Archive for September 7th, 2010
Just published in the “Chronicle of Higher Education:”
“The Texas A&M University System is moving ahead with a controversial method of evaluating how much professors are worth, based on their salaries, how much research money they bring in and how much money they generate from teaching. Under the proposal, officials will add the money generated by each professor and subtract that amount from his or her salary to get a bottom line value for each …”
“Frank Ashley, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the 11-campus system, said the public wanted accountability. ‘It’s something that we’re really not used to in higher education: for someone questioning whether we’re working hard, whether our students are learning. That accountability is going to be with us from now on.’”
Accountability? Well, accounts, anyway. I’m afraid student learning is going to be the victim, not the outcome of this Texas epidemic, which I fervently hope will be contained within the boundaries of the Lone Shark — I mean, Lone Star — state. Professors whose responsibilities focused on helping students succeed, will now be focused on their own success — in bringing in revenue from enrollment, grants and fundraising initiatives. They’ll be working hard, all right, but on economic development, not student development.
It’ll be goodbye to inspiring seminars and workshops with a small teacher-student ratio and lots of individual attention and personal mentoring. Hello, large lecture halls with 400 plus students and canned lectures from the barely visible professor on the distant dais. Opera glasses, anyone? Adios to basic research that provided new discoveries and innovation, as well as a creative training ground for our future scientists. Hello to public-private partnerships, research for hire by well-heeled corporations. Ciao to office hours, where students could pop in and get tutoring and coaching on class material by their professors. Hello networking luncheons, where professors will be joining campus administrators to schmooze potential donors.
Clearly, the old-fashioned idea of our society supporting — and, gosh, even funding — higher education seems to have fallen off the radar. Of course, young adult elites will still have their legacy admissions to the Ivy League, where the old school ties will safely bind the next generation into the upper class. But middle and working class students will be indenturing themselves for a mediocre education as universities devolve into diploma mills.
All education is an investment in our future. Many of our economic challenges today have arisen because strategic planners in the financial and industrial sectors focused on short term gain rather than long term planning. We must not make the same mistake in education. The bottom line should not be the bottom line. Instead, our society should continue to support and fund the nurturing of our next generations of students and workers. We will all benefit if our society begins to value a wealth of knowledge and wisdom over a wealth of greenbacks.
Whether we realize it or not, we are broadcasting messages every moment of every day — and they matter! The kind of message we send out influences the kind of response we receive. We’ve all heard that happiness is contagious and anger begets anger. If you want to experience, transmit and receive more of what life has to offer, here are some easy ways to turn on your happiness antenna.
Raise Your Frequency: An antenna is a conductor that is tuned to the frequency you want to transmit or receive. What if you could develop practices that not only raised your frequency, but also increased its range of influence? Choosing to cultivate happiness, which automatically raises your frequency, is the most important step a person can take.
Find a Happiness Buddy: Once you have decided to operate at the frequency of happiness, find someone who shares that desire — your happiness buddy. When things get challenging (and that is the nature of life) it’s great to have someone to coach, cajole or remind you of how great you are — even for embarking on this journey. Having a buddy keeps both of you on track and accelerates progress (whether it’s in exercise, losing weight or reaching milestones in your business plan.) The more you and your buddy practice choosing happiness, the more it becomes ingrained in your neural pathways.
Stop Worrying and Go to Gratitude: What has worrying about a situation ever changed its outcome? Never! So, when apprehension rears its ugly head, laugh in its face and see it for the trickster it is. There is a simple antidote to worry, and that is gratitude. At the first sign of worry, list off and recreate in your mind three things that you are grateful for in your life. It will curb the worry monster and put you in a much better mood. I used to worry a lot. Replacing worry with gratitude has made a HUGE difference.
The Power of Perspective: How many people do you know who go through life like automatons? There is great power, presence and aliveness in noticing the present moment and how you are feeling right now. By becoming the “watcher” of your emotions, rather than the brunt of them, you can decide, even in tough situations, the perspective you choose to adopt/transmit. Imagine in an argument being able to say, “Wow — I can see that tone of voice really pushes my buttons. I’ll take a few deep breaths before I respond.” While you can’t control other peoples’ actions, by noticing their effect on you, you can definitely control how you handle the situation.
Celebrate the Little Things: At the end of this life, chances are that you will not be ruminating upon the careers, degrees or amount of money in your bank account. You’ll be remembering the cherished memories and the relationships that made those possible. Every day is a new chance to notice, honor and savor the little things in life: an amazing conversation, the beauty of nature, a chocolate cake that took you over the edge, or the smile of a child. The more you notice the reasons to celebrate, the more they will show up in your life.
Transmit Your Happiness to Others: When a pebble is thrown into a clam lake, you’ll see waves go out in all directions. When you are in antenna mode transmitting waves of happiness, these ripple out and influence others more than you know. Think of yourself as a catalyst of positivity for those around you.
What thoughts and actions are you sending out? By broadcasting messages of happiness, love and appreciation, be prepared to receive the same.
Randy Taran is the founder of the non-profit, Project Happiness, and co-author with Maria Lineger of the Project Happiness Handbook. Catch Randy and get updates on her vision for a world happiness (r)evolution via Twitter @randytaran and the Facebook Project Happiness group. Don’t forget to sign up for the free nifty Project Happiness Newsletter. B Happy 2.
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The most comprehensive overview of illegal immigration in the United States since the economic crisis began its downward spiral concludes that the flow of unauthorized immigrants into the country has significantly slowed. The annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants was “nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005.” The report released last week by the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center also concludes that the total number of unauthorized immigrants residing in the United States has dropped by an estimated one million.
These findings have become a kind of Rorschach test: everyone is projecting what they want to see into the numbers and graphs. While the Pew researchers, masters of their trade, carefully avoid any causal statements as to what may be behind the numbers, it seems everybody else is attaching their pet ideas to the new data.
To those who see immigration — including unauthorized immigration — as the yin to the yang of American business, this was an “it’s the economy, stupid” moment. The economic collapse, they argue, reduced the flow of unauthorized labor to the homeland, as the cornucopia of jobs that pulled them with unstoppable force into the booming economy suddenly evaporated. For those who oppose all immigration, the new figures are proof positive that “attrition through containment” is working. The new multipronged strategy for combating unauthorized immigration includes expanded deportations in the mainland and unprecedented displays of power at the border. Proponents of the tough “attrition through containment” approach claim that the massive deportation campaign — rapidly intensified under President Obama — coupled with the greatly expanded deployment of force at the border is exactly the right formula to put an end the problem of mass illegal immigration in the United States.
This formula, alas, is fool’s gold.
While the number of unauthorized migrants is indeed down, the most surprising pattern in the new data evokes Sherlock Holmes’ story about the dog that didn’t bark. It’s elemental, Holmes deduced: since the dog did not bark, whoever killed the horse in the barn must have been the master of the barn dog.
The most important variable in the new report is what did not happen under unprecedented circumstances. We are in the midst of the most severe economic recession since the great depression (sharply reducing the incentives for new migration), we are in the midst of the most extensive deportation campaign in recent history (last year 393,000 immigrants were deported from the United States — the seventh consecutive record high, according to the Department of Homeland Security), and in the midst of the largest growth in monetary and personnel allocations for border enforcement (between 1990 and today, the U.S. increased the border patrol from a force of 3,733 to 20,000. The combined expenditure in 2009 for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was a staggering $14.9 billion — and that is not counting the drones now fully operational in our Southern border.) The crossing is more expensive now than ever before. Tougher border controls have been a boom for smugglers — unlike in the past, today almost everyone crossing the border without papers relies on expensive and dangerous coyotes even as deaths at the border have reached historic records. Yet we continue to have an estimated annual rate of new illegal immigration into the country of 300,000 and, most importantly, we still have over 11 million immigrants without papers. A North to South inertia is the new normal — immigrants in the U.S. are staying put. Even if the sharply reduced inflows remain at this new low, other things being equal, at the current rate of deportations, it could take over two generations to rid the U.S. of all the unauthorized immigrants.
Those who oppose immigration, first and foremost, oppose illegal immigration. It reveals the failure of government in its most basic task — setting and regulating international borders, especially urgent in the aftermath of September 11. Unauthorized immigration corrodes the rule of law by unmasking the systemic failure of enforcement. It undermines public trust — the most important lubricant for social cohesion. Massive unauthorized immigration rewards those who do not play by the rules, punishing would-be migrants patiently waiting their turn, the anti-immigrant chorus incants. It cheapens the value of citizenship and casts suspicion on the status of all legal immigrants. Unauthorized immigration has created a sub-caste of citizen children who through no fault of their own are growing up in the shadows of their country. Unauthorized immigrants, by definition, break one law – upon their unauthorized entry into the United States. No one can be pro illegal immigration.
But such immigrants are not from the other side of the moon. They are working folk who are not only staying put but are growing roots in the U.S. Nearly half of all unauthorized immigrants live in households with a partner and children. The majority of these children, 79 percent, are U.S. citizens by birth. The number of U.S. children growing up in unauthorized families has grown from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. Adding the 1.1 million unauthorized children living in the U.S. means that there are 5.1 million children currently living in what are termed “mixed-status” homes.
Over the last generation, unauthorized immigration has been closely tied to labor market predilections in the low-skilled sector of the American economy. Like it or not, in the roaring 1990′s the nation developed an insatiable appetite for immigrant labor — summoning millions of unauthorized folk to do the jobs abandoned by native workers. Illegal immigration did not happen to us. We were all complicit in it’s making.
The United States of Helplessness
Thus, we are now in a very unhappy place. The U.S. has the largest number and proportion of unauthorized immigrants in the world: we are under five percent of the world’s population but have approximately twenty percent of all illegal migrants on earth. This is happening as we face the deepest economic crisis since the great depression — war, terrorism on a global scale, and a neighbor to the south convulsed by a drug war. We have never seen such a combination of noxious ingredients. Immigration makes Barack Obama President of the United States of Helplessness. All immigration lines are broken: the line at the border, the queues in U.S. consulates, and in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration offices all over the homeland. Those who argue that to fix this all we need is for illegal immigrants to get behind the line, did not get the memo: there is no line to get behind. There are over three million people waiting between four to twenty years to join immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens and permanent migrants. If you are a U.S. citizen and your sister is in the Philippines you will have to wait twenty years before she can join you. If you are a U.S. citizen and would like to sponsor your unmarried adult child in Mexico, you will wait sixteen years. And if you are a start-up in Massachusetts and set out to hire a skilled Indian worker with college education and proven experience in her field, you will pay $13,000 in fees and wait 20 years. Out of this chaos we need to build a 21st Century migration system.
What will it take to get moving again?
First we need to choose a path at the proverbial fork for dealing with unauthorized immigrants already here. To deal with the issue systemically, rather than on a piece meal basis, one path would be to massively expand the current rate of deportations. It would be at an unknown and surely significant economic, legal, and social cost. Two consecutive Presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have rejected the notion that the U.S. could mount a one-time massive experiment rounding up and deporting 11 million folk.
There is another path. It is based on the idea of belonging and consent in a democracy and what Sigal Ben Porath of the University of Pennsylvania calls “shared fate.” We propose a set of coherent principles requiring unauthorized migrants here to pass a “belonging threshold.” These principles privilege the foundations of social cohesion and shared fate in a plural society: meaningful family ties, work, and community roots. Those with a history of work, paying taxes, good character, and engagement in the public sphere by learning the language, U.S. history, and about U. S. government would be eligible to regularize their immigration status. It is constructed on the bedrock of consent in the mutual relationship between the nation and individuals with a record of engagement in jobs, in neighborhoods, and in the public sphere. Unauthorized immigrants are not unknown entities from another galaxy: we have sealed our shared fate by bringing them into our homes as nannies and gardeners, by hiring them to cook our meals at restaurants and to clean our bathrooms in hotels, by making them our co-workers, our fellow worshipers at church, our children’s classmates and friends. It would add nothing that is not de facto already part of the family of the nation.
Working out the details of a program to end the dystopia is hardly rocket science. It will require political muscle and bipartisanship. Any serious, disinterested researcher in the field of immigration will tell you what a real formula — alas, not another formula for fool’s gold — will look like. But first the administration and congress will need to find the political will to make migration work. This is not likely to happen, if at all, until after the midterm elections. If the mid-term elections are a debacle for Barack Obama and he is destined to be a one-term president, perhaps it will take a new “Nixon-to-China” moment when a new Republican president succeeds where President George W. Bush failed.
The possible combinations to make migration work are few and obvious. We would suggest a three-phase program of action. Passing each phase would be a rite de passage moving folk into the open. The first phase would be the creation of a national registry where unauthorized immigrants who have been here for three years would sign an affidavit acknowledging their unlawful entry into the United States. Second, they would undergo a background security check. They would supply evidence of a meaningful history of work and tax payments. Lastly they would furnish proof of good character in the form of three affidavits from community leaders such as a supervisor, a teacher, or a religious figure.
In the second phase, those who qualify would pay a $6,500 fine that would serve both as a penalty and for breaking the law upon entry and as a fee to cover the program’s costs ($6,500 is half what it costs the average U.S. employer today in fees to process and recruit a new immigrant worker from overseas. It is only slightly more than what immigrants now pay coyotes at the border to cross them illegally.) Lastly, in a third phase, they would complete a course study of English, U.S. history, and U. S. government. The courses would serve as a foundation for a systemic integration strategy, which should be in place for all new Americans, see here.
This plan would work if at the same time the incentives for further unauthorized immigration were meaningfully reduced by, inter alia, clamping down on unscrupulous employers hiring workers without papers. Of course, good fences make for good neighbors. With the good news of dramatically slowed attempted crossings at the border, there is now a window of opportunity. Given what we know about the unauthorized immigrants in our midst, it is safe a safe bet that the majority would sign up, qualify, and pass the threshold.
It is time to create a rational and principled path out of the shadows. Anything less will keep us where we don’t want to be, in The United States of Helplessness.
Marcelo M. Surez-Orozco and Carola Surez-Orozco are Co-Directors of Immigration Studies @ NYU. Their forthcoming book is entitled, Lifting the Lamp: Shedding Light on Immigration Dilemmas.
The Arctic is a barometer of the health of the planet. Its indigenous peoples, animals and plants are marvelously adapted to the harsh environment. Airborne toxins and global warming are rapidly altering life in the far North.
The area north of the 66th parallel is called the Arctic Circle. Eight countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States — surround the Arctic. The Inuit, Denes, Metis, Inupiat (some still called Eskimos), Aleuts, Yup’ik, Chuckchi, Nenets, Saami and the Faroese — all Arctic Peoples eat 194 different species of wild animals, most of them come from the sea.
Marine blubber is low in saturated fats and high in the Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids which significantly lower heart disease. Those fatty acids also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and perhaps more importantly Omega-3′s nourish and stimulate brain development especially in the womb. In addition, meat from marine mammals is high in antioxidants which prevent cancers.
Beluga meat contains ten times the amount of iron compared to beef, five times more vitamins and 50 percent more protein. Six ounces of narwhal (whale) contains the same amount of vitamin C as a glass of orange juice or a cup of strawberries. The indigenous Peoples of the Arctic are able to nourish themselves despite the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables — truly a remarkable feat.
Today, over 200 toxic pesticides and potent industrial compounds are found in very high concentrations in animals and the peoples of the far North.
Polychlorinated biphenyl compounds known as PCBs have leaked from electrical transformers into the environment. Although banned in the 1970s by most countries at least 21,000 old transformers exist in the U.S. alone, and they contain at least 99 million pounds of PCBs.
When PCBs enter the environment they circulate in the air, land on the ground, re-enter the air and eventually deposit on the snow and the ocean in the Arctic. Essentially, PCBs hop around the planet like the movement of grasshoppers.
About 62 tons of PCB gases arrive each year into the Arctic. Two thirds of them stay put, the rest continue to move.
PCBs are endocrine disruptors. They alter sex hormones, significantly impairing fetuses by damaging the development of the brain in addition to disrupting all vital organs.
In the Arctic they accumulate on the ocean sediments. They infiltrate the single celled plants which are eaten by copepods. Copepods are eaten by cod, cod are consumed by narwhals and in turn narwhals are eaten by Inuits. Moreover, ringed seals eat cod, and polar bears and humans eat seals.
As the PCBs pass each level on the rung of the food chain, their concentration becomes magnified — a process called bio-magnification. Polar bears and people of the far North are carrying at least millions of times more PCBs than the waters where their food originates.
PCBs are stored in fat cells, clinging to the body rather than flushing through it. Female mammals pass doses of PCBs to their offspring through their milk. Milk of Arctic women has ten times more PCBs and pesticides than mothers from any of the major cities in Canada. Woman from Nunavik have 22 chemicals, 10 insecticides and 12 PCB compounds in their bodies at extraordinary high levels.
Two thousand polar bears near the Kara Sea contain the highest recorded levels of PCBs, twelve times more than Alaskan bears.
Each year between five and 10 tons of mercury are entering Earth’s atmosphere. Between 50 and 75 percent of the mercury in the environment is human-induced. Coal fired power plant, currently the main energy source on the planet, and chemical factories are emitting mercury.
Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin. 93 percent of the woman tested from east Greenland and 68 percent of Nunavut’s region exceeded the guidelines designated to protect the fetuses from neurological damages from mercury poisoning.
Each year 50 to 300 tons of mercury gas flow up into the Arctic. It’s transported from thousands of miles away. In the spring when the first rays of light interact with the salt in the air and the mercury gas a photochemical reaction occurs — mercury sunrise — forcing mercury into the snow and ultimately into the ocean.
Global warming is occurring at least three but perhaps as fast at five times faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet. Sea ice is disappearing at a record rate. A couple years ago the Arctic was forecasted to be ice-free in 2060. Today, it is predicted to be ice-free by 2020. Less ice translates into more toxins in the Arctic Ocean.
The sea surrounding Alaska’s Aleutian Island’s have been laid to waste by global warming.
One hundred and fifteen thousand sea otters are missing. And it only took four orcas or killer whales less than a decade to finish them off.
Orcas living near the Aleutian’s traditionally ate Stellar sea lions and seals, both rich in blubber and loaded with calories.
In the early 1980s the Gulf of Alaska rose by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The sea lions and seals soon disappeared leaving just the sea otters. The orcas changed their diet and began to eat the otters. Once the otters vanished the number of sea urchins skyrocketed. The sea urchins have eaten most of the massive six metre tall kelp forests, formerly the otter’s habitat.
Also, rising ocean temperatures killed off the plankton, which fed the copepods and krill, which in turn fed the shrimps and Alaska king crabs. Shrimps, crabs, capelin and herring are gone. A once brimming diversified ecosystem has today been reduced to just sea urchins, cod, Pollack and sharks.
The lightning speed in which all these species have been lost has been likened to that of the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Dr. Reese Halter is a Science Communicator: Voice for Ecology, conservation biologist at California Lutheran University and public speaker. Reach him through http://DrReese.com
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By Stanley Kutler
“It is time to turn the page,” President Barack Obama said as he announced the “end” of combat operations in Iraq. Meanwhile, those who brought us that unnecessary war remain committed to such policies and, if returned to power, are likely to carry them out. Sadly, the president neither confronted nor repudiated his critics. They are shameless and unrepentant for designing the Iraq War, and they now call for a resumption of the policies that have resulted in a series of long, bloody and eventually unwinnable wars. It was not just the time to mark the departure of American troops; it was also the president’s moment to forcefully challenge and repudiate the policies that led us into what he once called “dumb wars.” He took a pass.
The day of the president’s speech, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton anticipated and criticized Obama and reiterated why we went to war. Wolfowitz had the prime space of the New York Times Op-Ed page, while Bolton appeared in the Daily Beast, with his usual meat ax, in a piece entitled “Obama’s Lose-Lose Policy.”
Wolfowitz, it should be remembered, promised that American soldiers would be welcomed as liberators, that Iraqi oil would pay the costs of the war, that occupation would be as easy as that of post-1945 Germany and Japan, and that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki (who would be dismissed) was “wildly off the mark” when he estimated that an occupation would require several hundred thousand troops. Wolfowitz simply failed to anticipate the Iraqis’ now seven-year-long “insurgency.”
Wolfowitz was nothing if not disingenuous in his Op-Ed piece. He did not repeat his May 3, 2003, assertion that in going to war “we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on[,] which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason [for going to war]“; that was a bald-faced lie. Instead, in the grand tradition of our “Defense Intellectuals” and servants of power, he projected the six decades of American military presence in South Korea as a model for ensuring the safety and stability of Iraq. It is six months and counting since Iraq held elections, and still it has no new legally constituted government; of course, we know that even “advanced societies” can have protracted election outcomes. Meanwhile, 50,000 American remain. Some stability.
Wolfowitz views our continued presence in South Korea as a buffer against the North, and he similarly envisions a continued presence in Iraq as a means of reining in Iran.
Bolton nimbly avoided any look backward to say what he said so vocally in 2002-03, namely that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he now justifies the war because Iraq “was moving rapidly to break loose from United Nations sanctions [and just how would Saddam do that?] and to rid itself of U.N. weapons inspectors.”
But U.N. inspectors who returned to Iraq had found no WMDs. No problem: Deny and shelve that report. Bolton is indefatigable: When Saddam was free of sanctions (he was not) and inspectors (who were recalled to escape our WMDs), he wrote, it would be “only a matter of time before Iraq would again produce weapons of mass destruction. …” How neat. Saddam had no WMDs, but he might have them in the future, so we saddled up, and the war came–a thoroughly justified one, according to Bolton.
If removing Saddam Hussein was the reason for war, then we succeeded. George W. Bush could have partied promptly. While Wolfowitz talked of an occupation ostensibly to “establish democracy,” more truthfully he favored a greater military presence on the sea of oil that is the Persian Gulf region. The chicanery of Bush and his minions knew no bounds.
Wolfowitz now believes the U.S. should remain in Iraq because of its vital strategic value in the Persian Gulf, “a position that is all the more important because of the dangerous ambitions of Iran’s rulers.” So, we stay in Iraq, he says, to provide security, stability and material support. “Nation-building,” he cavalierly states, would cost $53 billion–a substantial sum in itself, but only part of the $3 trillion war costs that economist Joseph Stiglitz and budget expert Linda Bilmes have estimated. Just as we ignored Vietnamese casualties, North and South, in backward looks at another endless war, Wolfowitz ignores the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. Saddam Hussein was a piker compared with what we inflicted on the Iraqi people with our sanctions and military force.
Bolton berates the “simplistic” war critics who now oppose “U.S. or Israeli” military action against Iran’s nuclear capability. Iran is a “threat,” and “always there, and metastasizing, no matter what the United States did about Saddam,” he insists. So, if and when Bolton returns to power, his target is clear–and presto! the rest of us can prepare for another Forever War.
On a Kennedyesque note, Obama said we remained willing “to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its link to our liberty and security.” He correctly drew the link to our prosperity and strength at home. Fine, but he never acknowledged the four or five lengthy, fruitless and costly (in terms of U.S. lives and money) wars that the nation has endured for nearly 60 years, while at home it now groans under the yoke of sustaining and feeding our empire.
Bolton and Wolfowitz are discredited rejects from the past–or are they? The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, living nearly a century ago, was wrong when he wrote that “there are no second acts in American lives.” In a more innocent time, he never knew the power of well-oiled connections, coupled with the force of modern media chatter, to make for self-rehab.
The presidential “bully pulpit” today competes with a relentless, bold and tremendously large chorus of naysayers. Any talk proclaiming an “end” to our combat operations in Iraq fades quickly into collective memory, while the loud voices of opposition are emboldened. Messrs. Bolton and Wolfowitz are back, ready and eager to resume power.
Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.
People around the world share an eternal hope for a better life. I see this wherever I travel — whether it’s to slums and villages in poor countries, or to high schools and community colleges in the United States. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shares this hope and is motivated by it.
The next five years offer a historic opportunity to have an impact on the health and welfare of people in the developing world. Even in the face of tough economic times across the globe, I am optimistic when I think about all that we can accomplish with our partners.
I think in terms of the next five years because 2015 will be a watershed moment. In 2000, the United Nations (UN) took the historic step of setting specific targets in eight areas of global health and development. It called them the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and it gave the world 15 years to meet them.
The MDGs set the clearest, most aggressive health and development agenda the world has ever had. In the decade since they were ratified, we have seen more progress than in any other 10-year period in history. The pressure is on us to try and achieve as many of these goals as possible over the next five years.
All of us should be watching closely two weeks from now. At that time, the UN will convene a special session to discuss how governments, foundations, and NGOs can work together to speed up that progress.
As the world rallies to meet the MDGs, we need to make sure people understand the value of vaccines in the equation. Vaccines are a miracle (not to mention an extremely high-return investment): with just a few doses, they protect a child for a lifetime.
While we often think of vaccines for immunizing against diseases like measles, polio should also be on our collective radar. Almost everyone has heard of polio, but many people don’t know it still exists, and few understand the critical juncture we’re at right now.
Since 1988, when the world set the goal of eliminating the disease forever, the number of polio cases has gone down by 99 percent. Just two decades ago, the disease was circulating in 125 countries. Now, there are only four countries that have yet to control transmission of the polio virus.
When we invest in polio eradication, we not only save lives, we also save money. In the United States alone, polio vaccination investments have prevented one million cases of polio and saved more than $180 billion.
Today, we have a narrow window of opportunity to eradicate polio, and in doing so prevent suffering, save billions of dollars, and demonstrate what is possible when the world comes together. Failure is unacceptable, because it will lead to an increase in the number of cases and a return of the virus into countries where it has been eliminated.
We have come so far, which is why I am surprised the world is short of the funding it needs to finish the job. Right now, there is not enough money past next summer to carry out all of the immunization activities to keep the world on track to eradicate polio. It’s shocking, but in the last several years, funding from the G8 countries has actually gone down. This is a make-or-break time for polio eradication.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is a model partnership composed of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rotary International, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Its polio eradication campaign has a long record of success.
One of the main things the foundation is adding to the GPEI effort, in addition to our financial commitment, is our voice. We hope this will generate attention, and the funding and political commitment needed to finish the job.
The people I meet around the world share an eternal hope for a better life. It’s time for all of us to join forces and wipe polio from the face of the earth.
Learn more about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s current efforts in its 2009 Annual Report.
There has recently been a call for the establishment of an Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group (APSG) that will be modeled off the Iraq Study Group (ISG) of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. The project is driven by the realization that this regional dilemma cannot be resolved militarily – it requires a political solution. Why? Because the coalition’s death toll is approaching 2,000 and frustration among NATO allies is mounting, evidenced by the news that Canada, the Netherlands, Romania – and most recently Poland – are all contemplating a full pullout.
Given these conditions, despite the fact that Washington’s Afghanistan policy is due for a review and maybe an overhaul in December, political challenges are on the rise and moving rapidly beyond the vast U.S. military’s ability to adapt. Tribal imbalance, years of ethnic feuds, cultural and religious divides, weak governance, opium cultivation, corruption, civilian deaths and warlord dominance have made this an uphill struggle for the West, and one too vaunting to repair. Thus, we hear the call for an Iraq-like study group.
However, the profound contrasts between the two nations demand participation by those who grasp all of the essential and unique aspects that must be considered in order to deliver a valid analysis. Due to the fact that the symptoms and root causes of the chaotic conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are so dramatically different, native independent Afghan and Pakistani experts must be employed to ensure the Study Group delivers solutions that are both transparent and realistic.
Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia (R), who authored the legislation in 2005 that created the Iraq Study Group, believes U.S. Afghan policy is adrift and sent President Barack Obama a letter stating:
“We are nine years into our nation’s longest running war and the American people and their elected representatives do not have a clear sense of what we are aiming to achieve, why it is necessary, and how far we are from attaining that goal.”
Congressman Wolf and ten additional congressional representatives – a bipartisan group – urged the President to immediately appoint a study group to evaluate U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Based on the current political climate and the unique issues of the Afghanistan war, the APSG agenda and the results will be much different than the ISG’s. Qualified intellectuals can best identify and assess critical success factors and can delicately weigh the complex home grown political impasses.
A combined group of independent indigenous Afghan and Pakistani thinkers along with former U.S. dignitaries is required to create a comprehensive study that is credible and accurate. Without these types of individuals it is nearly guaranteed that any analysis coming out of Washington will be flawed, which could potentially have devastating consequence.
Formation of the Study Group
This Study Group tool is designed to measure the successes and failures of the war in Afghanistan and provide a foretaste for the upcoming Obama Administration’s policy review in December. In that regard, assembling not just an Afghanistan study group, but an Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group is essential; because both countries are inextricably linked, and it is impossible to solve Afghanistan’s ills unless there is a close and simultaneous study of Pakistan as well.
Moreover, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, proposed the same idea, similar to a new ISG during Obama’s fall 2009 internal strategy review. The Ambassador wrote that the group should not become “a months-long Baker-Hamilton-style commission” but should instead be “a panel of civilian and military experts to examine the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.”
However, there was to be a similar construct like the previous group, except that the civilian experts for this group would include expatriate Afghans in the mix.
Convincing an increasingly skeptical American public that success in Afghanistan is achievable is a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Yet, there is legitimate cause for this cynicism because according to a General Petraeus analogy, “Helping to train and equip host nation forces in the midst of an insurgency is akin to building an advanced aircraft while it is in flight, while it is being designed, and while it is being shot at. There is nothing easy about it.”
This is just one of the many complexities the U.S. must address that plague this war-torn nation. The endless list includes issues that will involve other regional actors, especially those who have historically interfered in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The most complicated situation of all is in Kandahar, where tribal analysis is needed to assess the exact symptoms that are hindering governance, tribal balance, reconstruction and opium eradication.
The question that seems to be forefront in everyone’s mind is whether the conflict is winnable. However, we first need an answer to the everlasting mystery of what success in Afghanistan looks like. What are we fighting to achieve? Would it be satisfactory merely to ensure that Afghanistan did not become, what it was, a terrorist base? This leads directly to the thorny issue of attempting to pacify the Taliban, which so far has yielded negligible results.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s lack of leadership and increasingly erratic and alarming behavior has caused U.S. officials much consternation, as little to no progress has been made on reforming a corrupt Afghan government.
The recent firing of Afghanistan’s deputy prosecutor because he tried to indict a corrupt crony within Karzai’s inner circle, and the Kabul Bank’s financial disaster – an institution which bankrolled Karzai’s fraud-tainted election campaign – are events that have not only exposed the criminal and corrupt nature of the Karzai government and his family, but have also caused a national crisis.
Karzai’s ballot stuffing, corruption and incompetence have become the greatest obstacle to winning over Afghans from the Taliban, because he is now seen as nothing more than an illegitimate puppet. So, should there be such urgency for merely conducting another round of voting when the Karzai’s can buy the election? Or is it time for a more radical reappraisal of the Afghan constitution?
Testing the Commander-In-Chief
Mr. Obama’s foreign policy will be tested further by year’s end before he evaluates his Afghanistan strategy in advance of the July 2011 start-date to begin pulling U.S forces out. His commander in the field is surely about to get tested again, and in a very dramatic way. The opposition in Afghanistan is keying their operations off of our timelines.
At this critical time, Obama is seeking the right policy position on Afghanistan, but his decision will only bear fruit if the Study Group were to include the real influential, intelligent Afghan-Americans who have inside knowledge that no other American is capable of obtaining for lack of bloodline connections.
General Petraeus, who is admired as a military commander that possesses profound intelligence, was the general in Iraq when the ISG was put together and he showed his full support for the process despite President Bush initially being opposed to it.
Subsequently, President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, all ended up supporting the initiative. It is highly likely that General Petraeus’s current war assessment will once again be weighed without bias or robust deconstruction. But Afghanistan is considerably more complex than Iraq – the General himself has admitted as much, yet the findings of this study can be misleading if the knowledge of Afghan natives is not leveraged.
The controversial withdrawal date of July, 2011 means different things to different people, and hopefully this study will clear the uncertainty surrounding it.
If the Study Group’s findings are intended to create a roadmap for good policy implementation, then it must initially include people of competence and capability to evaluate matters thoroughly. It is critical because the study will provide that official second opinion. This analysis must be as sound as possible or we will perpetually lack a solution to this 10-year old war in the graveyard of empires.
Above all, the Study Group should ratify and affirm the fact that the United States has no intention to betray and abandon Afghanistan, but it should begin by discarding the current strategy of accepting corruption as a necessary evil.
Furthermore, the costly military campaign is more likely jeopardizing America’s vital security interests as opposed to protecting them. The U.S. should pursue more modest goals that are both consistent with America’s true interests and are in balance with the norms and culture of Afghanistan that are, above all, more likely to succeed.
President Obama should welcome this type of analysis and critique of his strategy, especially considering he did not mind seeing an independent commission criticize President Bush during the Iraq Study Group.
However, with public doubts about Afghanistan growing, and with President Obama’s team preparing to conduct their own review in December; an independent commission might be launched as well. If so, it could greatly complicate the Obama Administration’s efforts to control its own destiny in Afghanistan. An Afghanistan/Pakistan Study Group that included Afghan-Americans would be a better alternative.
The formation of a bipartisan APSG that included prominent Afghan-Americans (and possibly Pakistani-Americans) is critical to working towards agreement on the most responsible path forward for the coalition, United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However well-intentioned the APSG is, foreign governments can no longer afford to dictate Afghanistan’s future without indigenous feedback, especially considering the results it has historically borne.
It is time to let Afghans participate in the effort to halt their nation from spiraling into chaos. It is time for Afghan-American voices to be included in this analysis and strategic decision-making process. And it is finally time to allow Afghans, for the first time, to have some input in determining the fate of their own country.
Khalil Nouri is the cofounder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan. www.nwscinc.org
My sleep patterns used to reflect those of many other college students. No matter the day of the week, I would drearily walk to bed around 2 a.m. or whenever my homework was finished and pass out on top of the covers. I wouldn’t bother to change into pajamas.
Mornings were completely awful. If I could hear my alarm, I would press snooze while I mentally calculated how much time I needed to shower, get dressed and make it to class. If I didn’t hear my alarm, I would wake up in a state of panic and rush to the first meeting, class or appointment I had that day.
But this summer, all that changed. I started working at a bookstore on campus and had failed to inform my manager that I wasn’t a morning person. I started working the 7:45 a.m. shift and almost automatically, my sleeping patterns changed.
I started going to bed around 10:30 or 11 every night of the week. At first, I was a little ashamed of my new sleeping habits. I jokingly referred to myself as a grandmother to my friends.
As the weeks went by, however, I started to really enjoy my new sleep patterns. I could actually wake up in the morning without hitting snooze and eventually I was able to wake up without an alarm clock.
There is another major difference contributing to my sleep patterns, though. This is the first year I haven’t worked at our school newspaper, The Oklahoma Daily. My sleep patterns would definitely be different if I were still killing myself to be an overachiever.
But I’d like to encourage even the overachievers to start going to bed at a decent hour. Unfortunately, most of us know how a lack of sleep makes us feel. And you won’t be able to enjoy all your achievements if you’re sick or tired all the time.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother, in an attempt to get me to bed earlier, would tell me the hours of sleep you get before midnight count the most. Now I can finally say I believe in the eight hours a night strategy, and my grandmother’s advice.
Many people want to get out of Afghanistan; some guys want us to get out of almost everywhere.
This summer the rise of the American military empire and the reasons for winding it down are examined in a trio of books associated with the website called TomDispatch. From the brilliant proprietor of the site, Tom Engelhardt, comes The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s. And from two of his frequent contributors we have Washington Rules by Andrew J. Bacevich, and Dismantling the Empire by Chalmers Johnson, a coda to his pioneering and celebrated “blowback trilogy.”
These books overlap in spirit, though each focuses on a different question: Bacevich, for example, on what he calls “America’s path to permanent war,” on the change from a reluctance to get involved in foreign adventures unless attacked, through decades of building a network of bases and (despite a loss in Vietnam) an ideology of intervention, to an acceptance of preventive war and “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would allegedly assure our safety here at home.
Engelhardt assembles some of the best of his pieces from TomDispatch, under such titles as “Air War, Barbarity, and Collateral Damage,” and “Is America Hooked on War?” (as hooked as an addict, he concludes). This feast of a book can be followed by finding on the web the pieces he’s written in the last half year.
Johnson, described by Engelhardt as “the most astute observer of the American way of war I know,” describes less about how to dismantle the empire, despite the title of his book, than about why we should urgently do so. Chalmers builds not only on his startling trilogy, but also on the work of investigative reporters and historians such as Steve Coll, Tim Shorrock, and Tim Weiner.
With the caveat that each member of the trio associated with TomDispatch covers somewhat different aspects, let’s look at some propositions that inform the trio:
That the U.S., which thinks of itself (and which presents itself) as an anti-imperial power, maintains a global network of over 700 foreign bases, which can be regarded as a kind of empire;
That this network and a military budget equal to the entire rest of the world combined encourage us to intervene in various countries such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan;
That in most cases these interventions have been costly failures for us and disasters for people there;
That we could do better by spending the money not on “military Keynesianism,” but on domestic infrastructure, social needs at home, and new industries that address some problems now largely neglected;
That Presidents want to appear “tough”; members of the officer corps, to have opportunities to do what they are trained for; and members of Congress to get reelected, in part by bringing military spending to their districts;
That our news media, with some exceptions, do a wretched job of covering the empire, military spending, the wars we fight, and the effect on our republic of a system based on secrecy;
That,”until we decide (or are forced ) to dismantle our empire, sell off most of our bases in other people’s countries, and bring our military expenditures into line with those of the rest of the world, we are destined to go bankrupt in the name of national defense” (Johnson);
That despite these stakes, the ideology of intervention and the military budget (or as Bacevich says, “Washington rules”) are no more profoundly questioned in our capitol than the ways of our financial system or our de facto energy policy;
That even if a President wanted to end this system, he would be boxed in by “political engineering” of which the Pentagon is a master, by the threat of popular generals to challenge the White House, and by the belief, widely shared, that the U.S. can do whatever it wants;
That “until candidates begin losing because angry Americans reject our perpetual wars … this sort of thinking will simply continue, no matter who the ‘commander in chief’ is” (Engelhardt);
That apart from access to resources, the U.S. sometimes fights mainly to oust a regime it can’t control or even, once it enters or starts a war, to prevent damage to its prestige;
That most Americans fail ever to see our actions as others do, preferring to believe in our good intentions rather than to examine actual results;
That the recent fanfare for the end of the war in Iraq neglects the “enduring” bases, the large number of remaining troops, the almost invisible “contractors,” the huge, fortress-like “embassy”;
That the effort to replace a failed state in Afghanistan with a government friendly to the U.S. is doomed by lack of an adequate partner and of a Afghan military and police that are willing and able to provide security for a central government, by the hatred engendered by what our side dismisses as “collateral damage, by our efforts to stop the main cash crop of the country (opium); and by the proven ability of Afghans to hold off foreign occupiers such as the British and the Soviets;
That even if we could accomplish our mission in Afghanistan, terrorist have many other failed states to find “harbor” in.
A limitation of these books is that they don’t tell how to roll back the military empire, except for some implications and cursory suggestions. The great strength is that they set forth, and illustrate, a coherent picture you’d never see if you depended on most of TV and the mainstream press.
What is the alternative to the system that’s evolved? According to Johnson in the tenth of the steps he quickly outlines, “we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.”
Inspired by George Kennan, Senator Fulbright, and Martin Luther King, Jr., Bacevich argues that “the proper aim of American statecraft … is not to redeem mankind or to prescribe some specific world order, nor to police the planet by force of arms,” but rather “to permit Americans to avail themselves of the right of self-determination as they seek to create at home a ‘more perfect union’” and a way of life based on “humane” values.
I think we’re living in an era of increasing “social psychosis.” I use that term deliberately to highlight a constellation of growing, shared delusions; a political-social backlash to the highly interconnected and diverse world that now exists. The delusions include political, economic and anti-science-based decisions and policies that appear likely to predominate for some time, as Paul Krugman and others have argued. And, they’re likely to contribute to more social dysfunction and damage to individual lives, including psychological and physical health.
Because this backlash of false beliefs and harmful actions are likely to be with us for some time, it’s important to build some immunity to their destructive impact on your life. In this post I describe a way that helps you do that. It also describes new criteria of a psychologically healthy life within today’s increasingly interdependent and unpredictable world. I call it the “Inside-Out” solution.
By way of context, in a future post I’ll explain why our “social psychosis” is likely to strengthen for some time, but will not last. That’s because evidence from research, survey and demographic studies reveals massive shifts building within our society in this direction: A rising desire to subordinate purely self-interest motives in personal life and social/political policy to actions and policies that serve the larger common good.
This theme reflects a growing recognition that we’re one world; that all of our lives are like organs of the same body. As President Obama recently put it, “…we rise or we fall together as one nation — one people — all of us vested in one another.”
That relates to what I mean by the “Inside-Out” solution. First, let’s look at some illustrations of why people’s conflicts point the way to a new kind of solution; then I’ll explain what that is. Here’s a typical example, a struggling couple: She’s a lawyer with a large firm; he’s headed a major trade association, but was recently let go. They say they’re committed to their marriage and to being good parents. But they also acknowledge that it’s pretty hectic juggling all their responsibilities at work and at home in this shaky economic environment. Especially now, when one of them is searching for a new job. Dealing with the logistics of daily life, to say nothing of the emotional challenges, makes it “…hard just to come up for air,” one of them says.
Then there’s a 43 year-old man who’s been having some career conflicts but is also worried about the “other side” of life: He’s raising two teenage daughters and a younger son by himself — one of the rising numbers of single fathers. He’s constantly worried about things like whether a late meeting might keep him at work. He knows he can’t risk his career in any way, not with these domestic responsibilities. He tries to have some time for himself, but “It’s hard enough just staying in good physical health, let alone being able to have more of a ‘life,’ ” he said.
These people illustrate some typical symptoms of living and working in an increasingly uncertain, unstable economic and social climate. Many feel pummeled and stressed in their work and home lives. They know that stress damages the body, mind and spirit, yet they feel caught in its trap. Ten years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 70 percent of all illness, physical and mental, is linked to stress of some kind. And that number has probably increased over the last decade, especially since the post 9-11 world began.
Much stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home — trying to “balance” both in an era in which nothing is secure anymore. But the truth is, you can’t balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale — your “outer” life.
Your inner vs. outer life
On the other side of the scale is your “inner” life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life in today’s world, reframe the issue: realize that it’s healthier to bring your outer life and inner life into greater harmony. That is, strengthening your inner life helps insulate you against the political, emotional and financial deterioration that’s likely to be impacting your life for some time.
Let me explain. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world: Dealing with the logistics and daily stresses of life, the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, financial issues, building (or holding onto) your career, raising children, and so on. You get the picture.
Your outer life is where you experience pleasure or pain. In contrast, your inner life is where you can create wellbeing and clarity through the ups and downs that will occur in your outer life. It’s the realm of who you are inside — your emotional awareness, your values, secret desires and goals, your capacity for love, empathy, generosity, and your deeper sense of purpose; of what you’re living for, especially when the external world is not so pleasant or predictable.
A developed inner life reveals how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness and your level of mental repose. That is, your capacity for calm, focused action and your resiliency in the face of today’s frenetic, uncertain outer life.
Most people today are not in tune very much with their inner lives. You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that there’s little time to tend to your internal world. Then, you mistakenly identify your “self” mostly with who you are in the outer realm. And when there’s little on the inner side of the scale, problems or setbacks in the outer realm weigh you down, at best. You can become emotionally damaged and suffer from anxiety or depression.
When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to a wide range of physical damage, as well. Research shows that heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, a weakened immune system, skin disorders, asthma, migraine, musculoskeletal problems — all are linked to stress in your outer life.
Moreover, when your inner life remains underdeveloped, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. For example, at work or when relating to your spouse or partner — you may experience insecurities, betrayal or fear; and you can’t tell which are justified and which are not.
You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you don’t understand. And you don’t know if they are “normal” or justified motives, given the reality of your situation. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional “default” positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.
Even when you’re maintaining success in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. That’s because you don’t have sufficient capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with full awareness and judgment. Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best — maybe a new “win,” a new lover, drugs or alcohol.
The extreme examples are people who destroy their outward success with behavior that reflects a complete disengagement from their inner lives: Corporate executives led away in handcuffs for corruption; self-destructive sports stars overcome by the trappings of their outer-life success; political leaders whose flawed personal lives destroy their credibility and careers; clerics who are staunch moralists at the pulpit but sexual predators or adulterers behind closed doors. These are our modern-day counterparts of Shakespearian characters like Macbeth or Coriolanus. Their outer lives are toppled over by unconscious aims, destructive arrogance or personal corruption.
In today’s world, what you choose to go after in your outer life reflects values and behavior that you’ve been socially conditioned into through your family and society. Much of that can be hard to see because you’re so immersed in it. What gets lost along the way is what your inner life could tell you about the consequences and value of what you’re pursuing in your outer life. And knowing that is especially important in today’s world, when political and social upheaval steadily bombards your outer life.
The good news is that strengthening your inner life builds greater health, internal wellbeing and psychological resilience. That is, servicing your inner life increases healthy, positive control — mastery and self-directed action, not suppression or rationalization. A stronger inner life creates a solid moral core. It informs your choices and actions by providing the calm and centeredness that’s essential for knowing what demands or allures of the outer world you want to go after, or let pass; and how to deal with the consequences of either. It helps you navigate through the unpredictable events and uncertainties that continue to lie ahead.
For example, your inner life can clarify which of the personal commitments, career goals and relationships you want or don’t want. Whether this job or career is what you really desire, despite the money it pays or what people tell you that you should want. And, whether you believe that your relationship gives you and your partner the kind of positive, energized connection you want and need.
In short, a strengthened inner life brings your “private self” and your “public self” into greater harmony. That’s the foundation for dealing with the stress-potential of outer world choices, conflicts and uncertainties, today; for knowing how and why you’re living and using your energies out there in the ways that you do. With a strong inner life you feel grounded and anchored. You know who you are and what you’re truly living for. You’re tuned in to yourself with a “heart that listens,” as King Solomon asked for.
Finding The Gaps
A financial consultant who consulted me was noticeably underdeveloped in his inner life. One day he came face-to-face with a dilemma that triggered an important awakening. He was debating whether to leave an out-of-town meeting early, which would create some difficulties, in order to be at home for his daughter’s 18th birthday. It was a conflict, because his business had been hard-hit by the recession and he felt pressured to do whatever was necessary for his work.
So I asked him this question, from a different perspective: Which choice would he be more likely to feel positive about at the end of his life? Tears came to his eyes as he said that he knew in his heart that it was being at his daughter’s birthday. He told me that he felt enormously troubled by the fact that he’d been trying to rationalize away what he knew he valued more deeply, rather than figure out how to best manage the risk, career-wise.
At that moment he was able to see the gap between his inner life values and the choice he was about to make based on his outer life conditioning. A good step towards awakening your inner life is to identify the gaps between what you believe in on the inside, and what you tend to do on the outside. Everyone has those gaps. Here’s an exercise that can help you awaken to them:
First, make a list of what you believe to be your core, internal values or ideals (5- 10 entries). Perhaps it includes raising a strong, creative child; close friendships; expressing a creative talent that’s important to you. It might include your spiritual life; an intimate marriage or partnership; or contributing your talents, energies or success to the society in some way that has impact.
Next, make a parallel list for each item on your list, describing your daily actions relative to those values: How much time and energy do you spend on them in real time? What are your specific behaviors regarding each? Be detailed in your answers — note the last time you took an action aimed at nurturing that creative child, building your marriage or giving some meaningful help to the less fortunate. Don’t be surprised or ashamed if you find that very few of your daily activities reflect those key values.
Assign a number from 1 to 5 measuring the gap between each value and your behavior – 1 representing a minimal gap; 5, the maximum.
Identify the largest gaps. Now think about how your inner values could redirect your outer life choices in those areas. What would you have to do to bring the inner you in synch with the outer you? What can you commit yourself to doing?
Write it all down and set a reasonable time frame for reducing your gaps.
Developing your inner life is a practice. Think of it like building a muscle or developing skill in a sport or musical instrument. Part 2 of this post describes some practices most anyone can do to build a stronger inner life. They involve your mind, body, spirit and actions in daily life. The more you do, the better, because they reinforce each other. Overall, they help you build greater psychological health and the proactive resilience that’s necessary for successful navigation through today’s changing world.
Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is Director of the Center for Progressive Development, in Washington, DC. He can be reached at dlabier@CenterProgressive.org
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This photo blog was written by my colleague Mubashar Hasan who was recently in Pakistan doing the ground work for Oxfam affiliates. Mubashar travelled for over 2 weeks in the country and wrote this blog as he was leaving the country. Pictures were always taken by him.
I was on my way to Nowshera district of Khaybar Pakthunkhawa Province in Pakistan to look at how children were affected by the floods. In my mind I was preparing for an emotional day.
I’d read news of children affected by hunger, diarrhea, skin and other diseases. I told myself that I needed to pass my day in professional manner and keep my emotions in check.
However, what I found was different than I expected. I was mesmerized by the bravery and creativity of the children in the camps. They were suffering from many problems and deprived of basic human rights, but were standing high with smiles on their faces amidst all odds.
I like sitting in my empty classroom. Everyday I come to look for my friends from school who fled from rising water,” said Abdullah, a grade 5 student.
” We run in this camp, we jump into the muddy water next to the camp and love to play cricket everyday,’ said Rejagul, a fourth grade student who was living in an unofficial camp set up at Mundhighaz camp where Oxfam is working hard to provide clean drinking water.
Rejagul’s school is closed. It’s one of the over 8,000 schools destroyed or damaged in the catastrophic flood in Pakistan. Rejagul was standing among a group of children who surrounded me amid midday under scorching heat in a field where UNHCR had installed tents.
Children playing together in Mundhigaz.
Their clothes were dirty and filthy and they didn’t have any shoes. Many parts of their bodies were bearing signs of skin diseases. Some of them said, the unbearable heat and flies made their life miserable, but they were adjusting themselves to their circumstances and had worked out plans to have fans.
I spent around an hour and half in this camp discovering how the children were passing their time. Like children everywhere, they were playing – blowing bubbles and playing noughts and crosses.
It requires a lot of courage to smile when there is little or no food to eat, no home to live, very little clean water to drink, no bed to sleep and no air conditioning or fan to cool down the burning temperature.
The way these children were handling these floods was truly inspirational. The world needs to act to keep the spirit of these children high by proving aid to re construct their homes, schools and lives.
Learn more about Oxfam’s work in Pakistan and see how you can help
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During our vacation in Sicily last month, I overheard a conversation between several Southern Italian women on the subject of waxing. But it wasn’t about their own adult experiences at beauty parlors. It was about having hairy legs when they were young girls.
Yes, young seven or eight-year-old girls, not teenagers.
One of them, the mother of eight-year-old Carlotta, was telling about how her daughter has already sprouted dark fuzz all over her legs and it’s highly noticeable. If, on top of that, you consider that Carlotta lives in Northern Europe — where it is less common for girls to have dark hair growth at such an age — her mother was asking herself whether she should start taking her to have her legs waxed at a beauty parlor. Crucially, because being different/more developed than her girlfriends was seriously beginning to bother Carlotta.
Another lady immediately shared her story about how, when she was nine or 10, her mother had taken her to have her legs de-fuzzed, for that very same reason. She said she had found it perfectly normal at the time, even though she didn’t recall having been made fun of regarding her hairy legs.
Meanwhile, another mom mused about whether it was really necessary to start caring about aesthetics at such a young age. And whether it might not be better to explain (in a variety of ways) that all little girls (and boys) develop at different speeds — and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The friendly discussion made me think back to a post I wrote a while back about a little girl with “Dumbo” ears. In it, I wondered how appropriate it would be to perform plastic surgery on her — and if so, at what age.
Instinctively, I’d say it’s excessive to take such a young girl to have her leg hair removed. But maybe it’s a situation that is still too far off (our daughter is only three-years-old) for me to see it in a balanced light. Or, maybe I’m just too old-fashioned.
Not a lot of people talk about “beauty” and “the Gulf” in the same breath these days.
Five years ago, New Orleans was under 15 feet of water, debris, toxic waste and dead bodies. The disaster killed 1,800 people and caused $75 billion in damage.
Today, the Gulf region finds itself awash in 4.9 million barrels of oil and thousands of gallons of toxic chemical dispersant. Eleven men lost their lives, tens of thousands in the fish and shrimp industry immediately lost their livelihood, and hundreds of thousands more could lose their jobs, homes, boats and businesses. Meanwhile, their children’s health will continually be at risk from toxic air and water.
These twin tragedies represent a double blow to the region’s confidence and the nation’s conscience. Sometimes it is hard to imagine that the cycle of destruction and suffering will ever end.
But the Gulf will be beautiful again. We can restore the land and help the people heal.
Viable solutions exist. First, we need to stop adding damage to damage. Rather than trying to address a toxic spill with toxic “dispersant” chemicals, we should rely on greener solutions. The emerging field of biomimicry imitates nature’s designs and processes to solve tough problems: “Innovation inspired by nature.” Biomimicry expert Paul Stamets has already discovered a method of growing fungi to absorb oil and chemicals.
Second, we need to get serious about finding climate-friendly, job-generating alternatives to the region’s oil drenched status quo. The energy future of the Gulf is not down the holes that BP is drilling. If we want to see the future, we need to look up at the sun and the sky, finding ways to use solar and wind power to meet more of our energy needs.
A strong commitment to renewable energy can create 8,500 well-paying manufacturing jobs in Louisiana, and about 77,000 jobs in the entire Gulf region, according to a study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project. Already there are nearly 500 manufacturing firms in Louisiana that could supply the parts needed to deliver a 15% reduction in the region’s carbon emissions.
The people of the Gulf need jobs that are not bound to a dirty, dangerous and uncertain fossil-fuel economy. The shrimpers and fishermen must return to clean oceans; business owners, restaurateurs and hotel workers must return to work on clean coasts. Oil rig workers and machinists should begin building and installing the solar panels and wind turbines using the skills they already possess. An entire new generation of scientists and engineers can rise to help restore the wetlands, purify the oceans, and innovate the clean technology that will save us all.
Third, America’s public and private sector needs to invest in infrastructure that keeps us safe. Tragically, the Gulf disasters were caused by a broken levee in New Orleans that George Bush refused to fix and a $500,000 safety valve on the Deepwater Horizon that BP failed to install.
We can boost the ecology and the economy simultaneously. Coastal wetlands serve as a natural buffer zone and protect the Gulf from inland storm damage — and thus far we have destroyed nearly 80 of the region’s wetlands. Restoring the Gulf Coast can create 16,000 direct jobs in the region and 41,000 more in related industries. The richness and diversity of Gulf culture — the music, foods, faiths and lifestyles — are all ready to reemerge stronger and more vibrant than ever.
Fourth, we also need to tend to the needs of the people. We need to make sure the people have homes and communities to go back to. These homes should be efficient, elegant and affordable. The rebuilding should be done by, and under the guidance of, the people who live there. And while we are at it, let’s make these communities green and gorgeous. Global Green is already building 10,000 green homes in the region — continuing to rebuild green can net many more construction jobs for the region.
Finally, we need to ensure that the people are healthy. Emergency department visits increased 100 percent in the month following Katrina and hospitalization rates increased 66 percent in the first month and 23 percent over the ensuing year. 50 percent of residents showed a need for mental health counseling post-Katrina.
The numbers are equally striking for the Gulf spill: 30 percent are suffering mild to serious psychological distress, and one third of children along the most impacted areas are experiencing physical or mental problems. The people need more than a few clinics and claims adjusters to address the gamut of health issues in the Gulf.
If we do these things, the beauty will return — stronger than ever.
Born out of music lover Sean Carlson’s dream of throwing a festival where people could pop in and out of multiple venues and experience a variety of entertainment, FYF (then known as Fuck Yeah Fest) launched in 2003. With a lot of hard work and a little help from friends, the then 18 year old Carlson made a whopping $5 in donations from the free event.
Since then, the attendance has gone from 2,000 to 20,000, and in 2009 FYF moved to the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown (simultaneously re-instating funding to the struggling landmark). With the help of friends Keith Morris (of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Off!) and Phil Hoelting, FYF has grown into a festival force to be reckoned with, the truly indie answer to bohemoths like Coachella and Lollapalooza. The move to that independent spirit can be seen in the line-ups; where other festivals go for the easy “darlings,” FYF brings a special breadth of experience to its line-up.
This year’s line-up was no exception, with local favorites like Warpaint and Abe Vigoda, reunion shows from Sleep and hardcore favorite Unbroken, and the first LA show ever from Animal Collective member Panda Bear. With Ryan Gosling’s eclectic band Dead Man’s Bones (this is LA after all) rounding out the roster, FYF is the place to be to hear bands on the cusp of breakout acclaim.
For more info on FYF, check out www.fyf.com.
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CampusReform.org Provides Conservative Guide To US College Rankings
FYF Fest This Saturday: What To Expect
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Millard House In Pasadena
Best Oysters In Los Angeles: Oyster Season Starts September 1
Photo by Dave Reich
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Follow Yasi Salek on Twitter:
What are you really looking for? People are searching Google for “oil spill in gulf of mexico.” St. Louis, Missouri is the world’s epicenter for people typing in “how to find a boyfriend.” The number one city searching for “sex” is Delhi, India. The number one city searching for “peace” is Edmonton, Canada.
I’m going to follow the high (Canadian) road and try some high-minded Google searches of my own. Here they are, not all of them real.
Normally this Google search returns an administration that is wrongheadedly driven to job generation by building more roads, more airports and increasing our dependency on fossil fuels. That’s my read on Laura Tyson’s recent New York Times op-ed piece.
But when I did this Google search, I got something that didn’t suck. My search returned a president who delivers on his promise to build a green infrastructure for America, with solar and wind power. His administration helps move us away from oil, cars and bad mortgages and into something smarter — new online technologies and training and a green economy.
This returns yoga studios that offer classes by donation. You simply pay what you think the class is worth. Your class is not some recurring charge on your credit card, or a health club membership or some other obligation like changing the oil in your car. The health club, credit card model of yoga doesn’t teach us as much about ourselves. As Max Strom writes in A Life Worth Breathing, we can’t use the methods we commonly employ in business and commerce to learn about ourselves. It’s like using a hammer to brush your teeth. Money needs to change hands for yoga classes, but just in a different way.
This search returns links about Bruce Lipton, a biologist who is leading a reexamination of Darwinian evolutionary theory. He spoke at a great event that I attended last week. Bruce says that Darwin’s evolution, the “survival of the fittest,” has led humanity into competition and war. He thinks evolution is really about “survival of the fittingest” — successful species are those that adapt, fit in with nature and play well with other species. If we understand this in time, and stop killing the planet, Mother Nature might not need to cast us out of her garden.
This returns a link to this video, which is coffee porn for the over-caffeinated engineer mind. The search does not return any links to Starbucks, which has a good health plan for its employees but teaches them to make an indifferent espresso, a great tragedy for dopamine delivery everywhere.
My dream Google search returns news of Architecture for Humanity’s efforts to rebuild in Haiti, Black Entertainment Television’s financing of local housing materials manufacturing in Haiti, and World Shelters’ work here and abroad to put a roof over everyone’s head.
Eastern Nebraska. Huh. Always wanted to know that.
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The slow recovery continues to press, and depress, America. In my world of the human-owned business, far from Wall Street, labor (organized and not) and management are suffering alike. The announcement of 67,000 new private sector jobs — coming, as they always do, mostly from human-owned companies — is a small encouragement as the Labor Day weekend begins.
Of the major national holidays Labor Day gets the prize for muddled meaning. Maybe our wistful good-byes to summer get in the way, but not many folks will pause to consider why we have a national day-off to celebrate labor. Too many of the few that do think about it will fall into two camps that generally despise each other.
The U.S. Department of Labor tells us that Labor Day “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” The DOL doesn’t tell us that Labor Day was rushed through Congress by President Grover Cleveland to appease America’s labor movement a mere six days after his controversial use of federal troops forcibly ended the bloody Pullman strike that paralyzed rail traffic, and thus the country, during the summer of 1894.
Cleveland’s gesture didn’t work for him — his Democratic party was slaughtered in the 1894 midterm election — or help the labor movement that much either. Many needed reforms, such as reasonable working hours and safe working conditions, now taken for granted would not be enacted for decades–decades that would include the infamous Triangle Factory fire and Colorado’s own Ludlow Massacre.
So maybe a lesson in working for change is among Labor Day’s messages to modern America. Change is slow and uneven, so take a long view. We seem to need a crisis, or even crises, to move change along, so don’t waste an opportunity when it presents itself. Change is ongoing process, so don’t be disheartened when it takes us awhile before we get it right.
There’s not much the average American worker or average American business owner can do to change the macro economy. Those of us fortunate enough to have jobs can, however, do much at a micro level, in our own businesses, that cumulatively will change our nation’s circumstances. We can improve our companies to the point where each can add one, ten or even fifty new hires. That’s how those 67,000 jobs were created from in August.
There are about 30 million small businesses in our country. If only five percent of us (that 5% includes you and me, right?) committed to improving our companies so that by New Year’s Eve we can hire at least one person, that’s 1,500,000 new jobs. If we do that, then maybe the other 95% and the Wall Street types will drop the bunker mentality and join us.
So I hope everyone enjoyed the day off; we’ve got work to do.
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THE PLAN TO SAVE AMERICA
In my opinion, our politics have become fossilized; even stultified. The two parties are not appealing to voters; the ranks of the unaffiliated grow and the disillusionment of the electorate gets ever larger. It is time to break out of the politics of old and create a new awakening in American politics. I offer this plan as a way to break free of the old strictures and spark a new energy. Your comments are extremely welcome! Please note these are bullet points – you and I will flesh these out as we move forward. www.normangoldman.com
This is “The Plan”:
An economic, progressive populist agenda, focused on the economic elites that have outsourced our jobs, shifted the tax burden to the middle class and destroyed the fabric of our nation with wedge issues.
Restore tax fairness – return to the Roosevelt/Eisenhower tax structure of a true progressive income tax;
Tax stock transactions on Wall Street;
End all tax subsidies to corporations;
Re-write the tax laws to strip out most, if not all, deductions, and make the tax laws simple and progressive;
Put white collar criminals behind bars for long terms;
Encourage “whistle blowers” who expose waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars;
Public financing of political campaigns and outlaw private contributions to politicians;
Use the antitrust laws to bust up the big trusts;
Institute a “wealth tax” to recover much of the money that has been looted by the top 2%;
Tax companies that send American jobs overseas to punish this practice;
Get rid of “free trade agreements” and institute large tariffs on imports to level the playing field between cheap labor from overseas that has resulted from outsourcing;
Cut the military budget by 10% per year for each of the next 5 years;
Leave Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible;
Close many of the American military bases overseas and shift the burden of being the “world’s police force” to other countries on a more equitable basis;
Build up the unions as a counterbalance to corporate power;
Institute “Medicare for All” as either a buy-in or through a broad based group of “nickel and dime” taxes;
Institute a massive investment in clean, renewable energy;
Legalize marijuana, for tax revenue and to cut down on crime;
End the ridiculous “War on Drugs”;
Re-cast “conservatism” as being for privacy rights and against intrusion into people’s personal lives;
Reclaim God as not a divisive force.
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Greedy speculators in housing and private bankers, financial innovation and failure of risk models, regulators and credit rating agencies were all deservedly blamed for the recent financial crisis. Behind this all is public policy that worsened the problems.
Long before the greed of speculators and bankers went wild and long before there were sub-prime housing loans, there was the US Government involvement in the form government of subsidies as reflected in (i) the existing tax-deductibility of home-mortgage interest payments; (ii) Federal Housing Administration programs which provide credit to first-time home buyers and permit up to 97 percent leverage at origination and also permit cash-out refinancing that resulted in 95percent leveraging (take-out of $520 billion each year by households through re-financing); and (iii) government financial subsidies through federal home loan bank lending for owning ‘an American dream’ and directing credit to low-income communities in line with the spirit of Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and establishment of quasi-government agencies such as Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In addition, there is the ever increasing moral hazard in the financial sector over the past century in the form of deposit insurance, reduction in capital adequacy ratios, and implicit and explicit guarantees for bank bailouts to all types of financial institutions, including the too big to fail institutions. These policies combined with Fed policy of cheap money by keeping interest rates low to help economic recovery from the dot-com bubble burst of early 2000s only fueled credit growth and exacerbated the speculative bubble in housing market. From Iceland to Ireland to other European countries and USA, housing bubbles were spawned in this fashion.
Prior to the global financial crisis of 2008-09, there were rapid price hikes in food grains and fuel during 2007 and early 2008. Again, financialization of commodity markets and role of speculators was blamed for those bubbles. Without healthy behavior of speculators and traders, markets would not function efficiently. It is only when speculation is out of control that everything goes hay wire. But behind the wild speculation, there is always cheap money in the form of easy fiscal and monetary policies.
Within the financial reforms under way in a number of countries, hardly any mention is made about government policy blunders nor does it deal with continued government involvement in housing. Instead they are exclusively focused on re-regulating financial firms, strengthening watch dog institutions, and restricting speculators. Such reforms will hardly prevent future crises because of the ‘capture’ of all institutions (parliaments, regulators, credit rating agencies, policy making agencies).
Spurred by state directives, banks in China have been providing cheap money since late 2008 which has now led to a housing and construction bubble in China. Similarly, the recent jump in stock prices in both emerging and developed economies is likely to be a manifestation of public policies of 2008-10 in the form of large fiscal stimulus packages and ‘quantitative easing’ of the central banks. Similarly, the recent jump in wheat prices is partially due to severe drought in Russia but also a precursor of search for higher yields by the excess liquidity now in place in the world. A bubble is created by the news of ‘artificial scarcity’ and here is where regulators and government agencies have to step in.
No one can deny that prudential (and not strangulating) regulations and their effective enforcement strengthen market efficiency. Rather than wait for bubbles to develop, regulators and government agencies should prevent the bubbles by raising margin requirements to reduce leverage, raising interest rates to mop up excess liquidity, and with use of ‘moral persuasion.’ But, governments should also not be involved in housing, land sales, take over of banks, industries, and running commodity marketing boards; for this role signals a scarcity which exacerbates moral hazard.
How can ‘captured’ governments implement sound policies? Only if the citizens and media are vigilant, and seek full transparency, while holding government agencies accountable all the time.
People — not just prostitutes — have sex for many reasons. Sometimes, for some of us, one reason is money.
From October to January 2007 I accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men I met online in what was then called the “erotic services” section of Craigslist.org. No more a “professional” than a person renting a room on the same site is necessarily a professional real estate broker, for me and other women and men like myself, Craigslist at that time provided a simple, familiar forum through which I could do my business with complete anonymity, from the safety and convenience of my own home. At Craigslist.org, I was able to bill myself as exactly what I was at the time: a graduate student, bored and curious, sexually uninhibited, looking to make a little money while having a little fun. I wrote my own ads, screened my own prospective dates, decided on my own what I would and would not do for money, and — best of all — I kept every penny I earned, all without the interference of an agency or other ubiquitous “middle man.”
Ultimately, while my experience as a “non-pro” was not the “fun” I had come looking for — I found the lifestyle physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting, and so I made a decision to desist some months after I’d gotten started, exiting the industry just as freely as I’d entered — never have I felt it was the state’s obligation — nor its right, in fact — to protect me from the decisions I made.
On Thursday, September 4th, cowing to ongoing criticism from attorney generals and advocacy groups, Craigslist shut down what had come to be called its “adult services” section, replacing the link with a black and white bar that reads “censored.” This, after years of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark fighting such pressure, is a disappointing display of him abandoning the very principles of freedom on which his site was founded and feels more a violation than ever I experienced on even my worst “dates.” Opponents to the “adult services” section claimed that its existence facilitated with greater ease the trafficking and exploitation of women and children, and while I do not doubt such exploitation exists, it is my supposition that most women who are found out by the authorities to sell sex would rather be labeled a “victim” (and so entitled to protection) than to be considered a criminal (to be prosecuted and exposed).
For all the “victims” of the “adult services” section of Craigslist.org, I would venture there are a considerable number of individuals like myself — free thinking, entrepreneurial human beings with choices and responsibilities — whose real-life experiences, not to mention sources of income — are being stifled by our so-called advocates.
It has been some years since the last time I met a stranger through Craigslist for reasons other than to buy or sell a piece of furniture. I hope to never again make the choice to trade sex for cash even as I risk my current job and social standing to speak out for an individuals’ right to do so. The simple fact is that people do have sex for money — many different kinds of people for many different reasons, people as varied as those looking to buy concert tickets, sell a collectible or adopt a pet — and these people will continue to. Whether the choice to do so is being dignified and protected with its own forum or whether what was once that safe space remains appropriately labeled “censored,” that choice, without a court order one way or another, remains up to Newmark.
Recently, my book No Impact Man — about my little family’s one-year carbon fast — was released in France. During my many interviews with French journalists, I realized that there was a bashing of the American people going on. The American people were being blamed for the failure of the climate treaty talks in Copenhagen last year.
That American-bashing wasn’t fair. People are people and American people, per se, are no less generous and love their children no less than the French, the Germans or the British.
And it is not the American people who have stopped worthwhile climate legislation from passing through the United States legislature. It is corporations. The corporations — multinational corporations — whose bottom lines would be affected by a higher price put on fossil fuels.
So the problem is not the “American” way of life. It is that the American way of life has sadly become the corporate way of life. The way of life in the United States is largely under the control of corporations. Even our food is grown on industrial mega-farms.
To blame the American people for the failure of meaningful international action on climate is to miss the point — and dangerous. Because let’s not forget that there is now a Starbucks on the Champs-Elyses in Paris. And check out the number of American-style fast-food restaurants you can now find in British city centers.
In other words, the American way of life, if that’s what you want to call it, or the corporate way of life, is moving to Europe. Corporations, sadly, are unlikely to lead us to meaningful change when it comes to climate or any other major social issue if it turns out that it will affect payments to shareholders.
Failing to draw a line in the sand when it comes to corporatization is not only to lose ground on climate change, but it is also to allow a culture to be run on the basis of what is best for shareholders instead of what is best for people.
This is why, as part of my No Impact year, I bought from local farmers, who I knew cared about the land they farmed and the animals they tended. It is why I always advise people that campaign finance reform (the drive to get the corporate money out American politics) may be a necessary precursor to meaningful movement on energy reform.
But the question remains what else “we, the people” (as we say in the United States) should do, beyond our shopping choices. Waiting for the politicians to do something is not the answer, because, as my friend David Korten writes in Agenda for a New Economy, “The leadership for institutional transformation rarely comes from those who depend on existing institutions as their base of power.” Real change comes from the grassroots.
So what can be done?
We must counterbalance the corporate/political power axis with citizen power. For starters, this means not abandoning the political system but flooding it. Citizens must become civically engaged until voter numbers outweigh corporate dollars in political decision-making.
But citizens must also exercise their power independently of the politicians. At its simplest, this is a matter of citizens acting to nurture the cultural institutions that support human rather than corporate values — local farms, community banks, independent merchants, renewable energy — and starving institutions that don’t, i.e. Wall Street and City banks, petrochemical and military industries, etc.
Examples of explosive citizen power can be found throughout history. Think of nonviolent independence and civil rights movements. Many of them started in the same way.
People begin by reflecting their values in how they live their lives, by changing the businesses they patronize or adapting their lifestyles. They search for people who share their values and support their choices. Eventually, they realize that their power increases exponentially when they work together in groups.
In large numbers, we can starve the cultural cancers and enliven the societal healthy tissues more quickly. So it’s also a matter of seeking out, or even starting up, organizations that network people with shared values together. And then moving beyond conversation to action.
This may sound onerous, but things are not changing fast enough. And we will get much in return, including the feeling of lives fully lived in a world where we are not victims of the system, but leaders of it.
Cross-posted from the Guardian.
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason…”
Yeah, right. Maybe in Shakespeare’s day. Although, guys still wear earrings and poufy shirts, there’s wine and wassail and even the occasional beheading (which reminds me, as I have a grandmother who lives in Arizona: stay away from the border, Meemaw!) so maybe things haven’t really changed that much.
But then, Shakespeare wasn’t what one would call lazy. He could have settled for pop treatments of shallow memes and myths, all easy to digest without the burden of time consuming analysis or discomfiting introspection.
Instead, he chose to make the effort to cleverly raise the awareness of the masses who were exposed to his plays. He clearly believed that humanity could lift itself from the mire of ignorance in which it mostly found itself. And he did so through the use of entertaining but nonetheless truthful characterizations which challenged common preconceptions and language which forced the audience to join him in his heavy lifting.
And at the end of the performance, it was worth it. One could still wear an earring and poufy shirt, guzzle flagons of ale and draw-and-quarter some vassal wretch but do so with a renewed respect for his fellow man. Hic. Excuse me.
But also, Shakespeare’s sublime creations pushed the evolution of human civility upward a notch or two. His works became a staple in the education of generations to come, and the effort put into the understanding of them enriched and ennobled those who made such efforts and fed our later understanding of human behavior within a developing modern society. The humanity in many of Shakespeare’s plays and characters may have been idealized, but, with effort, the ideal could, in real life, be attained.
But in the America of 2010, the effort to raise the level of sociopolitical discourse has failed miserably.
More and more, people’s access to the thoughtful articulation of ideas is becoming limited by the powers controlling such information’s dissemination. One has to merely scan the top 20 television shows to understand how low things have become; one need only listen to the rancorous rhetoric among political representatives of increasingly polarized parties an splinter groups, the low-brow demonization of various religious sects and social classes, the untethered metaphors used to condemn the very things upon which the decriers have themselves depended for years. Ignorance has replaced introspection. What a piece of dumb clay is man, how unreasonable and ignoble.
In what is sure to be a continuation of this deeply entrenched trend, the upcoming midterm elections do not bode well for displays of civil democratic discourse. Hell, the election of this country’s first black president has plunged the already neurotic faction of ignorant Americans into a palpably psychotic episode in which every possible cartoon accusation has been hurled at the duly elected president and everyone who, by extension, voted for him. There is no thought to comity or sense or cooperation or self-realization that we all sink or swim together. No effort made to repair the fragile anatomy of Liberty,no effort to reclaim it for future generations. Intellectual ignorance and societal sloth know no future.
And it seems so much easier to be cruel than to make the effort to face hard truths and, thus, attain a kind of grace; the effort which William Shakespeare and Jesus Christ and Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy laid out in their words, and proved through activation of those words into deeds.
But lately the work required is just too damn hard. To the people who pull the strings, who calculatedly parcel out the data to a hungry mass, better to wallow with beasts than consort with angels.
The casual cruelties, the ease with which patently false memes gain purchase over simple truths is astounding and utterly detrimental not only to our country but to humankind. For the United States to void its obligation to reach higher and achieve more by allowing the greedy and the power-mad to oversee the dumbing down of democracy is to waste its greatest opportunity.
When George Bush told Americans after 9/11 to go shopping, he epitomized the nadir of what depths the American character has sunk to. And the fault, dear America, is not in Islam, Barak Obama, death panels, social security, health care, education, art, but in ourselves. And the lack of effort.
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Don’t diss the Dems … not now, when there’s so much at stake. Remember how we liberal folk liked to scoff at Reagan’s “eleventh commandment”? Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican? Take a look in the rear view mirror and note how the Republicans have taken this seriously (it’s a shame they took the rest of Reaganism seriously too, or we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now!) Note, too, that it has resulted in the rigid party unity that now successfully hamstrings the whole country.
Successful strategy? You bet! Yet here we go again, we Democrats, gleefully assaulting each other at every opportunity and undermining every effort by our own administration to get anything done. And it’s not only the Democrats in Congress. It’s we, the people out here in voter-land. Every day I hear and read this indignant, self-important, self-destructive screed from bloggers, acquaintances, even friends who should know better. Just yesterday I heard — from a fellow Democrat and one who, I believe, believes as I do — that Obama is a “warmonger.” That he’s a “politician,” no different from the others who disappoint our lofty ideals.
Well, yeah! Big surprise! Had he not been a politician, he would never have been elected. As for the “warmonger” part, it seems to me naive in the extreme to expect immediate departure from all parts of the world where we have stirred the hornets’ nest of violence and hatred — directed, for the most part, against ourselves. (It’s not paranoia: they are out to get us!) My own instinct is to believe that Obama loathes war as much as I do. That, if he could, he would bring our fighting forces home tomorrow; deliver universal health care overnight; devote the federal money needed to stimulate our desperately ailing economy; and without delay divert the funds needed into our education system, into job creation and justice, earth stewardship, world peace…
Have these people who carp at Obama bothered to read either one — or both — of his books? Have they really taken the trouble to find out who this man is? Not a superhero, certainly. Not a Messiah. Nor a witch-doctor or miracle-maker. And certainly a politician. Granted. The man’s a pragmatist. Advertised himself as such, never claimed to be anything but. He weighs what can be done and does his best to get the result he wants. That he faces sullen and implacable opposition from the “loyal opposition” makes it hard to get those results. That he faces a lack of solidarity in his own party makes it nigh impossible. It amazes me that he has managed to achieve as much as he has done, these past twenty months or so — achievements that are sniffed at or ignored by those who believe they know better.
No one is, or should be, above criticism. Like others who believe as I do, I would want faster and more tangible results. I want, particularly, an end to war. But we left-leaning people elected this man to do precisely what he said he would attempt to do, and many of us now join in the chorus of those who would destroy him simply because he has not been able to do it fast enough to satisfy our high-minded expectations. I want to scream when I hear these nay-sayers and lofty idealists say that Obama and the Democrats will deserve the loss they can expect to be handed in November — as though they themselves have no responsibility.
I say, these people will be as much to blame for an electoral defeat as those they choose to heap their blame upon. I happen to deplore the lock-step discipline of Republican lawmakers and Republican voters alike. I happen to disagree fundamentally with their positions … and fear their (to me incomprehensible) power. But on my side of the political fence, I see nothing to be happy about. Will those who are now so dissatisfied be content when we end up with a Republican-dominated Congress? Will they relish the vindication of their own opinions and predictions? The spectacle of Obama rendered effectively and truly powerless is the one that haunts me much more than the spectacle of Obama struggling against the odds to achieve a modicum of success.
There’s a certain satisfaction in believing in one’s own moral rectitude — in standing by one’s ideals no matter what. Unfortunately, we seem to have reached a historical moment when the “art of the possible” is severely reduced by the press of rigid and irreconcilable differences. If we fail to be realistic, if we fail to achieve the solidarity we need to move forward, I fear we we all be a good deal sorrier than we are today. We must learn to moderate our rhetoric and take a broader, more realistic view of things if we are to inch forward, ever so slowly, into a viable future for this country. That “change we can believe in” will not happen with the wave of a magician’s wand.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will hold a second round of direct peace talks in Egypt next week. Already, reporters from all over the world are booking their hotel rooms and making travel arrangements. But if they’re serious about making peace, this would be a good time for the leaders to lower their public profiles and start talking quietly.
In the past, nearly all significant progress in Mideast peace talks has been accomplished in private, without the media giving a running commentary on every little development. It’s difficult to negotiate through a megaphone. In public appearances the leaders invariably feel bound to state maximalist positions and to cater to their respective constituencies.
That’s what happened in the public talks that followed the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, which I covered for Reuters News Agency. The conference consisted of a series of bitter and bellicose speeches. It was followed by a long, and ultimately fruitless series of meetings in Washington. The parties briefed reporters every day, kept everyone in the loop, provided juicy quotes and good copy – and nothing got done.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials opened a secret back-channel in Norway. The negotiators stayed in the same place, ate at the same table and eventually formed strong relationships based on mutual respect. Their talks led to the landmark Oslo Accords in 1993 under which Israel recognized the PLO for the first time and accepted the principle of a Palestinian state while the PLO gave up its longstanding goal of destroying Israel.
Obviously a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then – many deadlines have been missed and much blood has been spilled. Both sides must overcome feelings of betrayal, bitterness and mutual suspicion. Despite that, we’ve arrived somehow at a new moment of opportunity. A sign of seriousness would be if the two leaders declared that all future meetings will be private and if they agreed to set up working groups of experts to tackle each of the outstanding issues, also in private.
As Netanyahu stated in his White House speech last week, “I did not come here to win an argument … (or) play a blame game where even the winners lose. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring benefits to all.”
Now is the time to lower the temperature. Nothing will get done in a hothouse – and much as it pains me as a journalist to say this, nothing will get done with the media breathing down the leaders’ necks.
They have to decide whether they want to win an argument or forge a peace.
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A small US church says it will defy international condemnation and go ahead with plans to burn copies of the Koran on the 9/11 anniversary.
The top US commander in Afghanistan warned troops' lives would be in danger if the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida went through with the plan.
Muslim countries, the US government and Nato have also hit out at the plan.
But organiser, Pastor Terry Jones said: “We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam.”
The Dove World Outreach Center may only represent a handful of people, but its incendiary plans haven't emerged out of nowhere.
The role of Islam in America has become a hot button issue with social and political implications.
While most Americans would probably take issue with exhortations to burn the Koran, there is clearly widespread concern about the influence of Islam.
Protests over the planned location of an Islamic centre close to Ground Zero in New York, and similar controversy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee have highlighted popular anxiety about Islam in America.
Earlier this year, an opinion poll found that 53% of Americans view Islam unfavourably, with only 42% viewing the religion favourably.
Reports about young American Muslims being radicalised on the internet have helped to stoke fears about the nature of a religion indelibly associated, since 9/11, with a violent assault on the US.
Far from subsiding over time, anxiety seems to have deepened. As a result, American Muslims say they feel more isolated than at any time since the 2001 attacks.
The controversy comes at a time when the US relationship with Islam is very much under scrutiny.
There is heated debate in the country over a proposal to build a mosque and Islamic cultural centre streets from Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 attacks, in New York.
Despite having a congregation of just 50, the plans of the church in Gainesville have gained worldwide notoriety, sparking demonstrations in Afghanistan and Indonesia.
Gen David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said on Monday that the action could cause problems “not just in Kabul, but everywhere in the world”.
“It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems,” he said in a statement.
The Vatican, the Obama administration and Nato have also expressed concern over the plan.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern”.Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen blasted the plans, telling reporters that burning Korans violated the Nato alliance's “values”.
Dr Jones – author of a book entitled Islam is of the Devil – has said he understands the general's concerns but that it was “time for America to quit apologizing for our actions and bowing to kings”.
Another pastor at the church told the BBC that members intended to burn several hundred copies of the holy book on Saturday evening, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in defiance of an order by the city not to hold an open air bonfire.
Muslims consider the Koran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the holy book is deeply offensive to them.
An interfaith group of evangelical, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders meeting in Washington on Tuesday condemned the proposals as a violation of American values and the Bible.
News of the bonfire has also sparked protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia.
In Kabul on Monday, about 500 protesters chanted “long live Islam” and “death to America” as they set fire to an effigy of Mr Jones.
Thousands of mostly Muslim demonstrators rallied around Indonesia at the weekend.
Claims that US soldiers have desecrated the Koran in both Afghanistan and Iraq have caused bloodshed in the past.
There were deadly protests in Afghanistan in 2008, when it emerged that a US soldier deployed to Iraq riddled a copy of the holy book with bullets.
And further lives were lost in Afghan riots in 2005 when Newsweek magazine printed a story alleging that US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet.
The story later turned out to be false and was retracted by the magazine.