to enjoy “intimate conduct” in their personal relationships. The Act denies them the right to speak about their loved ones while serving their country in uniform; it punishes them with discharge for writing a personal letter, in a foreign language, to a person of the same sex with whom they shared an intimate relationship before entering military service; it discharges them for including information in a personal communication from which an unauthorized reader might discern their homosexuality. In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, Defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act was necessary to significantly further the Government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden. Thus, Plaintiff, on behalf of its members, is entitled to judgment in its favor on the first claim in its First Amended Complaint for violation of the substantive due process rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment.

A range of groups, including some that oppose same-sex marriage, hailed the decision.

“Today’s ruling is not just a victory for the LGBT community, but for our military, our security, and for U.S. taxpayers,” Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs said. “Asking soldiers to lie about who they are destroys the trust on which an effective fighting force is reliant, and discrimination of any kind undermines the values that generations of Americans–including LGBT Americans–have fought and died to defend. It is our hope that the Senate will act quickly to repeal this failed policy, so that we can avoid a lengthy and costly appeals process, and get on with the business of ensuring all patriotic Americans are able to serve our country with honor and dignity.”

The Log Cabin Republicans filed the lawsuit in Oct. 2004, and it went to trial in July 2010. Executive director R. Clarke Cooper praised the ruling.

“As an American, a veteran and an Army reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane Don’t Ask Don’t Tell statute violates the Constitution,” he said. “Today, the ruling is not just a win for Log Cabin Republican servicemembers, but all American servicemembers.”

Chad Griffin of the American Foundation for Equal Rights said:

“Today’s court decision declaring Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell unconstitutional is yet another significant and long-overdue step toward full equality for all Americans. Along with the recent federal court decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8, it is clear that our nation is moving toward the day when every American will be treated equally under the law, as is required by our Constitution.”

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator, was the only plaintiff named in the case. He was discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

“This is an historic moment and an historic ruling for the gay military community and for the readiness and integrity of our Armed Forces,” he said. “As the only named injured party in this case, I am exceedingly proud to have been able to represent all who have been impacted and had their lives ruined by this blatantly unconstitutional policy. We are finally on our way to vindication.”

Other groups also reacted to the decision. The Human Rights Campaign released this statement:

“Today a federal judge affirmed what the vast majority of the American people know to be true – that it’s time for the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law to be sent to the dustbin of history. With this legal victory in hand, Congress is right now in a perfect position to strengthen our national security by ending a law that has discharged thousands of capable service members. With House passage already secured, the Senate can and should vote in the next few weeks to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and allow every qualified man and woman the chance to serve with honor.”

And the Stonewall Democrats:

“Today’s Federal court decision calling the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy unconstitutional on grounds that it violates gay military members’ rights to free speech, due process and open association is another nail in the coffin of the policy. We’re glad that the Federal court agrees with President Obama’s position: that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell needs to come to an end. Our Senators need to hear from their constituents demanding repeal. We also call on Senate Republicans to rise above the obstructionism they’ve been playing at for months and let a vote happen on what the vast majority of Americans want: repeal of DADT.”

And perhaps surprisingly, the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to relationship rights for same-sex couples, released these tweets:

“#DADT has nothing to do with the tradition of marriage between a man and a woman and everything to do with citizens’ rights.”


“There is no need to prohibit gays and lesbians from openly serving in the Armed Forces. They should have the opportunity to serve.”


Tell Your Representative to Support Education for All

72 million children around the world are denied access to an education – limiting their future opportunities and undermining the economic well-being and social stability of their nations. Introduced by Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Education for All Act of 2010 (H.R. 5117) will ensure access to quality basic education for the world’s marginalized children. Call on your member of congress to co-sponsor the EFA Act of 2010.

I am writing to ask you to co-sponsor H.R. 5117 (the Education for All Act of 2010), which would help children everywhere by achieving comprehensive U.S. support for universal basic education for all children.

Today, 72 million children around the world, the majority of whom are girls, are denied the opportunity to go to school. Access to education is a right, not a privilege. Today’s world requires that all citizens have a basic education. This is necessary for economic growth, combating terrorism, social stability and democracies that work for the people.

The EFA Act of 2010 increases access to and improves the quality of basic education for children globally, particularly girls, children affected by conflict, victims of child labor and human trafficking, and children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Ensuring educational opportunity is essential to defeating global terrorism. Education saves lives, lifts people of poverty, and gives them the opportunity to become productive members of their society.

I hope that you will support the children of the world and co-sponsor H.R. 5117.

Sign & Send:

The crisis of middle-class America

By Edward Luce

Published: July 30 2010 17:04 | Last updated: July 30 2010 17:04

Mark and Connie Freeman in front of their home in Minneapolis
The Freemans Mark and Connie Freeman live in north-west Minneapolis. They have a joint income – from several jobs – of $70,000. Last year they fought off repossession

Technically speaking, Mark Freeman should count himself among the ­luckiest ­people on the planet. The 52-year-old lives with his family on a tree-lined street in his own home in the heart of the wealthiest country in the world. When he is hungry, he eats. When it gets hot, he turns on the air-conditioning. When he wants to look something up, he surfs the internet. One of the songs he likes to sing when he hosts a weekly karaoke evening is Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black”.

Yet somehow things don’t feel so good any more. Last year the bank tried to repossess the Freemans’ home even though they were only three months in arrears. Their son, Andy, was recently knocked off his mother’s health insurance and only painfully reinstated for a large fee. And, much like the boarded-up houses that signal America’s epidemic of foreclosures, the drug dealings and shootings that were once remote from their neighbourhood are edging ever closer, a block at a time.

What is most troubling about the Freemans is how typical they are. Neither Mark nor Connie – his indefatigable wife, who is as chubby as he is gaunt – suffer any chronic medical conditions. Both have jobs at the local ­Methodist Hospital, he as a warehouse receiver and distributor, she as an anaesthesia supply technician. At $70,000 a year, their joint gross income is more than a third higher than the median US household.

Once upon a time this was called the American Dream. Nowadays it might be called America’s Fitful Reverie. Indeed, Mark spends large monthly sums renting a machine to treat his sleep apnea, which gives him insomnia. “If we lost our jobs, we would have about three weeks of savings to draw on before we hit the bone,” says Mark, who is sitting on his patio keeping an eye on the street and swigging from a bottle of Miller Lite. “We work day and night and try to save for our retirement. But we are never more than a pay check or two from the streets.”

Mention middle-class America and most foreigners envision something timeless and manicured, from The Brady Bunch, say, or Desperate Housewives in which teenagers drive to school in sports cars and the girls are always cheerleading. This might approximate how some in the top 10 per cent live. The rest live like the Freemans. Or worse.

It only takes about 30 seconds to tour Mark’s 700sq ft home in north-west Minneapolis. Cluttered with chintzy memorabilia, it was bought with a $50,000 mortgage in 1989. It is now worth $73,000. “At one stage we had it valued at $105,000 – and we thought we had entered nirvana,” says Mark. “People from the banks kept calling, sometimes four or five times an evening, offering equity lines, and home improvement loans. They were like drug pushers.”

Solid Democratic voters, the Freemans are evidently phlegmatic in their outlook. The visitor’s gaze is drawn to their fridge door, which is festooned with humorous magnets. One says: “I am sorry I missed Church, I was busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian.” Another says: “I would tell you to go to Hell but I work there and I don’t want to see you every day.” A third, “Jesus loves you but I think you’re an asshole.” Mark chuckles: “Laughter is the best medicine.”

The slow economic strangulation of the Freemans and millions of other middle-class Americans started long before the Great Recession, which merely exacerbated the “personal recession” that ordinary Americans had been suffering for years. Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300.

The trend has only been getting stronger. Most economists see the Great Stagnation as a structural problem – meaning it is immune to the business cycle. In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start. Worse is that the long era of stagnating incomes has been accompanied by something profoundly un-American: declining income mobility.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French chronicler of early America, was once misquoted as having said: “America is the best country in the world to be poor.” That is no longer the case. Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.

Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning ­crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer ­grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a ­diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse. “Who killed the ­American Dream?” say the banners at leftwing protest marches. “Take America back,” shout the rightwing Tea Party demonstrators.

Statistics only capture one slice of the problem. But it is the renowned Harvard economist, Larry Katz, who offers the most compelling analogy. “Think of the American economy as a large apartment block,” says the softly spoken professor. “A century ago – even 30 years ago – it was the object of envy. But in the last generation its character has changed. The penthouses at the top keep getting larger and larger. The apartments in the middle are feeling more and more squeezed and the basement has flooded. To round it off, the elevator is no longer working. That broken elevator is what gets people down the most.”

Unsurprisingly, a growing majority of Americans have been telling pollsters that they expect their children to be worse off than they are. During the three postwar decades, which many now look back on as the golden era of the ­American middle class, the rising tide really did lift most boats – as John F. Kennedy put it. Incomes grew in real terms by almost 2 per cent a year – almost doubling each generation.

And although the golden years were driven by the rise of mass higher education, you did not need to have graduated from high school to make ends meet. Like her husband, ­Connie Freeman was raised in a “working-class” home in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota near the Canadian border. Her father, who left school aged 14 following the Great ­Depression of the 1930s, worked in the iron mines all his life. Towards the end of his working life he was earning $15 an hour – more than $40 in today’s prices.

Andy Freeman
Andy, the autistic son of Mark and Connie Freeman. Removed from his mother’s health insurance, he was only reinstated for a large fee

Thirty years later, Connie, who is far better qualified than her father, having graduated from high school and done one year of further education, makes $17 an hour. The pace of life has also changed: “We used to sit around the dinner table every evening when I was growing up,” says Connie, who speaks with prolonged vowels of the Midwest. “Nowadays that’s sooooo rare.”

Connie’s minimally educated father earned enough to allow her mother to remain a full-time housewife and still fund two children through college. Connie and Mark, meanwhile, struggle to pay off the stream of bills in a dual-income household. The state of Minnesota pays for Andy, their 20-year-old son, who suffers from acute autism, to study ­theatre at the local community college.

Strictly speaking, Connie actually lives in a four-income household. “When Andy was two, I was told to buy a karaoke machine because autistic children sometimes respond well to it,” says Mark, pointing at what can only be described as a postmodern antique. “That’s how I got into my karaoke ­business. I get about $100 every Wednesday evening. And on Saturdays I manage the local liquor store. We need all four jobs to keep our heads above water.”

So much for the rising tide.

From the point of view of most economists, the story so far is uncontroversial. Most agree on the diagnosis. But they diverge on the causes. Many on the left blame the Great ­Stagnation on globalisation. The rise of China, India, Brazil and others has undercut wages in the west and put America’s unskilled, semi-skilled and even skilled workers out of jobs. Manufacturing now accounts for only 12 per cent of US jobs. Think of the typical Detroit car worker 30 years ago, who had a secure middle-class lifestyle, good healthcare and a fat ­pension to look forward to. Today, he lives in Shenzhen.

Another group singles out the explosion of new technology, which has enabled the most routine and easily automated jobs to be replaced by computers. Think of the office assistant, who once took dictation and brewed the coffee. She is now a ­BlackBerry who spends half her life in Starbucks. Or the back office person who, much like those shoemakers in the fairy tale, now stitches your accounts in Bangalore while you sleep.

Then there are those, such as Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winner, who blame it on politics, notably the conservative backlash which began when Ronald Reagan came to power in 1980, and which sped up the decline of unions and reversed the most progressive features of the US tax system.

Fewer than a tenth of American private sector workers now belong to a union. People in Europe and Canada are subjected to the same forces of globalisation and technology. But they belong to unions in larger numbers and their healthcare is publicly funded. More than half of household bankruptcies in the US are caused by a serious ­illness or accident.

Such are the competing (but not contradictory) ­theories of what causes it. The “lived experience”, as sociologists would say, is another matter. Much like the ­Freemans, whose street is boxed in for about a mile each side by long commercial roads pockmarked with boarded-up shops, ­dollar stores and fast food joints, the Millers could be living anywhere in the US. Only the sultry heat betrays that you are in Virginia and thus in the American South.

The Miller family in front of their home in Falls Church, Virginia
The Millers: Shareen and Mark Miller (front right) with (left) their son Dustin, his wife Ruth and their two-yearold child, and (back right) Shareen and Mark’s other son Josh. Out of necessity, they all share the cramped family home in Falls Church, Virginia

Falls Church, Virginia is really a suburb of Washington DC. The government’s relentless expansion has fuelled an evergreen private sector across the Potomac River that mostly deals in security, defence, government services and lobbying. Pride of place in Shareen Miller’s home goes to a grainy photo­graph of her chatting with Barack Obama at a White House ceremony last year to inaugurate a new law that mandates equal pay for women.

As an organiser for Virginia’s 8,000 personal care ­assistants – people who look after the old and disabled in their own homes – Shareen, 42, was invited along with several dozen others to witness the signing. But that was all she gained from her fleeting proximity to the president. Since then, her pay and her hours have moved steadily downwards. Last year she made $1,500 a month. Now it is $900. In common with other state governors, Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s chief executive, has been cutting budgets ruthlessly since the recession began.

Although roughly twice the size of the Freemans’ home, Shareen’s house feels even more cramped. Along with two sons, a daughter-in-law, a grandchild and her husband, Shareen has a menagerie of pets. Her patient, Marissa, a 26-year-old with cerebral palsy, often stays with them.

Shareen exhibits that knockdown goodwill that you find in many Americans – in spite of having little time on her hands, she volunteers on Saturdays for the Lost Pets charity. To get anywhere the Freemans must drive. About a quarter of a mile down the road is the local intersection, with the identikit Taco Bells, 7-Elevens, dollar stores and payday loan outlets that punctuate America. It is the physical geography that differentiates places: the human geography simply repeats itself.

A well-built lady with a permanent laugh, Shareen sketches out her complex family tree – a retired father who worked in the Oregon State Penitentiary and several half brothers and half sisters, none of whom appears to be making ends meet. “Guess which one I’m closest to?” she asks with an impish smile. “None of them.”

Again, technically speaking, Shareen is relatively comfortable. Because her husband works for a fire safety company and brings in $70,000 a year, the Millers are clearly surviving. But they dread what would happen if either had a ­medical crisis. A few years ago Shareen had a tumour removed from her ­diaphragm, which left her $17,000 in debt. And her husband suffers from a herniated disk. Remarkably, given that their gross joint income is double the US median, Shareen has had to postpone a dental operation for six months in order to pay off her car loan. Nor does she have time to upgrade her skills. “One thing about people who work with the disabled is that they never have any spare time,” she says.

. . .

Much as they disagree on what has caused the Great Stagnation, economists also differ on the remedies. Most agree that better education improves people’s earnings potential, even if it does not solve the underlying problem. Others point out that not everybody can be a bond trader, a software entrepreneur or a Harvard professor.

Many of the jobs of the future will be in “inter-personal” roles that cannot be easily replaced by computers or ­foreigners – janitors, beauty technicians, home carers and landscape gardeners, for whom college is often superfluous. Furthermore, a large chunk of Americans who have been hit by ­stagnation over the past decade are college graduates. Even they are not immune. But more education, at the very least, will improve one’s chances. Paying for it is another matter.

Shareen’s son and daughter-in-law, Dustin and Ruth, both aged 23, recently had to move back home because they could not afford to rent, even though both hold down jobs – Dustin with a bath remodelling company, Ruth in a fabrics store. Both did well in high school and would like to study marine biology – a skill of the future. But they cannot afford the debt.

The Millers at the yard of their home in Falls Church, Virginia
The Miller family. Both Dustin and Ruth (left) would like to go to college, but can’t afford to take on the debt

While incomes in America are stagnating, the cost of education is soaring. Since 1990, the proportion of Americans who are paying off more than $20,000 in student loans a ­decade after they graduated has almost doubled. Lawrence Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, who has long worried about the growth of what he calls America’s “anxious middle”, points out that of the major economies, the US has the highest share of graduates in the workforce. But if you take the 25-34-year-old age group, America is not even in the top 10.

More and more young Americans are put off by the thought of long-term debt. “It’s not only fear of the debt – it is the four years of lost earnings,” says Ruth Miller, who was raised a ­Mormon and, to the bemusement of her parents-in-law, has converted Dustin to the faith. During my visit two expressionless Mormon “home visitors” wearing identical shirts and ties turned up and whisked Dustin, Ruth and their two-year-old son into their bedroom for counselling. “I would love to know what they’re saying in there,” says Shareen in a stage whisper.

Having been apolitical, Shareen had a road-to-Damascus moment three years ago after she was contacted by Mark Warner, now one of Virginia’s senators, who asked to fill “a day in her shoes”. The episode, which was used for publicity in Warner’s election campaign, made a fan of Shareen. Having seen how tough Shareen’s work could be, Warner bought her a $6,000 outdoor lift that enables her to bring in wheelchair-bound Marissa through the patio. “What a wonderful man he is,” says Shareen. “I’d love to meet him again.”

So far, Warner’s governing Democratic party has taken only limited action to address the Great Stagnation. On the campaign trail before the downturn, Obama often talked of the long years of “flat incomes” that most Americans had ­suffered and promised to turn their situation around. His administration has taken some steps, such as lifting budgets for community colleges to retrain workers, and launching the widely praised $5bn “race to the top” award for states to improve their schools. But the White House, too, has been overwhelmed by the immediacy of the recession.

The impact on people such as the Millers and the ­Freemans has been acute. First there was stagnation. Then came the recession. “It is like continually bailing water out from a sinking boat and then they take your bucket away,” says Mark Freeman. Out went the pestering calls from the banks ­urging them to take on even more debt. In came the bailiffs. “One day, the banks are sucking up to you, the next they hate your guts,” he says with a Gallic shrug. Only through the help of a friendly lawyer did they escape foreclosure. The Bank of America, which received a $45bn taxpayer bail-out in late 2008, lost the Freemans’ paperwork several times. Each time they had to go through the laborious appeal process again.

“I suspect the bank wanted to foreclose because we were so near to paying off the mortgage,” says Mark. “It was more profitable for them that way.” Eventually the Freemans proved they could keep up with the payments. Mark calculated they have paid $163,000 so far on a house they bought for less than one-third of that amount. It could all have been for naught. More than four million homes have been repossessed in the past three years. “Things have gotten so bad that before the price of copper fell, people were breaking into boarded-up houses to strip them of their wiring,” says Mark.

What, then, is the future of the American Dream? Michael Spence, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, whom the World Bank commissioned to lead a four-year study into the future of global growth, admits to a sense of foreboding. Like a growing number of economists, Spence says he sees the Great ­Stagnation as a profound crisis of identity for America.

For years, the problem was cushioned and partially hidden by the availability of cheap debt. Middle-class Americans were actively encouraged to withdraw equity from their homes, or leach from their retirement funds, in the confidence that ­property prices and stock markets would permanently defy gravity (a view, among others, promoted by half the world’s Nobel economics prize winners, Spence not included). That cushion is now gone. Easy money has turned into heavy debt. Baby boomers have postponed retirements. College graduates are moving back in with their parents.

The barometer is economic. But the anger is human and increasingly political. “I have this gnawing feeling about the future of America,” says Spence. “When people lose the sense of optimism, things tend to get more volatile. The future I most fear for America is Latin American: a grossly unequal society that is prone to wild swings from populism to ­orthodoxy, which makes sensible government increasingly hard to imagine. Look at the Tea Party. People think it came from nowhere. While I don’t agree with their remedies, most Tea Party members are middle-class Americans who have been suffering silently for years.”

Spence admits he is thinking aloud and going “way beyond the data”. And he concedes that America probably still retains its most vibrant strength in its still world-beating capacity for technological innovation. Most economists are not as bleak as Spence. But it is in the neighborhoods among ordinary Americans that his pessimism gets its loudest echo. “To be pessimistic about the future is so new for Americans and so strikingly un-American,” says Spence. “But most people grasp their own situations way better than any economist.”

Every now and then the Freemans invite their neighbours round to their front porch, to watch the world go by, drink beer and eat Connie’s justly renowned dish of ­Minnesota wild rice. In the best American spirit, Mark and Connie are active neighbourhood people. They are the types who shovel your snow, volunteer for school events, and coach the baseball little league – Mark has done all three.

It takes optimism to be like this. But in the past few years the Freemans have been running low on it. “I guess the penny dropped in the last 18 months when we finally realised that it’s always going to be like this – we are never going to be able to retire on our savings,” says Connie. “As for Andy,” she says, referring to her painfully shy but acutely observant son, “the future really frightens me. If you’re young, it’s bad enough nowadays. But for a kid with autism?”

When I asked what the American Dream means to them, Mark looked despondent. “It’s not a dream,” he said. “I would hate to sound like one of those Tea Party people but I really do want my country back. I just don’t feel like that is going to ­happen.” His words reminded me of a famous quip by George Carlin, the late, great American comedian – “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Having been told that karaoke had worked miracles on Andy’s autism as an infant, I asked whether he still liked to croon. Mark and Connie both instantly beamed. “You should see Andy down at the club singing word-perfectly and playing up flirtatiously to the women,” said Connie. “He turns into a different person.”

When Andy came outside, I asked if he would sing. Without skipping a beat he launched into a flawless rendition of “The Impossible Dream”, the song from Man of La Mancha, the 1970s Broadway hit. His performance was uncanny.

“To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong, to love pure and chaste from afar, to try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star. This is my quest: to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

It was one of those only-in-America moments. When Andy stopped singing, I turned to Mark and Connie. For an uncharacteristic moment, they were both silent.

Edward Luce is the FT’s Washington bureau chief


It’s been an amazing 10 years, and we’re stronger than ever – 5 million members as of today. We’ve prepared an interactive photo timeline that captures so many of the memories we’ve shared together.

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For the first time in more than 20 years, legislation to encourage the inclusion of comprehensive sex education in our school curricula has been introduced.

House Bill 316, the Act for Our Children’s Future, is being sponsored by State Rep. Steven Slesnick (D-Canton). This legislation would require that if a school district offers any sexual health education programming, then it must be comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically-accurate, and abstinence-inclusive.

The reasons to support comprehensive sex education over the failed abstinence-only curriculum to which so many students have been subjected are many:

  • In 2006, nearly 27,000 Ohio girls between the ages of 10 and 19 became pregnant.
  • Ohio has the 25th highest pregnancy rate in the United States.
  • Teens who have children are much less likely to finish high school and are more likely to be victims of abuse. They are also more likely to receive public assistance. 81% of unmarried women who have children before the age of 20 are on welfare within 10 years. (Source: Paul Offner. “Welfare reform and teenage girls,” Social Sciences Quarterly, 2005, 26(2): 306-322.)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted infection. Even more shocking, nearly half of the young African-American women were infected with an STI.

Multiple peer-reviewed studies have found that comprehensive sexuality education programs that teach teens about abstinence, contraception and disease control are effective at delaying onset of intercourse, reducing the frequency of intercourse, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing condom and contraceptive use.

A 2005 report by Dr. Scott Frank, Director of Public Health at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, concluded that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Ohio have implemented curricula in schools throughout the state that “contain misleading and false information, scientific errors, and substantial inaccuracies regarding gender stereotypes, STDs, and contraception.”

What more do we need to hear?

Unfortunately, after two hearings, HB 316 has been stalled in the House Education Committee – even after parents, teachers, young people, medical professionals, health educators, and clergy have testified in support of the bill.

Please sign this petition to urge Ohio House Education Committee Chairman Brian Williams and House Speaker Armond Budish to schedule additional hearings on HB 316 and to pass it out of committee:


Please help make schools safer for all students like Constance by urging your Representative to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act (HR 4530). This important legislation would be the first comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation builds on existing protections for students based on their race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, and will provide LGBT students and their families with legal recourse against discriminatory treatment. Please act now by sending a letter to your Representative, use link below;


We Give A Damn!

Posted: April 5, 2010 by iactnow in Civil Rights, Education, Gay Rights

By Chris Hedges

The language of violence always presages violence. I watched it in war after war from Latin America to the Balkans. The impoverishment of a working class and the snuffing out of hope and opportunity always produce angry mobs ready to kill and be killed. A bankrupt, liberal elite, which proves ineffectual against the rich and the criminal, always gets swept aside, in times of economic collapse, before thugs and demagogues emerge to play to the passions of the crowd. I have seen this drama. I know each act. I know how it ends. I have heard it in other tongues in other lands. I recognize the same stock characters, the buffoons, charlatans and fools, the same confused crowds and the same impotent and despised liberal class that deserves the hatred it engenders.

“We are ruled not by two parties but one party,” Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket, told me. “It is the party of money and war. Our country has been hijacked. And we have to take the country away from those who have hijacked it. The only question now is whose revolution gets funded.”

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.

The unraveling of America mirrors the unraveling of Yugoslavia. The Balkan war was not caused by ancient ethnic hatreds. It was caused by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. The petty criminals and goons who took power harnessed the anger and despair of the unemployed and the desperate. They singled out convenient scapegoats from ethnic Croats to Muslims to Albanians to Gypsies. They set in motion movements that unleashed a feeding frenzy leading to war and self-immolation. There is little difference between the ludicrous would-be poet Radovan Karadzic, who was a figure of ridicule in Sarajevo before the war, and the moronic Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. There is little difference between the Oath Keepers and the Serbian militias. We can laugh at these people, but they are not the fools. We are.

The longer we appeal to the Democrats, who are servants of corporate interests, the more stupid and ineffectual we become. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and they are right. Only 25 percent of those polled said the government can be trusted to protect the interests of the American people. If we do not embrace this outrage and distrust as our own it will be expressed through a terrifying right-wing backlash.

“It is time for us to stop talking about right and left,” McKinney told me. “The old political paradigm that serves the interests of the people who put us in this predicament will not be the paradigm that gets us out of this. I am a child of the South. Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens Uniteddid not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court. Our problem is a problem of governance. I am willing to reach across traditional barriers that have been skillfully constructed by people who benefit from the way the system is organized.”

We are bound to a party that has betrayed every principle we claim to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy, to a demand for quality and affordable public education, to a concern for the jobs of the working class. And the hatred expressed within right-wing movements for the college-educated elite, who created or at least did nothing to halt the financial debacle, is not misplaced. Our educated elite, wallowing in self-righteousness, wasted its time in the boutique activism of political correctness as tens of millions of workers lost their jobs. The shouting of racist and bigoted words at black and gay members of Congress, the spitting on a black member of the House, the tossing of bricks through the windows of legislators’ offices, are part of the language of rebellion. It is as much a revolt against the educated elite as it is against the government. The blame lies with us. We created the monster.

When someone like Palin posts a map with cross hairs on the districts of Democrats, when she says “Don’t Retreat, Instead—RELOAD!” there are desperate people cleaning their weapons who listen. When Christian fascists stand in the pulpits of megachurches and denounce Barack Obama as the Antichrist, there are messianic believers who listen. When a Republican lawmaker shouts “baby killer” at Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, there are violent extremists who see the mission of saving the unborn as a sacred duty. They have little left to lose. We made sure of that. And the violence they inflict is an expression of the violence they endure.

These movements are not yet full-blown fascist movements. They do not openly call for the extermination of ethnic or religious groups. They do not openly advocate violence. But, as I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, “In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented.” It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous. If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration.

Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into a hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become a hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become a hatred for African-Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press. Our continued impotence and cowardice, our refusal to articulate this anger and stand up in open defiance to the Democrats and the Republicans, will see us swept aside for an age of terror and blood.


One. And You’re Looking At It.

by Charles Fishman, September 1, 2006

Sitting humbly on shelves in stores everywhere is a product, priced at less than $3, that will change the world. Soon. It is a fairly ordinary item that nonetheless cuts to the heart of a half-dozen of the most profound, most urgent problems we face. Energy consumption. Rising gasoline costs and electric bills. Greenhouse-gas emissions. Dependence on coal and foreign oil. Global warming.

The product is the compact fluorescent lightbulb, a quirky-looking twist of frosted glass. In the energy business, it is called a “CFL,” or an “energy saver.” One scientist calls it an “ice-cream-cone spiral,” because in its most-advanced, most-appealing version, it looks like nothing so much as a cone of swirled soft-serve ice cream.

Most people have some experience with swirl bulbs, but typically it hasn’t been happy. In the early 1990s, you would step into a room in a business traveler’s hotel, flip on the lights by the door and between the beds, turn on the desk lamp and the floor lamp, then stand in the gloom looking around and thinking, “There must be another switch somewhere that actually turns on the light.” Every one of the bulbs flickering to life was a compact fluorescent–and five of them together didn’t provide enough light to read the card listing the lineup of cable-TV channels.

For two decades, CFLs lacked precisely what we expect from lightbulbs: strong, unwavering light; quiet; not to mention shapes that actually fit in the places we use bulbs. Now every one of those problems has been conquered. The bulbs come on quickly; their light is bright, white, steady, and silent; and the old U-shaped tubes–they looked like bulbs from a World War II submarine–have mostly been replaced by the swirl. Since 1985, CFLs have changed as much as cell phones and portable music players.

One thing hasn’t changed: the energy savings. Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity.

What that means is that if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

That’s the law of large numbers–a small action, multiplied by 110 million.

The single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States is power plants–half our electricity comes from coal plants. One bulb swapped out: enough electricity saved to turn off two entire power plants–or skip building the next two.

Just one swirl per home. The typical U.S. house has between 50 and 100 “sockets” (astonish yourself: Go count the bulbs in your house). So what if we all bought and installed two ice-cream-cone bulbs? Five? Fifteen?

Says David Goldstein, a PhD physicist, MacArthur “genius” fellow, and senior energy scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council: “This could be just what the world’s been waiting for, for the last 20 years.”

Swirl bulbs don’t just work, they pay for themselves. They use so little power compared with old reliable bulbs, a $3 swirl pays for itself in lower electric bills in about five months. Screw one in, turn it on, and it’s not just lighting your living room, it’s dropping quarters in your pocket. The advantages pile up in a way to almost make one giddy. Compact fluorescents, even in heavy use, last 5, 7, 10 years. Years. Install one on your 30th birthday; it may be around to help illuminate your 40th.

In an era when political leaders and companies are too fainthearted to ask Americans to sacrifice anything for the greater good, the modern ice-cream swirl bulb requires no sacrifice. Buying and using it helps save the world–and also saves the customer money–with no compromise on quality. Selflessness and self-satisfaction, twirled into a single $3 purchase.

So far, the impact of compact fluorescents has been trivial, for a simple reason: We haven’t bought them. In our outdated experience, they don’t work well and they cost too much. Last year, U.S. consumers spent about $1 billion to buy about 2 billion lightbulbs–5.5 million every day. Just 5%, 100 million, were compact fluorescents. First introduced on March 28, 1980, swirls remain a niche product, more curiosity than revolution.

But that’s about to change. It will change before our very eyes. A year from now, chances are that you yourself will have installed a swirl or two, and will likely be quite happy with them. In the name of conservation and good corporate citizenship, not to mention economics, one unlikely company is about haul us to the lightbulb aisle, reeducate us, and sell us a swirl: Wal-Mart.

In the next 12 months, starting with a major push this month, Wal-Mart wants to sell every one of its regular customers–100 million in all–one swirl bulb. In the process, Wal-Mart wants to change energy consumption in the United States, and energy consciousness, too. It also aims to change its own reputation, to use swirls to make clear how seriously Wal-Mart takes its new positioning as an environmental activist.

It’s a bold goal, a remarkable declaration of Wal-Mart’s intention to modernize and green up a whole line of business using market oomph. Teaming up with General Electric, which owns about 60% of the residential lightbulb market in the United States, Wal-Mart wants to single-handedly double U.S. sales for CFLs in a year, and it wants demand to surge forward after that.

Diane Lindsley, the hardware buyer who decides what goes in the lightbulb aisles at Wal-Mart, thinks 100 million swirls is perfectly reasonable. “Yes,” she says, “it’s rational, I think.” Before she started buying bulbs for Wal-Mart just three years ago, Lindsley didn’t even know what CFLs were. Now she pauses in a way that suggests the kind of determination Wal-Mart can bring to bear when its buyers decide they are going to sell Americans something. “We have plans in place to where it may not take that long.”

“Think how many games Wal-Mart has changed. There’s no reason they can’t change this game.”

Which presents a daunting challenge: Wal-Mart’s push into swirls won’t just help consumers and the environment; it will shatter a business–its own lightbulb business, and that of every lightbulb manufacturer. Because swirls last so long, every one that’s sold represents the loss of 6 or 8 or 10 incandescent bulb sales. Swirls will remake the lightbulb industry–dominated by familiar names GE, Philips, Sylvania–the way digital-music downloads have remade selling albums on CD, the way digital cameras revolutionized selling film and envelopes of snapshots. CFLs are a classic example of creative destruction.

GE, facing the prospect of mothballing a centurylong franchise in lightbulbs–well, GE is smiling and swallowing hard. “CFLs are taking off,” says Robert Stuart, who heads consumer marketing at GE for lightbulbs. “No one has been as vocal about this recently as Wal-Mart. One hundred million bulbs in a year? It’s an aggressive goal. GE will find a way to make sure they are able to do that.”

GE, too, has launched a green business initiative: ecomagination, an effort to make environmentally sustainable technologies an ever-larger part of GE’s business. Swirls fit well, despite the inevitable cannibalization. “The real issue is, if we don’t do it, someone else will,” says GE’s ecomagination vice president, Lorraine Bolsinger, of Wal-Mart’s effort to push CFLs. “It’s old thinking to imagine that you can hold on to a business model and outsmart the consumer. You can’t.”

Steven Hamburg is an associate professor at Brown University, an expert on energy consumption and global warming who helped Wal-Mart think through the spiral-bulb strategy. “Can they change the game? Think how many games Wal-Mart has changed. There’s no reason they can’t change this game.”


For Chuck Kerby, it was ceiling fans that made the impact of energy-saving swirl bulbs dramatically clear.

Kerby is a vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Wal-Mart for hardware and paint (and ceiling fans) for all of Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores and supercenters. Lindsley is one of 12 buyers working for him. Kerby, who started out collecting shopping carts from the parking lot of Wal-Mart #189 in Kirksville, Missouri, 23 years ago, has known about CFLs for years. “I became aware of them when I would travel and go into a hotel room.”

Last year, conversations started in Wal-Mart around the potential of swirls to save customers money on utility bills. “Somebody asked, ‘What difference would it make if we changed the bulbs in the ceiling-fan display to CFLs?'” says Kerby. A typical Wal-Mart has 10 models of ceiling fans on display, each with four bulbs. Forty bulbs per store, 3,230 stores.

“Someone went off and did the math,” says Kerby. “They told me we could save $6 million in electric bills by changing the incandescents to CFLs in more than 3,000 Wal-Marts. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know I was paying $6 million to light those fixtures. I said, that can’t be right, go back and do the math again.” The numbers came out the same the second time: savings of $6 million a year. “That, for me, was an ‘I got it’ moment.”

It was Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s CEO, who started Kerby and Lindsley thinking about lightbulbs. “Last fall,” says Kerby, “we had had two hurricanes”–Katrina and Rita–“we had oil production disrupted, we had millions of people displaced in the South, and at a Friday officer’s meeting not long after Katrina, Lee Scott said, ‘Our customers are hurting, our customers’ dollar is not going as far as it could.’ He challenged everyone in the room to find relevant rollbacks, to lower the price of living and make a difference for our customers.” (Wal-Mart-ers really talk that way among themselves.)

In the wake of Katrina, Scott had asked his staff for a briefing on environmental issues, including global warming. One of the people he sat down with was Hamburg, the Brown professor who has won an award from the EPA for his ability to explain climate change.

“It was a very frank conversation,” says Hamburg. Not much of a Wal-Mart shopper, he had looked at one piece of Wal-Mart’s environmental performance before. In 1994, he critiqued Wal-Mart’s first environmentally sensitive store. “As I told Lee, it was a lot of green-wash. He needed to do better….I said, ‘What really matters is what’s on the shelves. Wal-Mart’s influence is much greater in the marketplace than in the built environment.'”

Hamburg has been working with CFLs since the 1980s, so that subject naturally was on the table with Scott. “I think he knew what they were,” says Hamburg. “I said, ‘It’s a very direct return to your consumers, and it has a big positive impact on reducing carbon emissions. So let’s do it. You do it.'”

The spirals, you could say, were converging. After Scott’s exhortation at the Friday officers meeting, Kerby did what a lot of Wal-Mart-ers do when they need to think and reconnect. He went shopping at Wal-Mart.

“I went across the street to #100,” says Kerby. “I thought about what people rebuilding would need, I thought about energy costs, I filled the cart, and I brought it all back to the office. I challenged the buyers to look for ways to save money on these important products.” One item in his cart: a three-pack of GE compact fluorescents, 60-watt equivalents, for $9.58–$3.19 each. You could buy three four-packs of classic GE 60-watt bulbs for that price, 12 regulars for the price of one spiral.

To Diane Lindsley, her boss’s point was crystal clear. “I called GE,” says Lindsley. “We started negotiating.”

Within two weeks, the price on a three-pack of GE spirals at Wal-Marts across the country was “rolled back” to $7.58. It was a 21% cut–although the bulbs were still $2.53 each, 10 times the cost of an ordinary bulb. The agreement with GE was for a 90-day price cut, to help out after Katrina.

Did it make a difference in CFL sales?

“Absolutely,” says Lindsley. “Faster than I’ve ever seen it before. In days.”

Then, in late October, says Kerby, “Our friend Oprah had a segment on her show talking about CFL lightbulbs. We didn’t ask her to do that or anything. But there certainly is an Oprah factor out there. That show led to a tremendous sales increase in the category that we have maintained to this day.” Month over month, Lindsley is selling double the number of spirals she did before Katrina.

It was a perfect swirl: Katrina, Rita, $70-a-barrel oil, price-chopping, corporate consciousness-raising, with Oprah’s lightbulb club thrown in.

“What had started as, ‘Let’s do something to help the consumer for 90 days,’ well, it became obvious this wasn’t a 90-day strategy,” says Kerby. “World events had changed the lightbulb category. The time had come for the energy-saving lightbulbs. It was going to be a different kind of product going forward.”

Inside the Bulb

Incandescent lightbulbs and spiral lightbulbs make light in entirely different ways, and it is that difference that makes spirals so potent. In a classic 60-watt incandescent bulb, light comes from the little metal filament quivering inside the sealed glass bulb. Electricity passes through the metal thread, heating it to 2,300 degrees Celsius, and the filament glows with the heat and throws off light. Electricity creates heat, heat creates light. It’s why incandescent bulbs are so hot–the glass is often 300 degrees. In the trade, incandescents are sometimes known as “a hot wire in a bottle.”

Compact fluorescents are something else again. In a fluorescent bulb, the glass tube is filled with gas and a tiny dot of mercury. Electricity leaps off electrodes on either end of the tube and excites the mercury molecules, which have a special property: When so excited, they emit ultraviolet light. That invisible UV light strikes the bulb’s phosphor coating, which itself gets excited and emits visible light, which shines out through the tube. Heat is much less of a factor–CFLs run at about 100 degrees.

Making the ionized fog bottled inside a CFL dance to the same steady tune as an incandescent has required a lot of research, and an electronics revolution. Early CFLs cost $25 per bulb (and still paid for themselves in electricity savings). The light they produced was bluish or pinkish, or varied; the phosphor coating had to be refined. The ballast–built into the bulb rather than in a separate fixture, as with traditional fluorescent tubes–hummed and didn’t cycle the electricity quickly enough; it had to be made electronic and miniaturized. Costs came down, as did size. The same wizardry that gives us Hallmark birthday cards that play “Love and Happiness” makes possible CFLs at $2.60 instead of $25.

It is this–the way swirls make light–that saves so much energy. In an incandescent, only 5% to 10% of the electricity passing through the wire becomes visible light; the rest becomes heat and invisible UV light. The vibrating mercury vapor atoms in a fluorescent bulb produce light more efficiently than a tungsten filament. You get more photons for every watt of electricity pumped in. An old-fashioned incandescent makes 15 lumens per watt; a 60-watt bulb shines with 900 lumens. In a CFL, you get 60 lumens per watt. To get 900 lumens–to get the light you expect from a 60-watt bulb–you need only 15 watts.

A 60-watt classic bulb and a 15-watt swirl are identically bright–the swirl just uses 45 fewer watts.

The Swirl Cascade

What really revolutionizes the lightbulb experience, and the business itself, is a second quality of swirls, beyond their ability to squeeze more light from a kilowatt: their longevity.

The compact fluorescents that GE, Philips, and Sylvania are putting on shelves are rated to run for 8,000, 10,000, or 12,000 hours. Few bulbs in a home are lit more than four hours a day; at that rate, an 8,000-hour bulb lasts five-and-a-half years; a 12,000-hour bulb lasts eight years and three months. As swirls take hold, it will be a surprise, a novel event, when a lightbulb goes dark. Imagine all those hard-to-reach bulbs that need to be replaced every three months. From four times a year, to once a decade.

“This is about selling lightbulbs, but it’s far bigger. This has huge implications for the world.”

And the impact of swirls cascades outward. Since every CFL has the life span of 6, or 8, or 10 equivalent incandescent bulbs, if Wal-Mart alone sells 100 million swirls in the next year, it does away with the need for 100 million old-fashioned bulbs to be manufactured, packaged, shipped, bought, and discarded next year–and every year until 2012 or beyond.

How much is 100 million bulbs? It’s 25 million classic GE four-packs. That many boxes of bulbs would fill 262 Wal-Mart tractor trailers, a ghost convoy of Wal-Mart trucks, loaded with nothing but lightbulbs, stretching 3.5 miles–a convoy that will never roll. Every year for six years–just from one bulb, this year. Not to mention the line of garbage trucks necessary to cart 100 million burned-out incandescent bulbs to the landfill.

What you don’t make, of course, you never get to sell. As enthusiasm for compact fluorescents mounted in Bentonville, there were multiple strategy meetings between the Wal-Mart lightbulb people and the GE lightbulb people–including a conversation January 12 between Lee Scott and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt in which swirls were a significant topic.

GE had launched its ecomagination business push in May 2005–neatly summarized by Lorraine Bolsinger: “Green can be green.” Scott launched Wal-Mart’s sustainability repositioning last October in a speech to his own executives. Understanding the power of the CFL, Scott told them, had helped him see that environmental problems are really a disaster like “Katrina in slow motion.” Pledging to take Wal-Mart and its customers and suppliers down a new path, he declared, “Environmental problems are our problems.”

Immelt and Scott agreed in January that a major push on swirls was in order. But strategic enthusiasm doesn’t change a simple short-term fact: Every new energy-saving swirl you sell obliterates sales of six or eight of your classic product. Incandescents won’t ever go away–we still use candles–in part because there are some places CFLs simply don’t work well. They are not tiny or elegant enough to be chandelier bulbs. They do not work as accent lighting. But in as little as five years, if Wal-Mart sparks a significant conversion to swirls, the lightbulb business will be rocked.

Total unit sales could be half what they are now. In the short run, there’s a bonanza: 95% of sockets in U.S. homes don’t have swirls in them, and a billion of them, or more, could. At the moment, with CFLs selling for 10 times what regular bulbs do, there’s no immediate loss of revenue or profit. But prices won’t stay where they are for long. At Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart’s club-store division, GE swirls already sell at $12.73 for an eight-pack–$1.59 per bulb, or just six times the cost of old-fashioned bulbs. At that price, the economics change. Competition from other retailers will force the price even lower–especially because of what happens next.

Once a third of the sockets in U.S. homes have compact fluorescents–once you sell the bulge of conversion replacements–both incandescent sales and CFL sales will fall off a cliff. Incandescent bulb sales could be cut in half, because we won’t use them any more. And after we’ve installed 1.5 billion swirls, we’ll only be buying perhaps 200 million a year, because they’re on a six- or eight-year replacement cycle. Executives at Wal-Mart are already imagining a day when the shelf space for lightbulbs is cut by 30% or 40%.

For Wal-Mart, the appeal of swirls is clear, even to GE executives. “Wal-Mart sees its customer putting more money in the gas tank, more into electrical bills–their customer is saying, ‘I need some help,'” says Bolsinger. “They are very close to that. If they can help a customer save money in the long haul, that’s money that comes back to Wal-Mart.”

Once Wal-Mart decides to make swirls an important product, the appeal for GE also becomes clear. It’s the power of the big dog: GE can either help Wal-Mart sell swirls, or some other lightbulb company will. In either case, GE’s regular-bulb business shrivels. “The business case is pretty clear,” says Bolsinger. “If we don’t grab the market share of CFLs, we lose.” The only way to survive creative destruction, in fact, is to get out in front of the tsunami, to catch the wave.

In the spring, Diane Lindsley changed the way she stocks her 60 feet of lightbulb shelves. Like other merchants, she has struggled for years with whether to group energy-saving bulbs in their own section for conservation geeks, or to mix them in with regular bulbs in the hope more customers will try them. Either way, particularly for a shopper schooled by Wal-Mart itself to focus on price, CFLs that cost 10 times what a dependable 60-watt cost are a hard sell.

Inspired by last fall’s rush of swirl sales, Lindsley moved dramatically to emphasize them on her shelves. She decided to have it both ways–to group CFLs together and mix them with regular bulbs. She has made swirls the most prominent bulbs in the store: They are now on the top two or three shelves, at eye level, with the old-fashioned bulbs on the bottom. The prominence is eye-catching–three or four sections of shelves, with bright yellow and green packages of GE CFLs. Horizontally, the swirls form a band of energy savers that stretch down a third of the aisle. Vertically, each shelf unit is both energy savers and incandescents — 60-watt-equivalent swirls on top, old-fashioned 60-watts below.

For bulbs, “that’s the most coveted shelf space in the entire store,” says Bolsinger. “It was a bold move on Wal-Mart’s part to put it there.” Lindsley was taking a risk, giving swirls shelf space their sales didn’t quite justify. She was positioning them prominently to drive sales, and in anticipation of more growth.

An even more dramatic push is coming this month, when Wal-Mart will roll out a lightbulb education center in every U.S. store. The display, developed with GE, shows 10 categories of lightbulbs, organized by room through a typical home, with a box showing the CFL appropriate in that area, the equivalent incandescent, and the energy savings a customer can reap from switching. Each category features a warm lifestyle photo of the room in question. Each box is color-coded to match color-coding on the shelves of CFL bulbs.

For a company that measures sales of its merchandise per running foot of shelf space, giving up 12 feet of stock space to a static display, however entrancing, represents a significant investment. Lindsley is evaluated in part based on the bulbs she sells, and “I have to perform, of course,” she says. “I have to have my sales. I think about it differently. I think about it daily. But this is absolutely the right thing to do.”

This is at least as big a deal for GE. Between 2004 and 2005, it tripled its manufacturing capacity for compact fluorescents. By the end of 2006, GE will have tripled capacity again. Anticipating the shift to swirls, it plans to close an incandescent bulb factory in St. Louis.

Making compact fluorescents is expensive and complicated, compared with incandescents, in part because of the electronic controls each bulb contains, and in part because swirls remain partly handcrafted. To make each spiral, a Chinese worker wearing gloves takes a tube of glass, holds it over an open flame, then wraps the heat-softened tube around a metal form. The job requires a deft touch so the tube doesn’t become flattened while getting its spiral shape.

“For us,” says Bolsinger, “the opportunity is to sell enough of them, to get down the [manufacturing] cost curve. We’re still pretty early in the learning curve.” Greater automation would allow GE to both continue to reduce the price of swirls and keep a margin that softens the blow to the incandescent side of the business.

This fall, GE will rebrand its CFLs as “energy smart” bulbs–in an effort to give them a clear identity equivalent to “soft white”–and launch a major print advertising campaign to support the Wal-Mart push. Working with Wal-Mart, GE has made its bulb packaging both more dramatic and more explicit–it promises that the 60-watt equivalent “saves $38 in energy.” Spend $2.60, earn $38. These days, that’s a great return.

At the Wal-Mart home office, they talk about swirls with a zeal that goes beyond product promotion, as if the bulbs are a pioneering product, a new way of thinking about retailing. Says Andrew Ruben, Wal-Mart’s vice president of sustainability: “We realize that we can influence big things. Energy usage. Efficiency. Dependence on foreign oil. And we realized that if we’re really going to move things, it’s not about our direct footprint–our stores, our offices–it’s about our supply chain and our customers. So this is about selling lightbulbs, but it’s far bigger. This has huge implications for the world.”

Chuck Kerby did swap out the ceiling-fan bulbs, at least in most Wal-Marts. The idea surfaced in November; it was executed in February. And Kerby has a clear vision of the future.

“It’s certainly possible to see a day when a cartoonist will draw a cartoon with a character having an idea,” says Kerby, “you know, with the traditional-shaped incandescent lightbulb going on over the character’s head–and my grandchildren will look at that and not know what it means. And that’s not a bad thing, because we’ll be living in a much better world.”

Charles Fishman ( is a Fast Company senior writer.


The Power of 60 Watts:

The Might Light:

First Posted: 03-20-10 04:56 PM – Updated: 03-20-10 05:08 PM

Abusive, derogatory and even racist behavior directed at House Democrats by Tea Party protesters on Saturday left several lawmakers in shock.

Preceding the president’s speech to a gathering of House Democrats, thousands of protesters descended around the Capitol to protest the passage of health care reform. The gathering quickly turned into abusive heckling, as members of Congress passing through Longworth House office building were subjected to epithets and even mild physical abuse.

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-M.D.) had been spit on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-G.A.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a ‘ni–er.’ And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a “faggot,” as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president’s speech, shrugged off the incident.

But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

“It was absolutely shocking to me,” Clyburn told the Huffington Post. “Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday… I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins… And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus.”

“It doesn’t make me nervous as all,” the congressman said, when asked how the mob-like atmosphere made him feel. “In fact, as I said to one heckler, I am the hardest person in the world to intimidate, so they better go somewhere else.”

Asked if he wanted an apology from the group of Republican lawmakers who had addressed the crowd and, in many ways, played on their worst fears of health care legislation, the Democratic Party, and the president, Clyburn replied:

“A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this, much of this is not about health care a all. And I think a lot of those people today demonstrated that this is not about health care… it is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”


Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map:

Constance McMillen, whose school canceled her prom rather than let her take her girlfriend, will be in Washington, DC, this weekend with student leaders from all over the country for GLSEN’s Safe Schools Advocacy Summit.  They’re there to advocate for legislation that will make schools safer and more accepting for all students and prohibit the kind of discrimination that Constance has experienced. Support Constance and students across the country by taking part in the Safe Schools for Everyone weekend.

Take just three easy steps and in ten minutes, you can make a big difference for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in America’s schools.