Archive for August 30th, 2010
Why are we still talking about Sarah?
I have to admit, I really thought this would all be over by now.
But there was Sarah Palin, influencing primary races. And this weekend, there she was again, the very special guest at Glenn Beck’s revival, exhorting 90,000 angry white folks to honor the troops and take back the country.
Are we seeing the early waves of support for an authentic presidential possibility, with the right stuff to lead us out of the swamp? Even those most faithful to the warrior queen of the angry would be hard pressed to articulate policy positions that go much beyond: big government and snotty elitists — bad; freedom and momma grizzlies — good.
Is the attraction the fact that she is the closest thing the Republicans have to a rock star — a lip-glossed alternative to the starchy white guys that have been the face of the party’s candidacies? No doubt, Sarah Palin is fun. She is a reality show on a tour bus. She is a looker who can field-dress a moose, with enough family issues to fill a season; including — and was there ever really any doubt about this — a daughter who has just signed on to Dancing With the Stars.
There is some serious celebrity momentum going on here. Like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians before her, the Sarah Palin of bumper-sticker positions unintelligibly delivered has become famous for being famous. You might not know the policies. You might be a tad fuzzy on the legislative track record. But the brand identity of the high heels, glasses and swept up hairdo is as indelible as a bright red can of Coca-Cola.
And yet …
Those like me who saw her as a future footnote, slated to fade like last year’s American Idol, have to admit that even in a time and culture of drive-by celebrity, her brand has legs. She continues to be the spokes model for a swath of the population that isn’t very happy about much of anything. As such, her approval isn’t an endorsement in the political sense of policy and record. It’s a personal warranty that this is one we can safely let into our club.
The dissection of the primaries has only begun. But a quick review shows that three candidates who earned her blessing won. While her true impact is already being debated (she also backed a number of losers) there is no doubt that she rides into a candidate’s camp pulling a wagon load of media and money — not to mention the opportunity to assure the conservative base: “Sarah likes me!”
What happens when the intramurals are behind us and her clout is tested in November? Will being the hottest thing at the Tea Party mean as much to the general electorate? Given searing voter anger; maybe yes. Given the news cycle’s half-life of celebrity value; maybe no. But one thing is certain: she’ll be there. And we’ll be watching.
When Anthem Blue Cross announced its controversial premium increases in California recently, the insurer claimed, “a carrier must be able to receive actuarially sound rates.”
So it is remarkable that “progressive” San Francisco State Senator Mark Leno, a single payer health care advocate, recently introduced eleventh hour legislation codifying Anthem Blue Cross’s “actuarially sound” defense of premium increases in law.
Advocates like me, who have battled the insurance companies for decades, know “actuarially sound” is code for whatever an insurance actuary says is “actuarially sound,” not what a regulator determines is really excessive.
Why would a single payer advocate, who wants to get rid of insurers, now want to give insurers more freedom?
It’s as though Leno is saying if he cannot beat the insurance companies with single payer, you might as well join them.
The conundrum is one progressives will have to grapple with: Why not let Rome burn and rebuild it, rather than making it better?
The answer for Senator Leno should be clear. He will have to face constituents who are forced to buy health insurance by 2014 or face tax penalties, and he will have made their health insurance more expensive.
Leno’s bill, SB 1163, undercuts a stronger proposal by State Senator Dave Jones, who will likely be the next California insurance commissioner and wants the power to say no to excessive premium increases. Leno’s bill is sucking support away from Jones’ AB 2578 because Leno is giving legislators an easier way — join with the insurers.
Progressives cannot afford to walk away from the suffering of the middle class to prove a point or make a case. Yet that’s the type of talk I am hearing more and more from progressives as the midterm approaches.
I am a single payer advocate but I also fight for premium regulation. I do it because I know it works and to help people who cannot afford their health insurance.
Twenty two years ago Consumer Watchdog’s founder Harvey Rosenfield reined in auto and home insurers’ premiums under the very same regulatory tools Senator Jones is trying to apply to health insurers. The Consumer Federation of America says Prop 103 saved motorists $62 billion on their auto insurance. You would think Leno might listen to people who saved insurance policyholders $62 billion if he really cared.
I fight for people like Mary Feller, whose individual Anthem Blue Cross policy was set to spike 39% when she held a press conference with me, Rosenfield and single payer advocates in the Bay area a few months ago. There was hardly a dry eye in the place when Mary talked about her health insurance premiums costing as much as her mortgage. The single payer advocates there also became supporters of premium regulation that day because they knew we had to do something. They knew you cannot let the middle class burn if you want to save it.
“I feel scammed by Anthem Blue Cross of California,” Feller said. “Using a corporate shell game and Draconian underwriting rules, they’ve trapped my family in a plan with costs that are spiraling out of control. It’s time to stop these unfair practices!”
The question for Senator Mark Leno is how does he look Mary Feller, who lives in his area, in the eye after his end-of-the-session shenanigans helping Anthem Blue Cross. It should be a cautionary tale for progressives. The view from the ivory tower is no way to take back the nation or the progressive movement. We need to see the struggles of the middle class from the streets.
Jamie Court is president of Consumer Watchdog and author of The Progressive’s Guide To Raising Hell: How To Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws And Get The Change We Voted For.
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Well, well, well. Just when I thought I had seen it all. Along comes Book 22, the online sex toy and accessory shop for married Christians only. (Although I don’t think they check your ID…) Sure, it’s a bit exclusionary for my taste personally. But at least they’ve got the goods. And if you think the Christian nomenclature equals tame, think again. These folks are not messing around.
What can you expect to find there? Well, there’s the “Like a Virgin Kit” that includes, Ben-Wa balls, tightening gel, a tightening guide, and a how-to booklet. In case your lady gets loose or (horrors) was not “pure” from the get-go. There are a wealth of masturbation sleeves, including the “Head Honcho” inside of which are “three suction cavities, and as you stroke the Head Honcho up and down, it creates a pleasurable vacuum.”
They actually offer a variety of sleeves, some of which include interesting disclaimers like, “This product is helpful when a married couple is unable to normally have sexaul (sic) intercourse. Sold as a novelty item only.” So, do you use it to help when you can’t have “normal” intercourse or is it just a gag gift? (No pun intended.)
Items designed to control premature ejaculation? Check. Condoms? Check. Dildos? Check. They’ve got lubes to make things glide, goo to make your naughty bits taste good, trampy lingerie, and plenty of things that go “bump” in the night. Batteries required. I love that they have the vibrators and masturbation sleeves listed under “Aids.” I think I might start calling them aids. Sounds like I have an assistant!
Under special order they have items like “The Sexy Velcro Kit.” I could not imagine what that meant. But just one click revealed that it contains a soft fuzzy red blind fold, a red pleasure feather, red fuzzy velcro wrist ties with tethers, and red fuzzy velcro ankle ties with tethers. S&M lite. Nice.
They also offer a cyberskin extender to enhance length and girth but which can also be used with a vibrator it says. Although it too includes the disclaimer, “For novelty purposes only.” Uh huh. Me thinks the site doeth protest too much…
As for accessories, you’ll find crotchless panties, remote controlled vibrating panties, and even a “Lover’s Thong” with “sensual pearl-finish stroker beads.” You can also find a non-piercing nipple jewelry, and “Head Candy” that will “allow you to feel and administer pleasure like never before…certified Kosher with a delicious passionfruit (sic) flavor!” Kosher. Good to know, especially for all of those Kosher keeping Christians out there.
And lest you be unsure how to use these items in a “Christian” way, fear not. Book 22 links visitors to “The Marriage Bed” for guidance. It also lists a number of other sites for reference, including “Christian Nymphos.” It takes all kinds, my friends.
Let me reiterate, I hate to see any group claim that sex is of their domain and their domain alone. But, all kidding aside, I know that buying sex toys can be a daunting task. If this type of venue makes it easier for some to make that leap, well, it’s a decent first step. Next step – playthings and orgasms for everyone regardless of marital status or sexual orientation! One day anyway.
In the meantime, no more excuses. For the unabashed, looking for product as well as info, there’s Good Vibrations. For a site known for being particularly women-friendly there’s Babeland. For those on the prowl for things that are deceivingly innocent looking but that still get the job done there’s Natural Contours. And now, for those looking for something with a Christian vibe (pun intended), there’s Book 22 . God Bless America!
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Some First Amendment problems knock you down with the force of the state of California landing on your head. Others come in smaller orders of magnitude. Like, say, when the FCC shuts down your personal television network in Quahog, Rhode Island. Or, for example, the challenge the newspaper is facing at Community College of Rhode Island.
In a nutshell, Student Government President Manna Muhuri wants to evict nearly all student groups from the Knight campus’ student activity building. Except for the student government, of course. And another club lucky enough to count Muhuri as a member. And a club for veterans, after a club officer complained that his blindness made the closure a hardship.
The plan, supposedly, was to evict all the clubs, and then permit some of them to return: there are more clubs than there are spaces, after all. So what criteria would Muhuri use to allocate the space?
Oh, of course. Clubs that fit the “leadership profile.” Well, that doesn’t sound at all arbitrary or constitutionally suspect. Hmm.
You might wonder: would the newspaper, the Unfiltered Lens, fit the leadership profile?
I suppose we can’t allocate space to a newspaper that lets the administration down, can we? Because it’s not like the job of a newspaper is to speak truth to power, or to report the parts of reality that the public relations people would prefer to gloss over, or anything.
And besides, they didn’t participate in activities! I heard a rumor that not a single member of the Unfiltered Lens showed up to the ultimate Frisbee game on the quad. Harsh, bro.
Certainly, there couldn’t be any ulterior motive to this process, could there?
David Gannon, chief executor of The Unfiltered Lens, said Student Government President Manna Muhuri offered to give the office space back in exchange for positive coverage.
Muhuri categorically denies any such allegation, and at the moment, it’s just the word of a handful of newspaper staff members against the president of the student government. Either way, it seems hard to have much faith in the litmus test of “leadership,” which, so far, seems to be “not pissing off Muhuri by blowing off his hacky sack tournament.”
You might well wonder at this point why a student body president is evicting students from state-owned property. I mean, this is land the taxpayers have paid for, for the purposes of supporting the educational and extracurricular needs of its students. It’s not like one student on a power trip could subvert the institution’s obligation to allocate space fairly, am I right?
“The college identifies space on campus and within this building because it’s really one big building, [and] says, ‘listen, these are student offices and this is student space,’” [Associate Vice President for Student Services Ron] Schertz said. “And really, we don’t get into the nitty gritty of who occupies what space there.”
Oh, okay. I guess that makes sense. They don’t get into the nitty gritty of, you know, fulfilling the state obligation to ensure space is allocated in a constitutionally permissible way.
Oh no wait, they do! When asked about the alleged quid pro quo:
“If I would ever hear of any such thing, I would have reacted to that very quickly,” Schertz said.
Phew, that was close! So now he’s going to intervene and everything will work out in some legally sound way, right?
“Those kinds of allegations — you know, even though people have said them, they can’t produce any verification that it occurred.”
I’m starting to see how Buddy Cianci, Jr. did so well in this state: it’s all just a rumor until somebody wears a wire. Query whether the state is really fulfilling its obligation to uphold the constitution by refusing to intervene until they have a smoking gun. It’s like promising to prosecute a lynch mob as soon as the lynching victim walks in ready to testify.
For the moment, the student government is permitting the newspaper to remain in its office while another suitable space is found. (For the moment, the newspaper isn’t pursuing a lawsuit, either.)
Is this the biggest potential First Amendment violation in the universe? Probably not; I’m sure somewhere in this world there’s a journalist being beaten for exposing a dictator or defending a minority. But this is America, and that’s not typically how we run into violations of free expression.
A First Amendment problem, like racism, is most dangerous when it can pass undetected by the officials charged with defending individual rights. Perhaps that’s because the situation isn’t as painful as the violent reactions speech can receive in other places; perhaps that’s because of an unwillingness to investigate the possibility of a violation. But either way, the Constitution, and our obligations under it, remain unchanged, and either we believe in that as Americans or we don’t.
Two things are necessary to complete a First Amendment violation: an improper motivation and a detriment to the ability to publish. I think “eviction” is pretty detrimental. The only remaining question is whether Muhuri’s motivation is based, in any part, on a dislike of the content of the Unfiltered Lens. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is. But since the state is on the hook if there’s anything constitutionally suspect about the action, if I was in their shoes, I might well get involved in the “nitty gritty” of protecting individual rights.
Next time, I’m supporting the one public official in Rhode Island we can trust: Mayor Adam West.
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August 30, 2010
I am a strong believer in the importance of setting the record straight. I do not ignore inaccurate or incomplete statements about me or my record.
For example, on August 26 I read a blogger’s article mentioning me in a way I did not appreciate. The blogger, who is associated with Columbia University, wrote:
No reply to date. I’ll keep you posted.
I read an interesting article in The New York Times on August 25 which stated:
“Alan K. Simpson, the Republican co-chairman of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission, removed his ‘size 15 feet’ from his mouth to apologize to a critic on Wednesday for a stinging letter in which he compared Social Security to ‘a milk cow with 310 million tits.’”
Alan Simpson is a friend of mine. We have known one another for many years, having served together years ago in the House of Representatives before he was elected to the Senate. He is now a Co-Chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The most interesting part of the Times article for me was Alan’s comments about those who objected to his seeking to propose changes in Social Security which would insure its fiscal stability.
According to the Times:
“The contretemps began when Mr. Simpson sent an e-mail on Monday to Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women’s League, to respond to an anti-Simpson column she wrote in April. Citing Social Security’s chief actuary to buttress the need for changes, Mr. Simpson wrote: ‘If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know. And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security, who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!’”
Perhaps as a result of pressure from the White House, Senator Simpson wrote a letter of apology to Ms. Carson in which he stated:
“Over the last 40 years, I have had my size 15 feet in my mouth a time or two. To quote my old friend and colleague, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, when I make a mistake, ‘It’s a doozy!’”
I sent the following note to Alan the next day:
“What did you say that required an apology? Nothing that I can see from reading today’s New York Times report. The Alan I knew in Congress would never have apologized.
“If you don’t make changes to reduce costs in Social Security benefits, e.g., eligibility age, benefits, excluding the wealthy from benefits, how will you guarantee permanent solvency?
“Also, why not dedicate a national stock transfer tax, which cannot be avoided by Wall Street, for exclusive Social Security use?
“All the best.”
Both tits and teats are apparently acceptable under The New York Times Rule Book.
During his August 20 radio program in Albany, Dr. Alan Chartock discussed political reform with Blair Horner of NYPIRG, a good government advocate. During their talk, Chartock referred to me as a “phony” in connection with my efforts as the founder of New York Uprising, a political PAC dedicated to reforming the Albany legislature, widely considered to be dysfunctional.
I sent a letter to Dr. Chartock on August 20 in which I wrote:
“I was told by a friend who listened to your radio show on Saturday, August 14, 2010, that you were disparaging, by referring to me as ‘We got that phony Ed Koch running all over New York State — it was the same guy who was all for going into Iraq,’ concerning my efforts as founder of New York Uprising to hold legislators’ feet to the fire, by asking them to sign pledges on three issues – impartial redistricting, ethics reform, including comprehensive financial disclosure and a GAAP balanced budget.
“I have listened to the tape of your radio show. Your reference to my past support in 2003 for the initial attack on Iraq has no bearing whatsoever on reforming Albany. Nevertheless, it is apparent during your conversation with Blair Horner, NYPIRG, you agree with me concerning the reforms that New York Uprising is trying to accomplish in cleaning up Albany. We also welcome all those Albany legislators and candidates for State office who are for or against both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to sign the three New York Uprising reform pledges. I have enclosed our pledges for your review.
“For your information, New York Uprising was created this past March. It includes as Trustees, Herman Badillo, Mario Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani, Ned Regan, Felix Rohatyn, Peter Solomon, Alair Townsend, Rudy Washington and John Zuccotti, who were instrumental in creating the three reform pledges. Presently, we have received approximately 294 signed pledges, from the State-wide candidates for Comptroller, Attorney General, Assembly, Senate incumbents and legislative candidates supporting our three reforms. The Gubernatorial candidates, as well as Congressional incumbents and candidates were only asked to sign a pledge that places them on record that they agree to support a veto by the Governor of any redistricting legislation that did not require an impartial panel to draw the lines. All the Gubernatorial candidates have signed this re-districting pledge supporting impartial redistricting, along with 14 Congressional incumbents and candidates.
“I do hope you will reconsider your characterization of New York Uprising’s efforts, including mine, and join us to reform our State government.
“All the best.”
Dr. Chartock responded on August 23:
“Thanks for your recent letter. We do agree on reforming Albany. I have been preaching that gospel for many years, on many fronts, in many ways.
“Despite your unhappiness with my characterization, I find it very hard not to like you.”
I replied on August 26:
“Thank you for your response to my letter of August 20, 2010. I truly appreciate your comment: ‘I find it very hard not to like you.’ I hope that you are able to overcome your resistance.
“I am interested in knowing if you have recanted your description of me as a ‘phony.’ If you have, would you tell your listeners who may have been dissuaded from supporting New York Uprising? If you still characterize me as a phony would you please tell me why?
“All the best.”
When and if a reply arrives, I will update you, my readers.
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Although they work for a company that popularized the slogan “Have a Coke and a smile,” Coca-Cola workers are doing more frowning than ever these days.
While the world’s largest beverage company has come under fire for their reported anti-union activities abroad, the company is now facing growing labor conflicts here in the United States.
Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), the company’s bottling, distribution and marketing arm, is at odds with employees over contract issues, union organizing and job cuts. The company has announced plans to shutter factories, and is requesting employee concessions for new labor contracts, leading some workers to strike this week.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents about 15,000 CCE workers in North America, has responded by stepping up its campaigns in states with distribution facilities, such as Washington, California and Georgia.
The relationship between the union and the company has become strained, in part because of Coca-Cola Co’s decision to acquire CCE this year. The integration of the beverage company and the distribution wing has created anxiety amongst workers, who say that the consolidation will threaten jobs and reduce benefits. Moreover, just as Coke is set to take over the bottling facilities, 55 of the union’s labor contracts with Coca-Cola Enterprises are ending this year.
The operational changes has led to labor conflicts across the country. The Teamsters union has said Atlanta-based Coca-Cola is not participating in good faith bargaining and has stepped up anti-union activity. In a statement they criticized Coca-Cola’s proposed distribution plan for threatening jobs and exacerbating inefficiencies.
But Coca Cola is moving forward with its plans. Just months after the company’s announcement, it said in July that it was shuttering three plants in Washington, some of which have been around for at least a century. For the remaining union workers in other regional facilities, they have been embroiled in a labor dispute — which evolved into a workers’ strike this week.
On Monday, about 500 employees in six locations across Washington state walked out on the job to protest benefit concessions and job cuts. Teamsters Local 117 says the company wants to prohibit retirees from the health insurance program and raise premiums for current workers.
Negotiations have been ongoing since April. The union says the company wants workers to pay for 25 percent of their health benefits, which it says is an 800 percent increase. The company disputes the union’s healthcare contribution amount and added they only want to eliminate retiree medical plans for new employees, according to reports.
Similar labor unrest is also happening in California and Georgia, and the Teamsters union has filed suits with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Coca-Cola for engaging in unfair labor practices.
In Sacramento, Coke had refused to recognize the Teamsters union as the worker’s main bargaining agent. But last Friday, a federal judge in Sacramento ruled that Coca-Cola must recognize the union. CCE also settled matters with Teamsters in Atlanta, which filed suit to the NLRB for violating federal labor laws in June. The NLRB approved the settlement, and employees at bottling facilities in the metro area will vote to decide on whether to adopt union representation on October 7.
Coke’s labor conflict is common at a time when many companies, despite doing well financially, have been citing the weak economy to justify reducing wages and benefits. Last year, CCE revenues were $21.6 billion. Coca-Cola Co. revenues totaled almost $31 billion. Coke also distributes other beverages like Dr. Pepper, whose parent company is also caught in a labor conflict with Motts in Williamson, N.Y.
This post originally appeared in Working In These Times
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US troops sent to secure the Mexican border have begun patrols in Arizona.
They are among 1,200 extra soldiers deployed by President Barack Obama to beef up the 1.900-mile (3,000km) frontier, a major route for drug and people smuggling.
Nearly half of these National Guards will be stationed in Arizona, whose porous desert is the most popular route for traffickers.
The operation, which began in California earlier this month, will also cover Texas and New Mexico.
Authorities say the troops will be “extra eyes and ears” for existing Border Agents. They will be armed but will not have powers to arrest.
Pressure has been growing on the US federal government to stop people and drugs entering the US illegally through Mexico. The loudest calls have been from Arizona.
Earlier this year Arizona passed tough new anti-immigration laws that were popular with voters. But the laws were put on hold by a court and opposed by the president.
Mr Obama wants to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the US.
In 2006, President George W Bush sent 6,000 troops to the Mexican border to reinforce security, but they pulled out two years later.
Share this page Hurricane Earl gains strength in eastern Caribbean A storm moving through the eastern Caribbean has strengthened to a Category Four hurricane, prompting warnings for several islands.
Hurricane Earl is generating sustained winds of 215km/h (135mph).
Forecasters say it is a major hurricane and could cause “catastrophic” damage if it hits land.
Strong winds and heavy rains are already lashing several islands in Caribbean, but the storm has now passed by the Virgin Islands.
Earl is currently north-east of Puerto Rico, and moving west-northwest at about 24km/h, the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports.
The centre of the storm is expected to move away from the Virgin Islands on Monday night and pass to the east of the Turks and Caicos on Tuesday night.
Hurricane warnings in place on several islands in the region have now been degraded.
Tropical storm warnings are in place in the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and in Puerto Rico, including the islands of Culebra and Vieques.
Earl is being closely followed by Tropical Storm Fiona, currently east of the Leeward Isles with winds of up to 65km/h.
People in the area have been making preparations, stocking up on food, water and other essential supplies, as well as trying to protect property.
“We really don't want any loss of life, whether by persons who are careless or by security or emergency persons trying to rescue people,” Carl Herbert, head of the St Kitts and Nevis local emergency management agency, told the Associated Press news agency. Are you making preparations ahead of the storm? Send us your comments using the form below The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.
Inspectors have found manure, rodents and maggots at US farms linked to contaminated eggs, officials said.
The investigators were seeking the source of egg-borne salmonella that has sickened more than 1,500 people.
The US has recalled more than 500m eggs this month as it grapples with the largest salmonella outbreak since the 1970s. No deaths have been reported.
The Iowa egg companies said they had mostly addressed the shortcomings, identified earlier this month.
According to an inspection report released on Monday, US Food and Drug Administration officials found evidence of wild birds, mice, flies and other potential sources of contamination Wright County Egg.
At Hillandale Farms, they found rodent holes and observed uncaged hens tracking manure into the houses, a report stated.
The farms sell eggs under dozens of brand names across the US.
Officials say chickens' contact with animal faeces and wildlife are among the main causes of concern as they investigate the source of the salmonella outbreak.
Health officials have said they have found salmonella in chicken feed used at the two farms.
On 13 August Wright County Egg recalled 380 million eggs distributed under more than a dozen brand names. And on 21 August, Hillandale Farms, voluntarily recalled 170 million eggs.
The massive egg recalls came weeks after a new FDA rule came into effect tightening safety rules at large producers and required testing in poultry houses for salmonella bacteria, Reuters reported.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned Americans to discard recalled eggs, and has advised people to cook all eggs thorough.
The US Egg Safety Center US consumers should avoid.
Last week, the American Mock Trial Association released its 2010-2011 case packet, a 146-page document containing all the orders, instructions, stipulations, statutes, case law, affidavits, and exhibits needed for college students across America to try a case. If this list of fabricated legal documents doesn’t exactly sound scintillating, that’s because it isn’t — well, it wouldn’t be, anyway, except for two things: 1) it seems like, as if via some mystical force, basically every student who has ever displayed an ounce of talent in the humanities has been told at some point that they ought to become a lawyer; and 2) because many of those students tend to be competitive, driven, and hungry for the chance to garnish their resumes with impressive-sounding extracurricular achievements, a lot of them wind up competing in mock trial.
What you get, then, is this unique microcosm of suit-wearing pretend attorneys who are nevertheless emblematic, to me anyway, of a broader ‘achievement class’ — a subset of Millennials for whom aptitude and excellence have become a means of individual expression.
In the literature about Millennials you’ll often find mixed reactions to this obsession with individualism: whether it’s superficial, as with ‘personalized’ cell-phone ringtones and arcane social-media ‘playlistocracies’, or is rather born of genuine concern for self-realization. As an expression-obsessed media-saturated Millennial myself, I’ll go ahead and hazard that it’s a little bit of both. But as the coach of the University of Washington Mock Trial team, I can also say there’s something almost beautiful about herding these Type-As into a courtroom and, over the course of a year, forging a unit called a “team”.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to judge the American Mock Trial Association National Championship Tournament, which was held in my hometown of Memphis, TN. The following article, which I originally wrote for a local paper but decided not to publish due to length, chronicles that experience.
A Few Notes Upon Witnessing a Bunch of Pretend Lawyers Hoot, Holler, and Collapse Into Tears
(The American Mock Trial Association National Tournament)
“Why are we here?”
It is 8:30AM at the Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis, TN, and Steven Strasberg is wandering around in a circle talking to himself.
“As my colleague Ms. Taylor told you at the beginning of this trial, something is missing,” he says. “So I ask you again: Why are we here? Ladies and gentlemen, you were asked at the start of this trial to listen carefully to the evidence and weigh the facts in coming to your conclusion as to whether or not Jackie Owens committed murder. As you’ve seen over the course of this three hour trial, that evidence doesn’t exist. Those facts were never proven. To be frank, almost everything is missing. And so you must ask yourselves that same question that I’ve asked you: Why are we even here?
Jackie Owens is not a real person. A three-hour murder trial has not been conducted. Not a single piece of evidence has actually been weighed. But Steven Strasberg is not insane. And Steven is not the only person in this hallway pacing around with a notepad in front of his face rattling off a soliloquy.
In fact, a swarm of charcoal-suited students have infested the Courthouse’s marble-lined hallways, and have spilled over into the Shelby County Criminal Court down the street as well. All told, over 500 students, judges, coaches, and hangers-on have flooded downtown Memphis for the 26th Annual American Mock Trial Association National Tournament. The self-talkers are the “attorneys” chosen by their teams to deliver opening statements and closing arguments, and they’re drilling the latest adjustments into their brains.
Over the course of three-days, each one of these kids will spend over twelve hours inside a looming mahogany courtroom getting skewered. They will shout. They will storm. They will sweat. They might very possibly cry. Inside each room, a panel of judges will evaluate each student’s performance as either a witness or an attorney, reducing a year’s worth of effort to a single number. The team with the highest combined set of scores wins the round.
That is how this tournament works, and that is why every one of its participants (who represent the most elite ~5% of the country’s nearly 700 registered collegiate mock trial teams) are guaranteed not to sleep for more than three hours per night while they’re here — but it’s not the part that captures me.
I am captured by the minute-long roar of support that rocked the full length of Beale Street when it was announced that eventual tournament champions New York University had won their division.
I am captured by the reasons why one student dropped out of the tournament and refused to even speak with his team because a judge’s comment left him sobbing on a bathroom floor for the better part of an hour.
I am captured by the startlingly-large number of mock trial veterans who went on to marry the witnesses whom they directed in competition.
I am captured, in short, by how what has got to be the most contrived activity on the planet — a bunch of people pretending to ask pretend people pretend questions about other pretend people — can be so very real.
Let me explain.
The very structure of college mock trial makes concepts like “goodness” or “sincerity” or “honesty” useless. This is because even though each team has the exact same fact pattern to work with, they have to construct coherent arguments for both the prosecution and the defense, and they aren’t assigned a side until just before the first round starts. Then they have to switch sides and refute that very same case in the next round. Truth, therefore, isn’t merely relative — it’s nonexistent. Now, one might argue that in something like basketball, goodness or sincerity or honesty or whatever don’t come into play very much, either. But in mock trial you’re scored — and I’m taking this right off the sheet they handed me when I sat down to judge my first round at the tournament — on qualities like “passion,” “believability,” and yes, “sincerity.” It’s all about technique. Whoever is best at faking being genuine wins the round.
This is what some of the best and brightest students in America are training upwards of twenty hours a week to do. At first glance, this should scare the hell out of us.
Indulge me for a second.
I am a game designer by trade, and one of the surest ways of getting someone to play your game over and over again is to make up sets of objectives and spell out very clearly how your players should attain them. The player completes those objectives, wins a gold star, and goes to bed feeling like he or she has accomplished something. The he or she wakes up, digs up another objective to check off the list, and repeats this process ad nauseam.
This is a fine thing to do when you’re playing a game. It helps you perfect technique. But if the good ol’ “best and brightest” actually believe that this is what they should be doing in life — that what they’re supposed to focus on is achieving something, anything, regardless of whether it’s good or sincere or honest –we have a huge problem on our hands. Because when you fixate upon doing something just to do it, just to check it off a list — that’s called addiction.
That reason, addiction — what amounts to a societal addiction to achievement — is why every single one of these students can recite his or her SAT score from memory, and is why every single one of these students has been told, “You’d be so great at it!” when they ask a parent or teacher or mentor why they should pursue a career in law.
Let’s head now to a toast inside a bar. The bartender has just handed me a Crown Royal on ice while congratulating my mom on her phenomenal choice of sweater, and in front of me a girl is standing on a chair.
The girl, whose name is Maggie and who has been described to me as “actually as sweet as she seems even though she seems way too sweet to be real,” seems way too sweet to be real. She calls people “sugar” with zero signs of irony. Her shoes have bows on them. And she’s obviously cool, in the way that you knew Samuel L. Jackson was cool before people had to tell you that Samuel L. Jackson was really really cool. I want to hang out with this girl, and I want to have a beer with this girl, and I want to sort of find a casual way to ask her for her autograph without it getting all awkward — except the thing is she’s crying. I don’t mean she is sobbing casually and accidentally and maybe it’s just a trick of the light. I mean she is hardcore bawling her eyes out standing up there on that chair, and she’s trying to talk but she can’t, and the audience is captivated by the radiance that pours from this girl, they are best I can say enthralled, and I am enthralled, and I wait for the words on her lips like the first drops of a flood.
Rhodes College, the team whose after-party I am crashing, has just been crowned one of the top ten teams in the nation. What is beautiful, what gives me hope, is that at this very moment no one in the room cares about this. And they don’t care about this because for the last three hours, they have been participating in a ceremony that is passionate and sincere and un-ironic and good.
Every year, after Nationals, after all the work is over, members of all three Rhodes teams get together to toast their teammates. To talk to them as peers and tell them how they feel. To explain to the team’s graduating seniors what the last four years have meant. Speeches last as long as they need to last. Bullshit is expressly prohibited. And everyone — maybe for the first time in their lives — is vulnerable.
A guy named Kashon walks up to me.
“Thanks,” he says.
“I don’t know.”
Maggie’s words never come, and she alights from her chair, and still everyone is staring, and she too is staring, and she is blinking. What she wants to say is, “All this time we have spent together, all this work that we have done together — it is somehow very important,” but she says nothing. Yet she says everything, and everyone knows. More people speak. Time passes. In the audience a boy and a girl lean against one another like the ruined pieces of an ancient statue. In the corner a kid named Michael is crying, he cannot stop crying, and he falls to his knees, and no one in the room will ever fault him for it. And there are grown men holding one another, they hold onto one another like the edges of sheer cliffs, and they stand with one another, and they stand there together, and they stand.
Why are we here?
Before she started talking, Maggie, who is maybe 5’1 in heels, hauled that chair up over her head and announced to everyone that she’d be perching on it.
“So I can see you,” she said, climbing up on top.
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A lot of CNBC anchors do not seem to understand how regulation works. In fact, it appears that the network’s hosts don’t really grasp how basic economic competition works. If you’ve tuned into the business channel this summer, chances are you’ve heard its star reporters pushing the ridiculous bank lobbyist mantra that new consumer protections will actually make life harder for consumers. It’s simply not true. Wall Street reforms aimed at credit card billing practices and overdraft fees are already protecting the pocketbooks of ordinary citizens all over the country.
Bankers don’t like consumer protections for a reason: they’ve been able to make a lot of money in recent years by gouging consumers and tricking them into paying absurd fees. So financiers have dispatched CEOs and lobbyists to CNBC to make the case that their predatory profits are actually good for consumers. Here’s how the perverse argument goes: If you force banks to stop abusing some of their customers, banks have to make their money by charging higher prices to all of their customers. The argument flies in the face of basic facts about how markets work, but even if it was essentially true, the banker dystopia looks much better for consumers than the past decade’s status quo.
Take a look at Maria Bartiromo’s obsequious July 22 interview with BB&T CEO Kelly King (who personally took home over $5 million last year, with the economy in the doldrums). You can also find Wells Fargo CFO Howard Atkins making a similar case on July 21, and megabank lobbyist Steve Bartlett pushing the agenda on July 20 (to CNBC’s credit, the anchors push back a bit against Bartlett late in the interview). From Bartiromo’s King interview:
There’s a glaring hole in this argument. Whatever their costs, banks still have to compete with each other on pricing. If new regulations force banks to stop charging deceptive, hidden fees, banks can’t just automatically move those fees elsewhere and expect to score the same profits. They may be able to jack up their prices temporarily, but pretty soon they’ll have to come down as banks try to win over new customers. This is what Credit Suisse analyst Moshe Orenbuch means when he says he expects profits to be “competed away.”
Hidden fees are much more profitable than up-front fees, because the normal market rules of competition don’t apply when customers don’t know they’re being charged. They’ll rack up tremendous fees that they would never intentionally accumulate. When you place those fees up-front in the form of higher interest rates, suddenly people don’t want to pay them anymore, and demand lower rates. This is why banks are complaining about the rules–they wouldn’t care about new consumer protections if they truly had no impact on their profits (and by extension, bonuses).
This is basically what has been happening with credit card interest rates since the enactment of new credit card reforms in 2009. Interest rates have been barely effected by the law.
That doesn’t mean that the rates aren’t going up–the average credit card interest rate has moved from about 13 percent in June 2009 to about 14.5 percent this summer. If free and fair markets cost 11 percent more than unfair and deceptive markets, count me in for fairness. But even that modest increase is not a function of enhanced consumer protections–it’s a function of record-high default rates on credit cards. Banks are taking huge losses from the recession as consumers fail to pay off their credit card debt. That really does drive prices higher. But it’s a “cost” that has nothing to do with consumer protection.
The millionaires on CNBC are primarily worried about overdraft fees, since many of the most egregious credit card abuses were outlawed by Congress in April 2009. The banking industry raked in a monstrous $38.5 billion in overdrafts last year, far in excess of the industry’s total combined profit of just $12 billion. Without overdrafts, many banks would have been taking losses, not profits, and a lot of big bonuses wouldn’t have been paid.
Did banks really have $38.5 billion in checking account costs in 2009? Of course not. After all, with costs so high, how ever did banks get by with the paltry $23.7 billion in overdraft income they scored in 2008? What really matters to banks on checking is not cost, but potential profit. That’s why a lot of banks will actually pay interest on checking account balances–the more money you keep in your checking account, the more money banks have to lend out profitably. For the middle class and the wealthy, new overdraft rules aren’t going to affect checking accounts at all, since those accounts aren’t costing banks anything–they’re a profit-generator.
This potential profit isn’t quite as compelling for the checking accounts of low-income people, since those accounts by definition do not have much money in them for banks to lend out. But that doesn’t mean that every overdraft trick deployed in 2009 was a necessary charge. Indeed, banks have been devising more and more tricks to rake in overdraft income over the past decade, even going so far as to backdate checking purchases without consumer consent in order to charge more overdraft fees. Abuses like that are not a necessary component of any checking business. Ending those outrages will simply mean less money for banks, it will not mean more up-front charges for consumers.
Banks do not need to charge new fees to “make up” for the lost revenue from tricks and traps. But that doesn’t mean banks won’t try to jack up your interest rate or sneak new fees into your checking account. Banks will do just about anything that makes them money if they think they can get away with it. BB&T, for instance used to charge its customers a $10 “service fee” for the courtesy of mailing out monthly statements. The bank didn’t tell its customers it was doing this, it just included a one-line charge on each monthly statement, hoping that customers wouldn’t catch the item and complain. BB&T didn’t start charging this fee because it needed to help poor people or fend off some new regulation, it just saw the opportunity to score an easy buck, and went for it.
So you may very well find some unpleasant new fee in a banking statement this year. But it will have nothing to do with new consumer protections, regardless of what CNBC anchors tell you.
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I won’t Iditarod my way into the spectacle of Sarah Palin appropriating feminism as her very own dogma. But it’s just one recent example of women having what can be most diplomatically described as a classification problem.
Men are lucky they don’t have to deal with this much. “Boy toy” is the most degrading male label that shows up in the tabs these days. But for women, it seems the lines between empowerment and degradation continue to move around like it’s 1959 (blame Mad Men if you’re macho enough).
Today, the Iranian state news website called Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the French First Lady, a “prostitute.” Former supermodel and current activist, maybe. And someone who, coincidentally, just called for the release of an Iranian women sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. But how did hooker get thrown in there?
Maybe we can get Mr. Ahmedinajad to define his terms. That would help on the nuclear thing, too.
Locally, women and their roles have also been pushed up into the news. In Fremont, women in bikinis are serving coffee at a drive-through, including a 16-ounce “C-Cup” for $1.85. Heh.
The jokes are bad but the business, Your Coffee Cups, is whipping competitors and raising fat tips for the servers. “I have more time for myself,” San Jose State student and bikini-ist Samantha De la Cruz told the Oakland Tribune. As added value eye candy, she makes twice what she used to earn selling wood at a Lowe’s store.
Does that make her a “bad feminist?”
In the Pacific Northwest, where all coffee entrepreneurial hustles, including this one, seem to start, the Trib says there have been reports of servers flashing customers for bigger tips and customers doing the same for better thrills. Not in Fremont, the owner and servers insist. “They don’t make you feel like a stripper,” says another bikinista, Rosanne Ortiz.
Which, even if they did, might not be such a terrible thing, according to a new study from the University of Leeds, right across the channel from Ms. Bruni.
Most British lap dancers surveyed said they chose to work in that, uh, position, because they earn more. They are “motivated by career and economic choices, not coercion,” the report says. One in four has a college degree.
University of London professor Dr. Belinda Brooks-Gordon told the BBC that “one of the most striking things (about the study) is job satisfaction and of course the money. With the money they can earn they can work shorter hours and combine it … with undergraduate … and postgraduate education.”
We might consider that a “student/stripper” category on the resume. And just when it seemed the whole Madonna/Whore cultural thing had been beaten into hackneyed obscurity by more realistically complex formulations about women.
Dr. Brooks-Gordon also said she’d be OK with her daughter dancing in laps because “as a mother, I’d want my daughter to choose whatever she wants to do in good working conditions and safe environment.”
On the same show, club owner Peter Stringfellow (OK, there’s a decent joke in there somewhere) compared his lap dancers to Hollywood performers who wait tables while waiting for acting jobs. His employees “can be socially clever. They have to be smart. They’re not dummies.”
What an endorsement.
So where is the precise tan line between nuturing empowerment and sexual degradation
Thank God some borders are still painfully clear. Last week, feminine hygiene company Summer’s Eve stepped in sexist poo with its ad urging women to have deodorized privates if they wanted to get a raise at work. Lissa Rankin, an ob/gyn and author of “What’s Up Down There” was asked by the company some months ago to be a spokeswoman for Summer’s Eve’s new “empowering” campaign. She declined. Good move. Now that she’s seen the “hiring tips” ad, she writes on her blog, “Yikes. I swear, it’s the opposite of empowering.” But women and others “made such a stink” that Summer’s Eve pulled the ads not already in print and fled to Twitter for apologies all up and down.
Maybe the ad campaign would work better in Iran.
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A speech from the Oval Office brings out the worst in presidents, tempting them to present themselves as the ultimate deciders on matters of war and peace. It won’t be easy, then, for President Obama to rise above theatrics and confront the dark legacy of executive unilateralism left by the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, his silence on this issue will consolidate the remarkable precedent left by Bush in pushing Congress to the sidelines in defining war-aims in Iraq.
When Congress first authorized the initial invasion in 2002, it did not give President Bush the blank check he had demanded. It only authorized the military to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, topple the Hussein government, and remain in Iraq for as long as authorized by the Security Council.
As it became clear that the UN’s mandate would lapse at the end of 2008, President Bush refused to return to Congress to gain additional war-making authority. Instead, the Administration announced its intention to make a unilateral deal with the Maliki government that would continue the war beyond the limits set by Congress.
This provoked a firestorm of criticism. Joseph Biden, then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill insisting that any agreement with Iraq “should involve a joint decision by the executive and legislative branches.” Hillary Clinton went further condemned as “outrageous” Bush’s effort “to circumvent Congress on a matter of such vital interest to national security.” Her bill would have cut off all funding for military actions under any unilateral agreement. Barack Obama not only co-sponsored the Clinton initiative, but repeated his opposition on the campaign trail, stating that any agreement “should be subject to Congressional review.”
The Bush Administration utterly ignored these critics, never responding to repeated demands by Congressional leaders of both parties to learn even the barest details of its negotiating position. Only after the November elections did Bush and Maliki announce their agreement, authorizing American military force through the end of 2011. Since Iraq’s new Constitution required parliamentary consent, Maliki followed its terms and gained the requisite support. In contrast, Bush simply declared that his new unilateral commitment on behalf of the United States would replace the expiring UN resolution as of January 1, 2009.
So matters stood when President Obama took office on January 20th – and so they stand today. The Obama-Biden-Clinton team has simply acted on the basis of the Bush-Maliki agreement without explaining what gives it the constitutional authority to do so. The entirely sound objections they voiced in 2008 have been conveniently forgotten.
Up to a point, silence may have been the best policy. A candid acknowledgment that the agreement was unconstitutional would have left the troops in the lurch and destabilized the Iraqi government. Here, as elsewhere, it will take patience and ingenuity to undo the dark constitutional legacy of the Bush years.
The time to begin is now. With Americans formally retiring from their combat role in Iraq, we should be revisiting constitutional fundamentals. From the days of John Marshall, the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed Congress’ authority to define the scope of limited wars. Unless Obama begins to demonstrate his fidelity to this principle, he will be setting a terrible precedent for future presidents.
The twenty-first century will be an era of limited war, and if the Bush power-grab is further legitimated by Obama, future presidents will predictably use the Bush-Obama consensus as the basis for their own similar “bait-and-switch” operations – asking Congress to approve a carefully limited conflicts, then escalating the war unilaterally even as popular support wanes.
There is no need for Obama to take precipitous action. Like it or not, the Bush-Maliki agreement, setting December 31, 2011 as the withdrawal date for all American troops, is established policy. But Obama should make it clear that Congress will be a full partner on any decision extending American military commitments beyond this date. This includes any decision to maintain tens of thousands of troops classified in so-called “training” missions that put them in clear and present danger. Otherwise, his decision to use a speech from the Oval Office to define Iraq policy will merely create the impression that he is using the powers of the imperial presidency to correct the blunders of his predecessor.
Americans are entitled to more. They expect their president to make good on his campaign promise to restore Congress’ constitutional role in defining the scope of limited wars, and thereby sustain the Founding tradition of checks-and-balances into the twenty-first century.
Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors at Yale Law School.
Are there lions in the streets?
Do you live in a mud hut?
How come you ain’t… ?
As a South African, I get the strangest questions from Americans. Their impression of Africa ranges from the lions-snakes-loincloths version, all the way to the guns-AIDS-ghettos version. Often they are wildly off the mark, though — since we hosted the World Cup soccer tournament — they do know that we have stadiums, TV and vuvuzelas.
What they don’t know is that we have it all! Wild animals and guns, AIDS and ghettos are here, but we also have highways, high schools, high-tech, high-life and high hopes. We’re on Twitter and Facebook and all the other social networks. Charlize Theron is one of us. So is Alon Musk, the PayPal founder and Dave Matthews of the band. We invented super-glue, open-heart surgery and short-range tactical nuclear weapons and we were also the first to ever give up the latter voluntarily.
Our country is hauntingly beautiful — beaches, mountains, deserts, forests, cities, jungles. It’s the size of California and Texas combined and 50 million of us live here, of all colors, speaking 11 different languages. Since Nelson Mandela led us out of our painful past, we’re all working hard to get along and make our country a success. And slowly, we’re getting it right. Most of us even have rhythm now.
Take Beyonce, Denzel, Obama and Oprah. Throw in LeBron and Tiger. Sprinkle with Bill Gates, Al Sharpton, Pat Buchanan, Spike Lee and Paris Hilton. Make most of them poor, but some rich. Given them each a different language. Now tell them to sort out the USA, quickly and peacefully. Get the idea? Ask anyone who visited us for the World Cup. We live in a crazy, mixed-up, fun loving, rich-and-poor, up-and-down place, and we are immensely proud of it.
The point I’m trying to make is that South Africa is fast becoming just a normal crazy mixed-up country. So we — that’s my two partners, Kenneth Nkosi and Rapulana Seiphemo and me — want to tell stories that are fun, real, and normal.
So White Wedding came about from a road trip the three of us took across the country about seven years ago — two black dudes and white girl and all the bizarre, funny, typically South African things that we encountered.
It was on that long drive that we made up the story about Kenneth (Elvis — the groom) and Rapulana (Tumi — the best man) trying to get from Johannesburg to Cape Town to Elvis’s wedding. Things go wrong — but not in the way you might expect. George (the goat), played by Bella (the goat) isn’t a guest at the wedding — he’s the lunch — a gift from Grandma. Befriended by Rose (the heartbroken British hitch-hiker) George sits in the back seat of the car with Elvis, while Tumi and Rose flirt in the front. Tony, the ex-boyfriend of Ayanda (the bride), pays for her wedding dress. Elvis hasn’t made the transfer from the bank, because he’s lost in mountains, and there’s no phone signal. It’s not really George’s fault that they crash, but in the end, poor George ends up getting cooked and eaten. Or does he?
We ended up with a funny, romantic, feel-good road-movie, reminiscent of Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine. We shot the film in 18 days, for a budget of less than $1 million. And South Africans loved it. When did you last see a film in which you laugh at different scenes to the person next to you — and you don’t understand the jokes you are missing? Or when, at the climax, people stand and dance to the soundtrack, shouting in excitement? We heard many stories of black and white strangers hugging each other as the credits rolled, or of employers and their housekeepers sitting side-by-side, shedding simultaneous tears when the story gets weepy.
We sent Nelson Mandela a copy for his 91st birthday and he loved it. Mr. Mandela is a Xhosa, like Grandma and the beautiful Ayanda, but he wouldn’t mind the gentle fun that is poked at their laid-back, stubborn stereotype. The film gives everyone ‘a bit of a rev.’
But you don’t need to be South African to appreciate it. At heart, it’s a universal story about love and prejudice. It’s warm, charming, and reminds us that our similarities are greater than our differences. President Obama, you should see it!
So… I’m not black. I live in the suburbs, and the lions I hear at night are in the Joburg zoo. But I am South African, and I think Americans are going to like our movie. If you do see it, don’t be afraid to laugh aloud, whistle, dance, cry and applaud during the show. And tell your friends.
That’s how we do it.
WHITE WEDDING will open in New York and Los Angeles on September 3 with a national release to follow.
For further information please visit: whiteweddingmovie.com
By Kia Lala
“Acqua Alta in Venice, An image from “Beautiful Islands,” Horizon Features”
A recent surge in apocalyptic films indicates the mood of the zeitgeist. With 2012 fast approaching, our oceans at peril and the gloom of global warming, the average recession-hit consumer cannot see past their shrinking funds to worry about other mammals going extinct.
The hottest Pakistani summers on record followed by uncharacteristic floods seems to all underscore the creeping panic, while for those on the other side of the debate, the future’s so bright, they’re just happy to wear shades.
Lucy Walker’s film Countdown to Zero, on the likely threat of a nuclear holocaust, is the latest venture by Lawrence Bender of An Inconvenient Truth, in which Walker asserts that, “steps needed to be taken to blow up New York City not only could happen but had already happened.”
“Target New York City: A scene from Lucy Walker's Countdown to Zero. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.”
Another documentary Beautiful Islands, by Japanese director Kana Tomoko, examines three sinking islands with widely different cultures, Tuvalu in the South Pacific, Shishmaref in Alaska and Venice, Italy. In her attempt to show the plight of the indigenous people of Tuvalu, the first nation reportedly scheduled to be under water by 2050, her camera becomes infatuated by the sun, sea and the island’s blissful inhabitants – painting such an idyllic picture that one almost feels a pang of schadenfreude at their imminent demise.
“An image from “Beautiful Islands” Horizon Features”
On the other side of the planet on a tiny Alaskan island, locals have had to relocate, because of thinning ice, which is a danger to indigenous huntsmen who slaughter seals with their prized, polished shotguns, and who we sympathize with as much as their gun-toting deer-hunting brethren on the mainland who must cope with supermarket venison off-season. As for the third setting, the film shows Venetians during the Acqua Alta – the annual deluge is a dramatic and expensive nuisance.
Despite the director’s overindulgence of her subjects, the film underscores an urgent call to action, and is one amongst many portending universal peril. Recent box office successes indicate the general public’s fascination with impending doom and post-apocalyptic themes: The 11th Hour, Children of Men, 2012, 28 Days Later, with apocalyspe movie sites like these sustaining the hysteria.
Here the British artist, Richard Hardy creates a dystopian vision of London, where nature reclaims the urban landscape:
THE ECO-COMMUNE from Richard Hardy on Vimeo.
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A number of weeks ago Samsung was kind enough to send us two Galaxy S smartphones — the AT&T Captivate and the T-Mobile Vibrant. At first glance both handsets are just simply beautiful — with a very clean design. The Super AMOLED 4.0″ screen is just simply captivating. I think I watched Avatar — on the T-Mobile Vibrant — at least three times. Avatar comes pre-installed on the Vibrant — no such luck on the Captivate.
You will quickly notice that the Vibrant is considerably lighter than the Captivate. This is simply a design aspect and does not suggest that the Vibrant is a poorly constructed handset. I actually appreciated the fact that the Vibrant was lighter. As far as what network had the better experience — T-Mobile or AT&T — I had better reception with T-Mobile. That may have something to do with Magenta’s next generation — HSPA+ network.
Zev Green does a very nice job in reviewing both handsets:
Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant and Captivate review from DadsOnTech on Vimeo.
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Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are constantly talking about restoring our Constitution. They want to get our Constitution back. I did not know that it had gone away. They have created this aura that since Barack Obama was inaugurated somehow our Forefathers have been affronted. Aside from the crazies who claim that President Obama was born in Kenya and is not a citizen, and therefore sits in the presidency in violation of the Constitution, I am at a loss to know what it is they are talking about. Other than the health care legislation, which faces a legitimate challenge on the basis that it requires all citizens to buy insurance and does not come within the power of Congress to tax, I know of no other claim, no less a legitimate one, that the current administration has violated the Constitution.
What I find remarkable is the suggestion that the President’s agenda (whether successful or not) of caring for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the uneducated and the unemployed has somehow dishonored the country and poses a danger to it. Apparently in the eyes of Glenn Beck these “socialistic” goals are un-Christian and are to be feared. I do not pretend to be an expert on the Bible, but I thought those precepts were the very foundation of Christianity. Do they become less so because they are provided by the government?
There will be strong disagreement over the size of the crowd which attended the Beck rally and who or what brought them there. Without impugning those who attended, the greater the size of the crowd; the greater should be our fear——not the phony one he has created. They have been convinced that there is a danger out there that does not exist. If our honor was lost, it was through the invasion of Iraq, wire tapping of American citizens, the torture and rendition of suspected terrorists, imprisoning persons for years without charges or hearings, allowing greed to prevail over regulation and our woeful response to Hurricane Katrina. If those were the good old days for which Mr. Beck and Ms. Palin yearn, then he is right, we all should start praying.
(Originally published as an op-ed in the Times Union on August 8, 2010).
By Kyle Rabin and Reed Super
The Indian Point nuclear power plant has been grabbing headlines again, this time because of its devastating impact on fish. But that plant is just one of 25 aging power plants in New York which are damaging the ecology of the state’s rivers, lakes and estuaries. From the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island’s shores, power plants built in the middle of last century, most of them fossil-fueled, withdraw billions of gallons of water every day using antiquated “once-through” cooling water intake systems. (New York ranks third highest among the 50 states with respect to power plant water withdrawal.)
Their thirst for water almost insatiable, New York’s power plants suck in and kill nearly 17 billion eggs, larvae and young fish each year. An additional 171 million larger fish are injured or killed annually when they are trapped on intake screens. Undocumented is the destruction of countless microscopic aquatic organisms such as phytoplankton, which play a critical role at the lower levels of the food chain. These power plants also discharge used cooling water, now hot, back to the waters surrounding the plant.
State and federal regulators have found that the loss of large numbers of aquatic organisms affects not only stock of various species but also the overall health of ecosystems. Power plants’ destruction of aquatic creatures’ eggs and larvae saps biological energy from the waterbody and alters the natural functioning of the food chain.
Plants built since 2001 have been required to use “closed-cycle” cooling, which recycles cooling water and reduces water withdrawals and fish mortality by 95 percent. The debate currently under way concerns a proposed state policy that identifies closed-cycle cooling as the performance goal for the 25 large, most damaging existing power plants. This proven technology would finally implement the legal requirement to use the “best technology available” that was imposed nearly 40 years ago. Closed-cycle cooling can be added, quite affordably, to most old plants. In fact, such retrofits have been completed at over a half-dozen nuclear and fossil fuel plants, with more underway.
For decades, the owners of New York’s 25 aging power plants have avoided installing closed-cycle cooling, largely by perpetuating myths designed to scare the public.
The power industry’s threat that many plants would close down, rather than upgrade their cooling systems, simply isn’t borne out by the numbers. Nor are their claims that electricity prices would soar. And cheaper technologies, such as special screens fitted to the intake, simply aren’t as effective as closed-cycle cooling and do nothing to prevent hot water discharges. Because power company profits in New York are high, they can afford to install closed-cycle cooling. Requiring the 25 antiquated plants to upgrade would reduce the corporate bottom line slightly, but consumers would see less than a 1 percent increase on their monthly power bill. The plants that set the market price are newer ones that already have closed-cycle cooling, and thus New Yorkers are paying for closed-cycle cooling, but just aren’t getting it. Those findings were recently documented in a detailed economic analysis on file with the state that no one has been able to refute.
The industry has also exaggerated the aesthetic (e.g. height) and environmental (air pollution) impacts of closed-cycle cooling. Modern closed-cycle cooling systems don’t necessarily require large towers but rather an array of much smaller “cells” that blend in with existing site structures. Industry claims regarding air quality impacts are based on unrealistic scenarios. In fact, the retirement of an outdated power plant or two would translate to an overall improvement in air quality.
While the power industry understandably wants to protect its massive profits, our precious waterways and the fish that inhabit them are public resources of the people of New York state. For several decades, the aging power plants have been like the big ones that got away. Now it is up to our state government to finally reel in the industry and end this senseless destruction.
Kyle Rabin is director of the Network for New Energy Choices. Reed Super is a public interest environmental attorney.
Billionaire Meg Whitman keeps plugging what she says is a program for California’s future as a key reason to make her governor of the nation’s largest state. She must be counting on people not paying attention to what her program actually is.
For quite awhile, Whitman, still struggling to develop any momentum in her race for California governor against Jerry Brown despite having already broken all spending records for a non-presidential candidate in American history, has touted her program as the reason to vote for her as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successor. Namely, that she has one and Brown doesn’t. Or didn’t. Lately, Brown has released a lot of program points, none of which are a surprise since they reflect what he’s been doing and saying throughout his decades in public life.
Billionaire Meg Whitman lays out her program of big business conservatism, which she, in her notably unsuccessful first ad of the general election, tried to recast as concern for the unemployed.
But that didn’t stop Whitman from trying to have what she calls her “book” — it’s actually a 40-page pamphlet, with big type and many pictures and graphics — placed in California’s public libraries. Virtually all of them turned her down, since it’s campaign advertising and decidedly not a book. Nor did it stop her from using it as one her many excuses to avoid debates with Brown (I have a policy book and he doesn’t have one yet), or from mailing it around the state, or from having it lovingly photographed for one of her incessant TV ads.
For quite awhile, the much diminished state press corps bought into the whole Whitman-has-a-program thing. No one really took a look at what it is. Which is interesting, because the program makes no sense.
In fact, if Whitman were somehow to become governor and then somehow get her program enacted, California would become a harsh realm indeed. (“Harsh Realm” being inspired, of course, by Whitman’s married name of Mrs. Harsh and her constant depiction by the California Nurses Association as Queen Meg, as well as the short-lived series from X-Files creator Chris Carter.)
Hers is essentially a program of big business conservatism, very much in line with what I filmed her saying in early 2008 as national co-chair of John McCain’s presidential campaign. Which in turn was a continuation of the Bush/Cheney economic policies America came to know and love so very well.
Before going through her very consistent program, let’s acknowledge a few differences, mainly in the area of flip-flopping.
In her failed first general election ad, right after the June 8th primary, Whitman spun her program of big tax cuts for the wealthy as concern for the unemployed whom she, unlike politicians, somehow “sees every day.”
On illegal immigration, Whitman, like Bush and McCain, did favor comprehensive immigration reform. Which in right-wing social politics circles is known as “amnesty.” It was one way of trying to appeal to Latino voters, and perhaps distract them from her terrible record of hiring Latino executives at eBay.
Under intense pressure from rival Steve Poizner in the GOP primary, she switched her position. And after trying to flop back after the primary, she was forced to stick to the position of being for mass deportations when the far right whose votes she must have forced her hand.
She’s also flip flopped on climate change, renewable energy, and offshore oil drilling. She was a big booster of offshore drilling as national co-chair of the “Drill, baby, drill” McCain/Palin campaign, and continued to make favorable statements about till this past spring, when she came out against it. Since then, she’s even insisted she was “always” against offshore drilling. I’ll get to climate change and renewable energy in a moment.
Conservative Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Whitman’s business mentor, came up with the idea that Whitman run for governor, and he convinced her to do it. Whitman served as a national finance co-chair for Romney, who hired her at Bain & Co. (where she learned the games of management consulting and finance capitalism), before serving as national co-chair of the McCain-Palin campaign.
Whitman has a sweeping agenda of massive tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks right out of the playbook of former leveraged buyout artist Romney, the Republican frontrunner to take on President Barack Obama in 2012. You’ll notice I’m saying that the Romney program is the Bush/Cheney program, which is not an auspicious fact for Mr. Romney in 2012.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared on his birthday with California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman in this discussion of the wonders of corporate America and the evils of labor unions.
Romney likes to say that Whitman eschewed corporate perks, and created “one million jobs” as head of eBay. But as we know now, the reality of her tenue at eBay is quite different. In reality, Whitman was very big on corporate perks, and the idea that she created a million jobs is a simply fantastical notion. Actually, eBay provided a platform for sellers of their own products, a platform for which Whitman raised fees six times during her corporate reign while the market value of eBay declined by half in her last three years there.
What California needs, says Romney, is strong medicine: Big tax cuts, big regulatory rollbacks, and the defeat of its labor unions. Whitman, whose campaign theme song may still be “Taking Care of Business,” as it was in the spring, echoes Romney’s themes and expands upon them.
Whitman has had a repetitive and simplistic mantra of more jobs, better education, and cutting the budget, for nearly two years. But her policy pamphlet makes clear that she does have actual specifics.
The former Goldman Sachs board member is pushing a program of big tax cuts for the rich and corporations. She claims that eliminating the capital gains tax and instituting another round of tax cuts for corporations — the state just granted big corporate tax cuts last year as part of its barely cobbled together budget deal — will create millions of new jobs and actually decrease the state budget deficit. What those cuts will actually do is cost the state billions in revenue, adding to an already yawning budget gap.
In a good revenue year, her elimination of the capital gains tax — a move that principally benefits people like her and her friends — costs the state $10 billion or more. In a bad year, half that. Unless you believe in the Laffer Curve. Which hasn’t proved out in practice. And even in the most rose-colored view of the right torpedoes the budget in the near term.
In this gauzy ad, entitled “Executive Leadership,” endorsers from Meg Whitman’s past and present payrolls describe her as a great corporate executive.
She also issues a clarion call for an end to all new regulations in California. Regulations, she claims, cost California “four million jobs.” A claim she can’t back up.
Central to that is her call for the rollback of AB 32, California’s (and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s) landmark climate change program. She has not endorsed a proposed initiative to end the program, funded by two Texas oil companies, perhaps mindful of private polling showing it to be unpopular.
But her position is clear enough, despite quite a bit of flip-flopping on it. She wants to end the program.
Whether she wants to suspend it for a year, as she said last year and as she said recently, or end it altogether, as she said in the spring while fighting to win the Republican nomination, her position amounts to ending the program.
Major investment decisions in green technology are being taken now, as investor Tom Steyer and former state Controller Steve Westly, Whitman’s former eBay colleague, have been pointing out.
These decisions, as Schwarzenegger points out, are making California the leader once again in green tech. As it was during Jerry Brown’s first governorship.
But “suspending” the program throws all of that into chaos.
After proposing to add to the state’s budget deficit with new tax cuts for wealthy investors and corporations, Whitman claimed that she has a plan to balance the budget.
First, she will eliminate the jobs of 40,000 state employees. Which ones? That’s very unclear. California already has one of the smallest state workforces in the nation in proportion to the population it serves.
In this TV attack ad from last month which distorts long-ago comments from Jerry Brown, Whitman touts her plan for California’s future.
In fact, Whitman still can’t say which jobs she would eliminate, more than a year-and-a-half after making it part of her simplistic mantra. In any event, that saves a relative pittance.
So where does the bulk of the purported saving come from? Whitman claimed that she can cut $15 billion through the use of technology and through various unspecified efficiencies involving that old standby, “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Which, even if true, would still be short of the mark.
But there’s no reason to believe it’s true at all, and Whitman can’t cite any specifics.
When he first ran, in the dramatic California recall of 2003, Schwarzenegger promised much the same thing. Specifically, he said he would conduct an “audit” of the state budget.
Whitman’s version of the audit is a “state grand jury.”
Schwarzenegger imported former Florida budget director Donna Arduin — recommended by his advisor Mike Murphy, who also then worked for Governor Jeb Bush, and is now Whitman’s chief strategist — to conduct this audit. Did she find massive waste, fraud, and abuse? Obviously not.
Maybe instead of recycling political consultant nostrums already shown to be of no use, Whitman should come up with some specifics on how to cut the budget.
Which is not to say that government can’t be run more efficiently. But the reality is that the budget cuts that Schwarzenegger has imposed — which he’s largely had to impose due to the near meltdown of the global economy and the collapse of California’s revenue, which is overly dependent on high-income Californians from whom Whitman amusingly proposes to get even less revenue — gives the lie to the fiction that such large amounts of waste, fraud, and abuse are there to be cut.
The reality is that Whitman doesn’t even try to say where she would cut, even though she has a massive campaign apparatus that includes practically every major “cut government” advocate in the state.
The reality is that Meg Whitman is pushing a program that principally benefits people like herself.
Her program doesn’t help people like you or me, it helps people like her. Folks who are very wealthy and looking to get more wealthy, able to float above commonplace concerns like quality public schools, an efficient law enforcement system, and a refurbished infrastructure. Not to mention environmental and labor safeguards.
This ad from California Working Families points up how very different Meg Whitman’s world is from that of all but a few people.
So how’s the campaign itself going?
Not exactly swimmingly for Whitman.
As I’ve written since the June primary, Whitman is failing in her goal of building a big 12 to 15-point lead over Jerry Brown over the summer, a lead from which he can’t recover in the fall. In fact, she has no lead at all in any credible poll.
It’s only a matter of days till the start of Labor Day weekend, and Brown has successfully managed the passage from the primary without spending a dime. What I’ve called his “Zen rope-a-dope campaign” has worked with, to borrow a line from the Beatles, “a little help from his friends.” Which nonetheless has been dwarfed by Whitman’s record-shattering spending and incessant advertising.
I’ll write more about all this and the campaign itself as we get closer to Labor Day weekend.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes … www.newwestnotes.com.
Deep in the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian government wants to build a massive, nasty dam called Belo Monte. The hydropower plant has long been at the center of a lopsided battle between Brazil’s powerful hydro-industrial complex — with full backing from President Lula and his government — and the country’s indigenous people and environmental and social activists.
The dispute came to international prominence in April this year with a front-page New York Times story about Avatar director James Cameron visiting the Belo Monte region. Cameron heard directly from local Indians how they would lose their lands and livelihoods because of the flooding and river destruction that the dam would cause.
Cameron was deeply moved by his exposure to this real-world “Pandora.” His trip inspired an idea to use Google Earth to produce a state-of-the-art digital animation to illustrate the potentially devastating impacts of the dam on the Xingu River, a major Amazon tributary.
The Google Earth animation has now been launched to coincide with the August 27 release of “Avatar: Special Edition” (a longer version of the original movie complete with what director James Cameron calls “the Alien kink scene”). The animated tour is narrated by Avatar star Sigourney Weaver, who accompanied Cameron to the Xingu in April. (Brazilian actress Dira Paes narrates the Portuguese-language of the tour, available in early September.)
The animation was produced by two U.S.-based organizations, International Rivers and Amazon Watch, who are working closely with Brazilian opponents of the dam.
The Belo Monte Dam Complex would dry-up an important stretch of the Xingu, flood an area upstream the size of Chicago, and displace more than 20,000 people. Late last week, the Brazilian government signed the concession to build the dam.
Brazilian economists and engineers say the dam would only generate at a fraction of its capacity for most of the year and could lose billions of dollars a year. Many suspect that Belo Monte is only the first phase of the destruction of the Xingu; the government may very well implement its previous plans of building more reservoirs upstream, with even greater impacts.
The animation uses map overlays and 3D models to illustrate the potential for conservation, solar and wind energy to meet Brazil’s future energy needs. Less optimistically, it describes the plans to build over 60 big hydro projects in the Brazilian Amazon, and a further 80 in the other countries that share the Amazon, chiefly in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The plans for the hydro-electrocution of the Amazon can be explored in this interactive map.
Cameron has also produced a video feature on Belo Monte called “A Message from Pandora.” A 3-minute trailer of the feature was launched last week with a link from the Avatar movie website, inviting Avatar fans to join the campaign to stop the Belo Monte Dam and defend the rainforest. The full feature will be included in the DVD of “Avatar: Special Edition,” to be released in November.
Watch the video of the animation, interact with the tour, and see for yourself. Then sign the petition to stop the Belo Monte Dam. The people of the Xingu will thank you for it.
Open the newspaper, turn on the television or listen to the radio and the book publishing and film industrys’ news of constant lay-offs and woes have seeped past the industry trade papers into the major headlines. The changes have affected not only authors, bookstores, chain stores and book publishing companies but also the literary agencies and management companies that represent the authors themselves.
The next five years will be some of the most critical years for literary agents. Some will sink and others will swim. To explore this topic further, I reached out to veteran literary manager and producer, Ken Atchity of Atchity Entertainment Incorporated for his take on what is happening and what he has done about it. It was rather eye-opening and could create a new shift on how future writers’ representatives do business.
You have a rather interesting background and you’re rather humble about it. You are actually Dr. Kenneth Atchity and you have a Ph.d from Yale University. You’ve sold literally hundreds of books, TV shows and films but for those that aren’t familiar with you or your company, tell us about it.
In a nutshell, I’ve spent my lifetime writing and working with writers and for writers, as an editor, publisher, producer, literary manager, and public speaker. I’ve weathered the ups and downs of the entertainment, publishing and internet industries but one thing has remained consistent: writers are the ones who provide “content,” and “content” (otherwise known as ‘information’ and ‘stories’) is what the world has an insatiable appetite for. I am a content facilitator, now redefining myself as a career coach who helps writers (content providers) with the strategy and tactics required to get their work in front of the public in the most expeditious and most productive way possible given the changing times we live in. The Story Merchant (www.storymerchant.com) is the company under which I provide direct one-on-one coaching, www.thewriterslifelinecom is the company I supervise to provide editorial and ghostwriting services from a select team of writers and editors. I also founded www.aeionline.com, a literary management company that has evolved into motion picture production.
A lot of changes have been happening in the film and book publishing industry that have caused you to create some critical shifts in your company. Let’s discuss some of those changes.
Boy, is that the truth! EVERYTHING has been changing, as I try to post on www.kenatchity.blogspot.com .
Although people are watching movies more than ever before–the industry went up by about 7% last year–the major studios have cut back their movie-making to 10-15% of what it was a few short years ago. Getting them to look at your novel or spec script requires miracles (not that we haven’t done a few of those!) unless you’re already a household name.
The independent film market is in a perennial renaissance. Movies are being made, and Oscars are being awarded. The problem here is that there’s virtually NO development money for optioning properties or turning novels into screenplays. If you want to break in, and you’re my client or partner, I’m going to tell you to become a proactive film maker. More on that later.
The television movie is all but dead these days, though I believe it will return. Reality and dramatic series are where it’s at but both have specific appetites and both are difficult to break in. We’re fortunate that we’ve shot two reality shows in the past six months, and are in preproduction with two movies, casting for another.
Publishing is focused on (a) fear and (b) brands. Fear because although the ebook is still a minor percentage of the market (around 5%), no one wants to be the last publisher in the real book business, holding the buggy whip while everyone else is driving an IPad or Kindle. Brands because only brands insure against fear. Last year we “branded” a book with a major historical name and sold it for nearly $2 million worldwide–a book that would otherwise probably not have sold at all.
And how has that affected your business as a whole?
Aside from a handful of clients who are making good money, it’s taken me out of standard literary management (where you put in present effort for far-future dollars) into career coaching (present effort for present dollars) but doing the same thing for writers. Oddly I’ve learned that in this new coaching business, I actually get to spend relaxed-unpressured time with my clients instead of being forced to focus on just the ones who are earning money right now. That’s what I’ve always loved the most.
Aside from working with writers, I’ve focused on raising money for films–and have been progressively successful at it thanks to our relationship with Informant Entertainment (Crazy Heart) and Renegade83 (Man Woman Wild).
You announced recently your Story Merchant program, what is that exactly?
My nickname is “the Story Merchant,” and the program wherein I get to go out and speak to writers directly (as I have recently in Atlanta, Dallas, and New York) then work with them one on one as a career coach is offered under that brand. Meanwhile, less expensively, writers can receive my overview guidance by working with www.thewriterslifeline.com, which has accounted for more than a dozen bestsellers.
This is a fee-based program, not on a percentage. What kinds of fees are we talking about here?
The most popular one is 3 months of a weekly 30-minute session by phone with me (plus two follow up emails) for $1250, based on a $250 hourly fee. That’s the rate we’ve offered until October 1.
Now, why should they choose your program over a traditional agent or manager who can coach them along for free?
Good luck finding a traditional agent or manager who will take the time to coach you along for free. If you do, I’m proud of you for your acumen. If you aren’t able to do that, I’m available to help you. My service can include representing you as well once I judge your material is representable–and the good thing is, no commission.
Is this a whole new direction for the company, or just in addition to what you’re doing already?
It’s a whole new direction for me personally, but a natural outgrowth of what I’ve been doing for years–caused by the changing times and the constant need to get stories and information out to the public one way or the other.
Are you concerned with so many scams out there that it might damage your company’s reputation?
That’s a good question, but I’m not concerned in the least. Once upon a time, I took that question to heart and agonized about it. But considering our track record of getting writers published and produced, I’m not worried about it. No one is forced to work with me or my companies! In fact, I predict that many agents and managers (those who haven’t already gone out of business) will find their way toward doing something like what I’m now doing. If you’re good at helping writers, and love what you do, you have to find a way that makes it work for yourself as well as them.
Full disclosure: My company GumboWriters has referred clients to AEI in the past for representation. One of which, landed their own reality television series which will debut this year.
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Everyone’s excited about the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 software, which Microsoft bulls are hoping will mark Microsoft’s return to relevance in the mobile industry.
Reviews of the software have been good, and the only major complaint is that it’s a year behind the rest of the industry–namely Apple’s iPhone OS and Google’s Android.
In the rapidly evolving smartphone world, being a year behind is a recipe for trouble. If Microsoft focused huge resources on the problem, however, it might be able to close the gap.
But Microsoft actually has a bigger problem in mobile, one that threatens to turn Windows Phone 7 into the mobile equivalent of the $2+ billion-a-year cash incinerator known as Bing.
Microsoft’s mobile software business model is fatally flawed.
Microsoft is still trying to jam the square peg of the old PC-based operating system software model into the round hole of mobile. And that game is over for good.
(BONUS: Take A Trip Back To The Glory Days Of 1995 –>)
Specifically, Microsoft is trying to charge handset providers a software license fee for every Windows-based smartphone they sell, the same way Microsoft charges PC manufacturers a software license fee for every Windows machine they sell.
Five years ago, before the iPhone and Android, when Windows Mobile still had a reasonable share of the market, this model made sense. Windows Mobile was still a tiny business for Microsoft–hundreds of millions of dollars on a revenue base of $50+ billion–but the concept of handset manufacturers paying for OS software was intact.
Now, however, Google has blown that concept out of the water.
Google gives its smartphone software, Android, away for free. Free is a good price, which is one of the reasons Android is rapidly taking over the smartphone world. Free is also ~$15 less per copy than Microsoft is reportedly planning to charge per unit of Windows Phone 7.
But $15 is only $15, you say. It’s not like it’s hundreds of dollars per unit.
Yes, it’s only $15–but it’s $15 that either has to come out of the handset manufacturers’ bottom line or get passed on to the consumer or carrier. And given the competitive pricing pressure in this business, it will almost certainly come out of the handset manufacturer’s bottom line.
Carriers certainly aren’t going to pay higher subsidies for Windows Phone 7 phones than they’ll pay for iPhones and Android phones, especially if the software isn’t state of the art. And consumers almost certainly won’t pay, say, $214.99 for a Windows phone when they can get the latest iPhone or Android phone for $199.
So that means handset manufacturers will have to eat the cost. And when you take $15 a unit and spray it across hundreds of millions of units, pretty soon you’re talking about real money. At least as far as the handset manufacturers are concerned (it will still be a rounding error for Microsoft).
Meanwhile, the other smartphone model that is working these days is the integrated hardware-and-software model, a la Apple and RIM.
Consumers and carriers DO pay for RIM and Apple software, but not explicitly, because it’s included in the price of the phone. And because Apple and RIM have developed the software themselves, they don’t have to cover someone else’s profit margin in the sale.
In other words, Microsoft’s mobile business is now stuck in the middle–caught between free software on the one hand (Android) and integrated hardware-and-software units on the other (Apple and RIM).
A few years ago, when the iPhone launched, Steve Ballmer ridiculed it as being the most expensive phone in history (oops). Then, when Android launched, Steve Ballmer ridiculed it, too, saying that he had no idea how Google possibly expected to make any money giving the software away for free (oops).
Steve’s no fool, so we expect that the latter remark was probably just an attempt to get the rest of the world ridiculing Google rather than an actual misunderstanding of what Google was trying to do.
But now Google has done it. And now smartphone handset manufacturers have the opportunity to build their phones around a state-of-the-art mobile operating system that is completely customizable, has a large and growing base of app developers, and is available for free.
And that means that charging $15 a copy for Windows Phone 7 software has become a non-starter.
Meanwhile, Microsoft doesn’t want to sell integrated hardware-and-software units because that would inhibit its ability to become a ubiquitous platform (like Android and, more importantly, like Microsoft Windows) that every developer wants to build upon. So the Apple and RIM mobile model is also a non-starter–at least until Microsoft realizes its predicament, throws in the towel, and buys RIM.
Put it all together, and Microsoft no longer has a business in mobile. Which makes its Windows 7 Phone strategy little more than a dream.
(How will this play out? We suspect it will play out by Microsoft deciding to give Windows 7 Phone software away for free. As noted, the business is a rounding error, and charging for a product that the market leader is giving away for free is just a non-starter. Microsoft has already demonstrated its willingness to flush billions of dollars a year down the rat hole of search, so we suspect it will just decide to throw a few billion down the mobile rat hole as well.
Unlike Google, however, Microsoft doesn’t have another business that can subsidize the cost of Windows Phone 7. Giving Android away for free works for Google, because the incremental search revenue and profits pay for the investment. Giving Windows Phone 7 away for free won’t cause consumers to buy more copies of Windows or Office. And Microsoft can’t make the money back on search because its search business is already losing $2+ billion a year.
So this is indeed a predicament…).
Now Take A Trip Back To The Glory Days Of 1995 –>
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A week after Katrina hit New Orleans, Federal Government officials and private relief organizations were still discussing how to send aid to the area. ACORN, which had been organizing low-income and working class residents in the city since the 1978, had already moved into action.
Banks were giving their middle-class, mostly white customers ninety days or more to make their payments, but borrowers who had subprime, high-interest loans (like many black homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward) were given only one month. Three weeks after the storm devastated the city, ACORN released a report -”How the sub prime mortgage industry is sandbagging Katrina-affected homeowners”- to expose the industry’s double standard. After the media publicized the report, ACORN–along with labor unions and consumer groups–demanded meetings with the banks and sub prime lenders and successfully negotiated plans to prevent foreclosures for dozens of homeowners.
With vast parts of the city’s low-income neighborhoods devastated, evacuees, many with just the clothes on their backs, fled to 44 different states, but had no way to know the physical and financial condition of their homes and neighborhoods. Glued to the television news, as well as Google maps, cell phones, and newspapers, they tried to discover how much water had flooded their bedrooms and when they could return.
ACORN’s New Orleans office was in disarray, but with chapters in 100 cities across the country, its member’s homes in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Little Rock, Atlanta, Birmingham, and as far away as Seattle, Vancouver, and New York became refuges for the Katrina diaspora.
From temporary headquarters in Baton Rouge, ACORN sent text messages to members with cell phones and quickly received 200 replies. Joe Stafford, 25, a member from the Uptown New Orleans chapter, whose father had died in the floodwaters, fled to Houston with his girlfriend and their two children, ages ten months and two years. They were staying at a two-bedroom apartment with four other families when he received a message from ACORN organizer Steve Bradberry offering relocation aid. Stafford messaged back: “I watched my father die … and had to leave his body behind. I don’t know where my mother is either… I think she got left in New Orleans. I don’t think she left the house, she loved that house, wouldn’t leave it. ACORN helped her get that house. That’s how we joined ACORN, by getting a house.” In a few days he and his family were safely housed with Houston ACORN member Tarsha Jackson.
To plan the city’s recovery effort, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin asked some of the region’s business, real estate, and legal powerbrokers to form a blue-ribbon task force to make recommendations. The task force, which excluded community groups, emerged with a plan to shrink the city’s population sacrificing the hardest hit neighborhoods to protect upscale areas from future flooding. The plans resembled the 1960s federal urban renewal program, which bulldozed many low-income areas in cities across the country to make room for luxury apartments, office towers, convention centers, highways, and sports complexes. The plan called for restoring its tourist attractions–the port, the hotels, the French Quarter, the Garden District, and the Superdome–but paid little attention to the plight of the poor and working class residents, many of them scattered in cities hours away.
Just as many neighborhood activists had mobilized in the 1960s and 1970s to thwart the urban renewal bulldozer, ACORN launched a plan to save these communities by organizing residents to speak out on their own behalf.
After Nagin announced that the city would demolish 50,000 homes in the low-lying areas, ACORN plastered ” NO BULLDOZING” signs on homes, trees, and broken fences all over the Lower Ninth Ward. At one point, ACORN activists chased off a backhoe crew preparing to demolish a home.
ACORN also sued the city to stop the demolition, and in January 2006, it won a court settlement requiring that homeowners be notified and given the opportunity to appeal before any action is taken.
ACORN protests pushed officials from FEMA to act when they refused to turn on the electricity so the homeowners could begin to fix their homes. ACORN’s members lobbied the Small Business Administration to provide money for loans to help owners reopen restaurants and stores.
Beginning in December, ACORN crews and volunteers from across the country began working day and night to repair the homes of families in the threatened areas. ACORN’s crews tore down moldy drywall, ripped up flooring, carted ruined possessions to the curb, and put blue tarping on roofs to prevent further water damage making the houses ready for rebuilding. Relying on volunteers and private funding, ACORN’s clean-up/house-gutting program saved more that 1,500 homes.
President Bush had tried to rescind the federal law requiring union-level wages on government-funded rebuilding projects, but ACORN joined with the AFL-CIO and the NAACP to pressure Congress and successfully overturned that decision. The same coalition lobbied local and national officials to make sure that government-funded contractors hired local residents on construction jobs.
Evacuees with low-paying jobs were eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal program that provides an income supplement to low-wage workers–from a few hundred dollars to $4,000 a year–to help lift them out of poverty. To obtain the benefit, however, people have to know about the credit, and file a tax form. In February 2006, with funding from the William J. Clinton Foundation, ACORN reached out to Katrina survivors in ten southern cities to provided on-the-spot tax preparation and helped direct displaced residents to other much needed federal and state benefits programs for Katrina survivors.
ACORN sued to ensure that New Orleans’ displaced, largely black population would have access to out-of-state polling places, especially in Atlanta and Houston, for the New Orleans’ municipal elections in April and May 2006. After a federal judge rejected ACORN’s demand for satellite voting stations outside New Orleans, ACORN’s organizers (along with other groups, like the Metropolitan Organization, a local the Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate) registered over 20,000 absentee voters helping to elect City Council members sympathetic to ACORN’s agenda.
Within three months after the storm, ACORN formed the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association (AKSA), the only national grassroots group that represented the evacuees. AKSA drafted a platform and sent delegations of members to Baton Rouge and Washington to demand bolder and quicker action.
They held public protests and press conferences and engaged in regular negotiations with FEMA officials to ensure that the agency provide disaster housing and other assistance to displaced survivors. Mixing confrontation and collaboration, ACORN’s tactics only sometimes proved effective against a slow moving, seemingly uncaring bureaucracy.
ACORN brought together experts–including planners, architects, and engineers from New York’s Pratt Institute, LSU, and Cornell, as well as environmentalists, lawyers, and housing developers, to forge an alternative recovery plan to the city’s powerbrokers. Working with the AKSA, and their allies, they inventoried the Ninth Ward’s businesses, public buildings, parks, schools and social agencies, and presented their plans at an unending number of official meetings that if implemented would give families the opportunity to return home to affordable housing, living wage jobs, and good schools.
ACORN’s pressure, protest and planning work resulted in the city designating its group the city’s official neighborhood-planning team for the Lower Ninth and New Orleans East, two of the poorest neighborhoods and helped implement the plans, including building the first new homes in the Lower Ninth.
Since the 2008 presidential elections, ACORN was hit with another disaster– a ferocious attack by the Republican Party, Fox News and their business allies. It included false accusations of “voter fraud” and an assault orchestrated by right-wing entrepreneur Andrew Breibart. Using the same tactics to he used to try to defame Shirley Sherrod, Breitbart posted doctored videos on his Big Government website. The infamous doctored “pimp and prostitute” videos appeared to entrap several ACORN staffers in providing advice to promote prostitution. This was a storm ACORN couldn’t weather.
The controversy, reported widely and often mistakenly not only by Fox News, but the New York Times and other mainstream media, led many of ACORN’s one-time allies among funders and Democrats to abandon the group. Although ACORN was subsequently exonerated of any wrongdoing, it was too late. All of ACORN’s local chapters closed their doors.
ACORN was dismantled but its legacy–in New Orleans and elsewhere–continues. One group, called A Community Voice, led by former ACORN leaders Vanessa Gueringer and Gwen Adams, continues ACORN’s mission in New Orleans, regularly confronting local officials over issues like policing and the rebuilding of the Ninth Ward. “We must fight for our $91.4 million that the city got for shuttered schools in our community and spent elsewhere,” said Gueringer at a recent community meeting. “We can’t afford to let our children down. They deserve schools in our community that they can attend. It is just wrong. We must continue to fight,” she added.
The group is one of at least a dozen former ACORN affiliates that are now independent–but continuing the work of organizing the working poor for power in cities across the country.
A similar but shorter article appeared in this weeks Nation.
Both are based on two chapters of John Atlas’s new book Seeds of Change, The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, Vanderbilt University Press. Buy it at Amazon and Vanderbilt University Press or better yet at your local book store.
“I am just happy my daddy's coming home,” said six-year-old Alyssa Evershed.
It is past 0100, and Alyssa's father is on his way home from Iraq along with about 300 members of the 4th Stryker Brigade – some of the last US combat troops to leave the country.
Hundreds of family members gathered in a gymnasium room in Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and several mothers balanced a child with one arm and a handmade welcome sign with the other.
The room soon filled with hugs and tears, and in some cases, fathers watching their children walk for the first time.
As he embraced his wife and two children, Sgt Jason Evershed was just glad to be home. “It's been a long year. It's been a really long year,” he said.
His wife, Courtney, could not fight back her tears.
“I am just relieved I don't have to worry about him anymore and that he'll be coming home every night,” she said.
This brigade were part of the 2007 troop surge, but on their return they were not talking about the war in Iraq or who could declare victory.
They were talking about going to Disneyland, hosting barbecues and looking for new apartments.
Alyssa had asked for “daddy and a puppy” for her birthday.
“She got one of two wishes,” joked her mother.As troops return home from 12 months of deployment, experts warn of what many refer to as “the invisible wounds”.
Depression, isolation, stress, anger, divorce and suicide are just part of the emotional challenges facing some of the troops.
Scott Swaim, a Gulf War veteran and a therapist at Spring Valleys in Washington DC, says when troops first come home they initially go through “the honeymoon period”
But the images of horror many of them have seen are not memories they can easily leave behind.
“The depression is huge and suicide rates are off the charts,” says Mr Swaim.
“Because there's a lot of stigma with mental illness. A lot of people never understand it and in the military there's a double stigma – we're soldiers, not victims,” he adds.
Just this month a US Department of Defense task force reported that between 2005 and 2009, more than 1,100 members of the Armed Forces committed suicide.
Mr Swaim says troops may find it very hard to speak about their experiences. “How do you describe the aftermath of an IED explosion?”
“I used to sleep next to a generator during the war so when I came back home, I had to sleep near a fan because I was used to the white noise – that drove my wife crazy!” he says.And though Mr Swaim says many troops exhibit clear behavioural changes such as anger and irritation, he admits “with suicide you don't always know”.
“It's hard to recognize those signs. They're there, but how much? You don't know what's going on in their mind and that's the scary thing,” says Mr Swaim.
Just a few miles away from the emotional reunion of the military families at Fort Lewis, Washington, veteran Joseph Ramsey was wishing he was there to hug his own son David.
Instead, Mr Ramsey recalls that day on 7 September 2006 when his now former daughter-in-law called him at work to say, “David shot himself.”
Army Specialist David Ramsey had been medevaced to Fort Lewis two weeks earlier after serving ten months as a hospital nurse in Mosul, Iraq.
While in Iraq, his medical records show he had pointed an unloaded gun at his chest and pulled the trigger. He abandoned his suicide attempt, sought help and was admitted to hospital for counselling.
As a result, his tour of duty ended a few weeks ahead of schedule. His father was not told of the suicide attempt.
Mr Ramsey says nobody from the military checked up on his son upon his return.
Spc Ramsey was staying with his parents while going through a divorce.
“At first, I didn't believe it,” says his father with a voice choked with emotion.
“I left work and came home. Then I saw his car in the driveway – I start calling him, no answer. I ran upstairs, and he's laying on the bed. He's shot himself,” he says.
“He was still alive when I found him. The only thing he could say was, 'I'm sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to hurt nobody.' But I tried to get help, and I just wasn't getting it. Within minutes, he passed away.”
The military had given Spc Ramsey a drug to treat sleep problems and did not inform the family of his suicide attempt, his father said.
While in Iraq, Spc Ramsey told his father about his concern for seeing Iraqi children being hurt. He spoke of headless bodies and missing limbs.
Mr Ramsey thinks the Iraq war was worth it and that his son volunteered to help people through his medical skills.
But he adds, “I don't think it would have happened had he received the help from the army.”
“I hope our country does a better job at serving our troops as each troop served our army. They deserve to be served just like generals. They need good medical care and good treatment,” Mr Ramsey says.