Fareed Zakaria: “Are Americas Best Days Behind Us”?

I know it’s a provocative title, and sadly I suspect that many of the ‘intended audience’ will agree with much of what he says, but then also feel like there’s nothing that can be done about it.

I am a waning fan of the Sunday TV news shows. Nowadays it is so easy if you are inclined to keep up with the news, moment by moment that it’s hard to find much more than the usual platitudes and repetition.

Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program on Sundays for me is now easily the best. He has interesting, thoughtful segments that don’t fall into that boring greyness that the rest of TV news has become. Nowadays, I only tune in to TV news for the visuals.

So Fareed Zakaria’s new editorial in TIME magazine tells us:

“The following rankings come from various lists, but they all tell the same story.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), our 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. We rank 12th among developed countries in college graduation (down from No. 1 for decades). We come in 79th in elementary-school enrollment. Our infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. American health numbers are stunning for a rich country: based on studies by the OECD and the World Health Organization, we’re 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes and first in obesity. Only a few decades ago, the U.S. stood tall in such rankings. No more. There are some areas in which we are still clearly No. 1, but they’re not ones we usually brag about. We have the most guns. We have the most crime among rich countries. And, of course, we have by far the largest amount of debt in the world.” (from Fareed Zakaria)

Old news, right? I have seen stats like this before, and they are depressing. And yet any attempt to even talk about this is immediately shot down.

Also depressing is that for all that they are ‘common knowledge’ it seems like our leaders are unable to get out of the mode that they are in:

“So why are we tackling our economic problems in a manner that is shortsighted and wrong-footed? Because it is politically easy. The key to understanding the moves by both parties is that, for the most part, they are targeting programs that have neither a wide base of support nor influential interest groups behind them. (And that’s precisely why they’re not where the money is. The American political system is actually quite efficient. It distributes the big bucks to popular programs and powerful special interests.)

And neither side will even talk about tax increases, though it is impossible to achieve long-term fiscal stability without them. Certain taxes — such as ones on carbon or gas — would have huge benefits beyond revenue, like energy efficiency.” (from Fareed Zakaria)

because:

Any politician who dares suggest that the U.S. can learn from — let alone copy — other countries is likely to be denounced instantly.

If someone points out that Europe gets better health care at half the cost, that’s dangerously socialist thinking.

If a business leader notes that tax rates in much of the industrialized world are lower and that there are far fewer loopholes than in the U.S., he is brushed aside as trying to impoverish American workers. If a commentator says — correctly — that social mobility from one generation to the next is greater in many European nations than in the U.S., he is laughed at.

Yet several studies, the most recent from the OECD last year, have found that the average American has a much lower chance of moving out of his parents’ income bracket than do people in places like Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Canada. (from Fareed Zakaria)

I probably will be branded as a socialist just for liking this article.

 

[GEEKY] Built my first gem (Ruby Gem that is)

I’ve gotten interested in what is going on in the public sector, in particular in the world of non profits. I’ve learned a lot, met many people and been trying to define a project that would at the same time do something to better the world as be an interesting and fulfilling product challenge (notice, missing from that list is “make a lot of money”)

I want to start posting some of the cool things I am figuring out but so far I haven’t because I can’t really figure out how to organize it.

One area that I have immersed myself into is the many diverse groups who are doing work promoting government openness and transparency by, among many other things, creating the technical bridges to allow information that is already being collected to be more easily accessible. There are many of them, and one of them is the Sunlight Foundation. They are doing some really cool work, both themselves, and sponsoring and granting others who share their goals.

Wow what a long wind-up.

Anyway, in digging deeply into their APIs and datasets I decided to learn by doing and created a Ruby Gem called govsdk with the following goals:

  • A simple and consistent sdk to all the various government (federal, state and local) APIs available.
  • Totally hide from the user of the SDK what those APIs are, what the networking and REST pieces are. Instead provide classes which represent the natural domain objects and behind the scenes accesses appropriate datasets and APIs.
  • Identify the ‘current’ best APIs for the various facts and figures so that the user need not do the work to learn each of the organizations and data models. When new ones come online or change, hide that as well.
  • Provide all this in an open source library, for free, with example code, documentation and test suites.

Version 0.0.1 of the GovSdk GEM (0.0.1 — get the idea?) is implemented and available at GovSdk. Check it out, but expect it to change because this is still quite embryonic.

Remember to change your clocks tonight

“Revelers will have an extra second to enjoy the New Year celebrations.

Drunken party goers may not notice but, thanks to the Earth’s erratic rotation, the countdown to 2009 will last a moment longer.

British physicists and official timekeepers around the world will insert a “leap second” to bring the most accurate atomic clocks in line with the astronomical day[…]” from Big Ben Adjusted for Leap Second

Happy New Year. Bon Anja, Tur Kos Bon!